The Best Squamish Hikes Just an Hour North of Vancouver
If you’re in Vancouver, or anywhere on the lower mainland of British Columbia, it’s worth the drive up the thrilling Sea-to-Sky highway to go hiking Squamish. In our experience, nothing beats Squamish hikes, especially when you include the Stawamus Chief.
We were lucky to spend a whole month in Squamish. The town bills itself as “hardwired for adventure” and as soon as we started hiking Squamish, we learned just how true that was.
The day we arrived, on our first hike, we ran into three black bears, a mother and two cubs playing in the forest. We made sure we watched them from a distance. There were numerous mounds of fresh bear poop on the trail to tell us there were probably many bears nearby.
Hiking Squamish? You’ll Want Good Hiking Boots
Yes, you could try hiking the trails in your day-to-day running shoes, but you’ll be so much more comfortable with far better foot and ankle support in a pair of hiking boots. You don’t want to be deep in the forest and sprain your ankle.
Tips on buying hiking boots:
- Wear the same type of socks you’ll wear later to get the best fit. For us, that meant heavy wool socks when we were trying them on.
- Ensure they’re certified waterproof. Not all of them are. It gets wet and muddy out there.
- The boots should immediately be comfortable. They should fit snugly, but you should be able to wiggle your toes. It you feel them rub, if they pinch, or are just uncomfortable, exchange them for another pair. Don’t think “they’ll wear in”. You’ll have a lot of uncomfortable hiking. Marlene found that Scarpa boots fit her narrower foot, while I went with Merrell.
- We bought “day hiking boots”. They give more support than hiking shoes, but are not as high as backpacking boots. If you’re planning to hike with heavy packs, you should look at backpacking boots.
For jackets, we went with Patagonia Torrentshell which were lightweight, waterproof and included a hood when it really started to rain. They were perfect for this rainy Squamish month!
The Stawamus Chief Will Work Your Muscles
If you’re a rock climber, then you already know that Squamish is home to The Stawamus Chief. With a gain of nearly 2,000 feet, this is the second biggest granite monolith in the world, famous for its “sticky granite” and hundreds of challenges on its faces. Walking through Squamish, The Stawamus Chief always looms over you.
For our son Alex and Sabrina, both avid climbers and snowboarders, this was one of the reasons for moving to Squamish from Vancouver. In fact, their house is directly in front of The Chief. Open the front door, and BOOM, there it is.
Squamish Hikes are the Best
For us, the big attractions around Squamish were B.C.’s provincial parks, such as Alice Lake, Garibaldi and Brandywine Falls. Our hikes ranged from easy walks from our apartment through the Squamish estuary or the trails at the top of the Gondola (not to be missed), to a steep rocky vertical climb up the backside of The Chief that leaves your legs like jelly.
There are many reasons to love British Columbia’s provincial parks. First off, there is no admission or parking fee for day visits (at least at the half dozen we visited). Secondly, the parks are just the right degree of wild. Some of them are at the end of bumpy pot-holed dirt logging roads, where you’d be happiest in an all-wheel drive car or truck. Many include camping (a charge for this), while others have lakes and climbing areas.
The trails are well-marked and beautifully maintained, but not overly groomed. We were definitely out in the wild and often deep in a temperate coastal rain forest, surrounded by the greenest green and inhaling the cleanest forest air anywhere.
Time to Take a Break for Forest Bathing
Recently, we’ve been reading more about the Japanese concept of “forest bathing”. At first the idea of forest bathing sounds strange (you keep your clothes on), but spend some time walking through the deep green forests around Squamish and you’ll see how they cleanse your mind, open your eyes and give you a fresh perspective on life.
We came across an interesting post on My Wild Earth that goes much deeper into the scientific research and health benefits of “taking in the forest”. So it’s not just us, there’s real science to support the good feelings created by forest bathing.
If you need to regain your sense of wonder, a hike through these forests among the ancient giants will remind you how small you are in the scheme of things.
Refuel With Craft Beer, Hipster Coffee and Brunch in the Forest
Squamish is still a small town, but growing fast with lots of restaurants, indie coffee shops, bakeries and brew pubs.
Treasures include the Xoco chocolate shop on Cleveland Avenue, voted the best chocolate in all of B.C., Howe Sound Brewing (brew pub and hotel) with a great selection of craft beer made on site, our favorite coffee shops, the 1914 Coffee Company and The Ledge Community Coffee House, and Fergie’s a “secret” hidden breakfast and brunch restaurant way up Paradise Valley (opposite the entrance to Alice Lake Provincial Park) where the Cheekye and Cheakamus Rivers meet.
We were in Squamish for a month, but since it’s just an hour from Vancouver up the dramatic Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99), you could make it a day-trip from Vancouver and have a blast.
And seriously, keep an eye out for bears. If you see fresh bear poop mounds on trails or roads near forests, you know they’re watching you.
Other Things To Do in Squamish
There’s no lack of things to do in Squamish – it is indeed hardwired for adventure. Aside from hiking Squamish, the region is famous for all types of adventure sports: rock climbing, seriously gnarly mountain biking, river rafting, kayaking, kite boarding and in the winter, skiing and snowboarding.
Get Your Best Deals on Squamish Hotels and Airbnb
The most recent prices on hotels in and around Squamish are here. You’ll also find an interesting selection of Airbnb accommodation in Squamish. If it’s your first time renting Airbnb, use our introductory offer link to get $50 CDN off your first stay.
Plan Your British Columbia Hiking Adventure with Lonely Planet
Whether you want to follow our footsteps for your Squamish hikes, or do your own forest bathing in many other B.C. parks, you’ll find the Lonely Planet British Columbia book a great guide. It’s still our favorite with useful maps, recommendations and contact information.
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