7 Ways to Explore Átl’ka7tsem / Howe Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region

Mountains tower above Howe Sound

Mountains in Howe Sound. Photo: David Ivanchikov/Unsplash

Stretching from the ocean floor to mountain peaks, the Átl’ka7tsem / Howe Sound Biosphere Region just north of Vancouver has lots to explore. Kayak through its waters, hike to its peaks, admire the old-growth trees, and lots more.


What is the Átl’ka7tsem / Howe Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region?

In 2021, Átl’ka7tsem / Howe Sound became Canada’s 19th UNESCO Biosphere Region. There are 738 Biosphere Regions around the world that act as models for sustainable development as they implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to inspire a positive future for people and nature together.

The Átl’ka7tsem / Howe Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region includes the entire watershed from the mountain tops to the ocean floor for a total of 218,723 hectares. The biosphere includes diverse habitats for marine and terrestrial wildlife. The region is the unceded traditional territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) people and their name for the area, Átl’ka7tsem, is included in the name of the UNESCO Biosphere.

Map of Átl’ka7tsem / Howe Sound Biosphere Region

Map of Átl’ka7tsem / Howe Sound Biosphere Region


Hike to Incredible Viewpoints

If you want to get a feel for the size of the biosphere, you have to see it from above. The challenging hike to St. Mark’s Summit provides panoramic views of Howe Sound and the nearby mountains. If you are short on time or stamina, the shorter and easier hike to Bowen Lookout is also great.

View from St Mark's Summit in Cypress Provincial Park

View from St Mark’s Summit. Photo: Vlad D/Unsplash


Go Kayaking

Glide across the waters of Howe Sound as the mountains tower above you. You can explore tiny islands, look for seals, and land at quiet beaches. Bowen Island Sea Kayaking can set you up with rental boats, lessons, tours, and advice about where to go.

kayaks on a beach on Bowen Island

Kayaking on Bowen Island. Photo: Rod M/Unsplash


Take a Day Trip to Bowen Island

Bowen Island sits in the middle of  Howe Sound. Since it is just a short ferry ride from Vancouver, it makes a great nature escape. You can explore the sleepy island community, go for a hike, hit the beach, paddle a kayak, and lots more.

Water lilies at Killarney Lake on Bowen Island

Water lilies at Killarney Lake on Bowen Island. Photo: Vera Sidorova/Unsplash


Go Scuba Diving or Snorkelling

Explore the biodiverse underwater world of Howe Sound by scuba diving or snorkelling with Sea Dragon Charters. You can spot seals, octopuses, eels, and lots of other marine life. Divers can also visit Vancouver’s first artificial reef.

Scuba diving in Howe Sound

Photo: Sea Dragon Charters


Try Forest Bathing

Put down your phone and tune in to nature. The Japanese practice of forest bathing is scientifically proven to help relieve stress and improve health. Old-growth forests are a key aspect of the Átl’ka7tsem / Howe Sound Biosphere Region. One of the easiest places to chill out with big trees is the Sea to Sky Gondola. Find a quiet spot along the Panorama Trail, then sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of the forest.

View from easy trails at the Sea to Sky Gondola

Photo: Destination Vancouver/Sea to Sky Gondola/Paul Bride


Charter a Boat

Be the captain of your own ship and cruise through the waters of Howe Sound. Or let an experienced sailor take the helm and show you the sites. You will float past seal colonies, spot bald eagles, and get incredible mountain views. Read our guide to boat charter options around Vancouver for the low-down on how to make it happen.

A yacht sails in Howe Sound.

Photo: Harbour Cruises and Events


Visit Squamish

The town of Squamish sits in the centre of the Biosphere Region. It has a cute downtown full of shops and restaurants. But outdoor pursuits are the real draw in Squamish. The town is famous for rock climbing, kite surfing, and mountain biking. Hikers should check out the Stawamus Chief, a huge granite monolith with beautiful views. If you want to spot birds (including bald eagles), head to the Squamish Estuary or Eagle Run Dyke.

Hiking the Stawamus Chief in Squamish, BC

Hiking the Stawamus Chief in Squamish. Photo: Tourism Squamish


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