“Keep close to Nature's heart ...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain. Wash your spirit clean.”
These words from naturalist John Muir inspired me to wash my spirit clean in the mountains of British Columbia on a solo trip several weeks ago in which I sought silence, perspective and heights. I found all three, though not necessarily in that order.
The famed Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler was my escape for the May day, which promised both rain and sunshine. The route is widely considered one of the most scenic drives in North America and so, as someone who loves heights and water, I could not resist it.
My trip to beautiful British Columbia consisted of many diverse highlights, from ocean kayaking to salmon fishing to helicopter rides, but I must say the day I spent driving alone along that highway was special.
The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel was my launching pad for the adventure, and if you want to treat yourself for a night, it should be yours, too. The hotel was recently named the No. 1 airport hotel in North America, and offers mesmerizing views of planes landing and taking off in front of the mountains.
From the Fairmont, you can cut through Vancouver––stopping at Stanley Park if you so choose––and then head north on Route 99. The views along the 160-mile round trip drive are stunning, and surprisingly diverse. The massive Western red cedars around Vancouver gradually give way to hardy mountain evergreen trees near Lillooet, which receives roughly a quarter of the rainfall the coastal rainforest receives. The elevation changes dramatically as well.
“As you travel north along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, you’ll gradually climb from sea level to over 2,200 feet of elevation by the time you reach Whistler,” said Marsha Walden, CEO of Destination British Columbia. “As you begin your journey north, you’ll have sweeping views of Howe Sound on one side of your car and the towering Coast Mountains on the other side. Keep an eye out for Arbutus trees which stretch at wild angles towards the water. The highway also winds through lush forests and alongside raging rivers as you continue north.”
Walden offered me some prophetic advice prior to my trip. “You’ll have a hard time keeping your eyes on the road!” she cautioned. “The Sea-to-Sky Highway is one of the world’s best drives.”
As someone who has sought out the world’s most scenic drives––from California's Pacific Coast Highway to Florida's Overseas Highway, from Ireland's Ring of Kerry to Italy’s Amalfi Coast––I wholeheartedly agree with Walden. Trust me: My photos don’t do it justice. The scale of the mountains and the trees and the vastness of it all is impossible to capture, but nonetheless, below are a few photos from my day of cleansing.
They say timing is everything, and that turned out to be true when I drove the Sea-to-Sky Highway. The Sea to Sky Gondola, in Squamish, had just opened on May 16––two days before my trip. I took the 10-minute gondola ride up the mountain, an ascent of over 2,000 feet, and hiked for hours at the top.
I noticed the gentleman getting on the gondola in front of me was using a walker. How fantastic, I thought, that this place makes these mountain views accessible to nearly anyone. There’s a restaurant at the top overlooking Howe Sound for folks who don’t want to walk a step. There’s also easy panoramic viewing platforms, 19 miles of mid-level backcountry trails and intense mountain climbs for hardcore climbers.
The 328-foot long walkway suspsended above a fjord, pictured above, is just one of the spectacular viewpoints at the Sea to Sky Gondola, which is barely an hour north of Vancouver.
The dramatic Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge offers quite the unique experience.
Less than a mile south of the Sea-to-Sky Gondola is Shannon Falls, the third highest waterfall in British Columbia.
Britannia Beach, further south of Shannon Falls, was one of my favorite stops on the route. You can stop at this quaint general store, buy an item or two, then walk across the road and down to the beach. Walden also recommends Galileo Coffee near Britannia Beach if you're looking for a caffeine fix.
On another future trip, I'd also love to stop at Brackendale, which is also on the Sea-to-Sky route.
“In the winter months, American visitors are often drawn to the community of Brackendale, just north of Squamish,” Walden said. “Every year, thousands of bald eagles congregate on the river banks to gorge on spawning salmon. It’s quite a sight to see.”
My only companion for the day was my camera and my tripod, but I never feel alone when I am in nature. Several locals also helped me out by mentioning great spots to stop along the route, such as Porteau Cove, pictured below. I'd love to go back and camp there someday.
As darkness fell, my day in the mountains came to a close. But what a day it was.
For more information on the Sea-to-Sky Highway Drive, visit HelloBC.com. Click here for a direct link to a map with notes on scenic spots to stop along the way.
The website for the Sea to Sky Gondola is www.seatoskygondola.com.
For information on The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, click here or call 1-800-257-7544.