Lessons Learned On Our Sea to Sky Highway Road Trip
By now you must know how much Wes and I love a good road trip so it's probably no surprise to hear that the first thing we did when we moved to Vancouver was hit the road. Instead of getting to know our new surroundings and exploring the city we now call home, we packed up the car and set off to explore one of Canada's most scenic drives: the Sea to Sky Highway.
This route is very appropriately named and actually refers to the portion of Highway 99 that joins Vancouver to Pemberton. The total distance of the world-famous Sea to Sky highway is about 160 kms and offers visitors coastal views of Howe Sound before continuing along to the towering peaks of the Garibaldi Ranges. Even though you can reach Pemberton in under 3 hours without stopping, it's worth setting aside anywhere from 1 to 3 days to truly enjoy a Sea to Sky highway road trip. After 4 nights of camping, we covered a lot of ground on our road trip but left plenty to see for next time.
We may have come a long way since starting Feather and the Wind back in 2015 but the learning continues whether we're travelling full-time, working here in Vancouver or on a camping adventure. With each experience comes a lesson and we couldn't help but notice a few crucial reminders during our Sea to Sky highway road trip. Today we're sharing those with you along with our favourite spots on Highway 99. We've linked a handy map with some suggested stops on this scenic road trip at the bottom of this post where you can also find the video we filmed during our 5 memorable days.
Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
Get Up, Show Up and Avoid Disappointment
Throughout our travels, we've learned that we much prefer the feeling of having a place to ourselves instead of being stuck in the crowds. Usually this means either waking up at the crack of dawn or venturing way off the beaten path and, as much as I prefer the latter, our Sea to Sky road trip started with a 5:00 am alarm. This meant we arrived to Lynn Canyon just before 7:00 am and had a peaceful morning walk in the park with few people around. We could have slept in and arrived with the tour buses but we wouldn't have enjoyed our time there nearly as much. Plenty of the world's iconic sites are famous for good reason but there's still a way to avoid disappointment and experience them without the crowds - so long as you plan accordingly (and resist the urge to hit that snooze button).
Lynn Canyon Park isn't technically along Highway 99 but it is as good a place as any to start your road trip. The park offers plenty of trails, a waterfall and refreshing pool to cool off in but is perhaps most popular for it's picturesque suspension bridge. While not as high or long as the one you'll find in Capilano, the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge is absolutely free to visit.
Lynn Canyon Park | North Vancouver | More Info
Saint Mark's Summit
Put in the Work for the Greatest Rewards
Even though I agree that the best things in life are free, I'd have to say that the best views in BC come at a cost. And I don't mean the price of a gondola ticket. If you're looking to really experience some of Canada's most spectacular viewpoints, pick a hike and you won't be disappointed. The harder the hike, the better the views. When we heard about this trail, we weren't expecting it to be as challenging as it was in 30 degree weather. Over an hour in, with thoughts that we had finally neared the summit, we found ourselves facing a cheeky sign that read NOT EVEN CLOSE. And whoever wrote it was right because we were only about halfway. But once we made it to Saint Mark's Summit, it felt so rewarding to have put in the work for such an epic view of the surroundings.
Saint Mark's Summit is one of the many trails you'll find at Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver. The hike itself can be anywhere from 3 to 5 hours return depending on the conditions and your experience. We visited in July and it was such a hot day but there was still snow near the summit. The trail ascends over 400 metres so wear proper shoes, pack plenty of water and fuel for your hike. Parking is free but fills up on the weekends. If you're not down for a hike but want a nice view of Vancouver, stop by the Cypress Mountain Lookout on a clear day before continuing your Sea to Sky highway road trip.
Howe Sound Crest Trail in Cypress Park | West Vancouver | More Info
Nothing is Guaranteed in Life
Days before we set off on our Sea to Sky highway road trip, the bodies of three hikers were recovered from Shannon Falls. While we didn't know them personally, Ryker, Alexey and Megan were well-known travel influencers who filmed inspiring videos and motivated others to live their best lives. We hear it all the time: do what you love, follow your dreams, live each day like it's your last. And yet few of us live to the fullest the way this trio did. Their story is especially tragic but they continue to inspire so many people with the legacy they leave behind.
You'll pass Shannon Falls as you're nearing Squamish and it's an easy walk to view them up close. These are the 3rd biggest falls in BC and their thundering roar can be heard from the parking lot. We were camping across the street at Klahanie Campground and walked over just as it started raining so we didn't get to do any hiking. You won't need more than an hour to stretch your legs and see the falls but, if you've got more time, the Sea to Sky Gondola just up the highway is where you'll get a panoramic view like no other.
