Snowshoeing Vancouver Area

The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Squamish: 9 Places to Go Snowshoeing

Squamish is the outdoor recreation capital of Canada. So it’s no surprise that the outdoorsy fun continues in the winter… in the form of snowshoeing.  The terrain around Squamish is pretty rugged and many of the mountain access roads aren’t navigable in the winter so there aren’t as many places to go snowshoeing in Squamish as there are to go hiking. But there are still lots to choose from. In this guide to snowshoeing in Squamish you’ll get info and directions for 9 different trails ranging from super flat beginner trails to all-day epics to deep backcountry wilderness. And if you don’t have snowshoes yet, I’ve also got info for you on where to buy or rent some.

 

But First… Be Prepared

Make a Trip Plan

Snowshoeing in BC is no joke. While these trails may be steps from a busy highway, they access serious wilderness. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Check out the great trip planning tools over at Adventure Smart. Keep in mind that snowshoeing is tougher than hiking and it will take you longer to snowshoe a trail than to hike it. Plan to start early so you don’t get caught out in the dark.

Check the Weather, Trail Conditions and Avalanche Forecast

Snow conditions and the weather can play a big factor in the success of your snowshoeing trip. Be sure to check trail conditions online before you go. You should also check the avalanche forecast for the Sea to Sky zone. Unless you have taken an avalanche safety course, you probably shouldn’t go out unless the forecast is rated “Low” or “Moderate”.

Wear Winter Clothing and Pack the Essentials

Make sure you wear proper winter clothing and footwear. Check out my post about what to wear snowshoeing to get you started. I’ve also got a post with tips for winter hiking and snowshoeing that will give you a good overview of what to safety gear to pack and how to stay warm. I always pack a headlamp on flashlight on every snowshoe trip in case I get stuck coming back in the dark.

Use Safe Snowshoeing Techniques

Snowshoes give your feet more surface area to spread out your weight so you don’t sink into the snow. They also have crampons and other traction aids underfoot to help grip icy snow. But snowshoes are not the best gear for walking sideways or downhill. The platform part of the snowshoe gets in the way and the crampons under the snow can’t bite into the snow properly. When it’s icy, snowshoers are prone to slipping and injuring themselves in these types of scenarios.  Michael Coyle, a Search and Rescue Manager, has a great article explaining snowshoe slip and fall accidents called “How to Kill Yourself Snowshoeing“. It’s a great read for any snowshoer, both beginners and experienced.

If you encounter a steep slope (one that looks steep enough to ski on or slide a toboggan down) and it’s very icy, it’s probably not a good idea to tackle it in snowshoes. Consider taking off your snowshoes on these kinds of slopes when descending or sidehilling. I pack a pair of microspikes (mini crampons) to wear on steep and icy slopes. If you don’t have crampons, you can also kick steps into the slope with your boots. I also bring poles that I can use for balance and to help anchor me to the slope. For more info on safe snowshoe travel in steep terrain, read Michael Coyle’s other excellent article “How NOT to Kill Yourself Snowshoeing“.

Take an Avalanche Safety Course

Unless you plan to only snowshoe on super easy beginner trails that are totally flat, you should take an Avalanche Safety Course. The courses aren’t that expensive (usually $200-$300) for a 2.5 day course and could save your life. They teach you how to look at terrain and “read” it for potential hazards. After I took my Avalanche Skills Training 1 course (AST1) it totally changed the way I look at the mountains. If you aren’t ready to take the plunge and sign up for a field course, there’s a great FREE online beginner tutorial on Avalanche.ca.

 

Where to Buy Snowshoes in Squamish

Snowshoeing has exploded in popularity recently and it seems like you can find snowshoes for sale everywhere from big box retailers to outdoor stores. If you’re looking for advice on how to choose snowshoes, check out this great article from MEC. Unless you plan to stick to trails rated easy, you should choose backcountry snowshoes with good grip underfoot. Don’t trust the cheap snowshoes at big box stores: they don’t have good traction and they can fall apart on the trail leaving you stranded. Go to a good outdoor store (like MEC in North Vancouver or Valhalla Pure in Squamish) and buy quality snowshoes there. My favourite brand of snowshoes is MSR since they are designed in Seattle and work well for our climate and conditions. The least expensive backcountry snowshoes you can buy are the MSR Evos, which I wore for years. If you want something a bit fancier, I recommend the MSR Lightning Ascents.

