The Sea-to-Sky Highway is one of North America’s scenic byways, and burrowing into the heart of British Columbia’s northern Rocky Mountains, it traverses rugged shores and alpine terrain that isn’t quite like anything in the continental United States. With backpacking, backcountry and resort skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, hot springs, hikes, and more, all with staggering mountain views and wildlife in abundance, a week traveling the Sea-to-Sky Highway should be a top priority for anyone interested in visiting the Canadian Rockies.
Clocking in at just 360 miles from start to finish, the loop circumnavigating Stein Valley Heritage Park and Garibaldi and Golden Ears provincial parks is one of the shortest we’ve featured, and most of its mileage comes on the return trip from Lilloet to Vancouver. Do not think there is a dearth of outdoor opportunities; by the number and by the mode, there’s an overwhelming supply.
By the numbers: 360 miles; 7 hours 40 minutes of drive time.
Start your tour in Vancouver’s North Shore, world-renowned for its mountain biking. Suspension bridges abound on the North Shore, so be sure to check out the Capilano Suspension Bridge or the bridge at Lynn Canyon. Well known, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is the popular big brother to the more diminutive (and cost-free) Lynn Canyon. Don’t hesitate to climb to Vancouver views on the Grouse Grind, look for wildlife in the Lower Capilano Valley, and take some time on the shores of the Pacific at Lighthouse Park or Stanley Park.
Just be sure to do it with a bike on the tail rack. Mount Fromme, Cypress Mountain, and Mount Seymour offer some of the best singletrack on the continent, and there’s much to choose from.
The city has its wears, and when the time comes, head north just 30 (thirty!) miles to Squamish for the first of your mountain hideaways. Squamish is known for two things, at a minimum: Diamond Head and area mountain biking, and the Stawamus Chief, a 1,000-foot granite dome with routes for any climber. Sport, trad, aid, and bouldering problems are found here, earning the Chief its nickname, Yosemite North. Whether you’re a hiker or a climber, find your way to the type by whatever mode.
When you’ve had enough granite, bring out the old carbon fiber stallion for more fun on Squamish’s mountain biking trail network. Valleycliffe and Diamond Head are solid options, including Legacy, Recycle, and Pseudo Tsuga and Half Nelson + Full Nelson Loop.
This is the last time you’ll see the sea before heading into the mountains, so take the opportunity to go up—needed practice for the ascents ahead. Near Shannon Falls, the Sea to Summit Hike offers views over the Salish Sea, which become more dramatic on the way back down via the Sea-to-Sky Gondola.
“Bring me men to match my mountains: Bring me men to match my plains: Men with empires in their purpose and new eras in their brains,” wrote poet Sam Walter Foss. Thus begins the slow and stunning journey into the interior of the Rockies of British Columbia, as transfixing as it is transformative.
Whistler is more of a general area than a destination in itself, and the options are more spread out than in Squamish. Callaghan Country offers snowshoeing and backcountry and cross-country skiing near the Journeyman Lodge, also a great place to kick up your feet for a night. Whistler is well known for its skiing, of course, with one of the world’s finest resorts at Whistler-Blackcomb, but it’s also a great summer destination for mountain biking on Westside Mountain, North Whistler Mountain, and South Whistler Mountain, Duncan’s Trail being an all-time classic.
There will be many fine mountain hikes in the provincial parks of BC, but two of the best are found here. The Brew Lake Hike to Brew Hut has staggering mountain views, and it’s a fantastic overnight option to kick off the visit to the Canadian Rockies. The Black Tusk is a classic Canadian conquest of one of the province’s most recognizable peaks.
That’s an easy week on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, and while the corridor “ends” near Whistler, there’s more to see beyond the resort town. End your trip with a backcountry night at Joffre Lakes, where cerulean waters are fed by the picturesque glaciers capping Joffre Peak. In the morning, hike down and end your trip on the eastern slope, following the course of Highway 12 through Lilloet to Vancouver.