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Vancouver Day Trips: Highway 99, the Sea-to-Sky to Whistler

Sometimes the journey can be as good–or even better–than the destination. Certainly that’s the case with Highway 99–aka the Sea-to-Sky–that connects Vancouver to Whistler, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Sure, you could make the two-hour drive north without a single stop along the way, but why would you want to?

This 110-km ribbon of newly paved-and-straightened road consistently ranks as one of the world’s most beautiful drives.

But to really savour the dramatic coastal scenery–and there’s plenty of it given that the road parallels North America’s southern-most fjord–you’ll need to pull over now and then.

Whether you’re heading to Whistler for a weekend of skiing or hiking, or just wanting to get out of the city for the day, take time to enjoy the many surprises and distractions along the Sea-to-Sky route.

Be sure to watch for the well-marked pull-outs along the way–you’ll get great photos from these panoramic viewpoints.

Here’s a smorgasbord of recommended stops heading north beyond Vancouver:

  • Horseshoe Bay: From this pretty village, BC Ferries depart for Bowen Island, the Sunshine Coast, Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Stop at Troll’s for fish-and-chips, browse the gifts shops (Starfire is particularly worth a visit for high-quality artisanal pieces) and let the kids cool off in the water park next door to the terminal.
  • Porteau Cove: This provincial park features waterfront campsites with a view over Howe Sound to the mountains beyond. With its proximity to the city, this campsite fills up fast and operates on a first-come-first-served basis.
  • Shannon Falls: This is a great place for a picnic lunch and a leg-stretch. It’s just a short walk from the parking lot to the viewing platform: you’ll feel the spray from the falls–the third-highest in BC–on your face. This park is right next door to Stawamus Chief Provincial Park: look for the climbers scrambling up the monolithic rock-face.
  • Britannia Beach: Visit the mine museum (well known to X-Files fans for its unusual architecture and now a national historic site), browse the gift shops (excellent amber and First Nations crafts), or just enjoy a stunning view of Howe Sound from the deck of the Galileo coffee shop.
  • Brackendale: This tiny community is Eagle Central. Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park on the Squamish River offers the right habitat for the King of Birds to roost and feed; the prolific runs of chum salmon in the Squamish, Cheakamus, and Mamquam rivers attract record numbers of eagles from all over the Pacific Northwest from November to February each year.
  • Garibaldi Provincial Park: In a region teeming with beautiful parks, this is one of the most magnificent. Garibaldi boasts a rich geological history, diverse vegetation, crystalline waters, abundant wildlife and scenic mountain vistas. With more than 90 kms of well-maintained hiking trails, Garibaldi is a favourite year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

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Photo: Sea-to-Sky Improvement Project