I sometimes feel like a pretty poor Canadian, since I never do much whenever I am back home to visit. So this time, in-between my travels from Fiji and before going to LA for VidCon, I decided to check out the newly opened Sea to Sky Gondola. Situated along Hwy 99 just before the town of Squamish and on route to Whistler, it is BC’s hottest new attraction and I could not wait to try it out!
The gondola climbs up along the left side of the Stawamus Chief and then heads up around the back, thus not interrupting the pristine wildness surrounding the Chief. The ride itself is only about 10 mins to reach the top, but there is also the option to hike up (~3-4hrs) and just purchase a single ride ticket down.
Halfway up the ride I was immediately greeted with sweeping views of beautiful Howe Sound. The view never disappoints, no matter how many times I see it (as I have hiked The Chief a few times).
Located at the top there is a 9,000 square foot Summit Lodge, a place to sit, enjoy the views, have a bite to eat and just relax. Inside the lodge there is a self-serve buffet style restaurant, offering local food favourites like chowder, poutine, stews, tacos, sandwiches and burgers.
There is also a cafe, which serves a variety of specialty coffee beverages and pastries, plus a bar which has on tap all local beers brewed from Howe Sound Brewing Company, located just down the mountain in town.
You can choose to eat inside, or outside on their spacious Summit Lodge deck. On Friday and Saturday evenings there is a special “Sunset Menu”, a 3-course meal for $19.95. Reservations not required, although it doesn’t hurt to call in advance.
From the Summit Lodge there are many trails to explore. You can walk them on your own or take one of their free interpretive guided tours. I decided to venture on my own on their well marked Panorama Trail. Although it’s a 1.6km round trip on top of the mountain, it’s on a very easy to walk path I’d like to call “flip-flop” friendly, as you can hike it in your flip-flops and you can also take a stroller along, assuming it has the proper wheels.
I would HIGHLY recommend to do this trail. It doesn’t take to long, (approx. 1 hour if you take your time) and if you won’t miss out on the best part, the Chief Overlooking Platform.
At the platform you’ll see magnificent views of The Squamish Spit, where world class windsurfing takes place, the Estuary, and the beautiful local mountains all looking up and overtop of the Stawamus Chief.
There are other viewpoints along the trail, but they seem to still be “works in progress” so I would recommend just going straight to the Chief Overlook.
Another option is the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge that offers a 360 degree view on a very sturdy suspension bridge (seriously no need to worry here).
It takes you over to the Sky Pilot Viewpoint, which offers views of the Summit Lodge and of the Sky Pilot and Co-Pilot mountain range.
There also happens to be several backcountry trails for the enthusiastic and experienced hikers, although I didn’t have time to complete any this trip (maybe next time).
In conclusion, I must say I was impressed. The Sea to Sky Gondola is a wonderful addition to Squamish and the Sea to Sky Corridor. It takes nothing away from the hikers who can still hike up the back of the Chief on their own; plus they added to the experience and offered another way up for those less physically inclined.