After spending 2 and a half months driving around Canada, I can confidently say it’s one of the best road trip countries in the world! We started our trip in Vancouver, bought a car and explored Vancouver Island before arriving at start of the much anticipated Highway 99, aka the Sea to Sky highway, from Vancouver to Whistler. And despite our high expectations we were not disappointed, what a spectacular road!
Sea to Sky Highway attractions: the ultimate road trip guide
There are so many things to see and do along this 163 kilometer stretch of road between Vancouver and Whistler. There is ocean, mountains, forests, trails, waterfalls, lakes and much more… In this Sea to Sky Highway road trip guide you’ll find:
- A map and list of the best things to see and do along the Sea to Sky highway
- When to drive the Sea to Sky Highway?
- Where to stay along the Sea to Sky Highway?
- Tips and advice for the best Sea to Sky Highway road trip experience
Map of the attractions along the Sea to Sky highway
Highlights Sea to Sky highway:
- Lions Gate Bridge
- Shannon Falls
- Stawamus Chief Provincial Park
- Squamish Spit & Estuary
- Alice Lake Provincial Park
- Garibaldi Provincial Park
- Brandywine Falls Provincial Park
- Rainbow Falls
Best things to see and do along the Sea to Sky Highway
You could drive the entire Sea to Sky highway in about 2-3 hours, but I strongly recommend you take at least 3 days, more if you have time… It’s an incredibly beautiful drive with stunning views over the ocean and increasingly steep mountains. And there are so many things to see and do along the way, we didn’t nearly do them all! Below you can find the list of the places we visited while driving from Vancouver to Whistler.
Lions Gate Bridge
We started our trip from Vancouver, but if you are coming from Vancouver Island you can also start at Horseshoe Bay where the ferries from Nanaimo arrive.
The Lions Gate Bridge was built in 1938 and connects Downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver. The bridge is a National Historic site of Canada and a Vancouver landmark.
The Shannon Falls are located just south of Squamish and about a 60km drive from Vancouver. The falls are an impressive 335 meters tall, it’s difficult to get a good picture up close because of the size of the waterfall!
Fun fact: Shannon Falls is the third highest waterfall in British Columbia.
Stawamus Chief Provincial Park
One of the best things to do along the Sea to Sky highway is hiking to one of the three peaks of the iconic Stawamus Chief, a massive granite cliff and a famous site for rock-climbing.
We hiked to the first peak, which took us about 3 hours (return) from the Shannon Falls parking lot. Mind you, this is not an easy trail! The elevation gain is 540 meter and there are parts where you’ll be climbing ladders and using chains embedded in the rock to pull yourself up. Nevertheless, the views from the top over Howe Sound and Squamish town are amazing and definitely worth the effort!
If the Stawamus Parking lot is full you can also park at the Shannon Falls, from this parking lot it’s about 1.5 kilometer to get to the start of the Stawamus Chief trail.
Squamish Spit is another beautiful place to visit while driving the Sea to Sky highway! It’s a bird sanctuary but also a very popular place for kite-surfing. Also, from Squamish Spit you have a great view of the Shannon Falls. The gravel road can be very dusty so don’t be shocked if your car changed color after a visit to the Spit…
Alice Lake Provincial Park
Granted, Alice Lake is a touristy spot. Especially during summer/sunny weekends lots of Canadian families spend their days here. We hiked the Four Lakes Trail, an easy 6km loop, leading along Stump Lake, Fawn Lake, Edith Lake and Alice Lake.
Note: there is a campsite at Alice Lake provincial park, but it’s very popular so it’s wise to make a reservation online.
Garibaldi Provincial Park
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit this park because there was still lots of snow on the trails. However, I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about Garibaldi park. It’s supposed to be a gorgeous area with many hiking trails and several campsites.
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park
The 70 meter high Brandywine Falls can be admired from the easily accessible viewpoint, about 500 meters from the parking lot. There are a couple of longer trails as well, you can find more information here.
Whistler is a lovely little village, the center is a pedestrian-only area with colorful houses, restaurants and shops. It’s pretty in summer but it must be absolutely amazing to visit Whistler in winter…
Read more about what to do in Whistler.
Because there was still lots of snow up the mountain and most hiking trails were closed, we didn’t go up with the gondola, however, if the trails are accessible I definitely recommend to do so!
Note: when arriving in Whistler, visit the Whistler Visitor Center and ask the staff about the conditions of the trails. They are also more than happy to advice you about other things to do in Whistler and inform you about the weather and bear activity in the area.
