One of the most scenic roads I’ve ever been on is the Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia. You’ll be driving along the water for the first part of your trip and have tons of beautiful places to stop on your Vancouver to Whistler drive. While it’s a short trip in itself, I recommend taking a day to visit the Sea to Sky attractions along the way.
My family has a timeshare in Whistler, so I’ve made the drive from Seattle to Whistler at least once a year for the past 15 years. I’m always discovering new Sea to Sky Highway stops each time I go up and love visiting any time of the year.
You might not know where to stop the first time you drive through, which is why I wrote this article to give you some of my favorite recommendations! Here are some of my best tips when driving from Vancouver to Whistler as well as Sea to Sky stops to make.
Tips for Planning a Vancouver to Whistler Drive
Here are some tips to help you plan your Sea to Sky Highway road trip.
About the Sea to Sky Highway
The British Columbia Highway 99 is affectionately known as the Sea to Sky Highway. The major north-south road from the US border to Canada’s Pacific Coast passes through Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, and Lillooet. The route lets you experience towering cliffs, waterfalls, lakes, temperate rainforest, and coastal communities.
The Sea to Sky Highway is possibly the best day trip to do in Canada and refers to the route from Vancouver to Pemberton. The drive starts with views of the sea in Vancouver and continues into Squamish and Whistler’s steep mountains. If you have just spent a weekend in Vancouver and aim to cycle or ski in the backcountry, this trip is the one for you.
Here is a Sea to Sky Highway map so you can visually reference where you’ll be stopping:
Vancouver to Whistler Drive Time
Highway 99 is the quickest route, and the Vancouver to Whistler distance is 120 km. The drive time is only one hour and forty-five minutes if you decide to go straight through without stopping. However, you can choose to extend your trip with any viewpoints, hikes, and attractions below, and it’s a great Vancouver weekend getaway.
Renting a car or driving your vehicle is the perfect way to experience the stops along the way. Alternatively, relax during an informative full-day tour.
If you live in Emerald City, you can also experience the perfect cross-border road trip. How long does it take to drive from Seattle to Vancouver? Start in Seattle and travel on the I-5 for two and a half hours to Vancouver city. While driving offers the most freedom, the simplest way to travel to Vancouver from Seattle is by train.
Once in Vancouver, your route on British Columbia Highway 99 can begin.
When is the Best Time to Drive From Vancouver to Whistler?
You can expect the town of Whistler to be busy from December to February as winter offers the peak skiing season. The route from Vancouver at this time of year offers views of snow-capped mountains. Keep an eye out for snowstorms, as heavy snowfall can affect Whistler’s road conditions and visibility.
From April to June, spring is arguably the best time to drive from Vancouver to Whistler. The world-class ski resort sees fewer visitors and offers snow-covered slopes with warm sunshine in the day. While you won’t be guaranteed a chance to ski the slopes, which close at the end of March, you can enjoy pleasant cycling, hiking, and rafting conditions.
Traveling to Whistler in summer is the perfect time to explore on foot or with two wheels. Despite the sunshine and warmer weather, you can still experience views of snow-capped mountains and icy glaciers. The warmer temperatures between July and September make hiking and picnics suitable while nearby waterfalls flow.
Autumn falls between October and December and is one of the most affordable times for accommodation in Whistler. The hiking routes and cycling trails are typically open until snow coverage makes them unavailable through the winter.
Tips for Visiting Sea to Sky Highway Attractions
Here are some top tips for your trip from Vancouver to Whistler and driving beyond.
Be prepared and pack for an impromptu picnic on your Sea to Sky Highway road trip. You can save both money and time while spending more of your day enjoying the outdoors. However, be cautious where you decide to eat as many areas, such as Porteau Cove, have curious raccoon populations.
Take Your Time
Start your trip as early as possible to give yourself ample time to include one or two activities on the way. The adventurous nature of the activities means it will be hard to stay on schedule. So stick to a rough plan and remember to relax and enjoy each moment.
Prepare for Winter
Traveling the Sea to Sky Highway during winter with the snow-covered landscapes is extremely fun. However, it does bring its own set of challenges. The waterfalls don’t flow as dramatically, the lakes are too cold for swimming and many of the hiking routes are closed. While winter in Vancouver doesn’t bring much snowfall, Whistler gets plenty this time of year.
However, with practical footwear, a warm jacket, and a waterproof shell, you can still comfortably experience many of the scenic views. Keep your hands and feet warm, and pack a flask of hot tea to keep the spirits high.
