With spring fast approaching I’ve found myself thinking about rock climbing more and more and getting excited about the upcoming season. Excited for new climbs and to get back onto old projects, excited to be on the rock with the wind in my hair and the sun on my back. However, as it’s currently pouring rain outside here in Squamish, this excitement has drawn me to my computer to write a little about planning a climbing trip to Squamish.
Squamish is one of North America’s top climbing destinations and is growing more and more popular each year. Situated on the ocean just north of Vancouver this meca of Canadian climbing has a mild climate, reliable weather and amazing rock making it a great destination during the hot summer months. If you’re planning a climbing trip to Squamish but don’t know where to start, look no further. We’ve you covered with some beta on where to camp, find showers and free WiFi, what guidebooks to look for and restaurants should not be missed. Everything you need to plan that trip to the Coast.
There are numerous camping options in and around Squamish, each with a very different feel and social environment. The below list is of course not exhaustive but covers the main options. Unfortunately some people have been camping illegally in the bush away from any established camp sites which has lead to a buildup of garbage and human fecal matter (shit) in some beautiful natural areas. I would strongly urge anyone coming here to avoid random camping in the bush.
Chief Campground: By far the most popular place to camp is the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park Campground. Located at the base of the Chief, just a stone’s throw away from some great climbing, this campground has an almost Camp 4 type feel. It’s often very busy during the peak summer months with the adjacent parking lots being used by discrete van & RV campers who were unable to get a legitimate site. The campground is open from April 8th to October 15th though winter camping is available if you don’t mind the short walk in from the road. You cannot reserve a site, first-come first-serve only. There are 15 vehicle access sites (not RV sites though) and about 50 walk-in sites which are large enough for several tents. The campground is located a 20 min walk from downtown and has onsite water, outhouses, food storage lockers, picnic tables and a slack line area. There are no showers. Cost of $10/night per person.
Municipal Campground: Operated by the District of Squamish the Municipal Campground is located a short walk from the Smoke Bluffs climbing area and typically offers a much quieter environment though it’s much less scenic than the Chief. The campground itself is basically a large grassy area with fire pits and picnic tables that is able to accommodate numerous vehicles and tents per site. The campground is open from April 14th to October 2nd, is located a 15 minute walk from downtown and has port-a-potty type facilities, a large cook shelter, fire pits, picnic tables and food storage lockers. Showers are a 5 minute walk away at the Rec Centre. Cost of $16.90/day per site with a max of 6 people and 2 vehicles. Overall I’ve found this campground is really hit or miss. At times it can feel a little like a shanty town while at other times it’s a great way to get away from the crowds.
Cheakamus Canyon: The Cheakamus canyon, an area known for sport climbing is home to a rustic camping area. The campground is located along a dirt road approximately 25 Km north of the town of Squamish (exact directions can be found in the Squamish Select guidebook on page 306) and walking distance from numerous crags. It can currently be accessed by a 2WD vehicle and/or car though the last few hundred metres of the access road can fall into disrepair. Onsite facilities include an outhouse and picnic tables, there is no water or showers. On the positive site the camping is Free and there is no restrictions on when you can camp.
Alice Lake: This is an extremely popular full-service camping area that attracts all types of tourists on the Sea-to-Sky corridor and so can be very hard to get into during the summer months if not reserved early. Located about 15Km north of Squamish the campground located in a forested area next to a beautiful freshwater. With no nearby climbing and so this isn’t a popular spot for climbers but a great location for families with more posh sites (RV hookups, showers, etc.) and many activity options including mountain bike trails, swimming, fishing, canoeing, etc. Open from March 11th to October 31st and the cost/night varies by site type.
Less Legitimate Options: If you’ve come in the peak of the summer season and all the campgrounds are booked up and you don’t want to team up with some strangers in their site a few less legit options exist. Of course you will have to remain low-key and discrete to avoid unwanted attention if you want to make these sites work. This means camping without making it look like you’re camping (leaving no evidence that you are camping outside of the vehicle, cleaning up every day, often arriving late and leaving early, etc.).
- Smoke Bluffs Parking Lot: there are “No Camping” signs posted and so if you are discovered to be camping you will be kicked out and, worse, your vehicle will be known to the authorities. However, there are picnic tables, a port-a-potty and trash bins at the end of the level parking lot located right next to some great climbing.
