The turquoise t-shirt of my eight-year-old son disappears into the woods as he races around the bend of the dirt trail, his giggles quickly silenced by the tall trees that surround us. I take a deep inhale as I stroll slowly through the forest, enjoying a moment of solitude before I turn the corner and my three children reappear on the horizon once more.
Suddenly, the air fills with a loud whooshing sound and the temperatures cool, letting me know that the river is coming up just around the bend. One more turn and we’re at the head of a sturdy suspension bridge strung across the rushing river that dazzles below. As we teeter across, clinging to the wire cables while swaying above the rapids, my children chime excitedly in unison, “Look! There they are!” and rush to the other side.
When I finally catch up with them, I stop in my tracks, completely awed by the visual juxtaposition of metal and nature that appears before me. In the middle of the quiet forest, sits seven crumbled, graffiti-covered box cars – some wedged between tall trees, some completely mangled into an almost unidentifiable mass of metal, and one dangling dangerously over the canyon, just above the river’s surface. We’ve reached the iconic Whistler Train Wreck, just a short hike in from the Sea-To-Sky Highway – only one of the many exciting stops on our road trip to Whistler, with many more hidden gems to discover along the way.
While the drive from Vancouver to Whistler is less than a two-hour journey, there’s so much to see and do along the way, that you’ll want to make a weekend out of the jaunt. From chasing waterfalls to teetering above the trees, to panning for gold, the Sea-To-Sky Highway offers a wide range of must-see spots for road tripping nature lovers. Here’s how to turn this drive-through highway journey into your final destination.
Day 1: Start Your Journey on Vancouver’s North Shore
Begin with a visit to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, a 27-acre park that has quickly evolved from a stop on the road, to an all-day destination that draws visitors from around the world — and not just for the awe-inspiring 230-foot-high suspension bridge that gives the site its name.
In the park, you’ll also find Treetops Adventure, the first attraction built of its kind in North America, which is comprised of a series of treehouse-like structures wrapped around the tops of the trees, and strung together by seven suspension bridges that sway above the forest floor at up to 110 feet high.
Brave the Cliffwalk and soar to new heart-racing heights as you tiptoe along a narrow walkway that juts out from the face of a granite cliff, perched high above the Capilano Canyon. If the dizzying distance from your feet to the ground doesn’t make your heart skip a beat, then the glass-floored platforms are sure to do the trick.
Then catch your breath as you visit the on-site birds of prey, including Lanner Falcons, Red-Tailed Hawks, and Grey Horned Owls – raptors that are usually far out of sight as they soar above the trees.
Next, head to the quaint seaside village of Deep Cove, a favourite North Shore stop for celebrities such as Kate Winslet and Ryan Gosling. Nestled between the salty waters of the Indian Arm, and the tree-lined peaks of Mount Seymour, Deep Cove offers the perfect sea-to-sky playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Attempt the hike to the peak of Quarry Rock, or give paddleboarding or kayaking a try. Sprinkled with delicious dining options, quirky shops, and breathtaking harbour views, this is the perfect spot to relax and unwind before you continue on your journey.
Where To Stay In North Vancouver
Head to the Holiday Inn & Suites North Vancouver and enjoy a nightcap at the Coach House Lounge, or take a cool dip in the refreshing indoor pool before you retire to your quiet room. For families, opt for a spacious suite (and if available, request a room with a balcony for added space). This family-friendly hotel offers free parking, free WiFi, and kids eat free at the on-site Pantry Restaurant during your stay. Hit the fitness centre for a quick workout, or duck away for a relaxing massage at Blu Harbour Wellness & Spa, located in the hotel. Enjoy a good night’s sleep, because heavy eyes and wandering through mining caves don’t mix…Check availability »
Day 2: North Vancouver to Squamish
Start your day early so you can pack in all of the must-see spots that line the highway towards Squamish. Begin with a visit to the Britannia Mine Museum, once one of the biggest copper mines in the world, that has evolved into an award-winning national historic site and museum, offering lots to see and do for visitors.
Crawl through the mining caves of yesteryear in a rickety mine train, and learn about how the miners of 1914 drilled and mucked through the caves by candlelight. Discover the evolution of the trade through the modernized drilling techniques that rejuvenated the industry, and see how the rocks and dirt were removed from this captivating haulage tunnel.
Stroll through Mill 3, once a 20-storey ore processing plant, and now a historic landmark that features a cathedral-like industrial interior, 375 steeply-inclined steps, and the rails of an old skip cable car. Then head to the gold panning pools and sift your way through the sand to discover dainty gems and flecks of gold that you can take home as a special keepsake from your visit.
