Trail Running Around Squamish, BC

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I can’t quite remember the exact day I stepped out onto the trails here in my home town of Squamish, but I can definitely remember the feeling that welled up inside of me. My senses were on alert: the smell of the leaves, the earth being kicked up by my shoes, the sound of birds chirping in the trees. I could even taste the trail as the dirt soaked sweat trickled down from my brow to my mouth. This was something beautiful, unrefined and raw.

A protected body of water surrounded by lush vegetation under a blue sky.

Unlike the boredom that comes with long days training on the road and the associated pains that come with logging hundreds of miles on pavement, I was running free and unencumbered through the forest. I first started road running in 2010, when my husband and I made the move from Ireland to the rugged west coast of Canada. But soon after enduring long distances on the road training for marathons (my first one in BC was the BMO Vancouver Marathon), my body and mind started to protest against the ceaseless pounding on pavement.

Trail runners make their way up a rocky cliff face on a sunny day.

In a quest to find relief from the sore feet and knees, I turned to the trails (not hard when you live in a place like Squamish). As an avid runner, it’s worth noting trail running encourages a change of pace and has less impact on the joints thanks to the softer surface. It’s now become a large part of my life. I spend long hours cruising my local trails alone, sometimes deep in thought and other times running completely free of any mental burdens, just taking each breath and allowing my body to find it’s natural rhythm. It has also allowed me to meet incredible people that have inspired me to push harder and achieve more than I would have ever thought possible.

Snow-capped mountains look down on a lush landscape and calm waters.

At its very core trail running is most definitely about adventure, and the lush rain forests of BC’s west coast provide the opportunity for adventure around every corner. I am never quite sure what is in store and I never return quite the same as when I left. It may be the golden sunlight streaming through dense deciduous trees, or maybe it’s the way my arms outstretch playfully as I soar down the trail.

Sun rays emerge between tall, mature trees in a dense forest.

Sometimes it’s the deep contemplation that comes from a beautiful foggy day that transforms the west coast rainforest into a forest of clouds. Like when I am threading my way through white mist, feeling the dense air heavy with moisture noticing the leaves and pine needles yielding under the weight of the water. Here, I feel like somehow I am a part of the surroundings. I am not just standing amidst the forest but am now a part of the forest, breathing the same air as the trees, exchanging breath with the leaves.

A man runs down a man-made wooden trail winds through a dense forest.

And being the west coast, there of course those wet west coast days: the ones that leave you peering out your window, unable to muster the motivation to go. But if I have learnt anything through trail running, there is no such thing as bad weather, there is just weather. If you adjust your attitude (it is just water after all) and clothing, it can be just as much fun to get out there as any sunny day. Once you come to terms with getting wet, these can be the best runs. Short, muddy and wildly fun. Trust me, running in the beautiful BC rain forest during a downpour will leave you feeling slightly soggy but extremely satisfied.

A snowy landscape under dense, grey clouds.

It’s moments like these I won’t soon forget and what keep pulling me back out on the trail day after day. And the beauty of all these experiences is you only need a sturdy pair of trail running shoes to start out and a desire for adventure. This is why I run and this is why I love running on the west coast of BC.

Here are a list of my favourite trails near my home of Squamish.

Easy:

Alice Lake 4 Lakes Loop – This is a fun 6 km (3.7 mi) loop that takes you around the 4 lakes of Alice Lake Provincial Park. There are a few hills thrown in, but the trail is not overly technical or long, so it’s a great beginner trail to get a taste of what trail running can offer. As an added bonus it’s stunningly beautiful, rain or shine.

Brohm Lake – This is a 7.5 km (4.6 mi) loop that features beautiful lush forest, vibrant green moss covered bridges and stunning views of the always tantalizing Tantalus Mountain Range. Be prepared for some steeper hills and more technical terrain with roots and rocks to navigate.

A trail runner conquers a steep trail with view of a snow-covered mountains.

Moderate:

Garibaldi Provincial Park is one of the jewels of the west coast. This will remain my absolute favourite area to run. Here are two options to run in the park:

Across the Park – Start the run from the north side, at the Cheakamus Lake car park, and run across the park through Helm Creek campground to Taylor Meadows and down to Rubble Creek. This is a 25 km (15.5 mi) run on beautiful single track alpine trail. More than half of it is out in the open alpine with magnificent views and the last 10km is all downhill. Make sure to hit it on a sunny day so you don’t miss out on the views.

A hiker pauses to take in the reflection of a snow covered mountain in a still pond.

Elfin Lakes – This 22-km (13.6 mi- out and back run will take you to a series of alpine lakes. Just past the Elfin Lakes you will find a spacious backcountry cabin that makes a great snack spot. The first 5 km (3 mi) of the trail is in forest, but once past this section you will be spit out into beautiful heather covered meadows with 360° views of surrounding peaks. The trail is undulating with no serious technical sections and is a must do!

A pair of feet in red running shoes sit in a meadow of blooming wildflowers.

Advanced:

Howe Sound Crest Trail – A 30-km (18.6 mi) trail run with steep sections and technical trail. It requires a keen eye to make sure you stay en route. This is stunningly beautiful and provides amazing views over the Pacific Ocean on one side and across the expanse of the Coast Mountains on the other. You won’t be disappointed with this one and you will feel like you earned the 10-km of downhill at the end, just make sure to run it south (Cypress Mountain) to north (Porteau Cove).

Two trail runners conquer a rocky path, lined with dense vegetation.

This list is by no means exhaustive. BC has much to offer in the way of trail running. Whether you are new to the sport or are a seasoned trail runner looking for some beautiful spots to run, these are just a few whet your appetite and get you hooked on trail running here.