Completed in 2014 and located in Squamish, the Sea to Sky Gondola can take visitors from the base of the mountain up to the summit in 10 minutes. However, for the adventurous, you can hike from “Base Camp” (the base of the Gondola) along the 7.5km “Sea to Summit” trail all the way to the top, with an elevation gain of 918m. Awaiting those who reach the summit are multiple viewing platforms, a suspension bridge, a restaurant, a gift store, and even more hiking trails.
On the first weekend of summer, I hiked the Sea to Summit trail for the first time and thought it was a fantastic summer hike. Here are 10 reasons why I would recommend this trail:
A Nearby Day Trip from Vancouver
The base of the Sea to Summit hike is located in Squamish, which is the perfect location for a day trip from Vancouver. The drive along the Sea to Sky highway is well paved and scenic; it took us less than an hour to get to “Base Camp” there from downtown Vancouver. We left downtown at around 10:30am, arrived at 11:30am, hiked until 3pm, spent about an hour at the summit and then took a 10 minute gondola ride back down to the base.
The only part of our journey which wasn’t very smooth was the drive back into downtown, where we were stuck in traffic after the Lion’s Gate Bridge, and had to sit for nearly 45 minutes in traffic inching along West Georgia.
Less Crowded than Other Hikes
One of the reasons why we were drawn towards the Sea to Summit trail was because we read it was less crowded than some of the other well-known local hiking trails (ie. the Grouse Grind, The Chief and Quarry Rock). I think because of the Gondola option, many people (especially tourists) will opt to take the gondola to the top to get the view, rather than invest 3 – 4 hours in hiking the trail. The first part of the hike is along the same trail as The Chief. When you eventually turn off to the right towards the Sea to Summit trail, the hike gets noticeably less busy. The trail is labeled as an intermediate-to-advanced hike, so that tends to weed out first-time hikers, and makes the trail less child and family-friendly.
Clearly Marked Trails
Trees along the trail are regularly marked with a diamond sign, numbered from 1 to 400. It’s encouraging and motivating to see your progress as you ascent the trail. The first part of the trail (with steep stairs) is shared with The Chief hike. At Marker 69, you have to turn right to continue following the Sea to Summit markers. Otherwise, you may accidentally continue along The Chief.
Variety on the Trail
One of my favourite things about the Sea to Summit trail was the variety of terrain and multiple viewpoints along the trail. Stairs, boulders, tree roots, packed dirt, log steps, bridges, and other interesting terrain to make the time pass by quicker. At times, I was scrambling up rocks and boulders to continue on the trail. Despite the technical terrain, the hike was not ever so difficult that I didn’t know where to take my next step, or where to put my foot down.
There are also a few viewpoints to stop at along the way, including a portion of the trail where you are hiking directly under the Sea to Sky Gondola, a waterfall view of Shannon Falls, and a giant rock halfway up with a unblocked view of Howe Sound.
It’s a Good Workout
At 7.5km with 980m elevation, the Sea to Summit hike took us about 3.5 hours to get to the summit, however, we made a couple stops along the way at viewpoints and waterfalls to take photos. It’s a good workout, but I wasn’t dying at the end of the hike (unlike the time I did the 18km Garibaldi Hike, also in Squamish, when my legs felt like jelly at the end, and my boyfriend was pushing me up the never-ending switchbacks).
Multiple Viewpoints from the Summit
Often when you get to the top of a hike, there’s limited viewing areas, or only one view from the summit. At the top of the Sea to Summit trail, the 9,000 square foot Summit Lodge is a perfect place to enjoy the views, have a bite to eat or a beer with friends after a day of adventure. The patio and viewing deck offer a place to enjoy the panoramic views while overlooking Howe Sound. The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge is also at the summit, a 100m long bridge above treetops, that’ll also give you breathtaking views of the scenery below.
Food & Drink at the Summit
On most hikes, once you get to the top, you reward yourself with a packed sandwich and a couple of snacks. With the Sea-to-Summit hike, once you get to the top, The Summit Eatery and Edge Bar is a cafeteria-style restaurant at the top of the summit, where you can dine 885m above Howe Sound. We shared a hamburger (made with Two Rivers Specialty Meats), a side of poutine, a salad, and Howe Sound’s SkyPilot Northwest Pale Ale, which was brewed exclusively for the Sea to Sky Gondola.
More Trails at the Top
Double up on hikes in a day, or, skip the Sea to Summit trail, take the gondola up to the top and explore the trails at the summit. There are eight main hiking trails of varying range and difficulty accessed from the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola. Prior to the opening of the gondola, these trails weren’t easily accessible (since they began at the top of a mountain!). Now, you can get a 900m headstart, and take on the Upper Sea to Summit trail, Sparky’s Spin, Al’s Habrich Trail or Skyline Ridge.
The Gondola Ride is Cheaper on the Way Down
Hiking UP to a viewpoint has always been the exciting part of the hike, coming back down on the same route has always seemed anti-climatic to me. It’s $39.95 for a round-trip on the Sea to Summit gondola, but only $10 to get back down. Save $30 per person by hiking up!
When I rode the Sea to Sky Gondola for the first time, I thought the experience seemed oddly familiar. Turns out, the gondola was built by the same manufacturing company, Doppelmayr, around the same time as the Mi Teleferico cable car system I went on in Bolivia in South America last summer.
It’s a Dog Friendly Trail
If you have an active dog who loves the outdoors, you can bring your pup with you. For $10 (the same price as a human ticket), your dog can also ride the gondola back down. Note that dogs cannot take the gondola up, only down.
For more information, visit: seatoskygondola.com/adventures/hiking.