The beautiful Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia is a route renown for its beauty, amazing views, twisty corners and iconic attractions. The Sea to Sky Highway is the gateway to the world-class skiing at Whistler and is the appetizer to the little bit of motorcycle heaven better known as the Duffy Lake Road.
A road-trip on the Sea to Sky Highway is a perfect way to spend a couple of days in either summer or winter in British Columbia. This fantastic road isn’t known to many outside of Vancouver so it’s a great non-touristy thing to do! As a Vancouver native, I’ve made this trip hundreds of times and I never get tired of the spectacular scenery. I’ve visited almost every restaurant and attraction between Vancouver and Pemberton – I will steer you in the right direction for your Sea to Sky Highway road-trip!
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Preparation is Key
If you’re traveling in summer, make sure your tires are fully inflated and your gas tank is full. The Sea to Sky Highway can be a challenging drive, with twisty corners and diverting scenery.. You’ll be able to handle your vehicle better if your tires aren’t over or under inflated. There aren’t a lot of gas stations between Vancouver and Whistler so filling up before you leave is a great idea. If you don’t fill up in Vancouver, there are gas stations in Squamish available.
If you’re traveling in winter, you must ensure that you have snow tires on your vehicle. The Sea to Sky Highway is a designated winter tire or chain-up route from October 1 to March 31, and the law is definitely enforced. The Province of British Columbia recommends mountain snowflake tires on this route, although M+S tires with 3.5mm tread is the minimum requirement. I don’t recommend the Sea to Sky Highway to motorcyclists in winter season!
Make sure you don’t exceed the posted speed limit. Mounties often patrol the Sea to Sky Highway for speeders and you don’t want that expensive ticket!
1 or 2 days?
It is easily possible to do the Sea to Sky Highway in 1 day, as it’s only 170 kilometres from its start in Vancouver to its end in Pemberton. Even in the winter it is easy to do in a day.
However, I suggest you take your time and enjoy the spectacular scenery, activities and sights along this famous route. Plan for an overnight stay in either Squamish or Whistler, or both!
The Sea to Sky Highway “officially” starts once you get out of Vancouver. You have two options to get on the road:
Option 1: The Quicker Way
Crossing over the Lions Gate Bridge from Vancouver you’ll take the Taylor Way exit, following the signs for Squamish/Whistler. You’ll see the signs for Highway 99 (the official name for the Sea to Sky Highway) at the top of the hill. Once you merge onto the Highway, you’re on the road!
Option 2: The Sightseers Choice
Get on the Trans Canada Highway #1, and take the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge (also known as the Second Narrows Bridge). This route will give you the option of stopping at the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge Park! Take exit 14 for Capilano Road, and follow the signs.
This is one of the most popular attractions in British Columbia, and for good reason! The highlight is the suspension bridge of course but there’s a lot more fun to be had, especially if you’re like me and think suspension bridges are scary!
There are many attractions at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park including Cliffwalk, where you can walk along cantilevered and suspended walkways along a granite cliff face high above the Capilano River.
There’s also Treetops Adventure, a squirrel’s eye view of a thriving coastal rain forest. Walk along a series of suspension bridges attached to 250-year-old Douglas Fir Trees!
For those of us who like to remain closer to the ground there’s beautiful native totems, guided history and nature tours and great opportunities to learn all about raptors.
All in all, I’d say that Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is an excellent choice for starting your journey on the Sea to Sky Highway!
Next stop on the Sea to Sky Highway: Horseshoe Bay & Whytecliff Park
Approximately 30 kilometres from Vancouver, Horseshoe Bay is the home of a large BC Ferries terminal (get your ferry to Nanaimo, Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast here) as well as beautiful Whytecliff Park. Take Exit 2 for Eagleridge Drive and get onto Marine Drive, following it all the way to Whytecliff Park.
Whytecliff Park is one of the first Marine Protected Areas in Canada! You’ll be able to see sea lions relaxing on the beach in the summers here.
Whytecliff Park is a perfect location for a picnic! It has comfortable picnic tables and public washroom facilities. If a picnic isn’t for you, you can get drinks or lunch at the Whytecliff Kitchen – there’s also a great patio area.
Other things to do at Whytecliff Park include hiking (lots of trails to choose from, accessible from the northwest corner of the gravel overflow parking lot), swimming, and diving for scuba enthusiasts.
After you’ve enjoyed your visit to Whytecliff Park, you can look forward to getting back on the Sea to Sky Highway as it traces its route along the shore of Howe Sound. You’ll will see some truly spectacular scenery as you make your way to Britannia Beach.