You should also note that the road can be icy, so check out the highway cameras ahead of time to prepare and bring chains if needed.
Where to Stay
Some people may decide to drive from Vancouver to Whistler and back on the same day, while others may opt to stay in Whistler. Here are a few options for both.
- Hyatt Regency Vancouver – This is a beautiful hotel to treat yourself to in downtown Vancouver that has a heated outdoor pool and restaurant and bar. (rates start at $236 per night)
- Days Inn by Wyndham Vancouver Downtown – This Vancouver hotel is a great base for your drive and includes free breakfast each morning. (rates start at $135 per night)
- Pinnacle Hotel Whistler Village is centrally located in the village and close to dozens of restaurants. (rates start at $76 per night)
- Sundial Boutique Hotel is right in Whistler Village and has rooms with hot tubs and a view of the mountain and the village. (rates start at $165 per night)
The Best Sea to Sky Highway Stops
Here are some of the best places to see on your Vancouver to Whistler drive.
1. Stanley Park
Distance: 4 km from Central Vancouver
Highlight: Outdoor heated swimming pool
Cost: Free access to the park
Stanley Park is open to the public and offers incredible seaside walking routes along a 10km seawall. It is the perfect starting point for your Sea to Sky road trip and offers stunning views of the Lions Gate Bridge from Prospect Point lookout. In addition, the park is home to more than 500 animal species, the Vancouver Aquarium, and areas to walk your dog off-leash.
Visit Second Beach for a swim during summer with lifeguards on duty to ensure all swimmers are kept safe. Access to the 50m long heated swimming pool at Second Beach costs $7.50 for adults and $4 per child.
2. Cypress Mountain Lookout
Distance: 28 km from Central Vancouver
Highlight: Panoramic Viewpoint
Only 30 minutes from Central Vancouver, the Cypress Mountain Lookout offers views over West Vancouver, the Lions Gate Bridge, and Stanley Park. It’s on the second switchback of Cypress Bowl Road and offers panoramic views from an easy-to-access viewpoint.
From Highway 1 in West Vancouver, take exit 8 for Cypress Bowl Road to visit this on your Vancouver to Whistler road trip. The parking area is not very big, but there is a gravel area for overflow parking. The lookout is the perfect location for a Vancouver road trip picnic, with tables and a toilet on site.
3. Porteau Cove Provincial Park
Distance: 45 km from Central Vancouver
Highlight: Viewpoint over Howe Sound
On route to Porteau Cove, you will travel along the scenic Howe Sound on your Vancouver to Whistler drive. It is North America’s southernmost fjord and extends from West Vancouver to the Squamish river. Head down to the rocky beach to explore or bring your snorkel to experience marine life. Three sunken boats in the area attract scuba divers of all levels.
Travel by car to the day-use area for free access between 7 am and 10 pm. While the BC train line runs alongside the park, your carriage will not make a stop at Porteau. While relaxing in Porteau Cove, keep an eye out for majestic eagles perched on the top of trees. These birds of prey enjoy the same abundance of fish that attract hopeful fishermen to the area.
4. Shannon Falls Trail
Distance: 60 km from Central Vancouver
After passing the mining community of Britannia Beach, you will soon reach the Shannon Falls Provincial Park. If you have reached the town of Squamish, you have gone too far. The towering Shannon Falls cascades down a series of cliffs and is especially impressive in spring or following heavy rainfall in the area.
You will be impressed by the 355-meter tall waterfall that is the 3rd highest in British Columbia. Walk along an easy trail and well-maintained wooden boardwalks beneath old-growth forest to the base of the falls to soak in the atmosphere and sounds.
5. Sea to the Sky Gondola
Distance: 60 km from Central Vancouver
Highlight: 10-minute gondola ride
Cost: $55.95 for adults & $32.95 for children
The Sea to Sky Gondola offers the perfect family outing while driving to Whistler and is one of the best things to do in the Pacific Northwest. Since 2014, it has safely transported visitors into what feels like a new world. In addition, it gives mobility-challenged travelers the chance to reach the summit to experience views of the Stawamus Chief Mountain and the entire Squamish Valley.
The 10-minute ride to the summit is one of the best Sea to Sky Highway viewpoints. It offers incredible sights of Howe Sound and the Coast Mountains while zipping over the forest below. At the top, you can walk between three main viewing platforms and cross the bouncy Sky Pilot suspension bridge. Feeling hungry? The summit has a quick-service restaurant and serves craft beer on the patio.
