Road to Whistler, BC – Sea to Sky Hwy

A week after we returned from Hawaii my dad arrived from Scotland, coming over to spend time with us, but really to see his great-grandson. He will be back again in December to spend Christmas with us. Yes, 85 and still regularly flying around the world. During his visit, for a few days we wanted to play local tourist, something we have sadly omitted these last few years.

Where better than British Columbia’s world renowned skiing destination of Whistler/Blackcomb. We spent a fabulous 4 days at one of our timeshares in Whistler, but this post will focus on the journey up Hwy 99, which locally is known as the Sea to Sky Hwy.

Originally designated as Highway 99 in the 1940’s, as it connected to the old U.S. Hwy 99 at the border. We travelled the Sea to Sky portion, which starts at Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver and extends to Whistler/Pemberton.

If you have travelled this route since the 2010 Winter Olympics you will note it is a modern, fairly high speed route, that is mostly 4 lanes. However, prior to the Olympics it was a slow, winding, 2-lane road through mountainous terrain, that experienced numerous wash out from falling rocks. Some of the slides included almost the entire side of a mountain. I have vivid recollections of one such slide in October 1990 where the road was closed for 12 days. During the road closure, BC Ferries provided 24/7 emergency ferry service and I was Captain of one of the ships, working 12 – 14 hours every day.

Horseshoe Bay

On a rather dull and completely overcast day, we made our first stop in Horseshoe Bay. This is a drive I know all too well, having worked in Horseshoe Bay for many years.

Horseshoe Bay panorama

Horseshoe Bay panorama with ferry docking

A small, secluded bay in West Vancouver, it is located close to the entrance of Howe Sound. While small and secluded, it is far from quiet, as this is the mainland’s western end of Hwy # 1, often referred to as the Trans-Canada, which runs across Canada from Nova Scotia. The Trans-Canada continues on Vancouver Island, so it is joined by one of the 3 routes operated by BC Ferries out of Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. I spent a number of years at this terminal and attained my first command back in 1985, on a smaller ferry over to Bowen Island.

Horseshoe Bay panorama looking ashore Horseshoe Bay inshore panorama from the public dock

In addition to the ferries, Horseshoe Bay has a large marina and a small boat rental company.

Horseshoe Bay with Oak Bay docking

BC Ferry docking with small rental departing

While Horseshoe Bay is part of West Vancouver, the approximately 1,000 residents consider it a small village. Consisting mostly of homes; however, down by the waterfront they have a nice park, a few touristy type shops, a couple of excellent chippies and a fine seafood restaurant.

Horseshoe Bay with Judi at the public dock

Judi on the public dock watching the ferry dock

Horseshoe Bay with dad photographing arriving ferry

My dad photographing the ferry while docking

Whether you are boarding a ferry, visiting other north shore attractions or heading to Whistler, if you have the time, this is a great place to stop and enjoy the scenery, or satisfy the appetite.

After a pleasant hour, it was back to the truck for the now easy drive up the Sea to Sky Hwy. Departing Horseshoe Bay, you start out on the original road, which provides an opportunity for some photographs of Howe Sound.

Looking across to Bowen Island from atop Horseshoe Bay

Looking across Howe Sound to Bowen Island

Howe Sound Panorama

Howe Sound, the route I took while providing emergency ferry service

On joining the new highway, we had an easy drive up to Lions Bay, which is a small upscale residential area a few miles North of West Vancouver.

Lions Bay

Departing the highway we descended the steep hill and first checked out the marina, which had some nice boats and views of Howe Sound. Next on the agenda was the adjacent park and beach, but they had “No Parking” signs on every street. While looking for parking we received numerous not welcome stares from people out walking, so elected to skip the park and return to the highway.

Subsequent research indicated local residents do not wish to share their beaches and driving a large F-350 dually, we were obviously not locals.

Britannia Beach

Home to the Britannia Mine Museum, which we have driven past many times, but today taking a sedate drive to Whistler we decided to check it out.

Britania Mine Museum Britannia Mine Museum

Britania Mine rock at entrance containing minerals

Rock with numerous minerals at museum entrance

The museum is a non-profit organisation and provides extensive information and artifacts, so I suggest you need to allow 3 – 4 hours to get full value for the $29 admission fee. On entering the facility you pass through the new museum, which provides information on the local area and mining, has lots of interactive exhibits and an excellent film.

Exiting the initial building is akin to experiencing a time warp, transporting you back 100 years to the some of original buildings and mining equipment.

Britania Mine car transporting miners to work

Carriage for transporting miners to work underground

Who doesn’t like panning for gold, especially when they provide small bags to keep anything you find.

Britania Mine gold panning Gold Panning Exhibit

Britania Mine Judi paning for gold

Judi trying to supplement her pension

The bottom of the troughs are covered in sand, which you scoop up in the bowl and get to work finding that illusive nugget. While signs provide instruction on the technique, they also have staff on hand to assist and identify the remnants of your bowl. Judi got a couple pieces of Pyrite (fools gold), which is actually Iron Sulphide, and a few very small shiny stones.

Part of the admission cost includes a train trip into the underground mine. While of no interest to Judi, my dad and I were definitely interested. Unfortunately, we got so engrossed with Judi working hard at the gold panning, we missed our allotted time.

We thoroughly enjoyed the visit before heading back to our tiny truck, at least compared to this behemoth.

Britania mine now that's a truck

Now, that’s what I call a truck!!!


Located at the head of Howe Sound, Squamish is more than the gateway to Whistler, as it is developing tourist attractions, with mountain climbing, railway museum, bald eagle viewing and of-course my favourite, craft beer.

Passing through about 13:00 with hunger pangs starting, we elected to stop for lunch, with the Howe Sound Brew Pub our preference. Howe Sound Brewing was one of the first craft breweries in BC, starting back in 1996. We had a great lunch, but unfortunately they don’t fill growlers.

After lunch we headed to the Railway Museum, but being a long weekend they had special activities for kids, which resulted in a rather large crowds. We elected to skip the crowds and continue onto Whistler.

While Whistler is definitely a world class destination, the Sea to Sky Highway is a classic example that the journey is often as good as the destination, a fact we increasingly appreciate in retirement.


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