Jaw-dropping views unfurl along most every mile of the scenic Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia (B.C.), Canada’s westernmost province. The 73-mile drive (a.k.a. Highway 99) begins at sea level in the Greater Vancouver area near the U.S. border and climbs steadily in elevation to the premier four-season resort of Whistler, site of the skiing and sliding events for the 2010 Winter Olympics and home to Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, both soaring more than 7,000 feet.
The road shadows sometimes sparkling Howe Sound, North America’s southernmost fjord, as it climbs deep within the Coast Range, a belt of densely forested, glacier-covered peaks that begins in Alaska and stretches dramatically south through most of B.C. You’ll be tempted by all the stunning natural beauty, but keep your eyes on the road, it twists and turns.
The awesome views alone are reason enough to make the drive, but there’s even more to like. The highway traverses ancestral Indigenous territory, where there are numerous opportunities to learn about the rich cultural history of the Squamish and Lil’wat people who have inhabited this diverse land for many millennia. The region is also an outdoor recreational playground with few equals in North America. Year-round, alpine activities for all levels of fitness abound.
Day 1: West Vancouver to Squamish, British Columbia (35½ miles)
Bypass congested downtown Vancouver by entering Canada at the Pacific Highway truck crossing and following Route 15 to Highway 1 and proceeding north. The road becomes Highway 99 in West Vancouver, a suburb with spectacular views of the Burrard Inlet. These views form a prelude to 26 miles of infinite Howe Sound vistas that begin 8 miles farther west in Horseshoe Bay, where you can get your first Indigenous lesson. You’ll find the first of nine informational kiosks spread out along this drive offering Squamish and Lil’wat legends, natural history and other fascinating information. You’ll learn about mystical beings, where the Squamish Nation medical people trained and more. Download a kiosk guide, so you know where to find the kiosks (typically in vista point parking lots).
As you continue, the sun glistens off the triangular sound with Coast Range peaks glimmering in the background. Stop in Britannia Beach, about 20 miles north on 99 from Horseshoe Bay, to tour the Britannia Mine Museum and learn about the mine that once produced the most copper in the British Commonwealth. You can even comfortably ride a mining train into the mountainside.
Five miles up the road are three must-see attractions closely clustered together. Shannon Falls Provincial Park's star is its 1,099-foot waterfall. At Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, see the tallest granite monolith (2,297 feet) north of Yosemite. Here, a kiosk describes Sinulhk-ay’, the two-headed serpent that scaled the mountain long ago, according to Squamish legend. At both parks, easy 15-minute walks from their parking lots lead to the best vantage points.
Between the two parks, the accessible Sea to Sky Gondola reveals breathtaking views from 2,904 feet above the sound. Once you offload, take the quarter-mile Spirit Trail or three-quarter-mile Panorama Trail, both accessible with viewing platforms that will take your breath away. Pose for selfies on the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, then settle onto the Sky Pilot Eatery deck with a wrap, sandwich or barbecue for lunch.
Continue for about 2½ miles into the town of Squamish, Canada’s “Outdoor Recreation Capital.” Once a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it coffee stop for skiers heading to Whistler, the town is now a growing community (population about 24,000) that’s a destination in its own right, with restaurants, breweries and abundant outdoor adventures. Stop at the Squamish Adventure Centre for information on hiking trails or to book a kayaking, mountain biking or other active tour. (You can easily spend another full day here enjoying all the outdoor pursuits available.)