The Sea-to-Sky Highway (more mundanely known as Highway 99) is the legendary road that winds its way up the Pacific Coast from Vancouver to Pemberton, BC. This 400-kilometer strip of blacktop runs through some of the most amazing wilderness that Canada has to offer, presenting plenty of opportunities to get out and check out sights and attractions along the way. Driving the Sea-to-Sky is a West Coast rite of passage, and we’ve assembled a list of some of the best places to stop. We’re pretty sure that when they came up with the phrase “it’s about the journey, not the destination,” this is what they meant.
Porteau Cove is known for its camping, but it’s also a great place to spend a few hours stretching your legs. There are long, calm walking trails along the water, and the beach is a panorama of wonders. Mountains sit low above the Howe Sound, swimmers take advantage of the sparkling blue water, and there is are entire ecosystem thriving in the tide pools near the shore. It’s also a great scuba diving destination and even has sunken ships for divers to explore.
Britannia Mine Museum
This historic site, once a copper mine with more than 60,000 employees, was active from the early 1900s until it shut down in 1974. Soon thereafter, it became a museum dedicated to preserving a forgotten way of Canadian life, and today it has been restored to allow visitors to see how miners once lived and worked. Guests ride a train car on the old mining tracks into the museum’s interior, and from there, they can pan for gold, check out the crystalline and fluorescent minerals in the mineral gallery, and take an underground tour of the cool, dark tunnels where the actual mining took place. It’s not your typical museum tour—and that’s a compliment. Once you surface, you can grab a cup of coffee at Galileo’s and take in a little sun at beautiful Britannia Beach.
Sea-to-Sky Gondola and Suspension Bridge
The Sea-to-Sky Gondola gives riders a view of the mountains that can usually only be enjoyed by helicopter pilots. This ten-minute ride brings visitors 2,800 feet up to the summit, offering breathtaking views of the Howe Sound, the Stawamus Chief (Squamish’s famous granite monolith), and the surrounding mountains. Once at the summit, there are a restaurant and a tea house, plus hiking trails, rock climbing, and the spectacular Sky Pilot suspension bridge. This hundred-metre suspension bridge hovers in the air thousands of metres above the Sound, giving a rarely seen view. Let’s just say it’s panoramic in all directions.
And if you don’t want to spend money on the gondola, then strap on your hiking boots and DIY—some say that this is the best way to experience the mountain anyway.
Eagle Viewing at Brackendale Eagles National Park
If you drive the Sea-to-Sky during the winter, a stop at Brackendale is mandatory. This small community in the District of Squamish is a congregation spot for thousands of eagles each winter, when they follow the spawning salmon into the area. The Eagle Run viewing facility is a volunteer-run area that allows visitors to see the eagles up close using telescopes and to learn more about them. Brackendale also holds a yearly Eagle Festival with concerts, art shows, tours, and the annual bald eagle count. And if you’re there in the summer, don’t worry—there’s plenty of beauty to behold along the Cheakamus River, not to mention breakfast at Fergie’s diner.
Whistler Train Wreck
A derailed train may not sound like the ideal destination for a hike, but the Whistler Train Wreck is a unique example of what happens when human technology and art collide with raw natural power. The wreck itself occurred in 1956; several boxcars hauling lumber were derailed, and it was deemed impossible to remove them, so they were simply pulled into a forest area away from the tracks. Now, more than half a century later, these abandoned relics sit incongruously next to the milky blue Cheakamus River. They are covered with amazing graffiti—a showcase of urban art grown over with moss and shadowed by towering cedars.
The Pemberton Distillery
The Sea-to-Sky ends in Pemberton, and what better way to cap off a long drive than with a tumbler of an organic craft spirit? The Pemberton Distillery produces award-winning spirits, liquers, and elixirs. In fact, Popular Mechanics named it one of the top five most high-tech distilleries in the world. They offer a tour of their facilities, at which master distiller Tyler Schramm and Product Developer Lorien Schramm impart distilling wisdom, and it’s followed by a tasting at the distillery bar. A fitting end to any epic road trip!