Whistler Village Square, Photo Destination BC, Albert Normandin
You will not regret a trip to the Sea-to-Sky Country. You don’t have to go far to leave Metro Vancouver’s bustle and hustle behind. Travel up the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Highway 99) and into the steep and rugged Coast Mountains. Starting in picturesque Horseshoe Bay, site of one of the BC Ferries terminals, the road winds through mountain communities that started as logging, mining, ranching and farming outposts.
The route features towering rock faces that plunge to the sea and rivers cascading in bubbly plumes off the sheer cliff. The intense blue colours of Howe Sound clash with brilliant white glacier ice and jagged black peaks against an azure sky. This sight can mesmerise even the most seasoned traveller. During the summer the alpine meadows are freckled with red, yellow and purple wildflowers and surround tranquil turquoise lakes. No matter what time of year you go the forests, whether deep emerald or covered in fresh snow, will dazzle you.
The Sea-to-Sky Highway crosses paths with two historic routes, the Pemberton Trail and the Gold Rush Heritage Trail, which linked the coast with the interior in the days before the automobile. Today the communities of Britannia Beach, Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton have become welcoming havens for lovers of every manner of outdoor recreation whether on land, in water or air. This country is also rich in archaeological and historical lore. Salish First Nations have lived here for thousands of years, and prospectors streamed north from Lillooet for the Fraser River gold rush back in the 1850s.
There are many reasons to stop on this scenic route from Horseshoe including the pull-outs that provide opportunities to capture photographic memories. Britannia Beach is home to the award-winning National Historic Britannia Museum where you can go underground and experience the sights and sounds of mining history. In Squamish see The Royal Hudson, the only steam engine in mainline service in North America until 2002, at The West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish. Take a ride on the Sea to Sky Gondola, walk across the suspension bridge, see the stunning scenery from viewing platforms and enjoy a dining experience, all 885 m (2,900 ft) above Howe Sound.
Further up the highway is Whistler, the world-renowned ski and snowboard resort which is now a year-round destination, as popular in summer as winter. Experience an amazing ride on the Peak to Peak Gondola, open all year, and take in the stunning views of mountains, valleys and wildlife. The alpine village of Whistler stays vibrant and active all year round.
Beyond Whistler is the town of Pemberton, known for its skiing and winter sports and in the summer the farms become a popular agritourism destination. Visit the organic potato vodka distillery, take home some fresh fruit from one of the u-pick farms and stop by the farmer’s market. Golfing, hiking, mountain biking and horse riding are just some of the available recreational activities in Pemberton.
Heading inland, Highway 99 follows the scenic route to Lillooet. The road hugs the mountains, rivers and lakes, providing incredible views along the sometimes twisty road. As you near Lillooet, a historical town on the road of the old Gold Rush Trail, the air becomes drier, and in the summer, hotter. The Fraser River runs through the community and fishing is popular for salmon, sturgeon and trout.
The surrounding mountains in Sea-to-Sky Country boast some of British Columbia’s most scenic parks, hikes, rock climbing and mountain biking. Offering lush old growth forests and glimpses of bears and eagles, the area is a popular outdoors adventure destination.