 

Where to Rent Snowshoes in Squamish

If you want to try snowshoeing before you buy, lots of places in Vancouver and Squamish rent snowshoes. Sunny weekends and holidays can be really busy for rentals, so try to reserve a pair ahead of time if possible. (Note that prices below are current as of December 2017.)

If you’re passing through Vancouver on your way to Squamish, you may want to rent snowshoes at MEC in North Vancouver, or  Vancouver.  Prices start at $15/day.

The Escape Route in the Garibaldi Highlands area of Squamish rents snowshoes for $15/day. They only rent Atlas snowshoes that have a tubular frame so they don’t provide the best grip for really steep trails.

Urban Alpine, also in Garibaldi Highlands rents snowshoes but they don’t have prices listed on their website and they don’t take reservations.

The Sea to Sky Gondola rents snowshoes for $20/day from a kiosk next to the fire pit. While it’s not the cheapest option, it may be the most convenient if you plan to snowshoe above the gondola.

Do you know of other places in Squamish that rent snowshoes? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add them.

 

How to Get to Squamish

Squamish is an easy 1 hour drive from Vancouver via highway 99. It’s a mountain road so in the winter you need snow tires and maybe chains. You can definitely make a day trip to Squamish, but since there are so many good snowshoe trails in the area, it’s a fun place to spend a weekend. I spent a great winter weekend at Sunwolf Cabins in Brackendale. There are lots of hotels and condos in town, plus cute cabins you can book on AirBnb.


Booking.com

 

Where to Go Snowshoeing in Squamish

Quick Reference Guide

Trail Rating Time Needed Cost Dogs
Panorama Trail, Sea to Sky Gondola Super Easy 45min-1 hour $41.95 No
Wonderland Lake Loop, Sea to Sky Gondola Super Easy 30min-1 hour $41.95 No
Shannon Basin Loop, Sea to Sky Gondola Moderate 3-4 hours $41.95 No
Al’s Habrich Ridge, Sea to Sky Gondola Moderate 2-2.5 hours $41.95 Yes, on leash*
Sky Pilot Valley, Sea to Sky Gondola Moderate 3-4 hours $41.95 Yes, on leash*
Skyline Trail, Sea to Sky Gondola Challenging 8-10 hours $41.95 Yes, on leash*
Red Heather/ Elfin Lakes, Garibaldi PP Moderate/ Challenging 4 hours- overnight FREE/$16-$21 No
Garibaldi Lake/Taylor Meadows, Garibaldi PP Challenging 7 hours- overnight FREE/$16 No
Brandywine Falls, Brandywine PP Super easy/Moderate 30 min- 2 hours FREE Yes, on leash

*Dogs are allowed on these Sea to Sky Gondola trails but you can’t upload with your dog on the gondola. If you want to snowshoe with your dog on these trails you’ll have to hike up the Sea to Summit trail first.

 

Panorama Trail, Sea to Sky Gondola

Snowshoeing at the Chief Viewing Platform on the Panorama Trail at the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, BC. The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Squamish.

The Chief Viewing Platform on the Panorama Trail. Photo Credit: Paul Bride for Sea to Sky Gondola

The Trail: This is the Sea to Sky Gondola’s signature trail in both summer and winter. It’s a loop through gently rolling terrain that leads to some great viewpoints. The best one by far is the Chief viewing platform where you can look down to the Chief, the town of Squamish, the Squamish River valley and Howe Sound. Choose a sunny day for this one to really soak up the views.

Distance: 1.6km loop

Elevation Gain: 100m

Time Needed: 45min- 1 hour

Rating: Super easy.

