I love Squamish not because of its obvious beauty, which it definitely has, or its perfect location nestled between Vancouver and Whistler, rather because of its many natural treasures that slowly reveal themselves to those who live here. It feels like a week doesn’t go by when I don’t stumble across some new viewpoint or interesting location in and around Squamish.
I know many try to keep their special locations a secret, fearing that crowds and others will suddenly flock to these places and ruin the solitude they provide, but I don’t think this will ever happen. The hiking trail up the Stawamus Chief is a great example. Everybody knows about it and most weekends it is understandably busy, but I’ve watched the sunset from up top on a few clear nights during the week and been alone up there.
I feel it is important to share knowledge of the natural gems of Squamish. I can’t be selfish and discover these spots then try to keep them to myself. The more wonders people find along the trails and around this town, the more valuable Squamish will become, and people will realize the need to look after it.
The first location I will mention I only recently discovered myself, primarily due to the hot, dry summer we’ve been having. I normally spend time up high in the mountains, but this summer I’ve been searching out water for places to stay cool during the heat of the day.
Above the main cascade of Shannon Falls but below the Upper Shannon Falls waterfalls lies some waist-to-shoulder-deep pools with views out over Squamish. This place is like something out of a Disney film or Peter Pan, with crystal-clear water, cascading falls and rock carved into interesting formations. You need to see this place. The water is cold but it’s perfect on a hot day.
To get there, take the climbers’ descent trail off of the rock climbing routes nearby such as Skywalker. This is a climbers’ trail, which means it is steep and difficult, with some mandatory sections that have rope pulls. Keep heading up this trail and when you hear water, keep taking the trail towards it.
Another beautiful spot is the base of Shannon Falls itself. This year has been amazing for getting up close to the falls as the water level has been so low. You can scramble up the rocks when they are dry and stand at the base of the main cascade on Shannon Falls – an awe-inspiring spot to relax and watch the water come down. When you turn around, you can also see out above the trees behind you and out towards Howe Sound. It’s a great location to visit just before the sun is setting and the last light of the day is shining through the water.
A third spot I visit frequently in Squamish is the Estuary and Spit to the west of Squamish. A popular area for kiteboarders, it’s also a nice location to watch the sunset on the Stawamus Chief. I’m always surprised at how vacant this location is, as you can drive right up to it, and no gear or planning is required to visit.
As the light on the Chief turns golden, head down the road towards the spit and park at any of the obvious parking spots with views towards the Chief. There is also a trail here at the Estuary that is short and rewarding. It’s always hard to believe that I’m so close to Squamish while visiting there as the area feels remote, with the Tantalus Range rising behind me and Howe Sound visible to the south. Definitely check it out.
For sunrise, it’s hard to beat visiting the climbing area known as Area 44. You don’t have to be a climber to come here. The trail and views make it worthwhile for hiking alone. In the fall, the forest comes alive with colour as the leaves change, and on a clear morning, you can sit and look out towards the jagged, white peaks of the Tantalus Range such as Mount Tantalus and Alpha Mountain and watch them as they get painted the various colours of sunrise during alpenglow.
To get there, drive 17 kilometres north of downtown Squamish toward Whistler. You can park at the paved turnoff on the right. This turnoff is the same as the one for the Tantalus Viewpoint. Once parked, cross the highway when it is safe to do so and you will find a trail here that heads down into the forest.
This next location is probably the furthest one from Squamish but still worth mentioning. Brandywine Falls is an amazing spot to visit, but have you ever been down to its base? Being below this waterfall is simply awe-inspiring. Drive to the Brandywine Falls parking lot and hike the trail towards the falls. Keep hiking along this trail until the fence ends. Here on the left, you will see another trail heading beyond the fencing. It appears to be heading away from the falls but continue to follow it. In a short while it will begin to drop down and switch back towards the waterfall. There is a steep section with a rope to hold onto, so care should be taken.
The hike to the base of the falls is flat but attention should be paid to the wet rocks along the river banks. As you approach the falls, you first feel the thunder from the crashing water in your chest before finally seeing it again. The experience is exhilarating, being so close to so much raw, natural power. It’s definitely worth the effort.
Some other falls worth checking out are closer to home and visible from downtown Squamish. As you look west across the Squamish River, you can likely make out a white line of water cascading down through the mountains. This is Monmouth Creek, and its waterfalls are tall and stunning. Also known locally as Jump for Joy Falls, the trails up alongside them will lead to Echo Lake, which is also worth visiting.
To cross the river you will need a canoe or other adequate watercraft. Cross at the Spit road and on the far, west side of the Squamish River, look for some old bridge pilings sticking up out of the water. The trailhead will be visible once you are here.
The last location I will mention is the Stawamus Chief itself. The three summits of the Chief are big and there are plenty of places to check out if you are safe.
If you see a trail, follow it to see what vantage point it will provide. Be safe, though, as these can sometimes lead to ledges or access for climbers.
Below the popular south summit of the Chief, there are wide granite ledges that are fun to explore. The drop-offs at the edge are sheer, so stay back if it’s windy or if heights make you dizzy. Peeking over the edge can be thrilling.
Here’s how to get to them: Once you have come up the last chain pull before the south summit of the Chief, angle left into the trees instead of hiking straight up to the top. You will pick up a trail that takes you out to these slabs and the views out over the Howe Sound and beyond.
So there you have it. Hopefully there is something new here for you to check out in Squamish. There’s treasure for the eyes hidden around every corner here – you just need to go out and find it.