Shannon Falls Provincial Park | 2 kms South of Squamish | More Info
Embrace the Spontaneous Moments
One thing we've learned from our travels is that not all things will go as planned. We had a plan leaving Squamish and then two things happened. First we learned that the eagles we were so excited to see in Brackendale are only spotted during winter months. And then? The darkest of clouds rolled in signaling a pretty heavy rainfall despite the sunny forecast. We were a bit bummed but pulled over at Alice Lake to wait out the rain and come up with a plan B. Next thing you know, the sky clears, the sun comes out and we had the whole lake to ourselves.
Alice Lake Provincial Park is a family-friendly park just north of Squamish. With over 100 campsites, this is a perfect spot to spend the night if you're camping on your Sea to Sky road trip. There's a floating dock on the lake, trails for hiking and biking, grounds that are well-serviced and all within minutes of Squamish. There are actually four lakes in the park and, with so much to see and do, it's no wonder this is one of the most popular campgrounds you'll find along the Sea to Sky highway.
Alice Lake Provincial Park | Squamish | More Info
One Mile Lake
It Doesn't Have to be Famous to be Beautiful
These days, so much of our travel inspiration stems from videos and articles with clickable headlines like "Top 30 Cities to Visit Before You're 30" and "10 Amazing Sites to Add to Your Bucketlist." It's incredibly easy to get wrapped up in visiting the world's most famous sites and we forget about all of the beauty that lies along the road less travelled. The Sea to Sky has dozens of popular sites along the highway but even more hidden gems that many drive right by. Like One Mile Lake.
One Mile Lake Park is minutes away from the village of Pemberton and was an unplanned stop on our Sea to Sky road trip (mainly because we'd never heard of it). The small lake is surrounded by mountains so you can enjoy a screensaver-worthy view right from the dock or picnic tables. Even though it's not one of the most popular sights along Highway 99, we enjoyed the calm and peacefulness so much that we even went back for a second visit. There's a fairly new wooden boardwalk that surrounds the lake for a leisurely walk or you can dive right in with a SUP rental from The Paddle Barn. Visiting during the winter? The lake freezes over and is open for ice skating!
One Mile Lake Park | 7262 BC-99, Pemberton
Have Motives Beyond Social Media
A few years ago, Wes and I celebrated Canada Day by hiking at Joffre Lakes with friends. It was our first time visiting the park and we had such a memorable day. Fast forward three years and this hike has become insta-famous drawing in crowds from all over the world. A lot of the fame can be attributed to one particular photo that visitors capture from a log found at Joffre's middle lake. With such a stunning background and unbelievably turquoise water, it's no wonder we're guilty of taking that photo as well. The thing is, this hike has become so incredibly popular through social media sites like Instagram that thousands of people are visiting purely for the photo and nothing else.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park was the furthest stop on our Sea to Sky highway road trip and is arguably the most beautiful. This is one of our favourite hikes in the region but it's no walk in the park. There are 3 beautiful lakes at Joffre, a lower, middle and upper lake. The lower lake can be easily visited in less than 10 minutes from the parking lot. To visit the others, you'll have to put in the work and, the longer you hike, the greater the reward. The trail is steep and is marked at an intermediate level for good reason. Wear proper shoes, bring enough water and pack that bug spray. To best experience the park and have an enjoyable hike, I would suggest arriving either really early in the morning OR going later in the day to increase your chances of finding a parking spot and avoid disappointment. We arrived at 7am and walked in the shade all the way to the middle lake spotting only one other couple on the trail making their way down from camping.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park | East of Mt Currie | More Info
More Stops Along the Sea to Sky Highway:
We could have easily spent weeks stopping at every viewpoint, park and hike along the Sea to Sky highway. Here are a few standouts we plan to visit next time:
- Tunnel Point
- Porteau Cove Provincial Park
- Sea to Sky Gondola
- Stawamus Chief
- Tantalus Lookout
- Garibaldi Provincial Park
- Brandywine Falls
- Train Wreck
- Green Lake
- Nairn Falls
For those who are planning their own Sea to Sky road trip, we've made a Google map with all the stops mentioned in this post so that you can make the most of your time driving Highway 99. Click to view the map on your device here.
While school and the 'real world' prepare us for so many things, I think there are some lessons we learn best through travel and the first of many road trips here in BC served as a reminder of what travel has taught us. Like how to appreciate the little things, live in the moment and take nothing for granted. If Canada's west coast has made it onto your bucket list, we hope this post inspired you to plan your very own Sea to Sky highway road trip! This is the type of drive even locals get excited about when visitor's come to town and we're looking forward to driving up again before winter creeps up on us.
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