Trail Markings and Navigation: The trail is marked and heavily travelled each day (it’s the most popular trail at the gondola) so it should always be easy to follow.

Avalanche Danger and Hazards: None.

Trail Map/Guide: The Sea to Sky gondola Sea to Sky map has a trail map you can print out or just pick up a copy when you buy your tickets. You can also find more info about the Panorama trail and about snowshoeing at the gondola in general on their website.

Permits/Fees: Day tickets for the gondola are $41.95. Once you get to the top there are no additional charges for snowshoeing.  If you want to avoid paying for the gondola up, you can hike up the Sea to Summit Trail instead, carrying your snowshoes. (You can take the gondola down for only $15.) However, in the winter the Sea to Summit Trail sometimes closes due to hazardous conditions and if it’s open, it can be icy and dangerous so you will need crampons and an ice axe. For more information on the Sea to Summit trail including trail closures and conditions, see the Sea to Sky Gondola website.

Dogs: Not permitted on this trail.

Driving Directions: Drive 50 min from Vancouver to Sea to Sky Gondola parking lot. If you’re coming from Squamish, it’s a 10 minute drive south of downtown. You can’t turn left into the gondola parking lot so continue past it to the traffic light at Darrell Bay Road, so you can turn around and head back up the highway to the parking lot. Note that BC law requires you to have winter tires to drive on highway 99 between October and April.

Parking: Free in the Sea to Sky gondola lot.

Transit Access: The Sea to Sky Gondola runs a shuttle service from Vancouver each day. It’s $69 for a combo shuttle and gondola pass which isn’t a bad deal. The shuttle schedule only gives you about 4 hours at the gondola which is more than enough time to tackle this trail, then have a snack at the lodge.

 

Wonderland Lake Loop, Sea to Sky Gondola

Snowshoeing on the Wonderland Lake Loop at the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, BC. The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Squamish.

Snowshoeing on the Wonderland Lake Loop. Photo Credit: Tara O’Grady for Sea to Sky Gondola

The Trail: This short and easy loop provides a bit more of a wilderness experience (and sees far fewer tourists) than the Panorama trail. It loops around through rolling terrain and passes several viewpoints.

Distance: 1.6km loop

Elevation Gain: 35m

Time Needed: 30min-1 hour

Rating: Super easy.

Trail Markings and Navigation: The trail is marked with diamonds on the trees and heavily travelled each day so it should always be easy to follow.

Avalanche Danger and Hazards: None.

Trail Map/Guide: The Sea to Sky gondola Sea to Sky map has a trail map you can print out or just pick up a copy when you buy your tickets. You can also find more info about the Wonderland Lake Loop and about snowshoeing at the gondola in general on their website.

Permits/Fees: Day tickets for the gondola are $41.95. Once you get to the top there are no additional charges for snowshoeing.  If you want to avoid paying for the gondola up, you can hike up the Sea to Summit Trail instead, carrying your snowshoes. (You can take the gondola down for only $15.) However, in the winter the Sea to Summit Trail sometimes closes due to hazardous conditions and if it’s open, it can be icy and dangerous so you will need crampons and an ice axe. For more information on the Sea to Summit trail including trail closures and conditions, see the Sea to Sky Gondola website.

Dogs: Not permitted on this trail.

Driving Directions: Drive 50 min from Vancouver to Sea to Sky Gondola parking lot. If you’re coming from Squamish, it’s a 10 minute drive south of downtown. You can’t turn left into the gondola parking lot so continue past it to the traffic light at Darrell Bay Road, so you can turn around and head back up the highway to the parking lot. Note that BC law requires you to have winter tires to drive on highway 99 between October and April.

Parking: Free in the Sea to Sky gondola lot.

Transit Access: The Sea to Sky Gondola runs a shuttle service from Vancouver each day. It’s $69 for a combo shuttle and gondola pass which isn’t a bad deal. The shuttle schedule only gives you about 4 hours at the gondola which is more than enough time to tackle this trail, then have a snack at the lodge.

