If you’re planning on driving from Vancouver to Whistler you will most likely find yourself driving on the Sea to Sky Highway. The Vancouver to Whistler drive is only 120km and takes around one hour and a half, but the surrounding landscape is so beautiful you will want to do some stops along the way. In this post I’ve listed everything you need to know about doing a road trip to Whistler from Vancouver, including information about the drive and all the best things to do and places to see along the Sea to Sky Highway.
- 1 About the Sea to Sky Highway
- 2 Where to stop on the Vancouver to Whistler drive (closer to Vancouver)
- 3 Where to stop on the Sea to Sky Highway(half way)
- 4 Must see stops on the road from Vancouver to Whistler (closer to Whistler)
- 5 Road trip to Whistler essentials
About the Sea to Sky Highway
The British Coumbia Highway 99, also known as the Sea to Sky Highway is the major north-south road that connects the US border all the way up to Cache Creek. It goes through Vancouver, Howe Sound, Whistler and Lillooet. It gets its highway number from the old US Route 99, to which it was originally connected. The Sea to Sky Highway section of the route is the one that connects Vancouver to Pemberton (just north of Whistler) and is called like this for two reasons; firstly because it really does connect the sea (Vancouver) to the sky (the mountains of Pemberton) and for its stunning views. The drive from Vancouver to Whistler is beautiful, with the sea on one side and the steep mountainsides on the other.
Where to stop on the Vancouver to Whistler drive (closer to Vancouver)
There are awesome things to do on the road to Whistler from Vancouver all along the Sea to Sky Highway. In this guide I’ve grouped them in three categories; those closer to Vancouver, those in the middle around the half way mark, and those closer to Whistler, so that you can break up the drive accordingly.
“Can you beat a big city with beaches? I think not! Before you hit the highs of this road trip be sure to dip your toes in the sea at Vancouver’s beaches, one of the many fun things to do in Vancouver.
For a central beach, head to English Bay at Stanley Park. Play volleyball at Kitsilano Beach or tennis at Jericho. Locarno is known as the ‘quiet beach’ and Second Beach has an outdoor pool which makes is always lively.
Road tripping with your pooch? Spanish Banks and Trout Lake Beach had ‘off-leash’ areas so your dog can roam free. The majority of Vancouver’s beaches have toilets, changing rooms, a restaurant close by and lifeguards on hand during the summer season.”
– by Gemma, author of Two Scots Abroad
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
“The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is, in my opinion, a must-see when you’re in the Vancouver area. The attraction takes about 2 to 3 hours to see, depending on how quickly you walk and how many of the paths you decide to go down. The feature of the park is a long suspension bridge that’s 70 meters high. It’s a bit daunting if you’re afraid of heights, but it’s worth it to see the incredible views! Once you’re across the bridge, you can also go on a treetop walk, where they have build a series of connecting bridges along the tree canopy. There are also exhibits about the indigenous population that originally inhabited these lands.”
– by Renee, author of Renee the Wanderess
Where to stop on the Sea to Sky Highway(half way)
Porteau Cove Provincial Park
“My favourite place to stop on a drive from Vancouver to Whistler is Porteau Cove Provincial Park. Porteau Cove is about 45 minutes from Vancouver and an hour from Whistler, so near the halfway point. The best reason to stop here? The views! Porteau Cove is home to some of the most stunning views of Howe Sound and the mountains across the water. You can park at Porteau Cove and go for a walk along the beach or a quick hike up the little hill. If you have more time, you can also camp at Porteau Cove and enjoy all of that scenery for even longer. It’s my favourite place to camp and I highly recommend it as a stop on your way to Whistler.”
– by Riana, author of Teaspoon of Adventure
With its 335 metres of height Shannon Falls is British Columbia’s third tallest waterfall, and one of the most popular stops on the drive to Whistler from Vancouver. Shannon Falls is located just off the Sea to Sky Highway, it’s well marked and easy to find, with a big parking area right next to it where you can leave your car. At the base of the falls there is a well-maintained wooden boardwalk from which you can admire the falls. All around it there is also a network of short trails from which you can explore the area. Shannon Falls is also home to some fantastic rock climbs, mostly in the rock slabs to the south of the falls, but we didn’t get an opportunity to try them out during our road trip. Visiting Shannon Falls will be a short break in your Whistler road trip, taking into account the time to walk to the falls, take photos and checking out the falls won’t take you more than 30 minutes.
Sea to Sky Gondola
“Located just outside the town of Squamish, just 50 minutes from downtown Vancouver and an hour from Whistler, the Sea to Sky Gondola is a great place to stop along the Sea to Sky Highway. The cable car started running in 2014 and changed an area that was once only accessible to only the hardiest of mountain folk to a place that’s accessible to all. The 10-minute gondola ride takes visitors up to Summit Lodge where they’re greeted with beautiful views of the bright blue waters of Howe Sound, the mountains of the Coast Range, the mighty Stawamus Chief and a bird’s eye view of the town of Squamish.
There are three main viewing platforms at the summit as well as the wonderfully bouncy Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge. You’ll also find eight main hiking trails of varying length and difficulty and a number of backcountry trails open to experienced hikers. Other summit activities include rock climbing and the Via Ferrata, a “vertical adventure” where you climb and walk assisted by metal rungs and a specialised cable system. You can just as easily spend an hour at the summit as you can a enjoying all that the Sea to Sky Gondola has to offer. Either way, you should definitely add it to your Sea to Sky Highway itinerary.”
