Witness the powerful effects of nature on this scenic route through diverse mountain landscapes, starting and ending in Vancouver.
From Vancouver, head north along the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway. The road winds around rock faces, cliffs, and trees and offers incredible vistas of Howe Sound. Stop at the roadside Britannia Mine Museum on the way to Squamish.
Continue along the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Squamish, which bills itself as the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.” Look for bald eagles by the river, watch kitesurfers at the Squamish Spit, tackle the mountain bike trails, or try river rafting, when the weather serves. Take a break in town by sampling fare from one of the local proprietors—including a stop at one of Squamish’s many breweries or cideries. Also consider visiting the open-air West Coast Railway Heritage Park museum (open from March to October), the home of western Canada’s largest assemblage of historical railway rolling stock, including artifacts, paraphernalia, and collectibles dating to 1890 (the park hosts seasonal events, too, such as the spring and winter arts and crafts fairs). On your way out of Squamish, consider a stop on the northbound pullout (it comes up fast so look for the parking lot just opposite the main turnoff) to take in views of the narrow and jagged range of glistening white glaciers that tower over the Squamish River, crowned by 2,603-metre (8,540-foot) Mt. Tantalus.
Make sure to allocate ample time in Whistler. Along with outdoor adventures such as biking, hiking, bear watching, or riding the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, there are more urban pursuits in the Village, such as shopping and dining. Take to a walk (or snowshoe, if there’s still snow) down one of of the branches of the Valley Trail network, or grab a mountain bike and head to the Whistler Mountain Bike Park (the season opens in May).
Make sure to visit the cultural exhibits at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre for insight into the ancient Indigenous cultures of this area and peruse the permanent collection and visiting exhibitions of the Audain Art Museum, which offer a visual journey through the history of art from coastal British Columbia, including one of the world’s finest collections of Northwest Coast First Nations masks.
Continue driving north of Whistler to quiet (and pretty) Pemberton. Or, drive on to Lillooet, which is known for being the start of the road for the Cariboo Gold Rush. As a result, there are some interesting historic sites to discover.
From Lillooet, there is the option to drive south to Lytton, or northeast through picturesque grasslands and canyons (the northeast option is shown on the map). If you’re taking the northeast route, visit Historic Hat Creek Ranch to sample pioneer life at this 1860s roadhouse featuring more than 20 restored heritage buildings and displays, before you continue on to Lytton.
South of Lillooet, Lytton is known for being “Canada’s Hot Spot” and is also a huge river rafting destination. The Fraser Canyon landscape includes rivers that rush past steep walls and gorges, and farmlands flanking the mountains. To gain an appreciation for the power of the Fraser River, stop at Hell’s Gate to ride the Hell’s Gate Airtram, one of the only descending tramways in the world, which takes you over the river’s narrowest point, just 35 metres (115 feet) wide. En route to Hope, visit historic Yale, part of the original Cariboo Wagon Road, which offers an intriguing look at the gold rush boom of the 1800s that brought miners to the gold fields of the Cariboo and Barkerville.
Hope is a major junction for road trip travellers, some of whom drive through and miss the unique attractions in the area. View the chainsaw carvings that are scattered throughout town, and walk through the nearby Othello Tunnels at Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, which were blasted out of solid cliffs.
Natural mineral water at Harrison Hot Springs makes this a logical place for a stopover and a relaxing plunge into steamy pools. The artificial lagoon at Harrison Lake is also a prime spot for kicking back outdoors, if the weather serves.
From Harrison Hot Springs, choose either the northern or southern bank of the Fraser River to return to Vancouver. The northern route (shown on the map) follows scenic Highway 7 past Mission, Maple Ridge, and Pitt Meadows, while the more direct southern route follows Highway 1 past Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Fort Langley, and New Westminster.
Featured image: High Note Trail, Whistler Mountain | Blake Jorgenson
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