Things I knew about the Whistler ski village included that it is famous, was the host mountain resort of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, and sits at the feet of two immense mountains: Whistler and Blackcomb.
However when I started researching family destinations in Canada I discovered the Whistler ranked highly. In fact the Whistler was number 2 with the Top 10 family vacations in Canada in the Travellers choice 2011, best family vacations on TripAdvisor.
Not only did I find flights to Vancouver reasonably priced as Vancouver airport is the second largest in Canada but I also found Whistler cabins for rent, so booking accommodation was quick and simple, before I knew it our next family adventure was booked.
Whistler was purpose built and conceived from the outset as a pedestrian village with most of the main tourist area being entirely car-free. Skiing, bike lifts, shops, hotels and accommodation, places to eat, entertainment and activities can all be found within walking distance.
Despite this and against the other choices of taking a bus or riding in a private or shared van or limo, we decided to rent a car for our drive to the Whistler. This is a decision we will never regret.
The road trip from Vancouver to the Whistler, also known as the sea to the sky is only a 2.5 hours drive, little did I know the adventures that awaited just to get to the Whistler. The drive is much more than spectacular scenery — it is also a cultural journey.
I have put together my five favourite stops for the family on our journey to the Whistler.
If you stop at only one of the First Nations kiosks along the highway, make it the Tantalus viewpoint. Overlooking beautiful snow-capped mountains as well as the valley and river below it is an awe-inspiring sight.
Drive until you reach the sign for Porteau Cove Provincial Park, not Porteau road which is 2K’s south of the park.
Porteau Cove’s is not only a great stop for amenities, which are few a far between but is also home to an old ferry terminal that’s been converted into a pedestrian pier. The pier has viewing platforms that are high above the ocean giving breathtaking views of Howe Sound, the most southerly fjord in North America.
Established also in 1981 as the first underwater park in B.C, Porteau Cove is complete with a man made reef, a cliff dive, three sunken ship and other wrecks.
In its seventy-year life, the Britannia Mine had a fascinating history and is now a Canadian national historic site.
You may want to allow 2 to 3 hours for your visit, although I can see why many people could stay longer. It is ideal for a family with lots of things to do for everyone including a museum tour, mill visit, underground tour, gold panning, historical exhibits, visitor centre and a family play area.
Visible from the highway, stop your car to feel the spray of Shannon Falls, British Columbia’s third-tallest waterfall. Stroll along an easy trail that follows Shannon Creek to a spectacular viewing platform.
The newest attraction at Shannon Falls is the Sea to Sky Gondola, which carries visitors high above the valley floor for stunning views. Visitors can also walk from Shannon Falls to the Sea to Sky Gondola parking area; it takes about 10 minutes on a flat trail paralleling the highway.
After a beautiful 10 minute gondola ride you have ascended 885m above sea level, capturing sweeping views of Howe Sound, coastal forest and the surrounding mountains, including Shannon Falls.
The top station of the gondola, is the iconic “Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge” at 100 metres long and 65 metres high connecting the spirit trail/spirit viewing platform to the summit lodge viewing deck.
Garibaldi Lake is a stunning, turquoise-coloured glacier fed lake that sits 1450m high, surround by snow-capped mountains.
Rated one of the most beautiful hikes in British Columbia and Canada, allow up to 5 hours which would include having lunch and a swim at the lake.
Above I have only highlighted my favourite but there is plenty more stops that can be made and sites to be seen on this 2.5 hour drive including Stawamus Chief, Squamish and Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, I promise you will not be disappointed taking this road trip.
Please though take into consideration that from October 1 – April 30th you need winter tires or tire chains.
Winter tires that meet the standards required on the Sea-to-Sky highway are identified by a snowflake on a mountain symbol or the M&S symbol on the tire sidewall. M&S means the tire is rated by the manufacturer for use in Mud and Snow.
Vehicles without designated winter tires must carry chains and will be required to put them on at the checkpoint.
Have a fabulous time!