Less than 10 minutes up the highway from the mine, you’ll want to pull off the road and venture through the trails of Shannon Falls Provincial Park. Home to the third highest falls in the province, the park offers stunning cliffside views of the waterfall from platforms that are perched above the falls, and a ravishing river rock bed that you can explore at its base. Only minutes from the highway-side parking lot, Shannon Falls is easily accessible and worthy of a stop before you continue on your way.
Neighbouring the Shannon Falls Provincial Park, you’ll find the Sea-To-Sky Gondola, a must-see, year-round attraction that is jam-packed with outdoor adventure for guests of all ages. Scale the summit of the mountain on a thrilling 10-minute gondola ride while taking in sweeping views of Howe Sound, and then stroll along the spectacular Sky Pilot suspension bridge as you dangle above the mountain cliffs to the hiking trails and viewing platforms that sit perched on the other side.
For families, the Alpine Alley Kids’ Trail is the perfect adventure, where you can embark on a self-guided scavenger hunt through the forest in search of alpine animals, survival supplies, and the summit of Bodhi’s Boulder, which concludes with a fun surprise! Expect mini-bouldering walls, rope-guided rock climbs, a mini half-tube slide, and wooden walkways as you journey through this alpine adventure with your curious kids.
Swing on the rainbow-coloured hammocks that are tucked in the trees, and then sip on a coffee or hot chocolate as you watch your kids navigate their way through the expansive mountaintop playground. You’ll want to spend a few hours exploring this sky-high destination before you head to your hotel.
Where To Stay in Squamish
Your kids will love the three-storey tube slide at the Sandman Hotel & Suites Squamish almost as much as they’ll love the outdoor adventures that you’ve enjoyed along the Sea-To-Sky Highway. Tucked in a quiet area just off the highway, this family-friendly hotel offers roomy suites complete with kitchenettes, so you can brew a cup of coffee and bring your own snacks to enjoy while you relax in your room. Your stay includes a complimentary breakfast, so you can fuel up before you begin your next action-packed day.Check availability »
Day 3: Squamish To Whistler
Begin the last full day of your journey with the breathtaking views of Brandywine Falls, a short 20-minute stroll from the highway. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a rainbow radiating over the spectacular 70-metre-high waterfall that plunges into the river below. Continue on to the second viewpoint and take in views of Daisy Lake and the surrounding mountains before you head back to your car.
Whistler’s iconic Train Wreck Hike is the most unique hiking spot in Whistler, featuring a swinging suspension bridge that leads to a series of rainbow-coloured train boxcars that can be found scattered throughout an opening in the middle of the forest. The result of a train derailment that happened in 1956, the boxcars have become an ever-changing public graffiti art display, a climbing playground for adventurous travellers, and a track for risk-taking mountain bikers. The trek to the train wreck takes less than half an hour (one way), and is more than worth the walk.
When you arrive in Whistler, you’ll want to journey to the highest peak of the mountain on the Guinness World Record-breaking PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, recognized as the longest and highest lift, which takes you from the tip of Whistler Mountain to the top of Blackcomb while enjoying views of snow-capped mountains, turquoise lakes, and sky-high trees. Look for bears below as you soar through the sky and opt for the glass-bottom gondola for 360 degree views as you sail across the summits.
Once at the top, explore the 50 kilometres of hiking trails, brave the brand-new suspension bridge that dangles above the peak of Whistler Mountain, or toss snowballs — even in the middle of summer. Be sure to grab a bite to eat at the Rendezvous Lodge that sits perched on the cliff of Blackcomb Mountain before heading back down the hill to your final hotel.
Where To Stay In Whistler
Wrap up your weekend road trip with a relaxing stay at the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside, nestled at the base of Whistler Mountain. Take a dip in the heated outdoor pool or soak in one of two circular hot tubs while watching mountain bikers (in the warmer months) or skiers and snowboarders (during the cooler months) navigate their way down the final slope of the world-famous mountain.Check availability »
Enjoy your last supper at Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub, where you can feast on a wide range of carefully-prepared dishes — from pub classics like wings and nachos, to healthy salads, to international cuisine — while enjoying a little piece of the Emerald Isle, located right in your hotel.
The luxurious suites feature full-sized kitchens, fireplaces, flat-screen TVs, and private balconies, and you’ll want to book a mountain view suite so you can enjoy up-close views of the slopes while you sip on a glass of wine and reminisce on the adventures that you’ve enjoyed along the way.
Feature photo by author