No matter how much time I spend in Squamish it never seems to be enough. Located only an hour’s drive north of Vancouver, en route to world famous ski resort, Whister, Squamish is easily accessible but still remains to be a hidden gem since most tourists tend to flock directly to Whistler without a second glance at the this small, scenic, mountain town.
What initially drew us to Squamish back in 2017 was its fame among the rock climbing world and as avid, yet mediocre, climbers, we were always looking for destinations that delivered versatile climbing opportunities. We came for the climbing but stayed for so many other reasons.
Squamish was built for outdoorsmen/women.
Surrounded by mountains, trails, rocks, lakes, and the iconic Stawamus Chief, Squamish has a little bit of everything as far as adventure goes and what makes it so cool, is not only the nature, but also the infrastructure, welcoming locals, good food, and outdoor culture.
Squamish is a home away from home for us and no matter how many times I visit, there is never enough time in Squamish
There are few places in the world that are comfortable enough for us to settle into a routine and in Squamish we do just that. We’d grab coffee in town, get some work done with WiFi, then we’d go climb the Smoke Bluffs or go mountain biking or find some cliff jumping, then we’d grab a beer at a local brewery and head to a camping spot for the night, sometimes boondocking, sometimes at scenic campgrounds, and sometimes at campgrounds with the luxury of showers and WiFi.
If you’re looking to head to this awesome outdoor destination anytime soon, this guide will tell you everything you need to know to have an amazing trip filled with local hangouts, epic adventures, and good vibes.
Tips for Visiting
It’s pretty amazing that Squamish has managed to stay as small as it is considering it’s only a 1 hour drive from Vancouver, one of BC’s biggest cities, along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway. That being said, Squamish is growing and it’s growing fast and while I don’t think the charm of Squamish will ever really go away, I recommend making the most of its small town feel now.
So pack you bags—or rather your bikes, ropes, cams, hiking boots, and fishing poles–get a flight to Vancouver, and go enjoy one of the world’s greatest mountain town’s, Squamish.
Disclosure: The Squamish Beer Fest and Narwhals Ice Cream were both sponsored in the making of this article however the opinions shared are of course, exclusively our own.
Getting to Squamish
Being so close to Vancouver makes getting to Squamish super cheap and easy. Vancouver is major international hub so whether you’re coming from abroad or from Canada and the US, you can find really affordable flights.
Once in Vancouver, you’ll need a ride to Squamish. While I highly recommend monopolizing the buses that run along Sea to Sky Highway when headed to Whistler, I wouldn’t recommend a shuttle or bus if Squamish is your destination. The reason for this is because all the trailheads and basecamps of Squamish are really spread out and it’s not a very walkable town. And while there is a bike path, it doesn’t go to all the main spots on Squamish.
If you are visiting Squamish with the intent of exploring mountain biking, climbing, hiking, and just eplxoring everything the town has to offer, you will need a car.
Search for car rentals and cheap flights to Vancouver with the Skyscanner search box below. We always use Skyscanner to find cheap flights and it’s never let us down.
Prepare for Rain
In Squamish, weather is not forecasted by rain or no rain, there are simply 5 different levels because it’s almost always raining (even in the summer). When you plan a trip to Squamish, come with the mindset that it will rain and that any exception is an amazing day! The good thing is, mountain biking trails are usually quite doable if it’s only drizzling and the rock is granite so many routes can dry out in a day.
On the other hand, rain can really kill the views on the Chief, at Elfin Lakes, Watersprite Lakes, and on the trails at the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola.
The best time to visit Squamish is definitely summer, specifically from July to September, however, even in the summer it can still rain. Once we visited in July of 2017 and scored 5 out of 6 days of perfect sun but in July of 2019 we visited for a 10 days and only 4 of those days were sunny but we still managed to get a lot of mountain biking in on the drizzly days.
Point being, give yourself at least a week in Squamish so you have better odds of getting a few days of sun.
Make Summer Reservations
Winters (and springs and falls for that matter) are much like the rest of the PNW up here: Wet and rainy. It’s not particularly cold but as I mentioned before, the views just aren’t as great when it isn’t sunny. Because of this, summer brings flocks of climbers, bikers, and tourists to Squamish and everything from luxurious hotels to hostels and campgrounds can become fully booked.
If you have your eye on certain accommodations, book them as soon as possible. For more details on recommended accommodations see top number
How to Save Money
A trip to Squamish can easily become expensive when you rack up the car rentals, flights, hotels, eating expenses, and excursions. The only way we’ve managed to travel full time for 4 years is by being cheap so here are 5 tips to save money in Squamish.
- Shop at Nesters Market – Eating out is fun and there are some amazing restatuarnats I will be mentioning on the Things to Do section of this blog, however, eating out racks up the expenses really fast and cooking your own food is a really easy way to save money. Nesters Market has a great variety of healthy, local foods as well as some cheap food options for you to cook your own delicious meals. They also have a rad juice bar in the market.
