Sure, you’ve likely driven the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler many times, but what if you ventured off the road well travelled to see the sights, amp up the adrenaline, or savour local fare?
Here are 12 adventures to be found if you ease up on the gas along this famed ribbon of road.
Note: This story (originally published in June, 2020) was updated specifically for the unique travel circumstances of 2021. Information is accurate at the time of publication; we recommend you contact businesses directly to confirm availability and familiarize yourself with their COVID policies.
The temptation might be to beeline through Stanley Park, but if you slow down, you could view this iconic Vancouver location in a new light. Take an Indigenous-led Talking Trees walking tour with Talaysay Tours, and hear why this area—known as the village of X̱wáýx̱way—has been a meeting place for Squamish, Lil’wat, and Musqueam nations for thousands of years. Also on the tour, you’ll learn how plants found in the park are used for food, medicine, and art.
Vancouver’s renowned culinary scene is shaped by the surrounding land and sea. But did you know many local chefs find inspiration in foods foraged from our forests and beaches? Learn what’s safe to eat (and, more importantly, what’s not) on a Wild Edibles Foraging or Sea Foraging tour with Swallow Tail. Go on a forest walk to identify delicacies from roots to shoots and leaves, or head to the seashore to discover what can be harvested from the ocean without a boat.
A few minutes north, the to Sea to Sky Gondola reopens June 11 and boasts unforgettable views of Howe Sound from on high. Enjoy the scenery as you ride to the summit and traverse the suspension bridge at the top. If you can tear yourself away from the view, there are walking and hiking trails to explore, complete with interpretive signage. After all that strolling, grab a cold drink and a hot meal from the Sky Pilot Restaurant. Be sure to purchase tickets online before heading up.
A must-visit when you’re heading up Highway 99 is the Britannia Mine Museum, a stand-out landmark south of Squamish. Walk the spacious grounds of this National Historic Site to explore interactive displays and go deep below the surface on an underground tour of the copper mine (bring a warm sweater). Booking in advance is highly recommended; tour group sizes are small to allow for physical distancing. Insider tip: Before you leave, drop by the Chatterbox Café for some java.
Take in the natural wonders that lay just beyond the Sea-to-Sky Highway on a scenic flight with Sea to Sky Air. Choose from 10 different tours, ranging in length from 25 minutes to eight hours. While you may be inclined to sit back and enjoy the view (which is totally cool), extroverts are welcome to chat with the pilots, who are happy to share a few stories. Sea to Sky is running on a modified schedule to allow for full sanitization of the aircrafts between flights, and as an added safety measure since reopening, all tours are now private, meaning you’ll be on board with just your pod, at no extra cost.
Choose from a family-friendly, bouncy ride (cue the giggles!) or take things up a notch with a whitewater adventure along the Elaho River, northwest of Squamish. Canadian Outback Rafting is offering BC locals a “book your own boat” option for those in the same bubble group. Special pricing is available.
How does a kayak or paddleboard tour of the Squamish Estuaries and harbour sound? Or an eco e-bike experience? Sometimes it’s best having a local guide lead the way. Whether you’re more comfortable on the water or on terra firma (a.k.a. dry land), Sea to Sky Adventure Company can show you the best places to paddle and bike in Squamish.
With tour names like “Intro to Stoke” and “The Coffee Run,” you know you’re in for a good time with Norm Hann Expeditions. Take to the turquoise waters of Howe Sound on a guided stand-up paddleboard tour. Newbies are welcome. Insider tip: Once you’ve worked up an appetite from your Squamish adventures, tuck into brunch with the locals at the recently reopened Fergie’s Café in Brackendale.
The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (re-opening June 26) is a tree-fringed, 2,800-square-metre (30,000-square-foot) architectural wonder in Whistler’s Upper Village. Step through the massive cedar entrance doors to the light-filled Great Hall to see extraordinary carvings and weavings set against a dramatic mountainous backdrop. Join a Cultural Ambassador on a guided forest walk—offered three times daily—to learn more about how the landscape features prominently in the past and present way of life for the Squamish and Lil’wat peoples. Don’t leave without a visit to the Thunderbird Café (the bannock is a must).
Soar high above 12,000-year-old glaciers and bright-blue alpine lakes for a bird’s-eye-view of Whistler Valley with Blackcomb Helicopters. Choose from a range of experiences including a quick, 12-minute flightseeing trip or a guided hiking adventure in a beautiful off-trail alpine setting. The crew has implemented a host of new safety measures, including barriers between the cockpit and passenger compartments and mandatory masks for everyone onboard.
Whether you want to wind your way up a mountain on an ATV, learn how to ride a full-suspension electric mountain bike, or paddle along Whistler’s River of Golden Dreams, Canadian Wilderness Adventures can make it happen. If off-road buggies are more up your alley, they’ve got that covered, too. Insider tip: After a fun day of playing in Whistler, pizza and beer may be the ideal way to refuel. Pizzeria Antico serves up an impressive range of craft beers and Neapolitan-style pizzas cooked in a massive, wood-fired oven, and their happy hour deals are the stuff of local legend.
Pemberton boasts more horses per capita than anywhere else in British Columbia. With its forest, meadow, and mountain setting, it’s not hard to understand why this area is a horse-lover’s paradise. Join Copper Cayuse Outfitters on a guided ride; you can choose one hour, two hours, a half-day, or more. They’re also offering flexible booking options, including cancellations, up to 24 hours before your ride. Insider tip: Just down the road, you’ll find The Beer Farmers. Cap off your day with a cold beverage on their newly upgraded patio. In need of more sustenance? Call ahead for take-out at Barn Nork (which means “countryside” in the Thai language). While authentic Thai food may seem unlikely in Pemberton, this restaurant—housed in a roadside barn—has a serious local fan base.