America's* Best Trail Towns: Squamish, BC

Bald eagles, skiing, and mountain biking galore: It doesn't get much better than this outdoor paradise.
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Bald eagles, skiing, and mountain biking galore: It doesn't get much better than this outdoor paradise.
trail towns

A hiker passes Black Tusk on Panorama Ridge. Photo by Taylor Burk

Southwest British Columbia’s premier scenic drive is called the Sea-to-Sky Highway, and nowhere is that moniker more spot-on than in Squamish. Hugged by Howe Sound to the west and the straight-sided-but-bulbous, 2,303-foot dome of Stawamus Chief straight east, the ultraquick transition from salty seawater to lofty heights means visitors can windsurf or paddle in the morning, then walk on a glacier in the afternoon. That access draws adrenaline-seekers bound for the Whistler backcountry or the challenging mountain biking trails as well as hikers lured by the chance to trek from the town’s multiuse paths straight into 481,000-acre Garibaldi Provincial Park. “Ten minutes behind my house is wild,” says Heather Sidsworth, a leader for the Over the Hill hiking club. “There are so many trails, in one lifetime I couldn’t get all of them done."

Why You’re Here
You’ll wonder what it takes to achieve national park status when you see Garibaldi, a provincial park stuffed with heavily glaciated Coast Range peaks, cobalt lakes, and thick evergreen forests inhabited by A-list wildlife like grizzly bears and wolverines. For a sneaky, 18-mile out-and-back, take the lesser-traveled Helm Creek Trail to camp at Taylor Meadows. Next day, ascend into the rocky tundra for views of 7,608-foot Black Tusk, a prominent volcanic plug, gouging the angled horizon (sweet side scramble: Panorama Ridge for a peek at Garibaldi Lake below—a classic in its own right). Trailhead Cheakamus Lake Permit Required; $10/person per night

On the Town

PERK Swing by downtown’s Zephyr Café for healthy hippie food (breakfast rice bowls, vegan pastries) and a Canadiano—that’s an Americano with maple syrup. 38084 Cleveland Ave.

PUB Howe Sound Brewing slings fried goodies (try the poutine, obviously) with a steady lineup of folk and bluegrass live acts. 37801 Cleveland Ave.

SEE Head to Shannon Falls Provincial Park, a five-minute drive from downtown, for an easy stroll to the 1,099-foot cascade (BC’s third-tallest). And if you’re visiting from November to February, don’t miss dozens of bald eagles feasting on salmon at Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park. Route 99 south of the city limits

*We know, this one's Canadian. But it's still North America, so we're letting it slide.