Hey! Do you want every single snowshoe trail on this list in one easy to navigate google map? Well guess what? I made a custom map for you! Sign up and I’ll email you the secret link.

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Shannon Basin Loop, Sea to Sky Gondola

Snowshoeing on the Shannon Basin Loop at the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, BC. The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Squamish.

Snowshoeing on the Shannon Basin Loop. Photo Credit: Sea to Sky Gondola

The Trail: This trail follows an old road on a meandering loop that descends to cross Shannon Creek on a bridge, then comes back up to the gondola on a portion of the Sea to Summit Trail. This trail is machine groomed so it will be very smooth and fairly hard packed. While it does gain over 400m, since it’s on an old road bed, it’s never very steep.

Distance: 10km loop

Elevation Gain: 475m gain, 290m loss

Time Needed: 3-4 hours

Rating: Moderate

Trail Markings and Navigation: The old road bed makes the trail easy to follow. There are diamond trail marker signs on the trees and directional signs at all intersections.

Avalanche Danger and Hazards: None.

Trail Map/Guide: The Sea to Sky gondola Sea to Sky map has a trail map you can print out or just pick up a copy when you buy your tickets. You can also find more info about the Shannon Basin Trail and about snowshoeing at the gondola in general on their website.

Permits/Fees: Day tickets for the gondola are $41.95. Once you get to the top there are no additional charges for snowshoeing.  If you want to avoid paying for the gondola up, you can hike up the Sea to Summit Trail instead, carrying your snowshoes. (You can take the gondola down for only $15.) However, in the winter the Sea to Summit Trail sometimes closes due to hazardous conditions and if it’s open, it can be icy and dangerous so you will need crampons and an ice axe. For more information on the Sea to Summit trail including trail closures and conditions, see the Sea to Sky Gondola website.

Dogs: Not permitted on this trail.

Driving Directions: Drive 50 min from Vancouver to Sea to Sky Gondola parking lot. If you’re coming from Squamish, it’s a 10 minute drive south of downtown. You can’t turn left into the gondola parking lot so continue past it to the traffic light at Darrell Bay Road, so you can turn around and head back up the highway to the parking lot. Note that BC law requires you to have winter tires to drive on highway 99 between October and April.

Parking: Free in the Sea to Sky gondola lot.

Transit Access: The Sea to Sky Gondola runs a shuttle service from Vancouver each day. It’s $69 for a combo shuttle and gondola pass which isn’t a bad deal. However, the shuttle schedule only gives you about 4 hours at the gondola so you probably wouldn’t have enough time to tackle this trail.

 

Al’s Habrich Ridge, Sea to Sky Gondola

Snowshoeing on the Al's Habrich Ridge Trail at the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, BC. The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Squamish.

Snowshoeing on Al’s Habrich Ridge Trail on a foggy day.

The Trail: This backcountry trail travels a few hundred meters on a road before heading off into the forest. It immediately crosses a creek (there is no bridge), then heads up hill through the trees. The trail emerges onto a ridge and follows the crest of the ridge past several great viewpoints. The official winter route stops at the far end of the ridge. Unlike the other snowshoeing trails at the Sea to Sky Gondola, this trail mostly avoids roads and tourists attractions so it feels like real wilderness.

Distance: 4km return (to the far end of the ridge)

Elevation Gain: 250m

Time Needed: 2-2.5 hours

Rating: Moderate

Trail Markings and Navigation: The trail is marked with diamonds on trees. It can be a bit tricky to find in the trees. Once on the ridge there may be marker wands to help you find the way, but if they aren’t, just stay on the top of the ridge (don’t go downhill) and you’ll be fine. The official winter route stops at the far end of the ridge. The summer trail continues past here and climbs steeply through the trees. It is very difficult to follow and is not well marked. Unless you are an expert in backcountry winter navigation, turn around at the far end of the ridge.