6. Stawamus Chief Provincial Park
Distance: 61 km from Central Vancouver
The Stawamus Chief Provincial park offers some of the best hikes near Vancouver, so you’ll want to stop here on your Vancouver to Whistler drive. It Is a 700m high granite dome that towers over the Howe Sound network of fjords and has three distinct summits. The first peak is a challenging 4km round trip and takes about 90 minutes. You can expect a steep route consisting of wooden steps, ladders, and in some places, guide ropes.
The second peak is the largest of the three summits, and the 5km round trip takes significantly longer to complete. It requires scrambling over rock and features chains to help you leverage yourself over boulders. Reaching the viewpoint positioned on the third peak is a 7km round trip and is separated from the second peak by the North Gully, a 60-meter gap in-between.
While on the trail, keep an eye out for Peregrine falcons that nest in the area.
Distance: 65 km from Central Vancouver
Highlight: Arts and Crafts
Squamish is only a 50-minute drive from Vancouver and offers a laid-back and creative environment. It is the perfect rest stop along your road trip to refuel and explore the town’s arts and culture. While being the most popular location for outdoor recreation in Canada, it is also filled with public art, thanks to the yearly Squamish Wind Festival.
Looking for things to do in Squamish? The area surrounding the town offers adventurous cyclists more than 200 km of singletrack mountain biking trails. The nearby Stawamus Chief offers rock climbing on steep granite cliffs and bluffs. If you are not a fan of heights, you can hike along the rivers, lakes, and forests.
8. Alice Lake
Distance: 75 km from Central Vancouver
Alice Lake is a provincial park with a campground that has four freshwater lakes, making it a beautiful setting for fishing, swimming, and stand-up paddleboarding.
You can experience the best fishing between Spring and Fall, and it’s also easiest to access it during this time on your Vancouver to Whistler drive. The lake has a native population of trout and char and is seasonally stocked with rainbow trout by the Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery.
Are you traveling with children? There is a bike park for kids and a fantastic mountain bike trail leaving from the campground. The Cliffs Corner trail is an easy cycling route that is suitable for beginners. It covers a distance of 1.4 km and helps develop your cornering skills.
9. Brohm Lake Rope Swing
Distance: 78 km from Central Vancouver
Located only an hour from Vancouver, the Brohm Lake is an ideal spot to stop for a swim in the summer during your sea to sky road trip. The lake is located alongside Highway 99 and is surrounded by some of the oldest forests in Squamish. Pack a picnic, swimsuit, and inflatable craft for a relaxing time on and alongside the water.
The lake is ideal for adventurous children and pets. You will still need to exercise caution when swimming as there are no lifeguards on duty. The rock outcroppings, cliffs, and a handful of rope swings provide hours of fun jumping into the water.
10. Brandywine Falls
Distance: 104 km from Central Vancouver
Travel for one hour and twenty minutes from Vancouver to the dramatic Brandywine Falls. This impressive waterfall plummets 230 feet (70 meters), and it falls in a clean drop, unlike the tumbling water found at Shannon Falls. Brandywine provincial park is located south of Whistler and offers an excellent opportunity to stretch your legs during a 15-minute walk to the waterfall.
Travel to the viewing platform along a wooden boardwalk that takes a breathtaking route over the river and through the forest. While the waterfall is the main attraction, the area does offer hiking and mountain biking. Not interested in hiking but still want incredible views? Consider setting off on a spectacular glacier tour by floatplane.
11. Whistler & Blackcomb Mountain
Distance: 104 km from Central Vancouver
Highlight: Ski and Mountain bike routes
Cost: Adults $73 & Kids $65 (summer), Adults $111 & Kids $56 (winter)
Whistler is nestled into the Fitzsimmons Range of the Coast Mountains and is a year-round destination for adrenaline junkies. It’s arguably the best mountain resort globally, offering more than 200 marked ski and snowboard trails and 16 alpine bowls.
The hiking, biking, and skiing trails mean the mountain lifts are used all year to cart visitors to the summit. While people love skiing in the winter, Whistler in the summer is also a popular time to visit.
The Whistler Village is designed to make you feel welcomed and has a host of luxurious lodges and boutique hotels. After your fun yet physically demanding activities, you can explore the tiny town’s cafes, restaurants, and shops to help you unwind.
With so much to see and do, a weekend in Whistler might not be enough. Just arrived? Travel between Whistler and Blackcomb mountain tops on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains without needing ski gear.
Regardless of the time of year you decide to road trip, your Vancouver to Whistler drive on the Sea to Sky Highway is guaranteed to be an adventure!