Britannia Beach and Britannia Mines Museum
Approximately 34 kilometres down the Sea to Sky Highway from Whytecliff Park you’ll find the historic town of Britannia Beach, home of the Britannia Mine Museum. Britannia Mine was a working copper mine (the biggest in the British Empire at one point!) until 1974.
The best part about seeing Britannia Mine is the train ride through an historic haulage tunnel, as well as the historic mining and lighting equipment demonstrations. You can also pan for gold (and keep what you find!) and see the absolutely exquisite collection of minerals while you learn about life as a miner in the early 20th century.
There’s a family play area including a giant sand pit as well as a snack bar and restrooms.
I recommend spending 1-2 hours at Britannia Mines Museum – it’s well worth the visit!
Shannon Falls – a Sea to Sky Highway Gem
Just 7 kilometres further down the Sea to Sky Highway from Britannia Beach is majestic Shannon Falls, the third tallest waterfall in British Columbia. Located in Shannon Falls Provincial Park, it is a series of cliffs rising 335 metres above the Sea to Sky Highway. The park is directly adjacent to the Sea to Sky Highway and is a popular day-use area. There’s a group picnic area with reservable tables from March to October.
A stop at Shannon Falls is great for a short hike around the base of the falls. There’s an excellent trail network where you can explore giant old-growth trees. If you’re among the brave, there’s also fantastic rock climbs at Shannon Falls, with 3 star routes in the 5.11 range.
Next Stop on the Sea to Sky Highway: Squamish and the Sea to Sky Gondola
Home of the mighty Stawamus Chief (a granitic dome towering 700 metres above Howe Sound), Squamish is a short 5 kilometres from Shannon Falls. On the northern tip of Howe Sound, Squamish is a beautiful and historic town, and an excellent resting point on your Sea to Sky Highway journey.
Before checking into your hotel for the night, you must try the Sea to Sky Gondola. An excellent stop in both winter and summer, the Sea to Sky Gondola is a 10-minute gondola ride to 885 metres above sea level. You’ll enjoy spectacular views of Howe Sound and the surrounding Coastal mountains.
Once you’re on the top, there’s so much to see and do, and something for everyone! If you’re interested in hiking, you can hike up the mountain to the top or start your hike at the top. There’s extensive hiking terrain for all levels, and the trails are ranked in order of difficulty. If you’re an experienced hiker, the gondola is the gateway to all sorts of back-country experiences including the Shannon Creek watershed, Goat Ridge and many more.
There’s also easily accessible trails that everyone can enjoy. The Panorama Loop is particularly lovely, with Alaskan Blueberry bushes and granite outcroppings.
The facilities at the top of the gondola are excellent! There’s a great food and beverage area where you can enjoy a drink and the view at the same time, either indoors or outdoors. On our last visit, we enjoyed the irony of sitting beside two hikers, sweaty and tired from their climb up the mountain. They probably earned the view more than we did, but we enjoyed it nonetheless!
Options for Staying in Squamish overnight
There are many great options for your overnight stay in Squamish, depending on your budget and needs.
We love the Squamish Highlands Bed and Breakfast. We couldn’t agree more with the exceptional rating it enjoys on Trip Advisor. If offers a free English breakfast as well as free Wifi and parking. The rooms are very comfortable and we found the hosts very helpful and welcoming.
Another great choice in Squamish is the Executive Suites Hotel & Resort. Set against breaktaking mountain scenery, this is a great choice for families. They offer rooms with full kitchens as well as a restaurant and pool. There is free parking and Wifi.
There are also a lot of great options via AirBnB. Sign up with our link and get $45 off your first stay!
Where to eat in Squamish
Squamish has a surprisingly robust foodie culture for a relatively small town! We’ve enjoyed many restaurants in Squamish and recommend that you try one or two during your stay.
We’ve particularly enjoyed eating at the Salted Vine. It’s a beautiful place and the food is outrageously good.
For great pub fare we love The Shady Tree Pub. It’s a local favourite, and if you’re lucky enough to be there on a Thursday you can enjoy appetizers after 6pm at an amazing discount.
Day Two – onward to Whistler!
After a restful and relaxing overnight in Squamish, you’re raring to go for day 2 on the beautiful Sea to Sky Highway!
First Stop: Brackendale – the Eagle Capital of Canada!
A short 10 kilometre hop up the Sea to Sky Highway from Squamish lies Brackendale and Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park.
Brackendale lies in the Squamish River Valley. It has long been recognized as one of the most significant areas of wintering bald eagles in North America.
