Driving from Vancouver to Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway is a short trip by road trip standards, but this stretch along Highway 99 in British Columbia is filled with so many things to see and do, it can take days to explore. We’ve rounded up the top attractions from Vancouver to Whistler including places to stay, where to eat, and what adventures to be had.
Having lived in Vancouver, we have driven the Sea to Sky Highway many times in our lives, but it wasn’t until we revisited it as tourists that we actually took our time to take in all the top attractions along the Sea to Sky corridor. So sit back, enjoy the views, and start planning your own road trip from Vancouver to Whistler BC.
Sea to Sky Highway Road Trip
The Sea to Sky Highway is only 154 km (95 miles) long and the drive time from Vancouver to Whistler can be done in a mere 90 minutes. If you want to plan a great Sea to Sky Highway road trip, plan on four to five days. This trip is outstanding and there are so many things to do you need time to go hiking, explore its epic waterfalls, immerse in its history and take in the sights. So let’s get started.
Places to Visit from Vancouver to Whistler
Spend the night in Vancouver and explore one of Canada’s best cities for at least a day. There are many things to see in Vancouver that will keep you occupied from the waterfront trail on False Creek to historic Gastown and the famous Granville Island. Here are a few of our top suggestions for things to do in Vancouver.
Where to Stay in Vancouver
The Opus Vancouver is an excellent boutique hotel located in Yaletown that is walking distance to everything. This stylish hotel was named one of the top hotels by Forbes and the top luxury property in BC.
It had some of the friendliest service we’ve experienced at a hotel. It must be that fresh West Coast air that makes everyone happy! We highly recommend it. Plus there are great options for dining and nightlife close by and its just a short walk to the waterfront.
Stanley Park and Downtown
We suggest starting with exploring Stanley Park. Rent a bicycle and take a spin around the Sea Wall. Be sure to stop at the Marina for some of the best views of the Vancouver Skyline. A great stop is also the Stanley Park Totem Poles at Brockton. The totem poles display the indigenous culture of British Columbia which is very prevalent along the Sea to Sky Highway aka British Columbia Highway 1.
Spend the rest of the day exploring False Creek with a good chunk of time at Granville Island. Granville Island is filled with eateries, boutique shopping, artists studios, and even a theatre. It’s a fun spot to hang out. Then take the water taxi across False Creek to walk along the waterfront to Gastown. Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood was founded by Gassy Jack Deighton in 1867. There’s lots of shopping and dining in Vancouver.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
On your second day in Vancouver, head out in the morning to see the famous Capilano suspension bridge. The Capilano Bridge is a 137meters long (450 feet) suspension bridge swinging 70 meters (230 feet) above the Capilano River. This is the star attraction, but there is also a high ropes treetop adventure and they offer guided walking tours through the rainforest. There are free shuttles from downtown Vancouver, but if you have a car, we suggest driving since you will want to explore the other sights near Vancouver.
Grouse Mountain Gondola
Grouse Mountain is home to some great skiing right near the city center. There also Cypress Bowl and Mount Seymour for winter sports, but Grouse Mountain has a lot of summer activities and things to do. To get to Grouse Mountain, cross the Lions Gate Bridge that takes you into North Vancouver.
Grouse mountain is a year-round destination just 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Take the Grouse Mountain Gondola up for magnificent views of Vancouver. If you are traveling in the winter, skiing is definitely in order but if you are not into skiing or visiting during another season, there’s a zip line adventure, lumberjack show, two resident grizzley bears that enjoy a natural sanctuary, dining, and hiking. Read more: 14 Best Hikes in Vancouver to Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Hit The Beach
If hiking and heights aren’t your things, You could spend the day checking out Vancouver’s beaches. Vancouver has a few cool beaches to visit. Chances are you already visited Second and Third Beaches when cycling around Stanley Park. And when working your way from Stanely Park towards Granville Island, there’s English Bay Beach (where we used to live) and Sunset Beach. But if you go across English Bay to Kistalano, there are even more beaches.
