Bike or Drive BC’s Gorgeous Sea to Sky Highway
The Sea to Sky Highway, aka Highway 99, is an incredibly scenic, cliff hugging road that takes you from West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay to Whistler, home of the 2010 winter Olympics. After three plus years of highway improvements including the addition of lanes and wider shoulders, bikers can now cycle this road with some degree of safety all the way through to Whistler. Before the improvements it was unthinkable – in fact it was a death defying feat. You still need to exercise caution and don’t try cycling it on a busy holiday weekend.
View to Anvil Island from Porteau Cove
There are a number of small communities to explore as you head north to Whistler from Horseshoe Bay. Lions Bay is the first community you encounter, only 12 kms away. Look for a cafe serving excellent smoothies and check out the gallery featuring local artists. Next discover Porteau Cove, 13 kms north. It’s a small provincial park, popular with weekend campers. Excellent views across to Anvil Island and nice beaches beckon you to stop and picnic.
View of the Sea to Sky Highway looking south from the top of the Chief in Squamish
Exercise extreme caution as you leave Porteau Cove on your bike. The next kilometer boasts a narrow shoulder and it’s not where you want to be if a bus goes by. The Furry Creek Golf Course soon appears on your right. It has an enviable location but I have never seen a human being around.
Brittannia Beach is the next stop, 8.5 kms away. Part of that distance is up a monster hill – and down it. Just before the town look for the Galileo Coffee Shop. It’s here I saw offered for the first time ever a Canadiano – an Americano coffee with maple syrup. Brittania Beach is a small community of 300. It owes its origins to a copper discovery. By the early 1900’s the Britannia Mine had opened and in 1929 it was the largest producer of copper in the British Commonwealth. Underground tours are available seven days a week and you can even pan for gold.
Nine kilometers after Brittania Beach, Shannon Falls appears. It’s the third highest waterfall in British Columbia and an especially impressive sight after a storm. The big hunk of granite known as Stawamus Chief is next. It’s an internationally famous slab of rock to climb. Hikers also get a great workout hiking one of the trails to the top of the Chief’s three summits. The first peak is the shortest route.
It’s only a short 3-4 kilometers to reach Squamish from The Chief but unfortunately this section of road is a challenge for cyclists. The wide shoulder disappears and doesn’t reappear until you get through the town. Exercise extreme caution is you elect to continue through here. Squamish bills itself as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.
It’s another 59 kms to reach Whistler from Squamish. Along the way there are many opportunities to hike and even swim in the summer. Alice Lake is a very popular destination as is Brandywine Falls, 34 kms north of Squamish. Stunning views of the Tantalus Range greet you as you get closer to Whistler. There are a number of pullouts along the highway so you can fully appreciate the view.
It’s a total of 85 kms from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler. I don’t know what the elevation gain is but I do know it’s up there – somewhere around 5500 feet. Go prepared – with food, water and some warmer clothes. If you’re driving count on 75 minutes from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler without stops.
As an aside, the first ever Gran Fondo cycling event will be held in September beginning in Stanley Park and ending in Whistler – a distance of 120 kms with approximately 7000 feet of elevation gain. One highway lane will be closed for the event.
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