Previously, I only knew the Sea to Sky Highway as the “road to Whistler”, a series of curves illuminated by my headlights in the night. But on a summer trip with my childhood friend, we discover that the highway from Vancouver to Pemberton is full of scenic views and character, bringing scuba divers to Porteau Cove, climbers to the cliffs around Squamish, and hikers like us to trails all along its length.
Over three days we walk over 60 kilometers, sampling everything from easy strolls to strenuous climbs. These are my 5 favorite, from south to north. These are likely all popular hikes, but by avoiding peak times and resting mid-day we hardly encountered anyone else.
1. Stawamish Chief
Moderate, 4 km, Click for guide.
We start in the evening, as the climbers are coming down in a jangle of cams and carabiners. This hike starts out as a real life stair-master, step after step heading up and up. On the way to the second of three peaks, stairs give way to chains and ladders, which then turns into slab and finishes with a dusk-brushed overlook of Howe Sound. The best part is that our campsite waits for us right at the base, full of drinking and slacklining.
2. Panorama Ridge
Strenuous, 18 km, Click for guide.
THIS. HIKE. IS. AWESOME. It’s also admittedly quite long for a day hike, but can easily be turned into an overnighter with a stay in Taylor Meadows or Garabaldi Lake (both worthy stops on the way to/from the lookout). After the initial switchbacks, the hike is flat and pleasant until the final scramble to the top, with awesome views of Black Tusk and Lake Garabaldi.
3. Brandywine Falls
Easy, 2+ km, Click for guide.
It’s totally cheating putting this on a list of “hikes”, but as a waterfall lover it was such an awesome roadside stop that I want to share it. A viewpoint of the falls is only a flat 15 minute stroll from the parking lot, though the park has more trails to explore and, if you choose to ignore fences, you can also clamber down to the bottom.
4. Whistler Train Wreck
Easy, 5 km, Click for guide.
This is not your typical hiking trail. We park behind Olive’s Market on Alpha Lake Road and follow little yellow handwritten signs pegged to trees pointing the way to “Train Wreck”. Then it’s a left at the painted rocks and a right along the train tracks. It’s technically illegal to walk on the tracks, so we stay in the trees where possible.
Finally, we see them: train cars scattered through the forest. They derailed in the 1950s and were deemed too expensive to clean up, so now they serve as a combination graffiti art gallery and mountain bike park. It’s worth risking tetanus to climb all over them.
5. Parkhurst Ghost Town
Easy, 5+ km, Click for guide.
Following the abandoned theme, we head to an old mining town. There are lots of ways to get here – you can paddle across Green Lake or walk all from Whistler Village, but we park past Whistler Paintball and walk a loop along mostly unlabeled paths. Getting lost in the forest is part of the fun, and we know we’re getting close when random appliances appear on the ground.
In the main town, all buildings but one are mere heaps of splintered wood. Scattered between are leftovers from residents and squatters in the 60s and 70s. There’s a pile of rusted tins, a tinkling water pump, bathtubs, and even a convertible, making it one of the more interesting ghost towns I’ve been to.