There are quite a few amazing road trips close to Vancouver, but some of the most obvious ones (like Vancouver to Banff) can be a bit too long if you only have a few days to spare. When Marc’s brother Tom and girlfriend Andreia visited us, we were keen to show them some amazing mountain views, but we only had 5 days available. So, I got out a map and planned an adventure showing some of the best mountain landscapes in Manning Park, along the spectacular Fraser Canyon then down along the famous Sea to Sky Highway.
If you have a few days to spare near Vancouver, this is a really fun, varied route. I hope you like the look of it as much as we loved driving it!
Vancouver Road Trip Itinerary:
We have driven along Highway 99, the Sea to Sky Highway, quite a lot. It is a seriously beautiful road with mountains on one side and Howe Sound (and islands) on the other. We have also made the trip to Manning Park a few times. That road is less picturesque as you leave Vancouver, but gets better and better as you get towards Hope and Manning Provincial Park. Once you link those two picturesque routes with the drive along the extraordinary Fraser Canyon, this road trip becomes perfect. It is varied, interesting loop with epic mountain views for the entire trip.
Day 1: Drive to Othello Tunnels and Bridal Veil Falls in Hope, then on to Manning Provincial Park (240 km)
Day 2: Explore Manning Provincial Park
Day 3: Drive to Lillooet via the Fraser Canyon and Hells Gate (255 km)
Day 4: Explore Lillooet, then drive along the Sea to Sky to Whistler and Squamish. (190 km)
Day 5: Climb the Chief, then drive back to Vancouver (75 km)
Sea to Sky loop – Vancouver Road Trip Map:
Hopefully this map will give you some idea about our route. I have included all of the stop-offs we made along the way (although there were a few others for food or gas.) There is sooo much to see that I could easily double the time, number of walks and viewpoints.
Vancouver Road Trip Essentials:
- Winter Tires – If you want to drive on Highway 99 (the Sea to Sky Highway) between October 1 to March 31, you must have winter tires.
- Bring Snacks – We bought a cooler and filled it up with bread, cheese, fruits, carrots, nuts and spreads. Plus a little milk for tea once we arrived. We’re so English.
- Map – Because you never know when you might lose phone signal – I love the Backroad Map book for Vancouver and coastal mountains
- Sunglasses – There are always moments when you’ll be driving towards the sun!
- Camera – Because the views are ridiculously beautiful.
Right before you reach Hope, you may want to take a teeny detour to visit Bridal Veil Falls. We stopped off at Tim Hortons close to the waterfall so we could eat timbits (mini doughnuts) by the falls. When in Canada… eh!?
Anyway, it is only 5-10 minutes walk up to this gorgeous waterfall, so it’s fab place to stop and stretch your legs.
Next we planned on doing a short hike through the Othello Tunnels in Hope. This is an easy walk through old railway tunnels along a spectacular gushing canyon, with vertical cliffs. You can’t visit these tunnels in winter, but if you do this road trip in spring or summer, it is a fun mini adventure.
Road trips don’t always play out how you expect them to! On this occasion, poor Andreia needed an emergency trip to the Dentist, so we did that instead of visiting Othello Tunnels. We then came back and did this hike on our drive up to the Fraser Canyon/Lillooet. It just shows it never hurts to have flexible plans.
Next, keep driving to Manning Park. Along the way, you may want to stop at the Hope slide. There is a viewpoint right by the highway that will show you the aftermath of a massive landslide. Other than that, get your camera ready as the drive into Manning Park just gets prettier and prettier.
The following day we woke up and went hiking in the rain. If you do this road trip in summer, you will have a huge range of options. As it was springtime, we avoided any avalanche terrain and hiked along Lightning Lakes Chain Trail. However, Windy Joe Mountain trail would also a great option in springtime if the visibility is better. We got to meet a pika (the cute little mouse-like fella in the photo below.)
If you have extra time on either of these days, I also love the super-short Dry Ridge Trail. You drive up the mountain, then just walk a teeny bit along the top of a ridge looking down at the spectacular mountains around you. We even saw three bears on our drive up!
Next you can drive through the Fraser Canyon. The Fraser river is BCs longest river leading from the Rocky Mountains for 1375km all the way to the sea. By the time the river is this far downstream, it has a pretty impressive flow; This huge volume of water (more than flows over Niagara Falls) has carved out the dramatic Fraser Canyon over millennia.
One of the most impressive stop-offs along this route is Hells Gate. This is the narrowest point of the Fraser River. You can take an airtram down into the canyon to see the crazy, churning water up close. Poor salmon have to swim up this!