Avalanche Danger and Hazards: The initial stream crossing can be a bit awkward as the stream doesn’t ice over but the rocks you need to use to hop across are icy. The far bank of the stream is also very steep. Take off your snowshoes to cross the stream and use poles for balance. Once on the ridge, stay on the trail: there is a lot of steep and dangerous terrain if you leave the marked route.

Trail Map/Guide: The Sea to Sky gondola Sea to Sky map has a trail map you can print out or just pick up a copy when you buy your tickets. You can also find more info about snowshoeing at the gondola in general on their website. There’s also information on the summer hiking route on Al’s Habrich Ridge Trail. Keep in mind that the winter route only covers the first half of the trail before turning around.

Permits/Fees: Day tickets for the gondola are $41.95. Once you get to the top there are no additional charges for snowshoeing.  If you want to avoid paying for the gondola up, you can hike up the Sea to Summit Trail instead, carrying your snowshoes. (You can take the gondola down for only $15.) However, in the winter the Sea to Summit Trail sometimes closes due to hazardous conditions and if it’s open, it can be icy and dangerous so you will need crampons and an ice axe. For more information on the Sea to Summit trail including trail closures and conditions, see the Sea to Sky Gondola website.

Dogs: Dogs are permitted on this trail but they aren’t permitted to upload on the gondola so you’ll have to hike up on the Sea to Summit Trail with them (conditions permitting). You can download on the gondola with your dog for $15/dog. See the Sea to Sky Gondola’s dog policy for more info.

Driving Directions: Drive 50 min from Vancouver to Sea to Sky Gondola parking lot. If you’re coming from Squamish, it’s a 10 minute drive south of downtown. You can’t turn left into the gondola parking lot so continue past it to the traffic light at Darrell Bay Road, so you can turn around and head back up the highway to the parking lot. Note that BC law requires you to have winter tires to drive on highway 99 between October and April.

Parking: Free in the Sea to Sky gondola lot.

Transit Access: The Sea to Sky Gondola runs a shuttle service from Vancouver each day. It’s $69 for a combo shuttle and gondola pass which isn’t a bad deal. However, the shuttle schedule only gives you about 4 hours at the gondola so you probably wouldn’t have enough time to tackle this trail.

 

Sky Pilot Valley Trail, Sea to Sky Gondola

Snowshoeing on the Sky Pilot Valley Trail at the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, BC. The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Squamish.

Snowshoeing on the Sky Pilot Valley Trail with Sky Pilot Mountain in the distance.

The Trail: This trail is primarily used by experienced backcountry skiers and mountaineers accessing challenging terrain. But it does follow an old road in a beautiful valley so it is accessible for snowshoers just looking for a winter walk with great views of the surrounding mountains. The trail is sometimes machine groomed so it will smooth and hard packed. In the summer the trail ends at the head of the valley, but in the winter it ends a little sooner to stay out of more dangerous terrain.

Distance: 8km return

Elevation Gain:380m

Time Needed: 3-4 hours

Rating: Moderate

Trail Markings and Navigation: The trail follows an old road and is marked with diamonds on the trees. It should be very easy to follow.

Avalanche Danger and Hazards: Past the end of the marked trail the skiers/climbers route goes steeply uphill into avalanche terrain. The slopes above the road are steep enough to slide – use caution if avalanche forecast is moderate or above. Please be prepared to share the trail with skiers and step aside to let them pass, especially when they are coming downhill. Don’t walk in the ski tracks – leave them intact for the skiers to use.

Trail Map/Guide: The Sea to Sky gondola Sea to Sky map has a trail map you can print out or just pick up a copy when you buy your tickets. You can also find more info about snowshoeing at the gondola in general on their website. There’s also information on the summer hiking route on the Skyline Pilot Valley Trail. Keep in mind that the winter route only covers the first three quarters of the trail before turning around.

Permits/Fees: Day tickets for the gondola are $41.95. Once you get to the top there are no additional charges for snowshoeing.  If you want to avoid paying for the gondola up, you can hike up the Sea to Summit Trail instead, carrying your snowshoes. (You can take the gondola down for only $15.) However, in the winter the Sea to Summit Trail sometimes closes due to hazardous conditions and if it’s open, it can be icy and dangerous so you will need crampons and an ice axe. For more information on the Sea to Summit trail including trail closures and conditions, see the Sea to Sky Gondola website.