The Rainbow Falls are located close to Whistler and easily accessible via a short trail. Granted, it’s not the most spectacular waterfall in British Columbia, but it makes for a nice afternoon stroll.
When to drive the Sea to Sky Highway?
The road is generally open year round, but can be difficult to navigate during winter. You’ll need proper winter tires on your vehicle and bring snow chains just in case. That being said, most people drive the Sea to Sky highway between May and October.
We took the trip in June which I felt was an excellent month, the weather was great and it wasn’t too busy. However, like I mentioned earlier in this post, there was still lots of snow on the trails in Garibaldi Provincial Park and on the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.
The busiest months are July and August; hiking trails, campsites and parking lots can get really crowded during this time. Another great month to drive the Sea to Sky highway is September. The crowds have thinned out, the weather is usually pretty nice and the average temperature is between 10-20 degrees Celsius.
We crossed the border from the U.S.A. back into Canada mid-October and even then it wasn’t too cold yet and we slept in our car without any issues. But of course that differs year to year so no guarantees…
Where to stay along the Sea to Sky Highway?
As mentioned at the start of the post, we bought a red GMC Safari van. We converted this into a comfortable little camper van and and slept in our car 99% of the nights of our 5 month road trip around Canada and the U.S.A.
While cruising down the Sea to Sky highway and exploring it’s many highlights, we spent one night at the parking lot of Don Ross Middle School in Brackendale. It wasn’t an official camp spot but the school had already closed for the summer holiday and nobody bothered us.
Usually people in Canada are pretty relaxed about wild/unofficial camping. However, if you are asked to move on, do so without complaining. Also, if you see a sign saying ‘No overnight parking or camping’, you obviously shouldn’t stay there either;-). And it goes without saying you should always leave your camp spot clean and tidy the next morning!
The subsequent night we camped at Cal-Cheak campsite, which was 13 CAD a night. There were pit toilets, bear proof food containers and of course each camp spot had a fireplace (Canadians love to make fires while camping!). You can find more information about this campsite here.
If you are looking for a fully equipped campsite, there are several along the Sea to Sky highway but keep in mind they can be rather pricey (and busy), especially during summer. During our Canada road trip we found most camp spots using the free iOverlander app. In the app you can find paid and free campsites as well as read comments from people who have (recently) visited a particular campsite or camp spot.
Other accommodation options
If you don’t want to go camping, there are many hostels, hotels and lodges along the Sea to Sky highway. I always use Agoda and Booking to find the best deal. Alternatively, you can find several listings on Airbnb, most of in Squamish and Whistler.
Note: we didn’t have any issues find a place to park for the night but this can be challenging in July and August. You may want to consider booking ahead during these months!
Tips and advice for the best Sea to Sky highway road trip experience
Arrange your own transport
The best way to explore the Sea to Sky highway is with your own wheels! If you’re traveling for a shorter period of time you obviously aren’t going to buy a van. You can, however, easily rent a car or campervan in Vancouver.
Having your own transportation means you can set your own pace, stop whenever you want to take pictures of the beautiful scenery and effortlessly reach all the highlights mentioned in this post.
Stop at tourism information centers
If a town has one, I often visit the Tourism Information center. In my experience the staff is always happy to give advice about hikes, sights to see, camp spots and (very relevant in Canada) snow conditions and bear sightings. In Squamish we visited the Squamish Adventure Centre and in Whistler we stopped by the Whistler Visitor Center.
Cook your own food to safe lots of money
Canada isn’t considered a cheap country to travel, however, cooking your own meals is a great way to cut the costs! We usually bought groceries for 2-3 days whenever we found a big(ger) supermarket.
When you start your trip from Vancouver, you can find a big Walmart as well as a Save-on-Foods in Vancouver North. A little north of Squamish there is a shopping area with a Walmart, Starbucks and Tim Horton (and several fast food chains if you don’t feel like cooking).
Where to take a cheap shower
Because we didn’t stay at one of the fully equipped (but expensive) campsites along the Sea to Sky highway, we were in dire need of a shower by the time we arrived in Whistler. All that hiking and beautiful weather makes you sweaty;-). Enter Meadow Sport Park, where you can buy an ‘Early Bird pass’ for 6,50 CAD per person. This pass gives access to the swimming pool, bubble bath and steam room (and obviously the showers;-). You can find more information here.
That’s it, my Sea to Sky highway road trip guide! I hope this post will help you plan an unforgettable road trip on Highway 99. Below you can download a list of the Sea to Sky attractions mentioned in the post.
Do you want to read more about traveling in Canada? You can find my other posts here.