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.
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:
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.
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
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.)
Pin the image below!