Driving the Sea to Sky | A Vancouver to Whistler Itinerary
There are few road names as evocative as the Sea to Sky Highway, which spans the journey from Whistler to Vancouver. Stirring up images of dramatic coastlines, soaring peaks and endless panoramic views, it just begs to be explored. And luckily, this stunning drive from Vancouver to Whistler is right there for the taking. Any visitor to Whistler gets to experience the world-class views of the Sea to Sky Highway on their short trip from Vancouver.
While it’s possible to complete this day trip in less than 2 hours, it’s worth slowing down and really making the most of it. There’s tons to do and see along the beautiful highway, and Whistler will be waiting for you whenever you arrive. It would be impossible for us to list every great activity, attraction and viewpoint to fit into a day trip from Vancouver to Whistler. But we’ve picked a few of our favourites to give you the inspiration you’ll need to plan your own unforgettable road trip.
An Overview of the Trip: Vancouver to Whistler
First things first, there some basic things to know about driving the Sea to Sky Highway. Also known as Highway 99, the road from Whistler to Vancouver is around a 120km (75 mile) drive. If you drive it all in one go, it normally takes just under 2 hours from downtown Vancouver. Bear in mind, if you’re coming from Vancouver Airport it will take a little time to cross the city before you reach the highway. If you want to plan in detail, check out our guide to how to get to Whistler from anywhere in the world.
The Sea to Sky Highway: What to Expect
From downtown Vancouver, Highway 99 takes you through Stanley Park, over the Lions Gate bridge and through Horseshoe Bay. From there, you’ll follow the winding coastal road along the Howe Sound to Squamish. The mighty granite face of the famous Squamish Chief towers over you as you pass through this small town – a world-famous mecca for rock climbing, hiking and mountain biking.
From there the Sea to Sky starts quickly climbing skyward. From sea level you’ll meander your way up to 650m elevation at Whistler. You’ll be treated to increasingly dramatic views of glacier-capped mountains, imposing ridgelines and roaring rivers. And before you know it, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Whistler, gazing up at the Peak to Peak gondola high above the valley.
Be Prepared: Road Conditions from Vancouver to Whistler
The Sea to Sky Highway quickly takes you from urban sprawl to mountain wilderness. With that in mind, it’s always worth checking the road conditions before you set off. The weather can be dramatically different between Whistler and Vancouver – rain at sea level can mean 30cm of snow in Whistler. Don’t be afraid to take it slow if snow or rain is forecast. In fact, it’s a good excuse to take a few more stops along the way and soak in the unique vibes of this part of the world.
One really important thing to know is that winter tires are required on all cars driving on the Sea to Sky Highway between October 1 and March 31. Summer tires simply don’t cut it on the ice and snow often found on this road. Check your vehicle before you leave to avoid hassle and any sketchy moments.
Road Trip: Driving from Vancouver to Whistler in Summer
Okay, with the practical details out of the way, it’s time for the fun stuff. We’ve chosen some of our favourite stops for a day trip from Vancouver to Whistler. If you have the time, stretch the trip out for a full day and discover some of these gems of the Sea to Sky. It’s a very different experience in summer and winter, so even if you’ve been before, you’re likely to find something new.
Explore Porteau Cove Provincial Park
Nestled right off the Highway, Porteau Cove offers truly unique views over the Howe Sound, taking in the ocean, distant islands and towering mountains in the distance. Stop for a picnic by the shore and keep an eye out for native seals, porpoises and sometimes even whales. There’s even scuba diving on offer here for those who want to explore the Howe Sound from a very different perspective.
Hike the Stawamus Chief
One of the most iconic rock formations in the world, the Stawamus Chief just begs to be climbed. The hike is short but steep, involving steep steps and pretty much constant uphill to reach the peak at over 700m. But the 360-degree views from the Pacific ocean to the deep mountains will make the pain so worthwhile. And it’s much easier on the way down.
Grab a Bite at Backcountry Brewing
After all that exertion it’s time to stop of lunch. Squamish offers loads of great local restaurants and cafes, but our favourite has to be Backcountry Brewing. While the passengers can sample their locally brewed craft beers, even the designated driver will be satisified after wolfing down one of their home-made, wood-fired pizzas.
