The Road to Whistler
With a $600 million investment, there have been plenty of changes on the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler. But what hasn’t changed: outstanding recreational options in a spectacular setting
When I first traveled to Whistler back in the 1980s, the Sea-to-Sky Highway was known as “Highway 99”—and not all that many people ventured onto it. In fact, when I told the Canadian border guard my destination, his reply seemed like an ominous warning: “You know, two people were killed on that road yesterday.” Truth was, heading north on this highway felt like a trip into the vast wilderness with Vancouver on one end, a ski area on the other—and not much in between (or beyond) save wilderness and a winding, narrow road.
Much has changed with the coming of the 2010 Winter Olympics and an investment of $600 million in highway improvements. But there is still the same spectacular scenery, with the first portion hugging Howe Sound, followed by views of snow-capped mountains as the highway moves inland.
With improved highway quality, the 75-mile trip between Vancouver and Whistler has been whittled down to around 90 minutes. But for travelers willing to take their time, there is reason to savor and explore sights along the spectacular Sea-to-Sky Highway.
1. Horseshoe Bay Village. The word “picturesque” was invented for towns like this, located just north of West Vancouver. Walk along the waterfront, watch BC ferries as they depart for Nanaimo and other points, and enjoy a snack or meal at one of the numerous eateries.
2. Britannia Beach. Just before Highway 99 heads inland, it passes through this old mining town. Stop and tour the Museum of Mining (Britannia Beach; 800.896.4044), which tells the story of this historic site, and includes a tour inside a mine and the mill, a recently restored 20-story building where ore was milled from rock. The nearby Galileo Coffee Shop (173 Highway 99, Britannia Beach; 604.896.0272) is a good spot to refuel with coffee, pastries and sandwiches.
3. Murrin Provincial Park (approximately one mile north of Britannia Beach on Highway 99; 604.986.9371; seatoskyparks.com). Conveniently situated next to the road, this park—which includes Browning Lake, popular for fishing, swimming and sunning in warm months—is a perfect picnic spot. Look beyond the trees in the parking lot to a rock wall behind them and you’ll likely spot rock climbers.
4. Stawamus Chief Provincial Park (36 miles north of Vancouver, just off Highway 99; 604.986.9371; env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks). As you near Squamish, the huge rock face on your right is Stawamus Chief. Stop to hike in the accompanying park, or just pull off the road, grab your binoculars and watch rock climbers slowly ascend this popular climbing face.
5. Squamish. If Whistler can be said to have a bedroom community, this is it. Unfortunate sprawl (big-box stores and fast-food joints) has accompanied its growth, but detour into the original town (on the west side of the road) and you’ll find a few good spots for lunch, including Sunflower Bakery and Café (38086 Cleveland Ave., Squamish; 604.892.2231), where you can also pick up bread and pastries for later consumption.
6. Brandywine Falls (30 miles north of Squamish off Highway 99; 604.986.9371; seatoskyparks.com). Shortly before you arrive in Whistler, this ju