The Sea to Sky Gondola
The Sea to Sky Gondola only opened in May 2014 and during that time has become a very popular spot for locals as well as tourists. It’s located just outside the town of Squamish, along the Sea to Sky Highway, just 50 minutes from downtown Vancouver and an hour from Whistler.
We visited on our way to Whistler during our Canadian road trip, stopping for what we thought would just be an hour or so. The Sea to Sky Gondola had been recommended, but I hadn’t done much research and so didn’t know what to expect. It turned out that there is a lot to do on the summit and you can easily spend half-a-day or even longer exploring the trails and admiring the views.
Our kids would have been happy just to take the 10-minute ride up the gondola and then head straight back down again (and then up again!). The cabins seat eight passengers and you can easily fit a pushchair in as well (although they’re not that handy at the summit). The scenery on the ride up and down is wonderful. This was our first stop on our trip and, coming from Mexico City, we were blown away by the views.
There are three main viewing platforms at the summit. The Summit Lodge Viewing Deck is the first that you come across, and provides sublime views over Howe Sound and Co-Pilot and Sky Pilot Mountain Peaks. The Chief Overlook Viewing Platform is not for those with a fear of heights! This narrow platform cantilevers over a sheer drop with views up the Squamish Valley towards Mt. Atwell. The Spirit Viewing Platform is an interesting one for kids as it includes interpretive information on the surrounding landscape and what it means to the Stawamus First Nations people.
The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge is one of those wonderful bouncy suspension bridges that I loved and my daughter hated (she was convinced we were going to fall!).
There are 8 main hiking trails at the summit of varying length and difficulty. The Panorama Trail is a 1.6km long loop trail that through coastal forest that enjoys some wonderful viewpoints (with handcrafted cedar benches from which to admire the scenery!) and is a really easy walk to do with little kids (you can even use a pushchair on this track). Other family-friendly trails include the Spirit Trail and the Lookback Trail.
We were unaware of which walks might suit us best so we opted for the Wonderland Lake Loop, mostly because we all liked the name. This was a really pretty walk that involved some clambering over rocks and tree roots. It says it’s only 1.6km long but it felt much longer and took us almost an hour to complete.
There are also a number of backcountry trails but these are for experienced hikers only (not Mexico City residents that take their kids walking in Crocs!).
Other summit activities include rock climbing and the newly opened Via Ferrata, a “vertical adventure” where you climb and walk assisted by metal rungs and a specialised cable system. This is open to children over eight years old.
The gondola and the summit are very family-friendly. Free guided tours depart from the Summit Trail Map at the top of the gondola at 11am and 2pm daily. Our visit didn’t coincide with one of these but they are reportedly good, led by local guides who will introduce you to the various trails, activities and the history of the area.
A new interactive family tour has recently started that sounds fantastic. Kids are taken on an alpine adventure to find and summit Bodhi’s Boulder all the while learning about the different animals that live in the area and helping their tour guide find their lost hiking gear. This tour is held weekdays at 4pm and weekends at 1pm.
Also at the summit is a small play area with a tightrope, which my kids enjoyed a lot.
We visited during the summer but I would love to go back during the winter months. Winter activities include snowshoeing, winter walking, ski touring and tubing.
We were woefully underprepared for our trip to the summit; no food or change of clothes for the baby and no sun screen or water for us. Fortunately, there’s a restaurant and shop at the summit so we were able to buy some of what we needed, but we did end up with a very hungry and wet baby on the gondola ride down.
Plan to spend a few hours at the summit. There are plenty of walking trails to choose from, views to admire and then lunch to be eaten.
Make sure your kids are wearing tennis shoes (trainers) for walking – or anything rather than Crocs!
Buy your tickets in advance online and you’ll save a few dollars per ticket.
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