Offering breathtaking vistas of deep blue waters, rugged mountains, and thick evergreen forests as it winds its way along Canada’s western coast, British Columbia’s Highway 99 is one of the world’s most beautiful drives. Known as “the Sea to Sky Highway,” the 65 miles (105 km) from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Whistler make a scenic day trip or a memorable multi-day adventure, with outdoor activities, historic sites, cultural points of interest, parks, hikes, quaint towns, and the immensity of nature.
The route starts in the small, picturesque village of Horseshoe Bay. Its relaxed vibe and pretty views invite you to stay and stroll through shops, visit one of the eateries, or sit in Horseshoe Bay Park watching the ferries come and go.
This is your guide to driving the Sea to Sky Highway.
In Horseshoe Bay, the first of 9 Cultural Journey kiosks along the Sea to Sky Highway retells the First Nations legend of two long-ago giants who waged a slingshot battle. Their weapons were transformed into boulders still visible today at Horseshoe Bay.
The 9 kiosks along the route mark viewing spots relevant to the rich history and folklore of the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations. As you continue down the road, you’ll find cultural stops 2 through 5 on the east side of the highway. They can be viewed when traveling northbound. Kiosks 6 and 7 are in the town of Whistler. Kiosks 8 and 9 are on the west side of the highway and can be visited if you’re going southbound.
Porteau Cove Provincial Park
The route north from Horseshoe Bay parallels the eastern shoreline of Howe Sound, North America’s southernmost fjord.
Porteau Cove Provincial Park, 15 miles (25 km) north of Horseshoe Bay, provides a good opportunity to view the majesty of that fjord. Not only does the pier take you far out over the ocean, signs posted along the railings fill you in on the diversity of marine life in the area. Stop at the viewing platforms, have a look around, and keep your eyes peeled for sea life. You may also see scuba divers getting in or out of the water. Special facilities, such as a sunken ship and artificial reefs, have been built for the divers.
You will also find a picnic area, public restrooms and a camping site. There are eight other provincial parks just off Highway 99 as you continue north to Whistler, giving you no end of places to hike, camp, rock climb, or catch glimpses of wildlife.
The former mining town of Britannia Beach, now a cute village with several art galleries, is 5 miles (8 km) north of Porteau Cove. Britannia Mine, which operated between 1904 and 1974, was once the biggest copper mine in the British Empire.
Britannia Mine Museum
The Britannia Mine Museum, a National Historic Site, gives visitors a sense of what life in a mining town was like way back then. In addition to viewing various historical exhibits, you can experience what a miner would have in 1914 by climbing aboard a train on the guided underground mine tour. One of the ores mined here was gold, so you can try your luck sifting for gold in the gold panning pavilion.
Four and a half miles (7.5 km) further up the road is Shannon Falls, the third-highest waterfall in British Columbia. It is accessed via a 10-minute walk from a parking area just off the highway. If you don’t mind taking a bit of a stroll, it’s worth checking out while you’re in the area.
The Outdoor Recreation Capital Of Canada
The town of Squamish, 3.5 miles (5.5 km) north of Shannon Falls, bills itself as “The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.” The surrounding foothills and forests contain trails for mountain biking, hiking and rock climbing. Water activities include fishing, sailing, kayaking and whitewater rafting.
Blessed with magnificent alpine views, the town offers more than just outdoor activities. It has a diverse arts and culture scene, interesting shops and eateries, and a fresh, laid-back, down-to-earth feel.
Sea To Sky Gondola
One of the most popular attractions at Squamish is the Sea to Sky Gondola. The ten-minute ride takes you up to 2,904 feet (885 meters) above Howe Sound. Three viewing platforms at the top grant unforgettable views, as does the restaurant at Summit Lodge and the Summit Plaza picnicking area.
The fjord ends at Squamish. Although the Squamish River is visible in some places, water views give way to cliff and forest scenery as you continue 37 miles (59 km) north to Whistler.
Whistler is a year-round resort town with much to appeal to the outdoor enthusiast. The site of skiing and snowboarding venues for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, you can count on Whistler for world-class winter sports. Other activities include showshoeing, tobogganing, and ski jumping.
Summer activities include hiking, canoeing, biking, rock climbing, golf, horseback riding and jet boating.
There is also plenty to do for the indoor types. The chalet-style pedestrian village that forms the hub of Whistler contains shops, a wide array of dining options, and nightlife. Take a leisurely stroll through the village and window shop, or linger on a restaurant patio and people watch. Visit an art museum. Pamper yourself at a spa. Breathe in the fresh mountain forest air.
Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre
Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre, Cultural Journey kiosk 7, is in Whistler. The cultural center celebrates the joint history of the Squamish and Lil’Wat First Nations. Here you can learn about their histories, creative works, and culture through interactive displays, crafts, an archival museum, a contemporary gallery, and an interpretative forest walk.
The Sea to Sky Highway drive is spectacular, but remember: it is a mountain highway. Rain and snow can affect driving conditions. Winter tires are required from October 1 to March 31. Take care on the road and allow ample time to stop and marvel at the landscape or to visit the sights along the way.