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VISITING SQUAMISH TO CLIMB

BACKGROUND

When climbing first became popular in the Squamish area in the 1970s and 1980s, most climbers camped for free at locations like the “Psyche Ledge” under the Chief. After the Chief became a provincial park, a designated campground was created. It had plenty of space, so most visiting climbers used it.

Starting in the 2000s, a few trends appeared that disrupted that situation. One was the development and promotion of Squamish bouldering, which accelerated the growth in visitor numbers. Another was the popularity of van camping, for which the Chief campground was not originally designed. Van camping spread to the parking lots around the Chief. The upgrade of Highway 99, coinciding with the 2010 Winter Olympics, encouraged more non-climbing visitors to stop in Squamish, especially to hike the Chief. For the same reason, more people were choosing to live in Squamish, increasing the town’s population and also bringing new demographics and attitudes.

By 2015, parking at the Chief was becoming overwhelmed all summer. To ensure safety, especially to ensure clear access for emergency vehicles, BC Parks had to make a difficult decision to enforce parking more strictly, restricting overnight use. This led to more campers seeking alternative free sites, especially around the nearby Mamquam forest road. Local residents were upset by this, and not just for selfish reasons: there was clear evidence of sensitive riparian areas being damaged. Perceptions of the value of climbing visitors to the town deteriorated, threatening hard-won access rights to the cliffs.

Squamish Access Society strongly requests that visiting climbers use designated campgrounds or lodging.

DESIGNATED CAMPGROUNDS

These are many designated campgrounds in the Squamish area. A full list, including campgrounds that accept reservations, and have extensive amenities, can be found here. These are three basic low-cost campgrounds specifically aimed at climbers:

At the Chief: Stawamus Chief Provincial Park Campground
BC parks site with camping fees. A reservation system is planned but not yet in place.

7 minutes north: Mamquam River Campground
A non-profit site with camping fees. A reservation system is planned but not yet in place. (Note that this campground is by the Mamquam River. It is not on the confusingly-named Mamquam forest road under the Chief, which is actually next to the Stawamus River for its first few kilometers.)

20 minutes north: Chek Canyon Recreation Site
A public site, no fees or reservation system. Chek is Squamish’s #1 sport climbing venue with hundreds of bolted routes from 5.3 to 5.14

LODGING

Squamish has several hotels at different price points. These can easily be researched through websites like booking.com. Similarly, there are many Airbnb properties, though their regulation is currently under review by the municipality. There is one low-cost hostel, the Squamish Adventure Inn, popular with climbers, within walking distance of the Chief.

WILD CAMPING

If, despite the numerous alternatives, you want to camp in undesignated areas, please take the time to understand the distinctions between different land categories and the rules governing them. In particular, know which areas are within the District of Squamish municipal boundary and which are outside the municipality.

District of Squamish provides the following guidance on its website: “Camping is not allowed on District or private property, unless the property is zoned specifically for that purpose.Crown land does not fall under this restriction, however within District of Squamish municipal boundaries, District bylaws do apply to open fires, littering, wildlife attractants, noise, and environmental concerns. District Bylaw Officers can and do attend many unauthorised campsites in order to enforce bylaws.

In correspondence, the District also added that: “Camping on municipal streets or municipal or private parking lots in the District is not permitted under any circumstances.

Overall, the inference is that Bylaw Officers can easily find legitimate reasons to evict unauthorised campers from anywhere within the municipal area. Note that the municipal area includes:

  • the whole of the Mamquam Forest Service Road under the North Walls of the Chief between the junction with the 99 and junction with the Stawamus/ Indian Arm Forest Service Road
  • anywhere by the Stawamus River (as a salmon run and sensitive riparian area, camping here is especially inappropriate)
  • the Powerhouse Springs Road including the parking area for the Fernhill cliff
  • the dirt road to the kitesurfing “Spit”

If you explore forest roads in crown land outside the municipal boundaries, it may be possible to find discreet roadside sites suitable for tents or van camping. However, the provincial authorities do have some restrictions; in particular stays are limited to 14 days. Campers should follow Leave No Trace principles and strictly observe any current fire bans.

Last updated: February 2018

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