The Sea to Sky Highway can get you from Vancouver to Whistler in as little as 2 hours, but there are so many stops and viewpoints along the way that the road trip is justifiably an excursion in itself. Which is exactly what we did: it took us over seven hours from leaving Vancouver to actually arriving at our accommodation in Squamish (a distance of only 65 km) – admittedly with some unfortunate delays on the way. I was the designated driver – a role I would suggest avoiding along this particular road: the views are SO glorious that it is much better to just be a passenger and soak up the sights. This particular excursion definitely brings meaning to the saying that it is about the journey, not the destination – although there is no denying both Whistler and Squamish make for pretty epic destinations too!
We left Vancouver and opted for the scenic route through West Vancouver along to Horseshoe Bay. Although it was incredibly scenic, it was also particularly windy and for this part of the driver I was glad to be behind the steering wheel so that I wouldn’t get sick. Our first stop was Whytecliff Park (very near Horseshoe Bay) which looks out over Howe Sound and Georgia Street. Unfortunately we did not spot any whales or dolphins, however we did lay eyes on a bald eagle as well as a raven – our first proper sightings in Canada of both.
We then turned onto the Sea to Sky Highway and drove along until we reached Porteau Cove. We (accidentally) turned off at the lookout sign, meaning we got views looking down across the water. Back on the highway, we eventually got to the Cove itself where we were amazed by the sheer number of people with diving gear climbing into the water. The air temperature was freezing, I can’t imagine what the water temperature was! Good gear makes all the difference I suppose… While we were there we learnt it is such a popular diving spot because there are a number of artificial reefs and sunken vessels just out from the shore.
We hadn’t really planned to stop at Murrin Provincial Park, but the sheer stillness of the lake as we drove past was just so captivating we couldn’t help ourselves. The reflection was phenomenal. We walked around the lake (it took about 20 minutes) and with every few steps I felt like we became more impressed. A highlight (unable to be captured effectively on camera) was looking across at the road and having the reflection of the cars moving along an otherwise perfectly still lake. As we were completing our loop it started to rain and just like that, the entire reflection was broken. There were heaps of picnic tables and rubbish bins – I can see how it would be a popular swimming spot in summer. Also: our raven tally reaches two.
Next stop was Shannon Falls. There is so much to do around this area – for example the Sea to Sky Gondola is close by as is the beginning of the hike to the Stawamus Chief. We were just there to see the waterfall – about a 10 minute walk to the base of the falls. The Sea to Sky Gondola was opening for the summer on this particular weekend so we had it penciled in as an activity we might do, depending on timings (due to it being the opening weekend, we also expected it to be really busy). The path to the waterfall is steep in parts but it is paved and well maintained. The waterfall is very cool, although I personally thought Brandywine Falls (next stop) were better.
We tried to stop at Alice Lake but there was no parking available. We considered creating a make-shift park in the snow (like several other cars had done) but then decided against it on the premise we could just come back. That last sentence is significant due to what happened next. When we got to Brandywine Falls we saw the carpark itself was closed due to a snowbank that blocked its entrance. However, a multitude of cars (there were probably about 12 already parked) had created what seemed like a legitimate parking area next to the snowbank, without interfering with the stream of traffic at all. I didn’t want to parallel park in the snow, so I just parked right on the end in an easy access spot. BIG MISTAKE. What we hadn’t seen was the signs (hidden by other cars) that said clearly ‘no parking, tow away area’.
We hiked through the snow for about 10 minutes before reaching the falls. My hiking boots were doing themselves justice – I was the only one who didn’t have soaked feet. The snow was thick, either side of the trail it was easily over shin-deep of powder. It was so picturesque though, and incredibly silent. The snow just absorbs all noise! The falls were a spectacular sight: with snow topped trees and sheer rock face all around, it was breathtaking. From here, we walked onwards another 5 minutes to get a lookout over the neighbouring lake. Glorious! We picked our way back through the snow, across a train track while constantly fielding snow balls courtesy of Andy. Finally we made it back to the car; we were all excited for the warmth. But our car was gone!
We immediately thought it had been stolen (like I said before, we hadn’t seen the signs). Panic set in as we realized we were nowhere near home, we’d potentially just lost all of our ski gear and Mum had potentially just lost everything she’d brought to Canada with her – including her passport. We were on the phone to EVO and the police both, when the tow truck pulled in. Mum went over to speak to them and it became quickly apparent what had happened. Fortunately I could hitch a ride with them back to the storage area, where our EVO was sitting defiantly in one corner. Unsurprisingly, but still annoying, was the fact that they were SO unsympathetic to our situation and my protests that the area clearly wasn’t signposted well enough. They were also just jerks. The point was made that the company literally drives back and forth between that same spot ALL DAY, ALL WINTER, towing the cars of tourists who are not actually disrupting the flow of traffic and have nowhere else to park. I wasn’t making excuses for us – I accepted we were in the wrong, but it just annoyed me so much to know that they were exploiting tourists like that. $200 later, we were moodily driving to Squamish.
We ended up missing a few things on the Sea to Sky Highway, which obviously isn’t a problem as I like to think we’ll be driving that road a few times over the next few years. At some point I want to climb the Chief – the panoramic views are honestly jaw-dropping. There is also another lookout which is meant to be good (aren’t they all?!) – the Tantalus Lookout, just past Squamish on the way to Whistler. It is easy to miss apparently and only worth stopping on a good day.
On our last day we stopped in at Brackendale Eagle Viewing. We were under the impression that eagles could be spotted from November to February, however try as we might we just did not see a single eagle. The signs at the walkway suggested that the eagles tend to leave by January, so I think that perhaps we were there just a little too late in the season. During those cold winter months, Brackendale eagle Viewing is said to house over several thousand of these magnificent birds – lurking in the trees and hunting for fish. Our bald eagle tally remains at one.
The whole area is abundant in views, lakes, mountains and hiking. I think we could do the whole trip again and stop at entirely different places. I plan to spend much more time in that area – hopefully camping, swimming and exploring come summer (it was definitely too cold to do anything of the sort in February!). No wonder the Sea to Sky Highway has the reputation of one of the most beautiful drives in the world, I couldn’t agree more!
(I can’t really finish this post without mentioning the awesome day of skiing we had up on the Whistler Blackcomb resort. The weather in the morning was stunning and clear and we couldn’t stop marvelling at the scenes around us. Not to mention the quality of the snow!)