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Vancouver To Whistler: Sea To Sky Highway Road Trip Guide

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The Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler is one of the most scenic routes in the world, a spectacular drive that can be done in a day from Vancouver.

However, as there are so many things to see and do along the Sea to Sky highway, you can easily turn this into a two or three-day road trip!

The Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99) is a 120 kilometer stretch of road between Vancouver and Whistler. Along the way, you will drive along ocean, mountains, forests, trails, waterfalls, lakes, and much more!

Sea to Sky Highway road trip guide

View of river and trees on the 4 Lakes trail

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Map of the attractions along the Sea to Sky highway

After spending two and a half months in around Canada, I can confidently say it’s one of the best road trip countries in the world!

We started our Canada road trip in Vancouver, bought a van, and explored Vancouver Island before arriving at the start of the much anticipated Highway 99, aka the Sea to Sky highway, from Vancouver to Whistler.

Despite our high expectations, we were not disappointed, what a spectacular road!

In this article and map below, you can find all the Sea to Sky Highway attractions and practical tips for a perfect road trip.

sea-to-sky-highway-phenomenal-globe

Click here for the interactive map

Highlights Sea to Sky highway

  • Lions Gate Bridge (in Vancouver)
  • Shannon Falls (45 minutes from Vancouver)
  • Stawamus Chief Provincial Park (45 minutes from Vancouver)
  • Squamish Spit & Estuary (1 hour from Vancouver)
  • Alice Lake Provincial Park (1 hour from Vancouver)
  • Garibaldi Provincial Park (1 hour and 20 minutes from Vancouver)
  • Brandywine Falls Provincial Park (1 hour and 15 minutes from Vancouver)
  • Whistler (1 hour and 30 minutes from Vancouver)
  • Rainbow Falls (1 hour and 35 minutes from Vancouver)
Hiking along a big boulder in Stawamus Chief Provincial Park in British Columbia

Where does the Sea to Sky Highway start and end?

The Sea to Sky highway starts in Vancouver and ends in Whistler. The distance from Vancouver to Whistler is only 120 kilometers, however, it’s one of the most scenic routes in British Columbia and I don’t say that lightly.

As is displayed on every license plate ‘BC is Beautiful‘ and the Sea to Sky highway is no exception… Though actually, the entire west coast of Canada is utterly perfect for road trips!

Best things to see and do along the Sea to Sky Highway, BC

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!

So where do you stop on the Sea to Sky Highway?

Below you can find a list of all the places we visited on our Vancouver to Whistler drive.

The best things to do along the famous Sea to Sky highway in British Columbia! Beautiful Highway 99 runs from Vancouver to Whistler, along the way there are lots of highlights you don’t want to miss! Check out this post for inspiration and visit: Lions Gate Bridge, Horseshoe Bay, Shannon Falls, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, Squamish Spit & Estuary, Alice Lake Provincial Park, Garibaldi Provincial Park, Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, Whistler and Rainbow Falls. #Canada #BC #SeaToSkyHighway

Lions Gate Bridge

Lions Gate Bridge - a beautiful bridge in Vancouver connecting Stanley Park to North Vancouver

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.

Shannon Falls

Shannon Falls is 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

View from the First Peak of the Stawamus Chief, a beautiful Provincial Park in British Columbia and a famous rock-climbing spot.

One of the best things to do along the Sea to Sky drive 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!

View from Stawamus Chief First Peak

If the Stawamus Parking lot is full you can also park at the Shannon Falls, from this parking lot it’s about 1.5 kilometers to get to the start of the Stawamus Chief trail.

Squamish Spit

Squamish Spit is a bird sanctuary and a popular place for kite-surfing.

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

Alice Lake Provincial Park in BC

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, which makes for an excellent place to spend the night on the drive from Vancouver to Whistler

However, this camp spot is very popular and often fully booked. Make a reservation online to guarantee your stay.

Garibaldi Provincial Park

Black Tusk Garibaldi Lake trip from Vancouver

Garibaldi Lake is a glacial lake with a stunning turquoise color. The lake is located 1450m above sea-level and surrounded by snow-capped mountains and alpine meadows.

Garibaldi Lake can only be accessed on foot, park your car at the Rubble Creek parking area and set out on a a strenuous 21km out and back hike.

This isn’t an easy trail, be sure to wear proper hiking boots and bring along plenty of drinking water, food, and snacks.

However, the views along the way as well as from Garibaldi Lake itself are breathtaking and definitely worth the effort!

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

Olympic rings in Whistler, BC

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…

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 doing 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 advise you about other things to do in Whistler and inform you about the weather and bear activity in the area.  

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls near Whistler

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?

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, 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.

Are snow tires mandatory on the Sea to Sky Highway?

The road is generally open year-round but can be difficult to navigate during winter.

If you plan on driving the Sea to Sky highway between Oct. 1 and March 31 you will need proper winter tires with at least 3.5 millimeters of tread remaining. Also, bring snow chains just in case.

Traveling to Canada in winter? Also read this Calgary winter guide, Banff in winter or Best things to do on Mount Seymour in winter!

View over the beautiful Howe Sound

Where to stay along the Sea to Sky Highway?

(Free) campsites

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 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 its 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 each camp spot had its own fireplace.

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 several hostels, hotels, and lodges along the Sea to Sky highway, most accommodation is in Squamish and Whistler.

Some good options are the Sea to Sky Hotel and Conference Centre and the Mountain Retreat. I always use Agoda and Booking to find the best deal.

Cal-Cheak campsite along the Sea to Sky highway

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.

View over Howe Sound from the Sea to Sky highway

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 save 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).

Home cooked breakfast Canada

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 Sports 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.

The Sea to Sky Highway: in conclusion

That’s it, my Sea to Sky highway 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 Highway stops mentioned in the post.

Also read my other Canada post for more Canada travel inspiration!

This post was updated in June 2020.

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Novi

Tuesday 15th of October 2019

Hi Lotte, my family and I would like to drive up from sea to sky highway route in early January 2020. However, We will be coming from Seattle on the rental car. I am afraid it won't be equipped with the winter tires. If we are to take the shuttle bus from vancouver, then we won't be able to make stops as recommended above. What is your advice on this? Thanks

Lotte

Thursday 24th of October 2019

Hi Novi,

Great you'll be in Canada in winter, it's my dream to make a Canada winter trip one day... Regarding your question, perhaps you can ask the rental company about the tires? I imagine there is a lot of snowfall in PNW as well so perhaps the car has winter tires? If not, I'd indeed take the shuttle bus to Whistler and enjoy the views from the bus. Driving the Sea to Sky highway can be very dangerous without proper tires (besides being illegal;-). Enjoy your trip!

Lotte

Ryan Biddulph

Monday 2nd of July 2018

Lotte this trip looks beyond amazing. I just cannot get over the inspired beauty of this region in Canada. Last year we had a quick layover in Vancouver. 2 hours. Flying in, we marveled at the beauty on the descent. Eye-popping. Rarely seen anything like it.

Lotte

Wednesday 4th of July 2018

Hey Ryan,

I agree, it's such an amazing part of the world! I love the mountains, green forest and beautiful lakes of BC... Would gladly live there in the future:-)

Lotte