By Michael Chang
The Sea To Sky Highway is one of the world’s most scenic drives. It takes you from the Vancouver area north through the communities of Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, and up to Lillooet, passing incredible glacial topped mountains, gorgeous views of Howe Sound, huge waterfalls, and wild canyon rivers.
Along this route, there are plenty of incredible hiking trails that take you into British Columbia’s wild backcountry. The rugged trails are generally only accessible for a few months during the summer before they are covered with snow for the winter months. With the many mountains through the region, most of the trails are fairly difficult with significant elevation gain as you make your way into the alpine to breathtaking turquoise lakes, meadows filled with colourful wildflowers, or mountain top views that allow you to see for miles.
The following are some of the Sea To Sky region’s most awe-inspiring hikes.
The hike to Elfin Lakes begins up a gravel road near Squamish, BC, and takes you into the alpine of the southern portion of Garibaldi Provincial Park. The two small lakes are situated amongst an incredible view, with Columnar Peak towering in the backdrop. There is a BC Park’s run hut at Elfin Lakes that sleeps 33 people and also a campsite nearby for tenters. The hike is a popular day-hike route but is also a great overnight hike as you can continue further to explore the area around Opal Cone, Mamquam Lake, and the Gargoyles.
Garibaldi Lake is one of the region’s most scenic lakes, with it’s turquoise coloured water and glacier on the far end of the lake. The 9km one-way hike (18km roundtrip) begins just south of Whistler and climbs steeply through a series of switchbacks for the first 6km. If you time it right during late-July, the wildflowers will be in full bloom in Taylor Meadows, making it worth taking a detour through Taylor Meadows before looping down to the lake. Tent camping can be done at Garibaldi Lake and at the Taylor Meadows campsite, which allows hikers to complete other routes in the area, such as hiking to Black Tusk or Panorama Ridge.
The hike to Brandywine Meadows follows a steep 3km route and arrives at a meadow surrounded by the peaks of Brandywine Mountain and Metal Dome and full or wildflowers in late-July to early-August. Finding a place among the meadows, with its meandering streams to have lunch and soak in the view provides a relaxing afternoon in the outdoors. There are opportunities to explore the mountains further but the backcountry is not well marked beyond the meadows and should only be done by experienced hikers. The area is a great day-hike opportunity and while camping is permitted, there are no facilities or campsites nearby.
Located on the west side of Whistler, the hike to Rainbow Lake passes through a lush west coast rainforest climate before reaching the alpine lake. The trail itself is beautiful as it passes Rainbow Falls near the beginning, then through several different types of ecosystems of vegetation and across a couple of cable bridges. The view at the lake is incredible with several surrounding mountains, a flat meadow on the far end of the lake that provides a great view of the area, and even a view of Black Tusk in the distance. Since Rainbow Lake is the source for Whistler’s drinking water, camping is not permitted at the lake but is allowed by hiking further to the nearby Hanging Lake.
Located between Pemberton and Lillooet, the hike to Joffre Lakes is one of the regions best as it takes you past three beautiful lakes and up into the alpine where a glacier hangs over the upper lake. The first lake is a mere 5-minute walk from the gravel parking lot and easily accessible. You’ll have to work to get to Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes though as the trail makes its way uphill towards the two turquoise colored lakes. Upper Joffre Lakes has several tent camping sites that are nearby the lake with views of the surrounding mountains and glacier above.
Have you hiked or camped in the Sea To Sky region? What are your favorite trails?
Published: June 7, 2015
Michael Chang is an avid hiker and runs a local online hiking resource called Vancouver Trails, which focuses on day-hikes around Vancouver, Whistler, the Fraser Valley, and Southwestern British Columbia.