Canada is a land of rugged, mountain wilderness, and the parts of it that have been tamed enough to build roads through offer incredible scenery. One of our favourite road trips? The Sea to Sky Highway, connecting Vancouver with Whistler across British Columbia. As you make your way through the landscapes of B.C., with Howe Sound to one side and the endless mountains to the other, you'll pass by beautiful provincial parks, quaint towns, and some pretty awesome attractions that make the most of what Mother Nature has to offer.
The rainforests of the Pacific Northwest are some of the world's most gorgeous natural scenery... especially from 230 feet up, on Vancouver's popular Capilano Suspension Bridge. You think it looks terrifying now? Then imagine how scary the first bridge built here looked when it was constructed... in 1889, out of rope and wooden planks. Scottish Civil Engineer George Grant Mackay, who designed and constructed it, had horses swim the ropes across the river, and then pulled them up the other side of the canyon. It attracted tons of curious visitors almost instantly.
Thankfully, the wood and rope bridge was replaced with a more structurally sound wire cable bridge in 1903, and even that was replaced in 1956 with the 460-foot-long bridge we see today (although the bridge has undergone repairs, like after a 300-year-old, 46-ton Douglas Fir tree fell on the Western portion). The totem poles and native history aspects were added in the 1930's, and other attractions, like the Treetop Adventure Bridges which gives visitors a squirrel's eye view of the park with seven wooden suspension bridges that are 110 feet above the forest floor, and the Cliff Walk, a narrow, U-shaped bridge that suspends the brave and willing off of a granite cliff, have been put in throughout the years, making it a super popular destination.
It's not hard to see why... the beautiful green trees in the park are massively tall, and to see them from above is quite remarkable. Even to just hike through a Pacific Northwest rainforest is worth the trip-- the misty, serene woodland is unlike anything else in the world. The park offers guided tours so you can get the most from your hike through the forest.
One of the first parks you'll encounter if you're travelling south to north is Porteau Cove Provincial Park. There's a long pier that offers amazing views of the fjord and Howe Sound, beaches to stroll along, oceanside camping opportunities (reserve in advance!), even scuba diving. There's not a ton of hiking here, but it's the perfect quick stop-off for stretching your legs, snapping some amazing photos, and using the public restrooms.
Next stop: Shannon Falls Provincial Park, home to B.C.'s third-highest waterfall. There's a pretty easy hike through a green, fairytale-esque forest right up to the waterfall, which is massive and misty and winds its way down a rocky cliff. There are several other vantage points that offer lovely views of the falls from afar as well. If you're looking to cool off and don't mind getting wet, you can actually slip below the water and enjoy the spray!
The area's interesting history can be experienced as you drive the route. Make a point to stop off at the Britannia Mine Museum, which offers plenty to do, from the train tour that takes you through the underground mine tunnels to the historic and totally rad ore processing mill to the 1908 machine shop that houses antique equipment and the interactive displays about minerals and panning for gold. It's a well-curated and thought-out museum that has tons of information presented in a really fun way.
Cool off with a stop at Murrin Provincial Park. It's home to Browning Lake, which is perfect for canoeing and swimming, some relaxing hiking trails, and picnic tables for enjoying a snack. It's also an incredible place for rock climbing. Climbs like the Shaman, Sugarloaf, Bog Wall, Leviticus, Petrifying Wall and the Brunser and all set up for anyone who has equipment and is up for a little fun on the rocks!
A must-visit on the route is the Sea to Sky Gondola. It offers a totally different view of the stunning scenery... one from atop the mountains. The aerial tram ride to the top of the mountain is an absolutely breathtaking experience, and once you reach the top, you gain access to loads of fun things to see and do. Hikes across suspension bridges and viewing platforms, rock climbing, mountaintop yoga, and guided tours in the summer, skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing in the winter, and the fearsome via ferrata (or "iron way", which is a type of climbing experience involving iron rungs and cables for safety) make this a thrill-packed stop well worth your time.
Take a breather around the halfway point and check in to the Meadowbrook Bed and Breakfast. The warm and welcoming bedroom suite is the perfect place to curl up and get a good night's sleep... after a soak in the garden hot tub, of course. Heated bathroom floors, fireplaces galore, a gorgeous natural setting, and a delicious breakfast add to the experience.
For a real wilderness experience, go for a hike deep into Garibaldi Provincial Park. The longer trails can take you out to the utterly jaw-dropping Garibaldi Lake. Views of glacier-studded mountains, wildflower fields, alpine forests, and turquoise streams make this an absolutely enchanting destination. Some of the hikes are a little tougher but they're worth the time and effort. You can also camp here, but it can get pretty crowded during the summer, especially on weekends!
The highway ends in the resort town of Whistler. There are loads of great lodges and hotels where you can treat yourself at the end of the road, but the Nita Lake Lodge is a great choice. They've got luxurious rooms, high-end dining, and a day-spa right on site, and they offer all kinds of excursions and activities, from skiing to biking. Whether you want to just enjoy a drink by the lake or you want to explore Whistler, they can help you have the perfect stay.
Of course, this is just a tiny sliver of the beauty you can find throughout Canada. There are over a thousand parks and protected areas in British Columbia alone... 14% of all of the land in the massive province is protected. That's how gorgeous B.C. is. It's no surprise, then, that British Columbia's motto is "splendor sine occasu". Translation: Beauty without diminishment.