Squamish in winter is defined by short days, a lot of rain and maybe a few weeks of snow and ice.
By 2 p.m. most days in December, daylight is starting to slip away and the sun will be setting soon. For many, the hiking goals of summer get put on the back burner and replaced by visits to Whistler or Cypress Mountain resorts to ski and snowboard.
But if you’re tenacious and can find enjoyment in those prickly nostrils from the cold, there are still many ways to get outside in the winter months. The living isn’t quite as easy as summertime but the views can be the same, if not better. Up high the vast expanse of the Coast Mountains becomes a sea of white as metres of snow blanket everything.
For the initiated, travel over snow can also feel easier than travel in summer when you will need to contend with downed trees, creek and river crossings, boulder fields and loose rocks. In winter it all becomes an even, smooth surface of snow. To add to this, the bugs are gone. My favourite reason for getting into the wild in winter is the lack of insects and the lack of crowds. It’s not uncommon to visit places like Garibaldi Lake in the winter and have the entire park to yourself on days when there would be over 100 people there in summer.
What follows are some ideas for winter hikes that the locals in Squamish frequent often. For detailed instructions on how to find these hikes near Squamish, visit a local outdoor retailer in town and inquire about hiking guidebooks for the area.
RED HEATHER HUT AND ELFIN LAKES
Usually, from October onward you will need snowshoes or winter boots at the very least to access the Red Heather Hut.
This hut is simply a warming hut and should not be slept in unless in an emergency. To get from the Red Heather Hut to Elfin Lakes requires knowledge of avalanche conditions and how to manage them. Follow the orange wands from the hut along the winter route. On most weekends the entire route will be broken through the snow by both skiers and snowshoers alike.
Brohm Lake, Cat Lake, Alice Lake and Browning Lake all make worthwhile excursions during the winter months. The commutes to them are short and the hiking is likewise, as well being easy to moderate in difficulty.
The Brohm Lake interpretive forest hike is a favourite of mine. The lake sometimes freezes enough to allow for ice-skating and the trail up and into the forest offers views out over the snow-clad Tantalus Range. Well worth a visit or three. Browning Lake at Murrin Park also has a well-developed network of trails thanks to the rock climbing that is popular there. If you haven’t already, check out “Jurassic Ridge” in Murrin Park. It is a local favourite with stunning views out over the Howe Sound and its islands. If conditions are icy, bring micro-spikes.
A 25-minute drive from Squamish, reaching Garibaldi Lake via the Rubble Creek trail can feel like a serious undertaking in winter. But due to its growing popularity, the trail is frequently broken by many other skiers and snowshoers allowing ease of access to those lacking the fitness to break trail for the nine kilometres required to reach the shores of the lake.
Start early and bring headlamps, as well as warm layers and more food than you imagine you will need.
The round trip is 18 kilometres with a lot of uphill. Budget for at least an eight-hour day if on snowshoes. But the views at the lakeshore are more than worth the effort. Once there, you can look out across the five-kilometre-wide expanse of ice and snow to Panorama Ridge and the mountains beyond.
If you are new to winter hiking, plan to not go immediately or soon after a recent snowstorm.
Allow time for the trail to be broken by skiers before planning your visit. A dry spell of a week or more is usually enough time for dozens of skiers to have visited the area and broken a trail along the summer route.
Hopefully, those few recommendations will motivate you to not box up the hiking gear this winter and continue to get out and explore the forests, lakes and mountain peaks nearby. The wild that surrounds us here is not just scenery outside of our windows; they are places that call to us to come see it. Have fun and be safe out there in the cold winter wilderness.