Explore the Sea to Sky Highway 16 Must See Spots (Updated for 2024)
Travelling to Whistler from Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia is one of the most beautiful and scenic routes in Canada, perhaps even the world. The highway is breathtaking, and it’s worth mentioning that it could be considered a must-do activity in itself as it’s not just a highway–it’s a “sea to sky” destination.
Not sold on a highway being a must-do activity? The Dickerson Family reviewed the Sea to Sky Highway as “Beautiful Scenic Drive. Highway takes you from Vancouver (Sea) to Whistler (Sky). There are parks and lots of places to pull over and take pictures of views and lakes. A fun drive.”
As you drive north from the city towards Whistler, it’s not just the drive that will take your breath away. The Sea to Sky highway is lined top to bottom with scenic stops, spectacular activities, and a million ways to maximize your two-hour journey. It offers much more than just transportation to Whistler.
Sea to Sky Highway Quick FAQs:
What Is the Sea to Sky Highway?
Also known as Highway 99, the Sea to Sky Highway is a stretch of roadway that weaves along the coastline of the mountains from North Vancouver through to Whistler and past Pemberton.
Or to put it more bluntly as reviewed by Barb G, “This is a highway”.
How Long Is the Sea to Sky Highway?
The highway spans 163km (101 miles) in total, taking an average of two hours to drive. This sometimes can be affected by traffic; however, an hour and a half is the usual time from North Vancouver to Whistler.
Best Way to Tour the Sea to Sky Highway?
There are many ways to experience the amazing views of the Sea to Sky Highway. Cars, buses, motorbikes, and cycling are all ways to enjoy the unique ride. Just keep in mind seasonality!
Is the Sea to Sky Highway Safe?
The Sea to Sky Highway has come a long way over the years, with a lot of improvements to its safety. Pre-2010 Olympics, the highway was a single lane for the entirety of the distance, which made for a longer trip compared to today.
Thankfully, the BC government saw the need to upgrade, widen the highway, and add in passing lanes in numerous spots before the Olympics, which not only shortened the commute from Whistler to Vancouver (and vice versa) but also made the commute safer.
So yes, it is very safe. However, as the Sea to Sky Highway is in British Columbia and passes ski resorts, you can expect there to be snow in certain areas during the winter months. Because of this, it is the law to have winter tires from October 1st to March 31st. It’s also smart to have good working headlights as there are no street lights to brighten your trip.
3 Must See Stops on the Sea to Sky Highway
While you can argue that a waterfall is a natural wonder, there are a handful of monolithic natural feats of nature scattered along the highway that are also worth a stop – even without the water.
1. The Chief in Squamish
The Chief, or the Stawamus Chief, located in Squamish is one of North America’s premier granite monoliths. The Squamish, who are indigenous people, have claimed that the area has significant spiritual relevance, and it’s not hard to see why.
While British Columbia is known for its spectacular hikes, this particular natural wonder is a stunner and much more accessible than many other peaks in the area. It rises 700 metres above the Howe Sound, creating an absolutely breathtaking backdrop and a worthwhile reward at the top of the hike.
Hiking can take anywhere between one and four hours to complete the 4-7km trails, depending on the route and level of ability. You will notice that the park is divided into three distinct peaks that vary in difficulty, and each presents a new sweeping view of the sound.
Bring water, good hiking boots as it can be slippery on the granite and the rocks, and your camera. These views are some of the best along the Sea to Sky Highway route.
Hot Tip: While this can be a short hike, it isn’t for the faint of heart. The top is exposed, and the hike is straight up for its entirety. If you are bringing children or dogs, be mindful as you reach the top of the cliff face.
2. Black Tusk
You can see Black Tusk from all directions on clear days, which is no surprise as the highest point at its peak rises to 2,319 metres above sea level. It’s one of the many remarkable sights along the Sea to Sky Highway and can be enjoyed with no hiking.
Unlike the other peaks in the area, its shape and volcanic rock face make the summit a distinctive postcard-worthy image. Stop at viewpoint pull-outs along the highway to snap a photo, and learn a little about the history of the peak and the surrounding area.