An eagle count is conducted every year, with a high of 3769 found in 1994. Recent counts have found approximately 1600 eagles in Brackendale. The number of eagles returning to Brackendale each year is influenced by the salmon runs, as eagles typically migrate from areas where lakes and rivers are frozen.
Eagle sightings are highest in January and February. Prime viewing usually happens at Eagle Run Dyke, opposite the BC Easter Seals Camp at 41015 Government Road in Brackendale. There you’ll also find an interpretive display about the eagles and the lifecycle of the chum salmon on which they feed.
Did you know?
- Eagles’ eyes are 8 times sharper than a human’s 20/20 vision
- An eagles’ beak is hooked and self-sharpening. The beak is often used tenderly in courtship!
- They have feather-light bones that are hollow and weigh less than half the weight of the eagles’ 7000 feathers
- Eagles weigh up to 15 pounds, are 3 feet tall and have a wingspan of 6 feet
- They live 15-30 years in the wild and can fly up to 40mph!
If your Sea to Sky Highway roadtrip takes place in January or February, make sure you stop in Brakendale to say hi to the eagles!
Sea to Sky Highway Day 2 – Alice Lake
Approximately 13km from Squamish along the Sea to Sky Highway lies Alice Lake Provincial Park. It is a local landmark known for its incredible mountain views, dense forests, grassy areas and four freshwater lakes – Edith, Stump, Fawn and Alice. All 4 lakes are widely used for swimming, picnicking, fishing, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding.
Alice Lake Provincial Park also has one of the best campgrounds in British Columbia, with 108 reservable sites. There are also great facilities onsite including an amphitheatre, playground, public restroom buildings, and a café.
Camping season in British Columbia runs from March through October. If you’re planning on camping in Alice Lake Provincial Park, I strongly urge you to make a reservation in advance. It is a very popular spot for locals and visitors alike.
Brandywine Falls – last stop on the Sea to Sky Highway before Whistler
Your last stop before reaching Whistler is the spectacular Brandywine Falls, just 33 kilometres from Alice Lake Provincial Park.
Brandywine Falls is a beautiful 70 metre waterfall. It is best seen from the viewpoint which also provides excellent views of Daisy Lake and the surrounding mountains.
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park has great hiking, picnicking, mountain biking and photography opportunities.
There are marked cycling trails with packed gravel and gentle grades as well as marked hiking trails ranging from 10-20 minutes to more vigorous and rougher hikes.
There is also excellent snowshoeing at Brandywine Falls Provincial Park in winter!
Whistler – the Pinnacle of the Sea to Sky Highway
Just a 17 kilometre jaunt up the Sea to Sky Highway from Brandywine Falls lies Whistler, the world-class ski destination!
Summer or winter, Whistler has it all! The Peak 2 Peak Gondola is always an amazing experience. Spanning the distance between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, it holds the Guinness World Record for highest cable car above the ground. It also has the record for the longest unsupported span between two cable car towers. It’s a 4.4 kilometre journey that takes 11 minutes. It connects the high alpine terrain of both mountains.
I can personally attest to thrill of riding the Peak 2 Peak Gondola – it is an amazing experience! It’s not uncommon to see wildlife during the ride – we saw a mother bear and cubs on our ride!
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola runs almost year round and skiers and non-skiers alike are welcome.
Whistler also has amazing restaurants in its picturesque mountain village. We love 21 Steps for dinner as well as Wildflower.
Where to stay at Whistler
Hands-down, the best place to stay at Whistler is the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
It’s the perfect balance of relaxation and adventure and is an ideal setting for families or couples. Packages and deals are often available, especially in summer and shoulder season. There are other hotel choices in Whistler Village as well, some good and some mediocre.
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly alternative, the Pangea Pod Hotel in the heart of Whistler village is an interesting alternative. It offers a private sleeping space consisting of a small cabin that can be shared by couples. Guests must be 18+. Washrooms are private as well. It’s a great alternative if you’re willing to think a little bit outside the box!
Eager for more?
Although the Sea to Sky Highway nears its terminus at Whistler, there is much more to see of beautiful British Columbia if you’re eager for more.
If you’re visiting in Spring, Summer or Fall, I unreservedly recommend continuing your road-trip from Whistler to Pemberton (30 minutes farther). You can then venture onto the Duffy Lake Road. I know you’ll love the Sea to Sky Highway but the Duffy Lake Road takes it a step further! If you’re an avid motorcyclist, the Duffy Lake Loop is one of the best motorcycling trips in Canada and a must-ride road.
Are you planning a British Columbia road-trip on the Sea to Sky highway? Let me know in the comments if you have any questions I didn’t answer!
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