Road trip from Vancouver to Whistler – Our 2 day Itinerary

I love to balance city travel with the tranquility of rural landscapes, so a side trip from Vancouver to Whistler seemed like a great fit for our itinerary…

Whistler in October?

On the face of it, visiting such a classic winter destination in October is less than ideal.

What would we do, if not ski, snowboard or other snow-orientated activities?

Fortunately, the scenery both en route and around Whistler itself was plentiful and stunning. All the better as we experienced each place without crowds of people.

This was enough for us on such a short off-season visit. But it also meant spending more time on the road and very little time in Whistler itself.

If you’re after a short escape from the hustle and bustle of Vancouver, though, I can definitely recommend a Whistler side-trip no matter the time of year.

Day 1: Drive to Whistler

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Cost: $46.95 per adult

At its best, the Capilano Suspension Bridge offers immersion in nature. We took two great guided walks and found the lofty tree walkways quite enjoyable. Best of all, we were lucky enough to spot an eagle high in the branches of a tree.

But the trouble is…

None of this comes close to justifying the eye-watering admission cost.

Nor does it make up for the jostling crowds, or the fact that the bridge and the views are ultimately underwhelming.

Unless you have a large excess of both cash and time, I’d recommend skipping this and saving your money for the far better Sea to Sky Gondola at Squamish (see below).

Capilano to Whistler

The drive north from Vancouver to Whistler is one of the most beautiful I’ve taken in a long time.

Howe Sound is, in a word, swoonworthy.

I found it so enchanting that I had my neck was almost permanently craned trying to get a better view across the carriageway and barriers. (Fortunately I was in the passenger seat!)

Note: One drawback is that the key viewpoints are only accessible from the southbound side of the road (my recommendations for those below!).

With a bit of planning you could use some of the U-Turn points to double back and take in some viewpoints. We didn’t do this as we preferred to stop on the return leg.

I felt a twinge of sadness leaving the beauty of Howe Sound behind, but it wasn’t long before a grey-blue mountainscape emerged to recapture my attention.

The views continued on and off throughout the rest of the drive, and we arrived in Whistler already eager to start the return leg of the trip!

Day 2: Whistler, sightseeing on the drive to Vancouver

Rainbow Park and Alta Lake

For our first stop of Day 2, we dived right back into nature over at Rainbow Park.

There were a few other people around, relaxing and reading on a blanket, snacking at a picnic table or playing fetch with a dog.

The combination of mountains, trees and lake made such a gorgeous backdrop! It felt like stepping into a painting.

If we hadn’t been on a tight schedule, I could’ve taken a spot on the grass right beside them and stayed for hours. Short on time, we instead ventured out onto the nearby jetty to admire and photograph the view across the sparkling lake before making our way back down south.

Brandywine Falls

Our next destination was Brandywine Falls.

After a brisk walk through the woods and across a train track we arrived to find the waterfall cloaked in shadow. Even in the shade the falls were an impressive sight, but I actually preferred the view down the valley (above).

I was also intrigued to learn about the effect that such fast-flowing water has on the geography of the area. The information board likened the falls to a grindstone, eroding away the rock and slowly cutting backwards towards the car park. Water and time are certainly a formidable combination!

Scenic Views on the Sea to Sky Highway (BC-99)

As I mentioned previously, the BC-99 has so many wonderful views. We made sure to stop whenever the opportunity presented itself, which turned out to be quite a few times! My two favourites were:

Tantalus Lookout

A remarkable panorama from top to bottom – the peaks of the Tantalus mountain range to Paradise Valley below.

Fun fact: The mountain range is named after Tantalus, a king from Greek Mythology whose name is the origin of the word tantalise. After killing his son (and other crimes), he was punished by being placed next to fruit and water that receded when he reached for them.

Tunnel Point

The view here is just staggering, with the silvery expanse of Howe Sound and its many dolloped islands all laid out in front of you.

If you have a lot of time, the nearby Tunnel Bluffs hike elevates this view further – both literally and figuratively. The hike is around 8.5km and takes 4-5 hours.

Sea to Sky Gondola, Squamish

UPDATE AUGUST 2019: I’m very sorry to report that the Sea to Sky Gondola is now closed until Spring 2020 following a vandalism incident earlier this month. They’re posting updates about the incident on their website here.

Cost: $43.95 per adult (slightly cheaper online)

In short, the Sea to Sky Gondola was everything I’d hoped the Capilano Suspension Bridge would be.

The main attraction is undoubtedly the views, taking in Howe Sound and the Coast Mountains (above). You get glimpses as you ascend in the Gondola, but it’s not until you reach the Summit Lodge Viewing Deck that the full splendour really hits you.

There’s also a suspension bridge leading to another viewing platform.

I’m getting to the point in this post where all those overused adjectives – beautiful, breathtaking, majestic – start to sound repetitive and redundant. I suppose I’d better let the photos (above) do the talking!

We found the Sea to Sky Gondola much quieter than Capilano. This was most striking on the bridge, where we didn’t have to wait long to have it all to ourselves for photos. Perhaps it was because we visited during off-season and in the late afternoon, but I suspect it was partly due to the fact that so many people congregated in the café. I can’t blame them! Chilling out in such gorgeous surroundings, ice cream in hand, was an opportunity we certainly couldn’t resist.

I was also tempted by the multiple walks available at the top. Especially the Panorama Trail, where you can catch a better view of The Chief, a 700m granite monolith nearby. Having gone up so late in the day, though, time got the best of us and we had to give these a miss.

