The Sea to Sky Highway is a 75 mile (121 kilometers) drive from Vancouver BC to Whistler, BC. The scenery is spectacular with views of Howe Sound and the Coastal Mountains of the western Cascade. And there’s plenty to see and do along the way.
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What to See on the Sea to Sky Highway
Tip: Get a seat on the left hand side of the bus as you go north for the best views of the Sound. However, if you sit on the right hand side, you’ll have better views of waterfalls cascading down the mountains.
The Britannia Mining Museum on the Sea to Sky Highway
The Britannia Mining Museum is a rather interesting stop at just about the half way point between Vancouver and Whistler. It’s interesting for a couple of reasons. It was once the largest copper mine in the British Commonwealth. A tour here teaches you about our dependence on copper in many of the essentials of life, like the phone or tablet in your hand right now, or the desktop computer you’re reading this on. Copper conducts electricity better than anything other than silver, so the next time you flip a switch, think of copper.
I find mining museums interesting because of the community life they form. At the climax of its productivity in the early 1920s, more than 2,000 people lived in two small villages surrounding the mine. In total, more than 60,000 people lived here in the 70 years the mine was in operation.
There were no roads or railroads until 1958, so your only passage in and out of the mining communities were cargo ships that arrived every week or two and the ore ships that took the copper south to Vancouver.
Mining is messy business and for much of the 70 years the Britannia mine was in operation, they washed the sludge and silt from the mining process right down the hillside and into Howe Sound. By the early 1970s, Britannia Beach was considered the most polluted beach in North America. It was about that time, the mine shut down. There was virtually no marine life in the Sound in this area.
Once everything from krill to sea otters to Orca whales visited this area. Fishing was good, as was birding. However, the mine dumped enough copper run-off at Britannia Beach per day to make 100,000 pennies and the marine life disappeared.
But the federal and provincial government got involved and the mining company began a clean-up effort that worked beautifully. Today, signs in villages and attractions around the area announce the seasonal arrival of Orca whales. A huge celebration of Mother Nature’s gifts ensues.
Visiting Squamish on the Sea to Sky Highway
I can’t imagine spending so much time underground when above ground is so beautiful in this part of the world. Squamish is a wonderful little community devoted to exploring and celebrating the outdoors. The shuttle bus I took stops at the Adventure Center where you can make arrangements for everything from rock climbing to mountain biking to hang gliding and more.
It was here I rented a car and explored on my own. I drove out to Shannon Falls to hike around. I also visited Porteau Cove, just a nice place to get out of the car and wiggle your toes in the water.
While in Squamish, I walked the Squamish Art Trail. While some galleries are involved, most of the art is on display in various businesses, and some on the streets. And then had a lovely dinner at the Howe Sound Brewing Company. I was also told that nearby The Watershed Restaurant is a great place to sit outside and eat, watching the salmon run in season.
Whistler – the End of the Sea to Sky Highway
The village of Whistler, elevation 2,198 feet (675 meters) is an energetic and inviting ski village, much like many ski villages around the world. (They all have that vibe to them, don’t they?) The peak of the ski mountain is 7,156 feet (2,184 meters) so when you’ve reached the top, you’ve traversed the entire Seat to Sky Highway. If you are in Whistler in summer or if you’re not a skier, like me, you can still ride a gondola to the top.
But one thing that distinguishes the village of Whistler from so many other ski villages – the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Center. As you’ve been traveling the Sea to Sky Highway, the road signs are in English and another language that you may not recognize. That’s Coastal Salish, a language spoken by the First Nations people of this area. They are Squamish and Lil’wat.
And the Cultural Center is a perfect place to learn more about their lives.
I drove the Sea to Sky Highway in early September. The leaves had not yet begun to turn, so I believe it would be beautiful at that time. I think it would be beautiful with snow on the mountains. And oh, how much fun it would be to see the Orcas arrive in Howe Sound in June and the salmon to run.
Lots of reasons to drive the Sea to Sky Highway many, many times.