Dogs: Dogs are permitted on this trail but they aren’t permitted to upload on the gondola so you’ll have to hike up on the Sea to Summit Trail with them (conditions permitting). You can download on the gondola with your dog for $15/dog. See the Sea to Sky Gondola’s dog policy for more info.

Driving Directions: Drive 50 min from Vancouver to Sea to Sky Gondola parking lot. If you’re coming from Squamish, it’s a 10 minute drive south of downtown. You can’t turn left into the gondola parking lot so continue past it to the traffic light at Darrell Bay Road, so you can turn around and head back up the highway to the parking lot. Note that BC law requires you to have winter tires to drive on highway 99 between October and April.

Parking: Free in the Sea to Sky gondola lot.

Transit Access: The Sea to Sky Gondola runs a shuttle service from Vancouver each day. It’s $69 for a combo shuttle and gondola pass which isn’t a bad deal. However, the shuttle schedule only gives you about 4 hours at the gondola so you probably wouldn’t have enough time to tackle this trail.

 

Skyline Trail, Sea to Sky Gondola

Snowshoeing on the Skyline Trail at the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, BC. The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Squamish.

Photo credit: donwhite84 Used under CC0.

The Trail: This trail follows an old road through the valley before climbing on to the shoulder of Goat Ridge where there are some views. It’s a long way to go in a day, but it is a good option if you’re looking for a challenging trip from the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola. Be sure to stop at the end of the marked trail since route finding past there will be very difficult and potentially dangerous in the winter.

Distance: 17km return

Elevation Gain:380m

Time Needed: 8-10 hours

Rating: Challenging

Trail Markings and Navigation: The trail follows an old road and is marked with diamonds on the trees and sign posts at junctions. It should be very easy to follow.

Avalanche Danger and Hazards: Past the end of the marked trail the skiers/climbers route goes steeply uphill into avalanche terrain. The slopes above the road are steep enough to slide – use caution if avalanche forecast is moderate or above. Please be prepared to share the trail with skiers and step aside to let them pass, especially when they are coming downhill. Don’t walk in the ski tracks – leave them intact for the skiers to use.

Trail Map/Guide: The Sea to Sky gondola Sea to Sky map has a trail map you can print out or just pick up a copy when you buy your tickets. You can also find more info about the snowshoeing the Skyline Trail and  snowshoeing at the gondola in general on their website.

Permits/Fees: Day tickets for the gondola are $41.95. Once you get to the top there are no additional charges for snowshoeing.  If you want to avoid paying for the gondola up, you can hike up the Sea to Summit Trail instead, carrying your snowshoes. (You can take the gondola down for only $15.) However, in the winter the Sea to Summit Trail sometimes closes due to hazardous conditions and if it’s open, it can be icy and dangerous so you will need crampons and an ice axe. For more information on the Sea to Summit trail including trail closures and conditions, see the Sea to Sky Gondola website.

Dogs: Dogs are permitted on this trail but they aren’t permitted to upload on the gondola so you’ll have to hike up on the Sea to Summit Trail with them (conditions permitting). You can download on the gondola with your dog for $15/dog. See the Sea to Sky Gondola’s dog policy for more info.

Driving Directions: Drive 50 min from Vancouver to Sea to Sky Gondola parking lot. If you’re coming from Squamish, it’s a 10 minute drive south of downtown. You can’t turn left into the gondola parking lot so continue past it to the traffic light at Darrell Bay Road, so you can turn around and head back up the highway to the parking lot. Note that BC law requires you to have winter tires to drive on highway 99 between October and April.

Parking: Free in the Sea to Sky gondola lot.