- Squamish Adventure Centre: Across the road from the Adventure Centre is a large dirt parking lot surrounded by trees. Again, while not meant for overnight stays, it can be used intermittently if discrete and has the advantage being very close to flush toilets and free wifi.
- Walmart: If you are really strapped for a place to park overnight there is always the parking lot at Walmart
Most of the camping locations described above don’t have showers which makes this a hot commodity. The Brennan Park Rec Centre has showers in the pool change rooms but no special price for just a shower. The regular drop-in rate of $4.95 provides access to the showers as well as the pool, hot tub and sauna. The Rec Centre is located at 1009 Centennial Way in Squamish, near the Smoke Bluffs parking lot.
There are a number of options for WiFi around Squamish including most local coffee shops, fast food restaurants, etc.
- Squamish Adventure Centre: Offers an open seating area with great natural light and a small coffee shop, Caffe Garibaldi. A personal favourite.
- Squamish Library: A great location if you want a quiet and peaceful work environment.
- Coffee Shops: There are a number of coffee shops in Squamish that have free WiFi including Zephyr, Starbucks (2 locations), Bean Around the World, etc.
- Other: McDonalds, Save on Foods, etc.
Gear & Equipment
Due to the popularity of climbing in the area, Squamish has several options for purchasing gear including a locally owned climbing specific shop called Climb On. There is also a number of options in Vancouver which is a short drive to the south.
Climb On: This locally owned and operated climbing shop is in downtown Squamish and boasts one of the best selections of climbing gear and equipment in country. There is also a consignment area and rental equipment. Whether you’re looking for some new equipment, a local guidebook or just some beta this is a great place to visit.
Valhalla Pure: Located just off the main highway Valhalla Pure offers an assortment of climbing equipment as well as gear for other sports such as skiing, and paddling.
Escape Route: A few kilometres north of the downtown area is a sporting gear store that carries a small assortment of climbing equipment.
MEC: An hour or so south of Squamish MEC (the Canadian version of REI) carries almost anything that you could want in their huge Vancouver location though the closer and smaller store in North Vancouver also has a reasonable assortment of climbing equipment, packs, etc.
Arc’teryx Factory Outlet: Arc’teryx is a local West Coast company based in North Vancouver. If you’re in the area it’s worth a trip to their factory outlet store which is about an hour south of Squamish.
Guidebooks & Beta
There are a number of guidebooks for the Squamish area which can be purchased at the local climbing shops as well as online information sources:
- Squamish Select 3rd edition, Quickdraw Publications: The most recent and up-to-date rock climbing guidebook for the area, available at the local climbing shops
- Squamish Bouldering 3rd edition, Quickdraw Publications: A comprehensive 500 page tomb of Squamish and area bouldering.
- Canadian Rock, Select Climbs of the West: Written by a Squamish local this is a great climbing road trip book that touches on classic climbs in variety of areas across Western Canada from the Rockies to the Coast.
- Alpine Select Climbs in Southwest BC and Northern Washington: A guidebook for anyone that wants to get up into the alpine.
- SquamishClimbing.com: A great resource for local information on climbing from closures to new routes. Check it out to see what’s new on the local scene.
Rest day / Weather Day Activities
There are simply so many activities available to people in the Sea-to-Sky corridor that it would be easier to supply a list of what is not available. However, some of the more popular options include:
- Swimming: There are numerous lakes and rivers to swim in as well as the ocean if the weather is right.
- Mountain Biking: If you’re into bikng you probably already know about the innumerable downhill and cross-country trails. If you didn’t bring a bike, no problem just rent one at the Adventure Centre.
- Hiking: There are great hikes all over the place, check out some of the local provincial parks for ideas or swing by Climb On for some local beta.
- Climbing Gym: A new addition to Squamish this is a great place to climb when it’s wet outside.
While there are lots of great options for eating out a few gems really stand out as part of the local scene and should be on your radar:
Bisla Sweets: Located in downtown Squamish across from Climb On this little restaurant has fantastic samosa’s that sell for $1.00 each if you get takeout, a deal that can’t be missed.
Mag’s 99: A very unique Mexican and Fried Chicken restaurant located in a bright yellow building on the side of the highway, hard to miss. This place is always popular as it has great food and some local beer on tap.
The Brew Pub: Part of Squamish’s own Howe Sound Brewery the Brew Pub boasts some amazing beer and is a great après climb hangout.
I hope this article helps you plan a trip to Squamish. If you have any questions about the area please feel free to contact me.