Exploring the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Route 99 in British Columbia)

November 28, 2020laurenslighthouse

If you’re blessed to be spending time in Vancouver and would love to take a day (or two) road trip along British Columbia’s most scenic highway, there is no other place for it than the Sea-to-Sky Highway. The Sea-to-Sky drive exposes you to spectacular ocean views, crazy mountains, waterfalls and memorable viewpoints you’ll never find anywhere else. Winding from Vancouver to Squamish to Whistler to Pemberton and ending at Lillooet, this highway will take you to some of BC’s most treasured.

Disclaimer: Before you plan your trip, check online for updates for each destination as some may be open or closed depending on the season! Especially during this trying time of the pandemic, some of the areas are closed or require a day pass to enter. Check with the Government of British Columbia’s website for up-to-date health and safety guidelines, as well as the local municipal regulations, prior to travelling. Stay safe folks!

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Okay, you got to start off strong with this one. The Capilano Suspension Bridge is basically a rite of passage for Vancouverites and anyone passing through! It’s not as scary as you’d think but it’s more beautiful and luscious than you might have imagined. This one is definitely a bucket list item and is gorgeous throughout the year, rain or shine. All the bridges and walkways apart from the main suspension bridge will make you feel like you’re in the Amazon Forest. Check here for the operation dates/hours and admission rates!

Photo by Nikita Taparia from Unsplash

Photo by Ivana Cajina from Unsplash

Photo by Jason Meng Visuals, pictured: me

Cypress Mountain Vancouver Outlook

As you leave the big city, hit up one of Vancouver’s best vantage points to see the vibrant coastal city from up high. Cypress Bowl Road is just off Highway 99 in West Vancouver, and the scenic drive takes you up Cypress Mountain. Before the second switchback on the road, you’ll spot the parking lot of the vista, overlooking Vancouver.

Photo by Jason Meng Visuals

Cypress Mountain is a ski area with tons of hiking trails in the summer. If you keep driving up Cypress Bowl Road, you’ll find yourself there, where there are some of Sea-to-Sky’s most popular trails; one of them being Howe Sound Crest Trail along which is situated St Marks Summit.

Photo by Jason Meng Visuals

Squamish: Sea-to-Sky Gondola & Shannon Falls Provincial Park

As you make your way out of Vancouver and north along one of the most scenic drives in all of Canada, take it all in. Take in the sights of the mountains, the winding road, the great, adjacent islands on your left and Howe Sound in its entirety. From Horseshoe Bay to Lions Bay to Squamish. Here’s where your next stop is!

A Sea-to-Sky road trip isn’t complete without a stop in Squamish! Not the town itself but the entire municipality. Here’s where you’ll find the famous Stawamus Chief trail, a multiple-hour hike that runs peak to peak to peak. The deadly Shannon Falls is here as well! You can get a shot of it within the provincial park of the same name or climb to the top via the Upper Shannon Falls trail. But if you’re not looking to go hiking here and still get a stunning view, the Sea-to-Sky Gondola is also found here.

Photo by Ran Dio from Unsplash

One of the most intense hikes we’ve ever done was the Sea-to-Summit trail which ends at the top of this gondola. A 7.5 km (one-way), 918m elevation gain hike might be worth it to some, but I highly suggest taking the gondola to ease any unnecessary stress at the beginning of your road trip. That way you get to enjoy this panoramic view to the fullest!

Photo by Stephen H. from Unsplash

Brandywine Falls

If you enjoyed Shannon Falls, you’ll love Brandywine Falls even more! As opposed to Shannon Falls which could be seen steps from the parking lot, Brandywine is a few minutes walk from its designated lot. Enjoy a pleasing stroll amongst BC’s tall trees and along some train tracks before reaching the viewing area of this stunning smooth waterfall.

Photo by Jason Meng Visuals

Whistler Train Wreck

The Whistler Train Wreck is a popular attraction along Sea-to-Sky. The trail is easily accessible to all ages thanks to its near-zero elevation change and decently short (about 20-30 minutes) from the parking lot. It’s a beautiful area in the woods especially with yet another suspension bridge, and it’s a not only a cultural site with tons of vibrant art, but it’s also a part of Whistler’s historical identity. In 1956, a train was derailed and what remains of the damaged box cars lies here in this forest. Many artists over the years have used the box cars as canvases to create a colourful scenery out of a devastating wreckage. Further historical information about the train wreck can be found on site making the area a bit of an outdoor museum. The suspension bridge is also a notable landmark and offers a scenic view of Cheakamus River.