- Go camp – There are some awesome hostels and inns in Squamish but camping in Squamish is the way to go not only for the price but also because you’ll be immersed in Squmish’s #1 feature: nature. Click here to check out our ultimate guide to camping in Squamish.
- Bring a bike – If you’re lucky enough to only live an hour away from Squamish in the grand city of Vancouver, do yourself a favor and bring your bikes from home. Bike rentals can be really affordable in Squamish but depending on how many days you stay, you might be better off with your own.
- Skip the Guided Activities – Guided excursions can be unforgettable experiences but they can be PRICEY especially if you have a family or large group. There are a few exceptions, but more often than not, you can enjoy the same or similar activities by yourself without having to pay for a guide. More details on this I the recommended activities below.
Understanding Squamish: Maps and Neighborhoods
Squamish has 5 main area of town:
- Downtown – Downtown Swumaish is where many restaurants are. It’s also where most events are held.
- Diamond Head – This is the area just north of downtown by the Canadian Tire but east of the highway near Quest University. Up here you can see Sky Pilot and it’s where you access Elfin Lakes + a mountain biking network.
- Sea to Sky Gondola + The Chief – This area is just south of downtown.
- Alice Lake – Alice Lake is a Provincial Park that makes up a lot of the Squamish area and is the northeast area of town.
- Brackendale – Just before Alice Lake is this quaint neighborhood of Squmaihs with lots of mountain biking.
We’ve made a custom map to help you know where everything to do in Squamish. Save it to Google Maps and access it at any time:
Things to do in Squamish
1 | Hike the Sea to Summit Trail + Ride down the Gondola
What could possibly be cooler than riding the Sea to Sky Gondola? Well…hiking it. Yes it’s strenuous, yes there are ladders and ropes involved, and yes it’s freaking awesome. This hike was built for the adventurers. If you want to experience the beauty of riding the Sea to Sky Gondola without spending a fortune, look no further than the Sea to Summit trail which runs from the gondola parking lot all the way to the gondola’s summit where some of Squamish’s greatest hiking opportunities lie. The trail is 4.5 miles/7.5 kilometers long and gains 3,00 feet/915 meters making it quite strenuous. Once at the top, I highly recommend extending your trip to one of these iconic Squamish adventures:
Not only is this hike perfect for adventures but also a great way to save money on gondola tickets. The one way ride-down ticket on the Sea to Sky Gondola only costs $15 CAD and kids 6-12 ride free with an adult.
If strenuous hikes aren’t your thing, click here to see rates for riding the Sea to Sky Gondola.
2 | Downhill Pseudo-Tsuga + Half Nelson
If you’ve come to Squamish for it’s world class mountain biking, look no further than the Diamond Head trail system which holds two of Squamish’s most flawy and gnarly downhill rides: Pseudo-Tsuda and Half Nelson.
These two rides are fast and flowy with tight berms, smooth, rolling drops, and the occasional rocky section.
Squamish in general has a hard grading for its mountain biking trails which means that even though both Pseudo-Tsuga and Half Nelson area rated as blue/intermediate trails, these downhill rides require a high level of experience that may be closer to black diamond trails where you’re from.
Being one of Squamish’s most popular routes, there is a classic way to ride Pseudo-Tsuga and Half Nelson which I’ve included below:
- Climb Trail AKA Stl’lhalem Sintl’ – 5 mile uphill only trail that brings you to the top of Nelson. Beginner to intermediate.
- Upper Half Nelson – Basically one long, steep pump track. They say beginners could ride it but I would recommend it for intermediate and above riders.
- Ring Creek Access Road – At the End of Half Nelson you’ll head uphill for a while on a forest road. It’s not too steep but exposed to sun. 200 foot gain in 1.5 miles. You’ll cross past the Climb Trail you initially went up and continue to the top of the road at Pseudotsuga.
- Pseudo-Tsuga 1, 2, and 3 – A fast flowy trail filled with the most epic berms you could imagine on a single track trail. Beginner to intermediate riders not recommended. Best for intermediate to advanced riders. Two miles of downhilling bring you back to the trailhead.
The trailhead lies up on the hill near Quest University on the very start of the Diamond Head Road which takes you to Elfin Lakes. There is big dirt lot at the top that a small RV could turn around in but you’d need to go early.
3 | Explore Alice Lake Provincial Park
Alice Lake is one of Squamish’s outdoor hotspots. Filled with hiking, biking, kayaking, SUPing, swimming, chilling, and camping, a trip to Squamish isn’t complete with exploring Alice Lake Provincial Park.
One of the most popular parts of Alice Lake is the Four Lakes trail (Note: you can’t mountain bike this trail in the summer). This 4 mile loop is perfect for families or just an easy, pleasant hike.
The lake is super scenic and is perfect for chilling, kayaking, or swimming. There is a small snack bar, picnic tables, sandy shores, restrooms, and shallow wading sections.