Keep driving North along the Fraser Canyon to Lytton. Lytton is a popular area for river rafting and has a large population of First Nations people living in the area. The canyon also heats up the area like an oven, making this area consistently the hottest in the province.
Even after you leave the Canyon, the views are gorgeous. The mountains start to look very different to the Coastal Mountains we are used to.
This is the most Northerly spot on my Vancouver road trip. The mountains create a rain shadow, so Lillooet is also much warmer than Whistler or the mountains further South. The Cayoosh Gold Rush took over this whole area in int 1880s, so it all looks a bit like the Wild West to me. Some of the architecture looks like old-style saloons, and it is surrounded by brown, dusty mountains.
We especially loved the sunset from the Seton Lake Viewpoint, as well as Naxwik-park. We got to see a group of Marmots close to the river, as well as some eagles.
After you have spent some time exploring Lillooet (I would like much longer here next time!), you can head South on the Sea to Sky Highway. The mountains are stunning, and become green and more lush as you head towards the coast. We stopped off quite a few times to see the views. One of the best viewpoints was by Duffey Lake looking over to Joffre Peak.
Can you see that there was a massive rock-slide that cleaved off the top part of the mountain a few weeks earlier?
Between Duffey lake and Pemberton is the beeeeautiful Joffre Lakes. Joffre Lakes is an incredibly popular area with a trail that leads to three bright blue/green glacial lakes (as well as a waterfall.) If you are driving past (and there is space in the car park) you should definitely stop to take a look at the first lake. It is only a few minutes walk. If you’d like to see the upper lakes, you will need to go on a hike that will take around 4 hours.
Pemberton is quite a small village, but if you can time your journey for a meal time, you should stop at The Pony for lunch or dinner. They have burgers that are so good, they made our Austrian friend cry.
Waterfalls near Whistler
There are several gorgeous waterfalls in this area. As you drive towards Whistler and Squamish, you may want to stop and see some. I love Nairn Falls between Pemberton and Whistler as well as Alexander Falls near Whistler, Brandywine Falls South of Whistler and Shannon Falls in Squamish. You can see my map of waterfalls here.
Whistler is well known as a destination for skiing, but did you know it is also a fantastic area to visit in the summertime? There are countless hikes as well as various activities like zip-lining and mountain biking. If you prefer to relax, you can take chairlifts up the mountains, spend time window shopping or even relax in the spa.
Marc was keen to do a mini hike with his brother, so we took him for an intermediate hike on the Crater Rim Trail. That trail is not very busy, but has fantastic mountain views and takes you to a cool lake inside a volcanic crater.
I have plenty of other fab ideas for a quick hike in Whistler. The Cheakamus Lake Trail, is a very easy walk, through pretty forest to a bright blue glacial lake. Lava Lake Loop is a fun, easy option if you fancy seeing the stunning Brandywine falls (or if you want to go bungee jumping.) Or, if you are visiting in the summer the amaaazing High Note Trail is one of the best possible options. The gondola and ski chairlifts take you to the top of Whistler mountain, then you can hike along a ridge at the top.
Accommodation in Whistler can be eye-wateringly expensive, so we kept driving for an extra 45 minutes to Squamish, to stay there. We then made a plan to wake up super early the following morning to climb the Stawamus Chief, a huge chunk of rock (the size of a mountain) that towers over Squamish. This walk can be pretty exhausting (especially the first 20 minutes when you hike up giant steps). But the views at the top are breathtaking, so we love it.
If you like the idea of an early morning walk, but you don’t have enough puff to manage to Chief, you could try Mount Crumpit. It is a much easier walk, that still had stunning views.
We may have peaked on our final morning, so we were all a bit exhausted after hiking up the Chief. So we headed back to Vancouver to relax and eat plenty of tasty food. If you go on this road trip, there are a few other (gorgeous) stops you could consider on your way back to Vancouver: You could take the Sea to Sky Gondola up for even higher views (or hike up the Sea to Summit trail). Visit Shannon Falls (the huge waterfall next to the Chief). Or, just take a walk along the Mamquam River, where you might see eagles!
Once you have left Squamish, you will drive along the Sea to Sky Highway back to Vancouver. If you have good weather, this is the prettiest section of the whole road trip. The Mountains along the Howe Sound Crest Trail will tower above you on one side, with Howe Sound, islands and the Sunshine Coast on the other side.
Once you’re back in Vancouver, I have a whole bunch of ideas for really fun things to do! There is fantastic food, soooo many possible walks, museums, not to mention the easy access to beaches, the North Shore Mountains and the gorgeous rainforest.
What do you think of this Sea to Sky loop as a possible Vancouver Road Trip? It gives you a taste of what Southwestern British Columbia has to offer.
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