Cheakamus Lake Trail

Now there are tons and tons of must-do hikes surrounding Whistler and all along Highway 99. But if you’re looking for something short and sweet, Cheakamus Lake might be right up your alley. It took us about 1 h 40 min to hike and out-and-back (6 km total) as we stopped as soon as we got to the lake, but the trail does continue on towards a backcountry campsite. There was minimal elevation gain all the way through so it’s perfect for families! And it’s hard to beat that aqua-blue water, but if you’re hopping on over to Joffre Lakes, you might be fine skipping this one entirely!

Photo by Jason Meng Visuals

Photo by Jason Meng Visuals, pictured: me

Whistler Town

Head on over to the town of Whistler and check out the Olympic Village to experience the cutest and quaintest town you’ve probably ever seen. This is a great spot to relax and escape the wilderness for a bit while enjoying a comforting meal before heading back on the road. If you seen and loved Banff Town, you’ll adore Whistler.

Find a Campground for Overnighters

If you’re hoping to make this road trip more budget-friendly, there are a number of campsites along Sea-to-Sky to choose from. It’s best to select a site based on your daily itinerary and the amenities you might need (i.e. shower facilities, cooking equipment washing station, etc.). Our needs were the most basic and our only requirements were to sleep and use the bathroom, so Nairn Falls was perfect for us. The bonus was to check out the actual waterfall itself! When you’re booking a campsite during the summer months no matter the day of the week, be sure to book a few weeks in advance. There are cancellation options if need be but it’s good to ensure you have a reservation before it’s too late and you’re stuck with pricey yet meh hotel options! Click here to reserve your campsite in BC.

Photo by Jason Meng Visuals, pictured: me

Photo by Jason Meng Visuals (Nairn Falls)

Joffre Lakes (summer only)

Joffre Lakes, situated near Pemberton, is one of BC’s most beautiful hikes and is comparably easy to reach as opposed to many other formidable trails in the province. But there is a very short window in which the Joffre Lakes hike is open: June to September. Throughout 2020, the trail has been closed in order to abide by social distancing guidelines. But here’s to hoping it’ll be open to all in the new year! Joffre Lakes is like BC’s Lake Louise times three. Being able to experience that opaque blue water is rare and it’s amazing that you can do so at three different lakes on one trail that’s only about 4 hours in length (10 km) and 370 m in elevation gain.

Photo by Ethan Mabunay from Unsplash

Seton Lake Lookout

One of our FAVOURITE views, not only on this entire road trip but EVER, was the Seton Lake Lookout right off Highway 99 (after Sea-to-Sky becomes Duffey Lake Road) just southwest of Lillooet. That perfect U-shape of Duffey Lake Road with the lake and mountains in the background is near unbeatable. This one was a little tricky to spot. Going northeast on 99, the turnoff for the short hike is on the left (or north) side of the highway so you’ll need to take a left to enter the lot. There are no signs leading up to it so you’ll need to pay attention to where you are on the map – search “Seton Lake View” on Google Maps for the turnoff location. To get to the trailhead, cross the road as the path starts directly across from the parking area. It’s only about 10-15 minutes to reach the summit but can be decently steep and sandy/dusty. Approaching the top of the cliff, be prudent as the path is narrow and the edge is close. But no matter what, this heart racer of a trail is absolutely 100% worth it.

Photo by Jason Meng Visuals

Now this is the final destination that you have to check out along Highway 99! Keep driving north to Lillooet for some lunch/dinner or keep reading to see where else to go on your way back to Vancouver!

Bonus: Bridal Veil Falls

Though this one’s not on Highway 99, you HAVE to make a stop here and do the short 15 minute hike to the base of one of the most spectacular and popular waterfall in BC. Bridal Veil Falls looks just like it names suggests, cascading smoothly against the large cliff in this forested provincial park. If you’re making your way back to Vancouver from Lillooet via Highway 1 (TransCanada Highway) instead of going back south on Sea-to-Sky, you’ll be passing here anyway so why not end your outdoor adventure trip with a bang before heading back into the city?

Photo by Jason Meng Visuals, pictured: me

Thanks for reading and I hope you get to experience most, if not all, these Sea-to-Sky landmarks!

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