The top Vancouver beaches to visit here are Jerico Beach, Kitsilano Beach, Spanish Banks Beach, and Wreck Beach. Wreck Beach is considered one of the best nude beaches in the world, so be warned, you’ll see a lot of skin. The reason it was probably chosen as a good nude beach is because of the 500 steps leading down to the sandy beach making it quite secluded.
Stops on the Sea to Sky Highway
After spending a couple of days exploring Vancouver and North Vancouver, it’s now time to hit the road and let the Sea to Sky Highway road trip begin. The drive takes us once again across the Lion’s Gate Bridge to North Van and then a drive through West Vancouver with a quick stop at Lighthouse Park before entering Horseshoe Bay. This, in my opinion where the Sea to Sky Highway really starts.
A popular stop at Horseshoe Bay is Whytecliff Park. This marine sanctuary is home to shipwrecks and an abundance of Marinelife and is very popular with scuba divers. It’s great for swimming, plus at low tide, you can walk out to Whytecliff Island. Make sure to stop here for some photos and to take in the view.
The next stop is one of the most popular attractions along the Sea to Sky Highway. The Britannia Mine Museum is a National Historic Site of Canada that used to be the largest copper mine in the entire world. Today it is an excellent interactive museum that takes visitors on a train to the heart of the mountain to see where miners dug for copper. Make sure you check out the new show, BOOM. The multi-sensory film takes place in the massive 20 story building where we learn in a very entertaining way about the 96-year history of mining in Squamish.
There is also the “Connected by Copper: From Cells to Cell Phones”, which gives a glimpse of how copper has influenced our daily lives throughout history since ancient times, from connecting us with electricity to wi-fi and protecting us from harmful bacteria. Read more about it here.
Nearby you can stop at Britannia Beach which was once a booming mining town, but today it is a small and charming village. Britannia Beach used to be one of the most polluted areas in North America because of the copper mine mine, but in 2005, a massive project was undertaken to clean up the waters. Today, the waters of Howe Sound at Britannia Beach are 85% recovered with marine life coming back more and more each year. Be sure to check it out for yourself.
The first waterfall we come across between Vancouver and Whistler is Shannon Falls located just South of Squamish. The falls are a short and easy walk from the parking lot so make sure you get out and have a look! Shannon Falls is the third largest waterfall in British Columbia. There are a couple of different viewpoints to take in the massive 335-meter (1099 foot) cascade. From Shannon Falls, you can start one of three treks to the Stawamus Chief.
Sea to Sky Gondola
The Sea to Sky Gondola takes you up to Summit Lodge for awesome views of Howe Sound. When you are at the top there are several viewing platforms, The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, and lots of hiking. This is one of the premier attractions on anyone’s Vancouver to Whistler road trip. (it was closed when we were there, but it is one of the top attractions along the Sea to Sky Highway and not to be missed)
Sea to Sky Air
Since the Sea to Sky Gondola was closed, we still managed a bird’s eye view by taking an incredible scenic flight on a floatplane over the Coast Mountains and Howe Sound with Sea to Sky Air. Our pilot David took us over the waters where we landed on Howe Sound to toot around for a while looking for marine life. It was one of the best scenic flights we’ve ever taken.
Driving from Vancouver to Whistler, the first major community after Horseshoe bay is Squamish. This is a good place to spend the night and check out the sites and activities in the area. For a more in-depth guide read 14 Amazing Things to Do in Squamish BC
Where to Stay Squamish
An excellent place to stay in Squamish is Sunwolf Riverside Lodge. These log cabins are located on the river in a forest setting. They have wood-burning stoves and a fantastic restaurant that is popular with locals and tourists alike. It makes you feel as if you are out in nature but has all the amenities you need.
Known simply as The Chief, the Stawamus Chief is a 702 meter (2,303 foot) granite cliff towering over the city of Squamish. Rock Climbers come from around the world to tackle its routes. The Chief is Canada’s Answer to El Capitan.
You don’t have to be a rock climber to enjoy The Chief, you can hike to the top too! There are three different hikes, First Peak, Second Peak and, Third Peak hikes. (How original right?) If you have limited time the First Peak is the shortest (4km round trip) and has beautiful views.
