The Sea to Sky Highway is the portion of Highway 99 that stretches between Horseshoe Bay (at the sea) and Pemberton (in the mountains). It regularly makes it on to lists of the top 10 drives in the world, and for most people sitting and watching it all pass by is enough. But we want you to pull over and get amongst it.
So here is our handpicked ultimate guide of things to see and do along the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler.
Sidebar: The official Sea to Sky stretch doesn’t include Vancouver but we decided to add in some stops there too, because that’s usually where more people start. So here goes:
1. Granville Island, Vancouver
An island in the middle of a city, and if that wasn’t intriguing enough it’s also home to some of Vancouver’s best waterfront restaurants, theatres, galleries, street art, studios, unique local shops, cafés and a huge fresh food market – take the time to stop here and you’ll soon see why we always visit Granville Island when we go to the big city.
Must-do: Visit Edible Canada bistro and store at the Granville Island Public Market. Edible Canada is a culinary tourism company focused solely on promoting local food and highlighting Canadian cuisine.
2. Stanley Park, Vancouver
Designated a “national historic site of Canada”, Stanley Park is 400 hectares of giant trees, hidden beaches, wildlife, nature, and culture right in downtown Vancouver.
Must-do: Walk or bike the Stanley Park seawall. We recommend renting bikes from spokesbicyclerentals.com
Must-see: First Nations art and totem poles at Brockton Point in Stanley Park
3. Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver
Lighthouse Park marks the point where the Burrard Inlet meets the Howe Sound. The Sea to Sky region is part of the lush coastal temperate rainforest of BC, and the park gets over 50 inches of rainfall a year.
Must-see: The lighthouse viewpoint
Local knowledge: Lighthouse Park is home to West Vancouver’s last standing first-growth Douglas Fir trees. Most of the surrounding area has been logged but some of the trees were protected when the park boundaries were set in 1881. Some of these first-growth trees here have since grown to 200 feet (61 meters) and are over 500 years old.
4. Whytecliff Park, West Vancouver
Whytecliff Park is home to more than 200 marine animal species and was one of the first Marine Protected Areas in Canada.
Must-do: Venture across the rocks at low tide and climb the bluff for a 360° view.
Local knowledge: Early morning is nice and quiet on the beach, an ideal time for photographing the sea lions who sunbathe there in the summer.
5. Galileo Coffee Co. Cafe & Roasters, Britannia Beach
A legendary coffee shop nestled away just off the highway with a view right across the Howe Sound.
Must-try: Any of their fresh-baked scones and if you like decaf, theirs is one of the best we’ve ever had.
Local knowledge: They are only open until around 3pm, so if you miss them we recommend Zephyr in downtown Squamish who are open until 7pm.
Local knowledge: If you’re coming through in the winter there will usually be long line-ups in the morning as skiers grab their caffeine fix on the way to Whistler.
6. Tantalus Range Lookout, Paradise Valley
The Tantalus range is named after its highest peak, Mount Tantalus, that can be seen in all its glory from this lookout on the Sea to Sky Highway.
Local knowledge: The lookout is on the south side of the highway, so if you’re driving north keep an eye-out for the information hut in the photo below. You can turn off the north-bound side in to the lookout.
Update: Correction to the ‘local knowledge’ sentence above. When driving north, unfortunately you CAN NOT turn off the north-bound side to get across to the south-bound side and the Tantalus range lookout. However, when driving north keep your eyes open for a sign on a right-hand bend in the highway that says “Viewpoint” or “Vista Point”, this turn-off will take you to another Tantalus lookout on the opposite side of the highway to this one.
Must-do: After you’ve finished being blown away by the Tantalus mountain range, hop up on the wall and look left down Paradise Valley. The photo below is of the view over Paradise Valley that we captured on a very early morning drive to Vancouver.
7. Sea To Summit Trail At The Sea To Sky Gondola, Squamish
While the gondola ride isn’t free, it is free to hike up and down the Sea to Summit Trail from the valley to the top of the gondola. And you can buy a one-way download ticket for only $10.
