I’ve been to Whistler in every season, and I think the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway in autumn is the best. The leaves beginning to change colour on the trees beside the highway create a palette of red, orange, and gold, and the sun shining on the mountains at this time of year is simply stunning. Along the way there are many sites to stop at and enjoy, and I’ll mention a few that I’ve been to. Keep in mind these are listed from south to north…from Vancouver/Horseshoe Bay to Whistler.
Horseshoe Bay is a small community at the start of the Sea to Sky Hwy. It is famous for its fish and chip restaurants and for its ferry terminal. You can catch a BC Ferry here to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island; to Bowen Island, which is a wonderful place to spend a day; or to the Sunshine Coast where you can explore the beaches and the forest. Continue north and you will come to Porteau Cove Provincial Park.
Porteau Cove has an excellent campground that is very popular in the summer. It is also a dive location for scuba divers and you will often see people heading into the water to look at the marine life living here.
A few minutes past Porteau Cove is Britannia Mine Museum National Historic Site. This was once the largest copper mine in the British Commonwealth. This site is open year round and is a must see if you have children, or enjoy learning more about the history of mining. There are tours that include a ride inside an underground tunnel, as well as an area to pan for gold. It’s a fascinating look back at what was a very important industry for this area.
Next up is Murrin Provincial Park. Here you can do some rock climbing or just relax by Browning Lake. This park is beautiful in the fall and provides some lovely picture opportunities. In the summer this lake gets extremely busy, but at this time of year you might have it all to yourself.
Shannon Falls is a turn-off not to miss. Here you can stretch your legs and walk along a trail to a viewpoint where the falls cascade down over 1000ft making these falls some of the highest in the province. There are picnic tables available making it a pretty spot to have a bite to eat.
Just after Shannon Falls is the new Sea to Sky Gondola. This 10 minute gondola ride takes you over 800ft to the summit where you can enjoy panoramic views of Howe Sound, the lush coastal forest, and the surrounding mountains. There are numerous trails, a suspension bridge, interpretive signs, and a restaurant to enjoy at the top. The gondola can get crowded in the summer and so autumn becomes a perfect time to visit.
The main community along the Sea to Sky Hwy is Squamish. Squamish is known for the Stawamus Chief, a sheer granite rock face just before the city that attracts rock climbers from all over the world. This is also a very popular area for day hiking and there are trails here where you can make your way up the mountain for views of the water and the city below. Another hiking area close by is Garibaldi Lake Provincial Park. There are numerous entrances to the park, with the most popular one at Rubble Creek. This 18 km round trip hike takes you to the turquoise blue water of Garibaldi Lake with the glaciers on the mountains behind as a backdrop. The view is breath-taking making it one of the most scenic lakes in B.C.
You have just about reached the village of Whistler. Before you get there another hike worth your time is Cheakamus Lake, also in Garibaldi Lake Provincial Park. The road into the trailhead is along a dirt road, and there are often potholes, so take your time. After leaving the parking lot you reach the beginning of the lake after a hike of only 3 km and from there you can continue along the side of the lake to the far end. This mostly flat trail through the forest is a great way to spend a couple of hours away from the crowds that you might find on the more popular Whistler village trails. Camping is available here, both at the beginning and end of the lake.
Your final stop, Whistler, is next. This world-class destination has a lot to offer: restaurants; accommodation; golf courses; lakes and beaches; trails for walking, hiking, or biking; and shopping. In the winter Whistler is a bustle of activity with skiers and snowboarders from all over the world making their way here to challenge themselves on the many ski runs. In the summer the alpine areas are alive with flowers surrounding small ponds, and blue jays flying amongst the trees.
Now that you have come to the end of your drive along the Sea to Sky Hwy enjoy your time in Whistler. Take a gondola ride up one of the mountains here and savour the scenery, or just meander through the village grabbing a coffee and a bite to eat.
You can do the trip to Whistler in a day, however adding any of these stops along the way, especially the Sea to Sky Gondola or any of the hikes, will greatly decrease your time in Whistler. Better to spend at least one night here and really enjoy all this route has to offer. Consider doing this trip during the autumn season….you won’t regret it!