Arrival into Vancouver

After navigating rush hour traffic back through the city (bad timing on our part!), we returned our hire car at Vancouver airport and caught the Canada Line train downtown.

We’d had such a wonderful time in Portland that I couldn’t wait to explore a new city. Stay tuned for a dedicated post on Vancouver very shortly!


Over to you

What are your thoughts on Whistler? Are there any other areas of British Columbia you’d recommend?

I’d love to go back during the winter and see it all again under a blanket of snow. (Plus I’ve never actually skiied before! That’s one for the bucket list.)

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7 thoughts on “Road trip from Vancouver to Whistler – Our 2 day Itinerary

  1. Denise W.

    Hi Lorna,
    Sadly, during the early morning of August 10, 2019 the Sea to Sky Gondola was vandalized, the cable was cut and all 30 gondola cars crashed to the ground. It is now closed while the company waits for replacement cable and cars to be installed and they hope to re-open in the spring of 2020.
    I live in Vancouver, BC and there are so many ‘neighbourhoods’ in our city that are so different from each other. It is worth it to spend some time here to visit some of these neighbourhoods. I love this city for that reason! As for other BC places to visit, I am originally from Kelowna, BC which is 390 km north east from Vancouver. Kelowna is in the Okanagan Valley and, along with Penticton and Vernon, is home to numerous orchards (apples, cherries, peaches, pears….). The Okanagan Valley is now known as wine country with so many wineries it would take one weeks to visit them all! Aside from orchards & wineries the Okanagan Valley is also known as a four-season playground. In the summer there’s the Okanagan Lake for water activities and in the winter there are several ski hills. Check it out online and come back for a visit!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Hi Denise,

      Oh my gosh, I’m so saddened to hear the Sea to Sky Gondola was vandalised. We loved our trip when we visited last year. I’ll definitely update my post to reflect its closure.

      Thank you so much for sharing those wonderful ideas for BC – I’ll definitely look up the Okanagan Valley. I’d also love to hear your Vancouver recommendations for the different neighbourhoods! We were only in town for 4 days so I’m sure I missed lots, but I have a post about our visit sitting in my drafts that I must get online sometime. I think my highlights were cycling the sea wall around Stanley Park and taking a night-time tour of Gastown. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Frank

    Beautiful post Lorna.

    We’re planning to do a cross-Canada trip sometime in the spring and want to get to Vancouver and Whistler. We’re Canadian full-time travellers and I have to admit a bit of a shock when I see the price of the Capilano bridge (which I did 20 years ago. You’re right – not that impressive). After 5 years being away I’m afraid of having a few shocks price-wise…

    Some beautiful geography and having lived in BC as a child look forward to getting back.

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Thanks Frank 🙂

      I haven’t seen nearly as much of Canada as I’d like. Such a beautiful country. We have a brief stop in Toronto coming up as part of a wider trip, but there are so many stunning rural areas that are still languishing on my bucket list. I very much look forward to seeing your cross-Canada itinerary!

      Reply
  3. Denise W.

    Hi Lorna,
    Finally getting back to you on Vancouver (and metro Vancouver) neighborhood suggestions. I live in North Vancouver (the ‘North Shore’ is North Vancouver & West Vancouver). Here you’ll find the Lonsdale Quay (great view of downtown Vancouver from here) and the whole lower Lonsdale area that has some fabulous restaurants; Deep Cove which is tiny but gorgeous and lots of kayaking is done here; Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver (a different view of Stanley Park from across the water) and West Vancouver is enroute to Squamish and Whistler. In Vancouver there’s Gastown, Chinatown, Yaletown, Granville Island (my favorite place!), upper Granville has some great shops, the West End (by Stanley Park) has great beaches, restaurants and of course the annual Celebration of Light. This is a fireworks competition held over 3 nights (Sat/Weds/Sat) between 3 different countries. It draws approximately 150,000+ people! Super crowded but worth seeing at least once. I also love Steveston which is part of Richmond (a city in the metro Vancouver area). Steveston is a cute little fishing village where you can buy fresh fish right from the boat or just have fish & chips at one of the restaurants there. So much to see and do here! Oh, and then there’s also the Sunshine Coast. Love it there too, so quiet and pretty. Take the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, drive up the coast and check out the artisans along the way. I feel like the travel promoter for the Vancouver area!!! Come visit and enjoy our city!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Hi again Denise,
      I can’t thank you enough for all your brilliant ideas for the Vancouver area. They should definitely hire you as a travel promoter. 😀 Sounds like I missed out on a lot when we were there last year – we only saw Gastown, Granville Island and Stanley Park from your list. Fingers crossed we can visit again sometime. My parents are actually due to spend a couple of nights in Vancouver next month so I’m going to pass these ideas their way for sure!
      All the best,
      Lorna

      Reply
      1. Denise W.

        Hi Lorna,

        You’re very welcome for the information. I love this city therefore it’s easy for me to promote! Right now, and probably through November, we’re into our rainy season so it’s not quite so lovely! If you saw only Gastown, Granville Island and Stanley Park you saw some of the best of our city! One more bit of information for your “Vancouver files” – The Architectural Institute of BC does walking tours of various areas in the city during the summer months. The cost is $10 + tax per person (cheap!). I did two this summer, the Strathcona area (absolutely excellent) and Chinatown (also good). Here is the link for you to check out – https://aibc.ca/news-events/signature-events-programs/architectural-walking-tours. I forgot to mention the Commercial Drive area in my previous comments – originally an Italian enclave back in the day, it still retains some of it’s Italian roots but is now also funky, fun and has some great restaurants. I do hope you are able to visit Vancouver again one day! So much to see and do!

        Reply

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