Bald Eagles at Squamish River
If you stay at Sunwolf Riverside, you’ll be directly on the Squamish River where you’ll find the best Bald Eagle sightings in the world. Between November and February, hundreds of bald eagles flock to the river to munch on the abundance of salmon stock. We were there in October and we saw several bald eagles ourselves, so something tells me they are around throughout the year. We stood on the bridge overlooking the river and watched them sweep in for their catch before sitting on high treetops.
Sea to Sky Part to – Squamish to Whistler Stops
After at least 2 nights in Squamish, it’s time to hit the road again and make your way towards Whistler. There are plenty of stops on this portion of Highway 1, so be sure to take your time and enjoy the drive.
Garibaldi Provincial Park
Home to the striking Mount Garibaldi, Garibaldi Provincial Park is a massive recreation area at 480990 acres (194,650-hectares) in area. Popular hiking trails from Diamond Head include a cool hike out to Elfin Lake where for $15 you can stay in a cabin complete with a propane stove. This is a popular park for rock climbing and canoeing too!
The next famous waterfall on our Vancouver to Whistler trip is Brandywine Falls. It’s another easy 10 to 15-minute walk from the parking lot across a railway track to a gorgeous 70 meters (230 foot) rushing waterfall dropping into a horseshoe canyon.
Congratulations you made it to Whistler! Whistler is one of Canada’s top tourist destinations and we recommend staying at least a few days. Longer if you plan on skiing or snowboarding! There are so many things to do in Whistler, it makes for an excellent finishing point to our Sea to Sky Highway trip.
While there, be sure to check out the Olympic Village, hit some of the Olympic sites like the bobsleigh to try your hand at a spin down the track or head up the mountain for magnificent views on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. There are great hiking trails and if you are visiting in the winter, there are obviously superb winter attractions but here are a few ideas outside the normal skiing and spa experiences in Whistler.
Train Wreck Trail
The next popular stop on our drive from Vancouver to Whistler is the Train Wreck Trail. Located at the Cheakamus River, the Trainwreck Trail became more easily accessible to tourists in 2013 after the municipality opened up the bridge to keep people from crossing the train tracks to access it. The trail starts at Cheakamus Crossing and is about a 15-minute hike to a beautiful suspension bridge. After crossing the bridge, the remains of seven wrecked boxcars stand in the forest. They are covered in graffiti making for excellent photo opportunities.
The boxcars are remains from a 1956 train derailment from Lillooet. The train was behind schedule, so to make up time it was going nearly twice the speed limit. When it came to a sharp curve on a narrow section of the track, it flew off the rails. Get coordinates here from Google maps.
Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre
We had been to Whistler several times and never made it to any of the indoor attractions but I’m glad we finally did! The center is dedicated to the history and culture of The Squamish and Lil’wat tribes. It is an excellent interactive museum.
Whistler Photo Safaris
If you are visiting Whistler during the summer months, be sure to hop on a bear safari. Whistler Photo Safaris takes you through the Whistler Olympic Park in search of black bears. You also get a tour of the Whistler Olympic Park’s Ski Jumps and cross country skiing tracks.
It’s a great way to get out and explore more of the surrounding Whistler and to see some wildlife along the way. The sea to sky highway definitely lives up to its reputation as one of the great drives on earth. We have an entire post dedicated to things to do in Whistler here so check it out to see all the things to do once you end your Sea to Sky Highway road trip.
Where to Stay in Whistler
We made our base at the Pan Pacific Mountainside located directly on the mountain. It’s great for ski in ski out in the winter or for easy access to the gondola in the summer. And it has parking! We have stayed in many different accommodations downtown Whistler and you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Watch our Sea to Sky Highway Road Trip Video
Did you enjoy all the amazing things you can do from Vancouver to Whistler? What are you waiting for? Start planning your drive along the Sea to Sky Highway and make sure to spend some time in both Vancouver and Whistler, two of Canada’s most exciting and beautiful destinations.
Be sure to get the tunes ready for your drive. We’ve put together the Ultimate Road Trip Playlist.
Check out these awesome Canadian Road Trips