Chasing Waterfalls Along the Sea-to-Sky

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There is something special about the power of a waterfall—the deafening roar, the chaos of crashing water, the spectacle of rock shaped over eons.

The Sea-to-Sky region of British Columbia is home to many. The mountain peaks and Pacific Ocean coastline get most of the attention, but these waterfalls should not be overlooked.

Waterfalls are at their most dramatic in spring, as the snow melts, filling the creeks and rivers to bursting and cascading down the mountainside. During summer months, less water means the spectacular rock features around the falls show themselves.

Here are five waterfalls to visit in the Sea-To-Sky region.

Shannon Falls

A small waterfall flows down a rock face.

Shannon Falls near Squamish (photo taken in Winter)

The Squamish First Nation tell of a two-headed serpent, Say-noth-ka, who formed the spillway for the waterfall by slithering up and down the mountainside. These falls cascade for 335 m (1099 ft), making it the third highest waterfall in British Columbia.

Best viewpoint: From the main parking lot, the central viewpoint offers a stunning view of the entire cascade. During the spring snow melt, you can feel the spray from the falls.

How to get there: Head north on Highway 99 towards Squamish. Roughly 58 km (36 mi) from Vancouver you’ll see signs for Shannon Falls Provincial Park. Turn right into the park.

From the parking lot follow a 350 m (1148 ft) long gravel path towards the waterfall. There are several viewing platforms within walking distance.

Nairn Falls

A hiker walks along the rocky shore of a large waterfall.

The upper cascade of Nairn Falls

Nairn Falls Provincial Park was formed in 1966 to protect not only this natural wonder but also the cultural history of the Lil’wat Nation.

The appropriately named “Green River” that flows over the falls carries sediment that has carved potholes and natural rock bridges.

Best Viewpoint: At the end of the main trail is a large fenced area for viewing the falls safely. The falls have a few cascades and this location puts you above one and below others. It also offers an excellent view of the pothole and bridge features formed by the falls.

How to get there: Head north on Highway 99 towards Pemberton. Zero your odometer as you pass the turnoff for Whistler Village. Roughly 28 km (17 mi) north you will see parking and a sign on your right for Nairn Falls Provincial Park.

From the parking lot follow a well-marked trail for 1.5 km (0.9 mi) down to the Nairn Falls viewpoint.

Brandywine Falls

A stunning waterfall flows down over a rocky riverbed.

Brandywine Falls near Whistler

The story goes that two surveyors bet a bottle of brandy wine about who could more accurately guess the height of the falls.

Brandywine Falls is unique in this area as it is completely free falling, without cascading steps. It was formed when a lava flow of hard basalt formed on top of the unconsolidated ground. When Brandywine Creek flowed over it, the basalt didn’t erode as fast as the layers of earth below it, creating the hard basalt lip of the waterfall and the worn bowl below.

Best viewpoint: The first viewing platform offers a spectacular overview. You’ll want to stay awhile.

How to get there: Drive north on Highway 99 towards Whistler. Forty-seven km (29 mi) north of Squamish is the signpost for Brandywine Provincial Park. Turn left into the parking area, which is visible from the highway.

From the parking lot, follow a well-signposted path towards the waterfall viewing platform. Hiking time is 10 to 20 minutes.

Alexander Falls

A waterfall nestled within a dense forest.

Alexander Falls from the viewing platform

The falls have three drops that total around 43m (141 ft). The picnic benches beside the parking lot are a great place for a picnic. Because nearby Brandywine Falls attracts the crowds, you might have the entire area around Alexander Falls to yourself.

Best viewpoint: A large platform at the parking area overlooks Alexander Falls and Madeley Creek, which feeds it.

How to get there: Head north on Highway 99. Before reaching Whistler, turn left at the sign for Whistler Olympic Park at the Callaghan Valley access road. Follow the road for around 8 km (5 mi), until you see a sign on your left for the Alexander Falls Recreation Site. Turn left and park in the large gravel parking lot.

Crooked Falls

A waterfall rushes down a rocky mountain.

Below the waterfall spray at Crooked Falls

On a hot summer day, when the temperatures are rising, you can sunbathe while being cooled by the mist from the falls.

A mountaineers trail is one of the only ways to access Tantalus Provincial Park on foot. To access the park otherwise requires either flying in via helicopter or float plane or crossing the Squamish River by kayak or canoe. The trail is relentlessly steep, so you need to be in good shape. Hiking poles recommended.

Best viewpoint: At Upper Crooked Falls you emerge directly below the waterfall and out of the trees. Care should be taken on the rocks made slippery by spray and mist.

How to get there: Head north on Highway 99. Turn left on the Squamish Valley Road and drive 27 km (17 mi). The road surface changes to gravel and becomes the Squamish River Forest Service Road.

At around 24 km (15 mi) turn left over a large bridge near the Ashlu Valley recreation sign. Follow this road for 2.5 km (1.5 mi), past the Ashlu hydroelectric project and a couple of bridges. After a sharp right curve, you’ll find space to park your car.

Continue on foot along a rough and steep 4×4 section of road on the left. This road turns into the Sigurd Creek Trail, which leads you to the Crooked Falls viewpoints.

This trail forks and continues on to nearby peaks such as Sigurd Peak and Ossa Mountain. Follow signs leading to the waterfall viewpoints.

This list of waterfalls is by no means exhaustive. The Sea-To-Sky region has countless waterfalls, large and small, hidden in the forest or visible high in the alpine. Do you know of any great ones I missed? Let me know in the comments below!