From the Fall 2010 issue
I’ve read it’s often healthier to focus on the journey rather than the destination. The Sea to Sky highway between Vancouver and Whistler is a prime example of a journey worth the experience itself, yet most travellers complete this picturesque leg of a Whistler ski holiday with little more than a glance at Howe Sound and the Stawamus Chief. If you have some flexibility in your travel plans, consider veering off the straightened and widened, billion-dollar beaten track, and make a few stops on our next trip to town.
1. Marine Drive, West Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay
After crossing the Lions Gate Bridge out of downtown, rather than following Taylor Way to the Upper Levels Highway, stay on Marine Drive through posh West Vancouver and Horseshoe Bay. This will add 30 minutes to our journey, but will also allow you to follow the coastline toward Point Atkinson as you find your way past yacht clubs, Lighthouse Park and beautiful arbutus-lined neighbourhoods that most of us will never call home. Once through Horseshoe Bay, continue on the old Sea to Sky Highway (now Horseshoe Bay Road) until rejoining Hwy 99 south of Lions Bay.
2. Britannia Beach
Roughly 30 minutes north of Lions Bay sits the former mining community of Britannia Beach. Once the largest copper producer in the British Commonwealth, the area now holds the dual designations of National Historic Site and British Columbia Historic Landmark. Pull into his small community on the banks of Howe Sound, grab a burger at Mountain Women, cruise the small selection of jade and other craft shops, and stand beside the 235-ton Super Mine Truck parked beside the highway. The area’s also home to the B.C. Museum of Mining and has regularly appeared in movies and TV shows, if you’d like to take in a museum tour or search for misplaced Scooby Snacks.
Just two km shy of Squamish, and immediately before passing the Chief (the second largest granite monolith in he world), pull into the Shannon Falls parking lot to our right and make the short five-minute walk to the base of the third-highest waterfall in B.C. The 335-metre falls are named after the late- 19th-ccentury landowner who used the clay deposits to make bricks, but more recently the area was owned by Carling O’Keefe Brewery, which sourced the mountain water or its beer. Now aintained by B.C. Parks, there are hiking trails located in the surrounding provincial park.
Avoid the ugly line of fast-food joints by making a left at Cleveland Avenue and rolling into downtown Squamish, or as fans of the TV drama The Guard know it, Port Hallet. Continue to the end of the Squamish Spit at the mouth of the Squamish River to see if you can catch a glimpse of the kitesurfers playing in the dependable winds that blow from the north. Next, turn around and catch an inspiring view of both the Stawamus Chief that you passed earlier and the Coast Mountains towering above Howe Sound. On your way back toward the highway, spin through the artistic ghetto that has formed along Second Avenue and stop at Artista Espresso Shop for an organic coffee and panini while soaking up the eclectic local mix of climbers, artists and Whistler expats.
Rather than rejoin the highway, follow Buckley Avenue north to Government Road and on toward Brackendale, where a stop at the municipal dike (north of Mamquam Road and opposite the Easter Seals camp) provides an opportunity to check out some of the 4,000 or so bald eagles that winter in the area each year. December and January typically boast the largest concentration of the impressive bird of prey, but anytime between November and February is a good bet to see them. Before hopping back on Hwy 99, the Eagle’s Nest is another worthwhile stop for food and caffeine. It’s also a great spot to catch a glimpse of some unassuming athletes at the forefront of various adventure sports; you may not recognize them sitting at the table next to you, but chances are you’ll find them lining the pages of various outdoor publications.
If the sky is clear, pull off the highway 12 km north of Squamish into the upper Tantalus Lookout to soak up the spectacular view of Mount Tantalus and the rest of the Tantalus range. You needn’t look very hard in Whistler to find residents who will tell you that it was this very view that convinced them to move to town permanently. Even if your personal experience isn’t quite as life altering, the view will no doubt inspire you to get out on the hill to enjoy a little bit of what the Coast Mountains have to offer. So from here, drive directly through the Cheakamus Canyon and on to Whistler to get a good night’s sleep— and first tracks in the morning.