– by Katja, author of globetotting
Stawamus Chief Provincial Park
Stawamus Chief is a 700m high granite dome that towers over the nearby network of fjords, called Howe Sound. Stawamus Chief is divided in three distinct summits, known as First Peak, Second Peak and Third Peak, all with epic views over the surrounding landscapes. If you want to break up your drive from Vancouver to Whistler and stretch your legs a bit, hiking the Stawamus Chief is the perfect way to do so!
The start of the trail is right next to Shannon Falls, so you can pair visiting the waterfall with this hike. The three peaks are actually three different hikes with varying degrees of difficulty and length. They have the initial section from the parking lot along the Sea to Sky Highway in common, but after hiking for about 20 minutes you will reach signs and you can decide which hike to do. We decided to do the First Peak since it’s the shortest one and with the best views.
First Peak hike
The hike to First Peak is a 4km round trip, but with some very steep sections and parts where the trail isn’t well beaten and you have to climb over ladders and holding on to ropes. It’s advertised online as an “intermediate” hike that fast parties can do in 90 minutes. That’s when I realised the average Canadian must be in much better shape than me. It took us 2-3 hours to do the round trip hike, including a break at the top to have lunch and enjoy the view. The toughest part is actually at the beginning of the hike, since the trail goes up 400m in the first 100m. This part of the trail is made all of steep wooden steps, which can even get quite slippery due to the nearby Shannon Falls. It’s challenging both going up as it’s very tiring, but also going down as it can be quiet tough on the knees. The hiking is much smoother later and the view from the top of First Peak is well worth the effort and interrupting your drive to Whistler for.
Second Peak hike
“It all started with a few locals recommending The Chief as a day activity when I unexpectedly decided to stay in BC a bit longer… “It’s easy!” they said. Oh, my, how wrong they were!
While The Chief is by no means easy at all, it is certainly worth it, every single step, jagged rock and uphill groan, you have to make it up to the top!
Thinking this hike would easy, I planned on visiting all three peaks. Only about 30 minutes later, I knew this was not going to happen and I had to make the quick decision to follow the trails to one of the three peaks. I just didn’t start early enough. Tip: Start early!
I decided to make it to the second one as it was in the middle and seemed like the perfect compromise. It was a good choice! You can see viewpoint #1 and #3 from here so you can get a good idea as to what their views look like so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much. Views over Squamish and the Howe Sound were gorgeous and rewarding.
Heading down, I took the loop route down that lead to the third viewpoint which required a bit of crab walk down craggy rocks. There’s a lot of scrambling over rock and using some chains to leverage yourself over boulders getting to the top of the second viewpoint, so definitely be careful and be prepared. Wear good hiking shoes and bring a lot of water.”
– by Nina, author of Where In The World Is Nina?
Must see stops on the road from Vancouver to Whistler (closer to Whistler)
Brandywine Falls is a 70-metre waterfall located in Brandywine Creek, along the Sea to Sky Highway between Garibaldi and Whistler. I found the falls particularly impressive since there is a clean 70m drop, unlike Shannon Falls where the water tumbles down a multitude of rocks before reaching the base. It’s roughly a 15-minute walk from the parking area to the waterfall, all along a wooden boardwalk that takes you over the river and through the forest all the way to the viewing platform. The platform has an epic view of the falls on one side and the surrounding mountains on the other. It’s a short sightseeing stop that you can do on your Vancouver to Whistler road trip without disrupting your drive too much, including time for photos it won’t take you more than 45 minutes to see the falls.
“If you love hiking, turquoise blue lakes, and stunning mountains, Garibaldi Lake is a must stop on your Vancouver to Whistler Trip. The hike is long and strenuous (18km roundtrip total) with next to no views, takes 5-6 hours to complete and the elevation gain is about 810 m. But, the scene at the end is beautiful. You will be rewarded with a stunning blue lake surrounded by tall, white, snow-covered mountains. I recommend getting to the trailhead early in the morning so you have a few hours to enjoy the lake. Swimming in it might be too cold for most people, but there always seems to be a couple adventurous people taking a dip.”
– by Michelle, author of The Wandering Queen
Road trip to Whistler essentials
Now you know all the most beautiful places and coolest things to do along the road on the drive from Vancouver to Whistler. Before ending this Sea to Sky Highway guide I wanted to include some road trip essentials that you might need while on the road.
Power bank: While it would be very hard to get lost on the way from Vancouver to Whistler you don’t want to get stuck somewhere with Google Maps. You will also want a charged phone to take photos of all the epic things you’re seeing on the road right?
AUX / USB chord: No road trip is a proper road trip without music, even if it’s as short as the Vancouver to Whistler drive you don’t want to do it in silence!
Reusable water bottle: There are lots of places along the road where you can top up on water, especially if you’re planning on doing any of the hikes! Do your bank account and the environment a favour and get a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic bottles every time.
Have you been on a road trip on the Sea to Sky Highway? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below! The drive from Vancouver to Whistler isn’t particularly long, but the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway is so beautiful and there are so many amazing things to do you will want to stop along the way. I hope you find this guide useful in planning your own Vancouver to Whistler road trip. If you want to know more about Banff, check out this Banff in the summer bucket list. If you’re looking for more Canada road trip inspiration, check out these 150 awesome things to do in Canada or these 11 things to know before a Canadian Rockies road trip.
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