When I visited Whistler last month, the drive took us along a spectacular road that snaked alongside mountains and the sea, views of islands ever-changing as the land drew towards us until we were completely inland. The best part of the drive culminated in Squamish, and I immediately made a mental note to go back.
Cut to a month later, and I unexpectedly found myself there on a tour as part of Vancouver’s tourism challenge. It was the perfect excuse to welcome myself to this little part of Canada that I hadn’t even heard of.
As you might have gathered from my last post, I was totally blown away by it.
Squamish, less than an hour north of Vancouver, was originally a First Nations community, and even road signs for it are “Sḵwx̱wú7mesh”. My favourite thing about this is the fact there’s a 7 in it and this fascinated me for weeks, although I haven’t managed to take a photo of the signs yet. Well I found out on the tour that the 7 indicates a break in the word, so you would say it “squa-mish”.
Our first stop, though, wasn’t in Squamish. It was just outside Vancouver in a little place called Horseshoe Bay. I’ve been to a few Horseshoe Bays before (mostly in Australia) but this one was different… because it’s not exactly a beach.
Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver is a cute little town surrounded by huge great mountains, and serves as a port for some of the western islands. It was a stunning stop off for half an hour and made for a nice start to the tour.
Our next stop, just inside Squamish, was one of my most anticipated activities of the day: Shannon Falls.
Shannon Falls is the third largest waterfall in BC – making it hard to get a photo that actually justifies its size. Seeing it from afar, it looks amazing, but you don’t get an idea of just how big it is until you’re standing right in front of it and tilting your head back as far as it will go.
I actually think it’s the biggest waterfall I’ve ever seen, so God knows what the other two are like!! I was especially lucky with the time of year because all the rainfall that I managed to miss has made for a lot of water. Our guide told us that towards the end of summer the waterfall reduces to little more than a trickle. So if I have one piece of advice, definitely go in April or May.
And also don’t go mid-morning, because the lighting was horrific for photos.
Then we left because there were bears. (I’m kidding, there was just a sign)
My tour included a ride up in the Sea To Sky gondola, which I would probably never have got around to doing because it’s about $50. Getting to do it for free meant that I could find out for myself whether it’s worth paying for next time.
Spoiler: it is.
The ride up is a whopping 15 minutes (not quite as long as the gondola we took in Hong Kong, but still a sizeable chunk of time!) and it’s pretty mindblowing.
You also get fantastic views of the Chief, which is a popular hike that I will never do because I’d probably die.
Once we got to the top, I did go for a little hike. It was more of a walk. A whole 1.6km walk for one of the best views I’ve ever seen in my life.
It was… sweeping.
I had to take a panorama of course, and I got a successful one! (I am the world’s worst panorama-photo-taker)
It’s just unreal. I don’t really have any words for it, to be honest, because the photos are telling you more than I ever could.
Needless to say, I spent most of my time up there in this spot. It’s on the Panorama Trail which is well signposted when you get to the top in the gondola.
But there is a lot that you can explore up there. There’s the basic tourist “walk” which is 400m and barely even counts. It takes you across a cool suspension bridge (seriously, what is Canada’s obsession with suspension bridges?) and to a viewpoint that’s nowhere near as impressive as the other one. Which is funny because it’s still bloody stunning.
There’s some interesting history scattered along the short trail though, including legends of the Squamish people around the mountains.
The only problem with a tour? You can’t spend all day in the places you love. So this is definitely one that I’ll have to come back to, and next time I’m thinking of attempting the Sea to Summit hike (we’ll see!!).
Next up was our final stop on the tour. The Britannia Mine Museum is somewhere that I would never have considered visiting in a million years, but a) it was included on the tour and b) I got a stamp in the tourism challenge book for visiting.
It’s actually a pretty good museum. I can’t say I was that interested in it, but I was excited about riding the underground train!
…which lasted all of five minutes.
Here’s my look of terror as I boarded the train.
We were shown around part of a mine and had to cover our ears when the guide demonstrated the drills. He actually made it interesting and informative, and if I’m honest it was something I knew nothing about, so I did learn quite a bit of useless info.
What really surprised me – in a good way, I think? – was how much they talked afterwards about the negative impact on the environment and the steps they’re taking to reverse the damage done. In the past ten years, marine life has started coming back into the area, which means Howe Sound is no longer toxic.
They also had a fun little panning for gold section, and I found two little pieces that I got to keep! They even provide little baggies to put them in.
I also saw a snake!!! I thought the guy was joking when he shouted “THERE’S A SNAKE!”
This means I have now seen three times the amount of snakes in Canada than I did in a year in Australia. So whatevz Australia. Who said you were scary?
With that, it was time to head back.
Along a beautiful highway that I don’t think I will ever tire of (seriously – imagine COMMUTING along here!).
Squamish makes for a FANTASTIC day out from Vancouver, and I way preferred it to Whistler. Where Whistler is a fun zone for snow lovers, Squamish is just out of this world. It’s far less touristy and totally underrated – after all, how many of you have heard of Squamish?! Because I hadn’t. And while I liked Whistler and had a really good time there, nothing about it totally blew me away like Squamish did.
Have you ever stumbled across a great alternative to somewhere tourists flock to?
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Huge thanks to Landsea tours for a great day out! This isn’t a sponsored post – it was part of the Vancouver tourism challenge which heavily subsidised the tour for anyone working in the tourist industry. A very special thank you to my supervisor for gifting me the tour, too!!
Note to add [May 2020]: I’ve had to turn off commenting on this post as I’m getting 100 spam comments a DAY just on this post for some reason. I’ll try turning them back on at some point and hope that they’ve stopped.