Transit Access: The Sea to Sky Gondola runs a shuttle service from Vancouver each day. It’s $69 for a combo shuttle and gondola pass which isn’t a bad deal. However, the shuttle schedule only gives you about 4 hours at the gondola so you probably wouldn’t have enough time to tackle this trail.

 

Red Heather/Elfin Lakes, Garibaldi Provincial Park

Snowshoeing at Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park near Squamish, BC. The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Squamish.

Snowshoeing at Elfin Lakes in early winter. The lakes had just frozen over.

The Trail: The trail follows an old road for the first 5km to the Red Heather warming hut. Past there, the winter route is marked by reflective bamboo poles that lead another 6km along the undulations of Paul Ridge to the Elfin Lakes Hut. There are great views of the mountains from the ridge. Red Heather hut makes a great destination for shorter day trips. Going all the way to Elfin Lakes and back is doable in a day but it is challenging. You can also snow camp overnight next to both Red Heather and Elfin Lakes huts, or you can reserve a bunk inside the Elfin Lakes Hut.

Distance: 10km return to Red Heather, 22km to Elfin Lakes

Elevation Gain: 450m to Red Heather, +250m more to Elfin Lakes

Time Needed: 4-5 hours to Red Heather, 7-10 hours to Elfin Lakes. You can also spread out the trip across 2 days by camping near Red Heather Hut or Elfin Lakes hut or staying inside the Elfin Lakes hut.

Rating: Moderate to Red Heather, Challenging to Elfin Lakes

Trail Markings and Navigation: The old road to Red Heather hut is easy to follow. After Red Heather hut, follow the bamboo poles that mark the safest route. The poles can be difficult to spot in white out conditions, but otherwise the route is fairly easy to follow.

Avalanche Danger and Hazards: No avalanche danger or hazards below Red Heather hut. After Red Heather hut the trail emerges above treeline on to the ridge. The winter route is placed to minimize avalanche exposure, but the trail does travel through avalanche terrain and on slopes that can slide. Use caution in these areas and do not attempt this trail if the avalanche forecast is above moderate. Avalanche.ca rates this as simple terrain which can be travelled with the normal amount of caution in most conditions. 

Trail Map/Guide: There is a good trail guide on OutdoorVancouver.com. You can also find more information on the BC Parks website.

Permits/Fees: No permits or fees are required for day trips on the trail. If you want to camp or stay overnight in the Elfin Lakes hut you need to make a reservation and pay backcountry fees.

Dogs: Not permitted in Garibaldi Park.

Driving Directions: Drive 2 hours from Vancouver to the trailhead. If you’re coming from Squamish, it’s a 45 minute drive. After passing Quest University in Squamish the road turns to gravel and it is not plowed often. You will need chains and possibly also 4-wheel drive (depending on the conditions) to get up this road in the winter. Cars without chains slip off the road every year and require very expensive tow trucks to get them out. 

Parking: Free parking is available in the parking lot at the trailhead. However, it can fill up on winter weekends so carpool and be prepared to park in the pull outs further down the road and walk up. Don’t park on the shoulder as you will block the narrow road.

Transit Access: Not available.

 

Garibaldi Lake/Taylor Meadows, Garibaldi Provincial Park

Snowshoeing to Garibaldi Lake near Squamish, BC. The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Squamish.

Early winter at Garibaldi Lake before the lake froze over.

The Trail: This snowshoe route follows the usual summer trail up the switchbacks to Garibaldi lake or Taylor Meadows. The trail is shared up until the 6km marker where it forks: left for Taylor Meadows, right for Garibaldi Lake. The trail can be icy lower down and covered in deep snow higher up so you may need to pack both microspikes and snowshoes. It’s a long hike to either destination so be sure to give yourself plenty of time and pack a headlamp in case you end up coming down in the dark.

Distance: 18km return to Garibaldi Lake, 15km return to Taylor Meadows, add another 2km each way if you can’t drive to the parking lot.

Elevation Gain: 900m to Garibaldi Lake, 950m to Taylor Meadows, add 75 more meters if you can’t drive to the trailhead.