Want to hike? The Black Tusk trail is south of Whistler; the trailhead is about 17 miles from Whistler Village. Experienced hikers can typically hike the Black Tusk in roughly 8-10 hours, depending on the pace.
There is free parking, and if you’re spending the night, you can take a side trip to camp at Garibaldi Lake. However, if you have an extra day while visiting Whistler and you’re up for an all-day hike, this is a place that you must visit to connect with one of British Columbia’s must-see natural wonders.
Hot Tip: To see this peak in all its glory, go on a clear day. The mountain range tends to disappear from view during inclement weather.
3. Garibaldi Provincial Park
Named after the 2,678-metre peak that towers over the 90+ kilometres of established hiking trails, Garibaldi Provincial Park has endless adventures you can explore from the Sea to Sky Highway.
Designated as a provincial park in 1927, Garibaldi Provincial Park contains many hiking trails and camping sites. It is home to snow-capped mountains, diverse vegetation, and stunning blue lakes accessible from the Sea to Sky Highway.
Experienced mountaineers, diehard touring skiers, and other advanced wilderness recreationists commonly stop in the park. It has fantastic access to some of the best backcountry features in British Columbia.
Hot Tip: If you want to camp in the backcountry, you can apply for a wilderness camping permit, which allows you to set up camp within a specific wilderness zone.
5 Attractions on the Sea to Sky Highway
Add more activity to your Sea to Sky journey by soaking up the landscape and the region’s history with a little boost from one of the many Sea to Sky destinations en route. Sometimes you can get more out of your adventure with a lift and a history lesson.
1. Sea to Sky Gondola
When you think of attractions in British Columbia, you’ll first think of the natural beauty that surrounds this great province. Our motto is, after all, “super-natural.”
If you travel on the Sea to Sky Highway, no other pitstop displays beauty like the Sea to Sky Gondola. The gondola gives you a fantastic opportunity to see Howe Sound as you ride up from the valley floor to experience the alpine forests and the snowy peaks surrounding the area.
The 10-minute ride will give you some of the most accessible views of the region, all within a 45-minute drive from Vancouver or Whistler. Once at the summit, you can enjoy the 100-metre Sky Pilot suspension bridge, which you might recognize from some of the many Instagram posts it has inspired.
There are dining options available at the summit, which are open at the same time the lifts run. This means you can either eat before or after you explore the many short trails through the alpine rainforest.
Tickets range in price. For those aged 19+, a day ticket is $61.95 when purchased online and $65.95 when buying from the ticketing window. Operating hours vary by season, from 9 am– 6 pm, or 9 am to 8 pm on the weekends.
The last ride down is usually around an hour after closing time, so check in advance to confirm. Also, from October 29th – November 30th, the gondola is closed for scheduled yearly maintenance.
Hot Tip: If you want a bit of a workout that comes with a reward, why not hike to the top of the gondola? The hike, which takes two to five hours depending on ability, flows nicely along the mountainside, ending with a cold beer and stunning views from Summit Lodge. Plus, you’ll only have to pay for your gondola down!
2. Britannia Mine Museum
The Britannia Mine was once the largest copper mine in the British Empire and is one of the most historically steeped and unique attractions along the Sea to Sky highway. The Britannia Mine Museum offers 45-minute guided tours, making it a perfect pitstop if you’re looking for something to do on the Sea to Sky Highway.
The Britannia Mine has a small indoor display with spectacular rock specimens and a large outdoor (but usually covered) interactive area filled with mining equipment and history.
The best part about visiting the mine is the tour, which takes you deep underground into the heart of the mine and includes a ride on the mine train! You’ll learn how miners lived and worked inside the mine and see amazing equipment demonstrations.
The mine is roughly 45 minutes north of Vancouver and about 15 minutes south of Squamish along the way to Whistler. Tickets for entrance to the museum and the mine range between $19.95 and $36.95, depending on age.
