December 7, 2016

Floating where eagles soar

Hundreds of majestic bald eagles visit Brackendale every year

Discover Squamish
A bald eagle. — Bob & Candy Cook/Branded Visuals

As Squamish winters bring cooler weather to the valley, the season also signals the remarkable annual return of one of the largest populations of bald eagles in the world. 

Every year, from mid-November to late-February, hundreds of eagles migrate to the Brackendale area to feed on salmon teeming in the rivers. 

Naturally, those same rivers are the best vantage point to view these magnificent birds and Sunwolf, a local rafting company, offers visitors that rare experience. 

“The tour is a pretty unique offering,” says Jake Freese, one of Sunwolf’s owners. “It is very mellow. It isn’t like white-water rafting. You sit back comfortably in the boat and you don’t even need to paddle.” 

The tours kick off in December, several weeks after the eagles begin to arrive in Squamish, because Freese says he wants to ensure guests always get to see as many eagles as possible. 

“I’d love to pay the eagles to come earlier,” he jokes. “However, you have to go by their schedule.”

The Eagle Float Tour begins at Sunwolf’s base of operations, featuring 12 riverside cabins and a café. 

There, guests are outfitted in warm, weatherproof gear and loaded into a shuttle headed for the beautiful Paradise Valley.

“We have a safety orientation, and also talk about what we will be doing and what they will be seeing,” said Freese. “On the tour, we explain the significance of the salmon runs that bring the eagles here.” 

Despite eagle numbers declining in recent years, according to local counting efforts, Freese says he still sees an amazing number of birds on the tours. “For us, it is always good,” he says. “Last season, we saw even more eagles than in previous years, despite the low counts that were reported.” 

Freese had an explanation for the discrepancy. 

“I think it all depends on the days they count the eagles,” he says. “For instance, you see a lot more on sunny days than when it is raining and they are not moving around.” 

However, from the comfortable confines of a Sunwolf raft sipping hot chocolate, you’re sure to experience more eagles than practically anywhere else in Squamish. 

“We’ve seen up to 378 birds in an hour,” Freese says. “It’s quite something to look up and see 20 or more eagles sitting in a tree together. It’s pretty magical.” 

At the end of the experience, guests get to kick back at Sunwolf’s base and enjoy fantastic views of the Tantalus Mountain Range from the steamy hot tub. 

And best of all, because the tours are so mellow, they’re great for everyone in the family.

“We’re pretty inclusive,” Freese says. “Anyone can come on the tours.” 

In addition to the regular float tours, Sunwolf also offers a Soar With the Eagles package in conjunction with the Sea to Sky Gondola. The tour combines the eagle-viewing experience with a ride up the gondola for sweeping views of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountain ranges. As well, Sunwolf’s Float and Stay package offers an evening’s accommodation in one of their 300-square-foot cabins by the Cheakamus River. 

Salmon is on the menu for this bald eagle. - Bob & Candy Cook/Branded Visuals

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