Camping here is an amazing experience due to beautiful forest, secluded and spacious sites, nice bathroom/shower facilities, and even partial electrical hookups. Click here for more details on camping at Alice Lake.
Of Squamish’s 200+ kilometers of mountain biking, my personal favorites lie within Alice Lake Provincial Park. There is something for everyone to bike up here! The trails up here are definitely more catered to cross country mountain bikers and don’t have as much gnarly downhilling.
If you are an intermediate rider (not by Squamish standards) I highly recommend this route:
- Jacks Trail – Easy, mostly smooth trail the runs along the river valley of Alice Lake. Beginner riders can ride this as an out and back. Access to 50 Shades of Green from this trail.
- 50 Shades of Green – Smooth, moderately steep uphill only trail perfect to access Cliffs and Robs Corner. Stay left at the junction to get to Tracks from Hell.
- Mike’s Loop + Tracks From Hell – An easy to moderate mostly double track path with a few fun downhill sections. One long, narrow boardwalk section at the end.
- Mashiter Access Road – After Tracks from Hell head left up the access road. Not steep but pretty rocky, makes for slow ascent.
- Rob’s + Cliff’s Corner – These are the gems of Squamish and an intermediate riders dream. These two trail which connect with each other, are the perfect downhill grade for beginner-intermediates and are filled with wide berms, whoops, and rolling drops. This finishes at the Acmes road and you’ll head right.
- Rollercoaster – Another fun smooth swichbacking trail similar but steeper than Cliffs Corner. Intermediate.
- Lumberjacks – This trail weaves through the forest and has lots of rock drops. Isn’t particularly fun but it’s the easiest way bak to Alice Lake.
- Access Rd + Jacks – Ride the Access Road until it turns into Jacks where you’ll ride uphill on the smooth trail back to Alice PP.
Other recommended rides for more advanced riders:
- Rupert’s and Entrails – A black diamond alternative to riding Rollercoaster on the suggested route.
- Credit Line – Ride 50 Shades of Green then head right to downhill Credit Line. Finish on Jacks.
4 | Hike the Stawamus Chief
Stawamus Chief, or simply The Chief as most people call it, is one of the coolest hikes in the world. The Chief’s summit delivers the most amazing view of Howe Sound, surrounding peaks, and the town of Squamish, plus just the ascent up is enough of a reason to try this adventure.
Hiking up the Chief involves ropes and the occasional ladder rungs to assist you up the rocky cliffs. It’s not dangerous but those with a fear of heights might be frightened by the exposure.
The Chief itself has three different peaks. Many tourists only go to the first but you’re missing out if you don’t summit the second. The second delivers some of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. The third peak is the most secluded of them all and only takes another 15 minutes to get to, however, there’s not much more to be seen from over there.
From the summit of The Chief’s second peak, you’ll have 360 degree views from Squamish to Howe Sound
5 | Bike Brackendale’s Easy Trails
Locals may scoff at the overly easy riding of Brackendale, AKA The Dump, but the trail system here is the most beginner/family friendly spot in the area and even intermediates will find Brackendale’s trails fun.
The variety of green trails makes for a dozen different ride variations that could keep a beginner rider stoked for hours on end.
Brackendale’s trail system is encompassed by a looping trail known as the Ray Peters trail. This is a really fun, wide trail that’s perfect for young kids or those who are just learning to mountain bike. Within the Ray Peter’s loop are many short single track trails.
6 | Explore the Oceanfront Trail
Squamish’s Oceanfront Trail is a great activity on a gloomy day. The short 2 kilometer trail has interpretive signs all along and you get to experience Howe Sound up close and personal.
Access to this beach/trail is at the end of Cleveland Ave right across the street from Howe Sound Brewery.
7 | Hike to Elfin Lakes
Elfin Lakes is a hike I’ve been wanting to do since I first started planning a trip to Squamish. It’s considered one of the best hikes in BC and it doesn’t come as a surprise. The alpine nature of this hike makes it magical.
The hike is a long 13.5 miles/22 kilometers roundtrip but is considered easy due to the low incline and easy path. You can choose to extend this trip to The Gargoyles, the Opal Cone, or Mamquam Lake. The path is open to mountain bikers as well. The lakes are a great place to camp or you could even stay overnight at the backcountry hut. Both require making reservations in advance.
What’s held us back from doing this hike is that you have drive a dirt road for 6 miles/10 kilometers to get to the trailhead. I have no idea what the road’s conditions are like but I haven’t heard any requirements for 4wd or high clearance, we just din’t wan to risk it with an RV.
8 | Go to the Squamish Farmer’s Market
The Squamish farmers market has become one of the culinary highlights of all our travels. There are very few farmers that deliver such spectacular quality food including produce, bread, honey, meat, syrup, and other artisan products.
This is one our favorite farmers markets in the world