There is free parking available, and if you don’t want to drive, daily tours are available from Vancouver from May-September.
Hot Tip: This activity makes a great rainy-day option for the kiddos. It’s open rain or shine, and the tour takes place (mostly) out of the weather.
3. White Water Rafting
As you navigate your way up the Sea to Sky Highway, you will notice numerous epic rivers that follow you along the way. Amazing rivers are at the foot of the surrounding mountains, perfect for white water rafting, especially the Elaho River.
One of the best companies with which to experience the adrenaline rush of white water rafting is Squamish Rafting Company. They are so good they’ve been voted Squamish’s Best Adventure Tour since 2017.
Their Elaho Whitewater Experience is a full-day tour that will see you take on Class 3 and 4 rapids over 20kms of the river. The tour will have you on the edge of your seat (actually, raft) as you speed down and around the river, blasting through the valley.
You will be treated to a gourmet lunch mid-trip on a private island camp, and they also provide the necessary gear and safety equipment, so all you need to bring is a swimsuit to wear under your wetsuit and a towel to dry off with afterwards.
They run their tours in the summer and winter, and offer transfers if you decide once you arrive in Whistler that you should have stopped and taken on the rapids.
Hot Tip: White water rafting doesn’t have to be extreme all the time. The Eagle Float Tour is a unique way to view the world’s largest bald eagle gathering and is perfect for those not ready to take on the high-class rapids.
Rope Runner Aerial Adventure Park (closed in January 2024)
It is no secret that the Sea to Sky Highway can become a busy trip with lots of traffic, especially on weekends. Luckily the Rope Runner Aerial Adventure Park is located in Squamish and will have you moving about in no time.
The Rope Runner course was inspired by Cirque du Soleil aerials and mimics the feeling of the local rock climbing routes in Squamish—and it is precisely that. So hook onto the course and see yourself climbing through 50 different obstacles.
There is no set course so you can explore at your own speed and comfort level. However, the view from the top is impressive on a sunny day, so we encourage everyone to try and make it to the top.
Currently, the park is operating on weekends only. The general admission starts at $39.95 for children and $44.95 for adults.
5. Peak 2 Peak Gondola
Whistler Blackcomb alpine is an experience you will never forget, whether it is winter or summer. As you drive up the highway, you can see some of the great mountain peaks, and the Peak 2 Peak Gondola will give you a 360-degree experience of the whole Whistler Valley.
Even though it holds the Guinness World Record for the longest free span between ropeway towers at 4.4 km, with only four towers that support the lift, the gondola experience is extremely smooth. It is an 11-minute trip one way, travelling 8,850 metres, and sits at 436 metres above the valley floor.
New to Whistler Blackcomb is the Cloudraker Suspension Bridge located at the top of the Peak Chair. It spans 130 metres from the Whistler Peak to West Ridge, giving you a surreal feeling of being up in the mountains.
Children ages six and under are free with a paying adult and must be 40″ tall to tackle the bridge. This is included in your Peak 2 Peak ticket, so don’t miss out on this fantastic experience
Hot Tip: You can access the Peak to Peak from either Blackcomb or Whistler Mountain. Whichever gondola you upload on, we recommend downloading on the other.
5 Beaches on the Sea to Sky Highway
If you’re looking for a quick pit stop along the highway, there are many beaches that you can easily access to break up the driving.
1. Whytecliff Park
Just west of Horseshoe Bay, this tucked-away corner of Howe Sound is the perfect place to stop and enjoy mountainous views and the passing boats. It’s equipped with picnic spots, washrooms, a swimming beach, and a tennis court in the large park.
This is a very popular spot and parking is limited, so have an alternative plan if it is full on arrival.
2. Stanley Park
World-renowned Stanley Park in Vancouver is a must-do regardless if you need to stop or not. It’s made up of 400 hectares of rainforest that gives views of mountains, the ocean, and the skyline.
The park is located in downtown Vancouver and is a popular attraction, especially in summer. If you have the time, we recommend swapping the car for a bike and cycling around the park so you can experience everything it has to offer.
