Gondola Cable Cars Passing
By Michael Chang
Having just opened in May 2014, the Sea To Sky Gondola is one of the hottest attractions and offers many things for adventure seekers to see and do. Located North of Vancouver along the Sea To Sky Highway in Squamish, the 8-passenger gondola climbs to 885 meters (2900 ft) above sea level in a mere 10-minutes offering stunning views of Howe Sound and The Chief. Off to the right, you can see Shannon Falls cascading down the rocky cliff before you ascend above and out of view. As you approach the Summit Lodge, the backdrop is set by the spectacular Sky Pilot Mountain that towers high above.
Once you’re at the top, the views start immediately as you walk to your right, past the lodge, to the Summit Lodge Viewing Deck. The wide wooden deck area is perfectly positioned for a clear view looking down towards the Sea To Sky Highway, at the mountains on the opposite side of Howe Sound, and across to Sky Pilot Mountain.
Crossing the 100-meter suspension bridge from the lodge brings you to the Spirit Viewing Platform, which offers an alternate view of Howe Sound and the region’s forested landscape. After enjoying this view, walk along the dirt trail called The Spirit Trail for 400-meters as it passes a couple of viewpoints for Sky Pilot Mountain before looping back around to the area by the Gondola.
The other spectacular viewpoint is the Chief Overlook Viewing Platform, which can be accessed on the north side of the Gondola via the Panorama Trail. The walk to the viewpoint is only 800-meters with the entire Panorama Trail loop being 1.6km. The walk is well worth it as the wooden platform extends from the mountain and overlooks The Chief below with the town of Squamish in the background.
Beside the short trails near the Lodge, the Sea To Sky Gondola has opened up the area to more hiking opportunities. The Upper Shannon Falls trail, which starts from the bottom of the mountain at the Gondola, Shannon Falls or at the Chief Parking lot, has been extended from the rocky bluff where it ended to the Gondola via two route options. The first route is called the Upper Sea To Sky Trail which winds its way uphill and the second, much steeper route is called Wrinkle Rock and is meant for those wanting a challenge. Once at the top, hikers can then purchase a ticket for $10 (annual passes are available) for the ride back down, effectively making this the Sea To Sky’s version of the Grouse Grind.
The backcountry has also been opened up to hiking options which include Sky Pilot Valley Trail, Skyline Trail, and Al’s Habrich Ridge Trail. All of these trails had snow on them as of June and talking further with one of the guides, we were disappointed to find that the Skyline Trail and Al’s Harbrich Ridge Trail were still being built and would not be fully completed for at least 2-years. However, we were reassured that the Sky Pilot Valley Trail would be ready and a great time to visit would be in July when all of the wildflowers were blooming.
There are several other adventure activities that visitors can take part in, including rock climbing on Wrinkle Rock or Klettergarten. There are also future plans to include mountain biking access via the gondola as well as snowshoeing and ski touring during the winter.
Summit Lodge serves food and beverage and there is also a smaller cafe at the bottom of the Gondola. Gift shops are located at the top and bottom as well and there is a kids playground at the base. The lodge at the top has the facilities to book weddings and other special events.
Parking at the Gondola is a bit of a challenge as the lot next to the lift has a maximum 3-hour parking time. This would make one feel rushed, whether heading up the gondola or hiking up the the Upper Shannon Falls trail to experience all of the views and get back to the lot in time. Alternatively, there is an overflow parking lot with no time restrictions south on the Sea To Sky Highway across from the Shannon Falls parking lot where a free shuttle service buses people back and forth to the gondola.
Also, the wait from the top to take the gondola back down was about 20-minutes for us on a weekday when it wasn’t very busy. We had some other friends go up on the weekend and they said the wait time was over 45-minutes due to the popularity of the new attraction.
The Sea To Sky Gondola in Squamish was a fun experience and the views of Howe Sound were nothing short of spectacular. The Gondola can appeal to adventure seekers of all different levels as there are great views to enjoy for casual walkers, a challenging workout hiking up Upper Shannon Falls for exercise buffs, and several trails in the backcountry to explore that were once very difficult to access. However, with the news that some of the backcountry trails have not been completed, it might not be worth an annual pass for a few more years unless you plan to hike up to the gondola more than 10 times in the next year.
For more information about Sea To Sky Gondola ticket prices and hours of operation, visit http://www.seatoskygondola.com
Published: June 12, 2014
Michael Chang is an avid hiker and runs a local online hiking resource called Vancouver Trails, which focuses on day-hikes around Vancouver, Whistler, the Fraser Valley, and Southwestern British Columbia.