Be Awestruck by Brandywine Falls
Back on the road towards Whistler, you’ll find it hard to tear your eyes away from the views. But don’t miss the pull-out for Brandywine Falls just south of Whistler. These awe-inspiring falls thunder over a 70m drop, making the perfect backdrop for a family photo. And they’re easily accessible by a short, well-signposted walk from the parking lot.
Soar Over Whistler with Superfly Ziplines
You’ve reached Whistler and you’re looking for the perfect end to the day. Shake off the cobwebs and get the adrenaline pumping with a flight over Whistler valley with Superfly Ziplines. As you fly 600m above the ground at up to 100km/h, remember to take a moment to appreciate the views. It’s not often you get to fly like an eagle, and you might think it’s all over far too soon!
Road Trip: Driving from Vancouver to Whistler in Winter
We’re not sure whether the Sea to Sky is more beautiful in summer or winter. Certainly, there’s something to be said for the contrast between the snow-capped peaks and the bright blue water of the Howe Sound in winter. What’s certain is that there’s still plenty to explore, even if it looks a little chilly outside.
Dig Into History at the Britannia Mining Museum
A family favourite that’s not just for the kids, the Britannia Mining Museum has plenty to keep you entertained. The fascinating museum offers a glimpse into the history of the Sea to Sky, when you were more likely to find miners than skiers exploring these hills. You’ll find the museum just south of Squamish, halfway from Vancouver to Whistler.
Get A Birds Eye View from the Sea to Sky Gondola
The winter months make hiking in Squamish considerably more challenging. But there’s a more leisurely way to take in the views: the Sea to Sky Gondola. As you rise to 885m above sea level, you can take in the views of the Howe Sound stretching out into the Pacific. Once you arrive, enjoy fondue in the cozy lodge, or head outside for fun in the snow. Snowshoeing, hiking and tubing are all on offer at the peak.
Take in the Jaw-dropping Tantalus Mountains
When you’re back on solid ground and heading towards Whistler, there’s one view you simply can’t miss. Keep an eye out for the pullout for the Tantalus Lookout a few minutes north of Squamish. This view is quite something every day of the year. But the serrated ridges and ice-blue glaciers come into their own on a sunny winter’s day. You won’t regret stopping.
Touch the Sky with a Helicopter Tour
You’ve driven from Sea to Sky, but you’re yearning for more. The ultimate way to truly see Whistler at it’s best is to head up high on a helicopter tour. Soar above dramatic peaks and frozen lakes, swoop over ridges and get up close and personal with ancient glaciers. As your guide shows you the sights, you might have to pinch yourself to believe you’re really here.
Taste Local Beer at Coast Mountain Brewing
With all that adventure packed into one day, it’s time to take a deep breath and relax. To get a feel for the casual Whistler vibes, head to Coast Mountain Brewing in Function Junction. This funky, local craft brewery serves a rotating cast of top-quality craft beers. Besides tasting great, there’s a story behind the name of every drink that will give you a little insight into this town we love.
Epic Excursions from Vancouver to Whistler
That may sound like enough to keep you occupied for days. But in truth we’ve barely touched on what the epic drive from Vancouver to Whistler has to offer. If you’re looking for even more adventure, here’s a few other ideas to explore.
There are tons of campsites between Vancouver and Whistler, whether you fancy bedding down on the beach, cozying up by a lake or roughing it in the high alpine. Spending a night in the great outdoors gives you a true feel for this special part of the world.
From short family-friendly round trips to multi-day backpacking adventures, the Sea to Sky is a hikers paradise. Garibaldi Provincial Park, which stretches from Squamish to Whistler, offers some of the best accessible hikes in the province, and rewards you with unforgettable views and true wilderness.
Whistler and Squamish have earned their place in the history books of mountain biking. Read up on some of the famous local trails and head out to explore for yourselves. You can easily rent first-class bikes that will make the climbs easier and the downhill oh-so-much fun.
Vancouver to Whistler: An Adventure in Itself
You might be itching to arrive in Whistler, but we hope you’ve realized that it’s worth taking your time on this one-of-a-kind road trip. There’s so much to explore on the Sea to Sky, it would be a shame to rush through. And if you don’t fit it all in this time? Well, you’ll just have to come back to visit again soon.