Time Needed: 7-10 hours for either option. You can also snow camp at either Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake campgrounds.

Rating: Challenging/Difficult

Trail Markings and Navigation: The summer trail is fairly easy to follow as it switchbacks up the hill, even though there are few markers. Past the 6km junction the terrain is flatter and the trail becomes more difficult to follow. The route to Garibaldi Lake is a little more straightforward than the route to Taylor Meadows. If you aren’t familiar with these trail and don’t have experience with winter navigation, you should not attempt these routes on snowshoes.

Avalanche Danger and Hazards: The switchbacks up to the 6km junction are steep and can be icy. Bring microspikes just in case. Watch for open creek crossings and partially buried bridges. Later in the year Barrier Lake and Lesser Garibaldi Lake on the Garibaldi Lake route freeze over. You can take a shortcut by walking across the lakes. Use extreme caution if you decide to walk on the lakes. Avalanche.ca rates the trail as simple terrain which can be travelled with the normal amount of caution in most conditions. Past Taylor Meadows it is rated as challenging terrain. On your descent stay on trail and don’t follow skier descent trails into the Rubble Creek valley. The valley is prone to slides. A snowshoer drowned in Rubble Creek in 2008 after getting lost on the descent.

Trail Map/Guide: You can also find more information on the BC Parks website.

Permits/Fees: No permits or fees are required for day trips on the trail. If you want to camp overnight you need to make a reservation and pay backcountry fees.

Dogs: Not permitted in Garibaldi Park.

Driving Directions: Drive 1.5 hours from Vancouver to the trailhead. If you are coming from Squamish it’s only 30 minutes. Only the first few hundred meters of road off the highway are plowed so you may not be able to drive all the way to the trailhead. Note that BC law requires you to have winter tires to drive on highway 99 between October and April.

Parking: Free. If there is too much snow to drive all the way to the trailhead, park your car off the road. Be careful not to block any gates or snowplow routes. Walk the road to the trailhead. This will add another 2kms and 75m of elevation to your trip. 

Transit Access: Not available.

 

Brandywine Falls

Snowshoeing to Brandywine Falls in winter. The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Squamish.

Photo Credit: “Brandywine Falls” by That Guy Who’s Going Places on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Trail: A flat and easy trail heads to the Brandywine Falls viewing platform. If you want to extend your trip, you can snowshoe a portion of the Sea to Sky trail over to the Whistler Bungee Bridge. You can look down into the depths of the Cheakamus River canyon and maybe even watch people bungee jump. (Go around noon or 1pm for the best chance of watching jumpers.) There is no maintained trail down to the base of Brandywine Falls: there is an unofficial route that uses a scary old rope to descend a cliff but it travels over slippery rocks and is very icy and dangerous in the winter.

Distance: 1km round trip to the falls, 6km round trip to the Bungee Bridge

Elevation Gain: 50m

Time Needed: 30 min round trip to Brandywine Falls, 2 hours round trip to the bungee bridge

Rating: Super easy to Brandywine Falls. Easy/Moderate to the Bungee Bridge

Trail Markings and Navigation: The trail to Brandywine Falls is wide and easy to follow. The route to the bungee bridge can be harder to follow in the winter as trail markings are not very frequent.

Avalanche Danger and Hazards: The trail crosses train tracks: use caution.

Trail Map/Guide: You can find directions and a map on the Brandywine Falls Provincial Park webiste.

Permits/Fees: None.

Dogs: Permitted on leash.

Driving Directions: Drive 1.5 hours from Vancouver. It’s only 30 minutes from Squamish. Note that BC law requires you to have winter tires to drive on highway 99 between October and April.

Parking: The park gate is locked in the winter so you will have to park on the side of highway 99. There is only room for a few cars.

Transit Access: Not available.

I made a map of all of these trails (plus snowshoe rental locations). And I want to give it to you! Sign up and I’ll email you the secret link.

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How many of these snowshoe trails have you done? Which is your favourite? Have questions about snowshoeing in Vancouver? Hit me up in the comments.

 

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