New in 2014, the Sea to Sky Gondola whisks visitors from the valley floor, high up into the alpine to the Summit Lodge (not related to us) and viewing deck. From here you’ll have 360°, endless views of the Howe Sound and its islands, and mountain vistas of Mount Habrich, Sky Pilot and Skyline Ridge to name just a few.
Must-do: take the 100-metre-long suspension bridge and set off on the 1.6-kilometre Panorama Trail
Must-see: a birds-eye-view of kiteboarders on the Howe Sound while drinking a sleeve of Howe Sound Brewing beer on the viewing deck
Local knowledge: If you’re bringing your dog on the drive, you sadly cannot take them up the Sea to Sky Gondola. However, you can hike the Sea to Sky trail up to the top and your pooch can download with you.
8. The Stawamus Chief, Squamish
In the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park you’ll find a 700m granite monolith towering over Squamish that is very popular with hikers, climbers and photographers from all over the world. The Stawamus Chief is one of our all-time favourite dog-friendly hikes.
Local knowledge: The Stawamus Chief is one of the largest granite monoliths in the world and provides a good nesting habitat for Peregrine Falcon, so keep your eyes peeled. Not only that, the Sea to Sky is also home to thousands of black bears, so please read our post 5 Safety Tips: What to Do If You See A Bear In Whistler
Must-do: Hike to the three peaks of the Stawamus Chief. The Chief Trail is a steep and difficult climb, requiring hikers to be in good physical condition. Hikers should wear sturdy footwear, appropriate clothing for the weather, and take a pack with food and plenty of water (especially in the summer).
9. Locavore Food Truck & Cloudburst Cafe, Squamish
Locavore Food Truck and the Cloudburst Cafe can be found at On The Farm Country Market, in Squamish. They sell to-die-for food sourced from local farms and producers including Glacier Valley Farm and Two Rivers Meats. We always make a point of stopping off here on our way back from mountain biking in Squamish – they have just what you need after a long day of peddling.
Must-try: The Donair, Bahn Mi and Herb Roasted Potatoes
10. Eagle Run Park, Brackendale
Every year Squamish plays host to one of the largest bald eagle congregations in North America. Hundreds of wintering eagles come back for the salmon spawning at Squamish River, where they can easily be viewed from Eagle Run Park.
Must-do: The free Eagle Watch Interpreter Program that runs every Saturday from December to January at Eagle Run Park
11. Brandywine Falls, Whistler
Brandywine Falls has been a popular stop along the Seas to Sky Highway for a long time. The waterfall is almost 70 meters high and crashes down over a vertical cliff into a bowl-shaped crater that is being formed underneath from the sheer force of the falls itself.
Local knowledge: As you walk the trail to the falls you will pass a sign for Swim Lake on your left, just before the railway crossing. A short walk down this easy trail and you’ll find a quiet, secluded lake that 90% of people never even visit.
Must-do: Continue on the trail past the waterfall to the lookout over Daisy Lake
12. The Whistler Train Wreck, Whistler
The Whistler Train Wreck hiking and biking trail has been lifted to legendary status over the years. Partly because of the impressive collection of twisted and contorted rail cars that now sit permanently in the forest, but mostly because of the ever-evolving street art that you’ll find there.
Local knowledge: Many sources will tell you to drive to Function Junction and then walk down the train tracks to get to the wreck. We’re not going to tell you that for two reasons: firstly, walking on the tracks is illegal and sadly visitors have been given a fine by Canada Rail; secondly, following the official trail will take you through new-growth rainforest and along the banks of Cheakamus river to a natural viewing point of the gorge – something you really don’t want to miss.
For directions to the Whistler Train Wreck, visit: whistlerhiatus.com/whistlerhikes/train-wreck
We’ve made a Google map of all these spots
Check it out here: bit.ly/SeaToSkyActivityMap. It’s open access to all so you can view it on your smartphone, tablet and computer.