3. Porteau Cove
Located 40kms north of Vancouver and 20kms south of Squamish, Porteau Cove is a hidden gem when it comes to highway stops.
The beach is home to a sunken ship that attracts divers from all over as well as marine life. It is also home to waterfront campsites with a fantastic view of the Howe Sound.
There are picnic areas and toilets available for those passing through between 7 am and 11 pm.
4. Furry Creek
Often overlooked, the small oceanside community of Furry Creek offers a quieter and more secluded beach for those looking for privacy.
The beach is located off Beach Drive amongst residential houses. This is not a public rest area, so be aware that there are no washrooms or facilities. However, it is worth the stop to get some unique pictures.
5. The Spit in Squamish
Where the Squamish River meets the Howe Sound, the Spit is one of the best spots for spotting wildlife such as beavers, eagles, deer, and bears. You’ll feel tiny as you stand out on the ocean and look at the towering Straumaus Chief.
There are no facilities here; however, there are plenty of places you can stop in the town of Squamish if you need. This is a popular launch for windsurfers on a windy day, making for excellent viewing.
3 Waterfalls on the Sea to Sky Highway
Waterfalls in British Columbia are plentiful and beautiful. With every waterfall just as breathtaking as the next, here are a few that you must explore along the Sea to Sky Highway.
1. Shannon Falls
Shannon Falls is a great stopping point along the Sea to Sky Highway as it is just 58 km (36 miles) from Vancouver. The falls are visible from the highway and are located at Shannon Falls Provincial Park near Squamish.
This jaw-dropping feat of raging water is the third highest in British Columbia, as it towers 335 metres from top to bottom. Shannon Falls Provincial Park is open year-round, but if you head there in the winter season, be aware there will be limited services and access to the trails may be a little more complicated.
There is hiking, picnic areas, restroom facilities, and public transportation in the warmer months if you choose not to drive. However, if you decide to drive, parking is free as long as you park in the designated areas. Definitely a great place to enjoy a lunch break at a gorgeous picnic spot!
Hot Tip: We recommend heading to Shannon Falls in the rainy season to experience the real power of mother nature.
2. Brandywine Falls
This 70-metre waterfall is another picturesque attraction along the Sea to Sky Highway. The park is just over 24km from Whistler, and the hike is short and sweet, about 20-30 minutes at a casual pace.
Even if you’re staying in Whistler and you missed this on the way there, Brandywine Falls is close enough to make the trip worthwhile from the village. So pack some snacks, good walking shoes, and a bottle of water for your escape into nature and away from the hustle and bustle of the resort.
The parking is free and plentiful, making it easy to plan a trip. It’s also a great spot to stop along the highway without veering too far off track.
Hot tip: Rumour has it that the name for the falls was decided by two surveyors who wagered the falls’ height over a bottle of brandy.
3. Nairn Falls
Located on the Green River, just 20 minutes north of Whistler on the boundary of Pemberton, Nairn Falls is the epitome of a must-see waterfall along the Sea to Sky Highway.
Unlike other waterfalls, there is camping available at this site, which is open from May to October, for $22.00 a night (but this isn’t the only place to camp around Whistler). For those not camping, free parking is available with basic bathroom facilities (pit toilets) on site.
This pit stop offers a short and gentle 1.2 km (round-trip) winding hike through the forests of British Columbia. As you hike along the canyon, enjoy the views of the river between the ancient trees.
Hot Tip: Normally, we aren’t ones to support a selfie stick, but in this case, a selfie stick does improve the final Instagram-worthy shot at the end of the hike.
Vancouver to Whistler: Sea to Sky Highway
There is only one way to travel between Whistler and Vancouver: the Sea to Sky Highway. And while we might curse its road conditions in a snowstorm or traffic jam, it’s part of what makes our region one of the most breathtaking trips globally.
Every turn brings a new landscape, no matter the season. The trip from sea to the sky is a perfect introduction to the spectacular natural landscapes surrounding Whistler, Squamish, Vancouver, and Pemberton.