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Squamish, B.C.


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Mar 22, 2024
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A Tale of Ecotourism, Indigenous Heritage and Natural Wonder

By Alana Livingston

Cover photo courtesy of Alana Livingston

Tucked halfway between Vancouver, British Columbia, and the world-renowned Whistler lies a little piece of heaven called Squamish. This coastal town, situated at the northern tip of the Howe Sound Fjord, not only embodies the rugged beauty of the Pacific Northwest but boasts a strong commitment to environmental conservation and sustainable adventure.

Squamish, a 7-8 hour drive from the Spokane area, is often referred to as the “outdoor recreation capital of Canada” and has become a prime destination where nature’s grandeur, exhilarating outdoor activities, and a dedicated preservation of unique ecosystems harmoniously converge. The indigenous name for Squamish is Skwxwú7mesh, meaning “Mother of Wind” and “people of sacred water.”

This name is quite fitting, considering the impressive array of water-based recreation available. From kayaking, rafting, paddling, and boating to scuba diving, Squamish offers an outstanding experience for water enthusiasts. What sets Squamish apart, though, is its consistent wind patterns, making it a top destination for kiteboarding, wing foiling, and sailing. Off the water, Squamish is home to world-class trails for hiking and biking, rock climbing, a healthy wildlife population, and offers opportunity for extreme sports like base jumping and high lining. When you arrive, the challenge lies in choosing which activities to take part in.

Squamish has a rich tapestry of ecological wonders that lend to its important stance in ecotourism. My recent trip to Squamish allowed me to experience the area in a multitude of ways, gaining a better understanding of the past, present and future culture of this area. Engaging in activities from air, land and water offered a full spectrum of education and absolute immersion into this wonderful place. For the first time in my life, when my trip had come to an end, I found myself not ready to leave, and already planning my return before I even left the airport.

Throughout my visit, one thing became abundantly clear: the people of Squamish are deeply connected to the outdoor activities that have made this town famous. It’s a place where a vibrant energy permeates every corner, where everyone I encountered seemed to have a story about how they moved to Squamish in pursuit of the outdoor lifestyle it offers. Here are a few of the excellent opportunities you can pursue on your own trip to Squamish.


Courtesy of Alana Livingston

Ride with a Thriving Mountain Biking Community

Squamish is a premier destination for mountain bikers, with hundreds of miles of singletrack to satisfy every skill level. It offers everything from hair-raising downhill descents to gentle cruises along the water’s edge. The advent of e-bikes has further expanded the possibilities for athletes and tourists here. Blazing Saddles Adventure, a company co-owned by the “godfather of freeride mountain biking films,” Christian Begin, offers high-quality e-bikes that allow riders to experience multiple ecosystems in one afternoon.

On my trip last September, I rented an e-bike and headed out on a tour with Blazing Saddles. We started our ride in the city and within moments we were surrounded by lush plant life and the sounds of a babbling creek. During my ride, I was fortunate to witness the salmon spawning, a beautiful phenomenon that our guide and co-owner, Brent, shared with us. He also provided insight on the local indigenous culture, native plants, historical uses and wildlife practices, offering a full engagement with our surroundings. Witnessing a mama black bear and three cubs swimming across the river added to the sense of importance in protecting the area’s wild character. In just a few hours, I was able to experience trails surrounded by glorious mountains, abundant rainforest and the vast expanse of the estuary. In addition to offering fun and educational tours, Blazing Saddles Adventure is committed to wildlife habitat preservation.


Courtesy Alana Livingston

Explore on a Stand-Up Paddleboard

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) provides an opportunity to explore the waterways throughout Squamish, whether in the network of rivers that run through the surrounding mountains or along the coastline of Howe Sound. This unique vantage point offers a different mindset on the landscape and its commanding presence.

My SUP tour with Norman Hann Expeditions provided me so much more than I expected. Hann, somewhat of a local legend, had moved to the area (like many) motivated by the outdoors and became deeply rooted in the place. His passion for the heritage, environment and the preservation of the area lead to his business, creating film documentaries and an overall revolutionary movement for education, awareness and conservation through SUP.

Our tour was led by Eduardo, a guide who also shares a deep connection with the environment and the First Nations Community. Eduardo speaks passionately in their efforts to include the First Nations Community into their SUP experiences and build awareness surrounding all that Squamish stands for and provides. Paddling from a channel on the edge of town towards Howe Sound, we saw salmon making their journey from the sound to spawning grounds and back, along with river otters, seals and bald eagles. Eduardo also highlighted the challenges marine life has faced due to toxins from the nearby Britannia Mine. The ongoing cleanup efforts have led to the return of many sea creatures to the area, fostering a deeper appreciation for the land, the water and the abundant life it supports.


Courtesy Alana Livingston

Choose Your Own Hiking Adventure

Squamish boasts an abundance of hiking trails, with options accessible from various points in and around town. Whether it’s the Smoke Bluff Loop or the Estuary Trail near downtown or the challenging ascent of Stawamus Chief Mountain, there are hikes for all skill levels. “The Chief” offers breathtaking views and a cardiovascular workout with several staircases and steep inclines. Hikers can spend the day exploring the three separate peaks of The Chief or a few hours to hike one peak. Be warned, in addition to several steep stairs to climb, hikers will become more like climbers at several points as you near the peaks. There are even routes that offer “via ferrata” options. Via Ferrata refers to steel cables or rungs that mountain climbers secure lines to limit any falls. Whether you choose to use the alternative thrill-seeking routes, you will need to climb at some point to take in the views.

Another popular option is the Sea to Summit Trail, providing opportunities to explore the summit of Mount Habrich with hikes that include waterfalls, creeks and a suspension bridge. The Summit is home to the Sea to Sky Gondola, the highest accessible viewpoint of the Howe Sound. The Summit also provides a place to eat, drink and take in the surroundings from wrap-around patios and several viewing platforms. It is worth mentioning you can hike up the summit trail and ride the gondola down for $20 (price can vary) if you’re short on time or just too tired to continue.


Courtesy Alana Livingston

A Bird’s-Eye View: Aerial Tours

Aerial tours provide a unique perspective, showcasing the vastness and interconnectedness of the natural surroundings. My fortunate experience with Sea to Sky Air allowed me to grasp the fragility of the region. From a Cessna plane, I could see the spectrum of ecosystems sprawled below me, where lush coastal rainforests meet pristine fjords reflecting towering mountain ranges, valleys, and glaciers that remain rugged and isolated. The only footsteps present there belong to wildlife and some daring voyagers.

As I gazed out of the plane’s window, I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of responsibility to protect this incredible landscape. It was a reminder that the natural world we were exploring is delicate, and our interactions with it needed to be respectful and sustainable. This sentiment is not only shared by the residents of Squamish, but by the numerous adventure companies that call this place home, making it a great ecotourism destination.

Squamish encapsulates the marriage of adventure, respect for indigenous heritage, and the sacred duty to protect an unparalleled natural playground. It serves as a reminder that our explorations should be conducted with thoughtfulness for the environment, the local culture and economy, and the future adventurers who will follow in our footsteps.

As my time in Squamish came to an end, I realized the heartfelt impact this town and its people had on me. It’s a place where the call of the wild is answered with open arms and where the commitment to preserve the environment is a shared responsibility. Squamish is a testament to the balance of humanity and nature. I can’t wait to return.

Read more about the amazing Squamish brewery scene and the BC Ale Trail.

Alana is forever changed after visiting Squamish and plans to return as often as possible, trying all the hiking, biking and water adventures it offers.

The post Squamish, B.C. appeared first on Out There Outdoors.
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