Sea to Sky Road Trip: An Adventure For Your Whole Family
Nature. Adventure. Great food. The sea to sky highway has something to offer everyone in your family especially if you love the outdoors as much as we do. From strenuous hikes and rugged mountain biking trails to rope swings and easy access rock climbs. The sea to sky highway has it all for the active family.
Vancouver is a great place to start this trip. I love how easy it is to be active in this city with its extensive network of bike paths. Every time my family stops here I make sure I get a chance to ride along the beautiful waterfront bike paths.
- Bike or run around Stanley Park
Two years ago when we visited we rode through Stanley park, sea wall, and past museum all the way to Granville Island. This past trip we rode our bikes from Spanish Banks and rode along North Beach to Granville which is also a fun ride.
- Granville Island
Shop at specialty stores (we love getting Monkey Butter at Edible Canada), relax at a cafe, and grab a beer at Granville Island Brewing Co.
- Walk across Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
If you have time, the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge is nice, however, compared to the beauty you are about to enter, it easily could be skipped. Get the details here.
- If you are in the north beach area, stop by and pick up a pie or quiche at Aphrodite’s Organic Cafe.
- Or grab a bite at one of the many food trucks– our favorite is Tacofino taco truck. Get the Vancouver food truck app here.
Free Camping Tips
If you are looking for a free spot to camp overnight, we parked on the street near Jericho Park.
From Vancouver to Squamish
- On the way to Squamish, set aside a few hours to swim and/or climb in Murrin Park or even try this cool scramble up to West Lion. There are some great easy top-rope climbs on Bog Wall and Sugarloaf, whose approaches are less than five minutes from the parking lot and are fun for kids. Find routes here.
- Hiking and Climbing Stawamus Chief
If you aren’t familiar with the Chief and Squamish let me prepare you now for your new best friend. The chief is a steep, gorgeous rock, reminiscent of Half Dome, that reigns over the Squamish Valley. I loved that you could see it from everywhere I was in Squamish and had trouble parting with it after the week we spent in Squamish staring at its gorgeous striations of color and specks of green forest. Hiking it was just as amazing. I don’t recommend taking little kids on this entire hike (hiking just to first peak isn’t too bad–just a lot of stairs) and it’s not for those scared of heights or in poor conditioning. My recommendation for hiking it would be: Start at the campground and follow the signs taking you up the many hundreds of steps and along the path that leads you to third peak (the least impressive of the three). From here follow the signs towards second peak. You may feel like you lose the path when it gets to the rocks but don’t worry. There are little red and orange diamond signs posted on the trees every 50-100 feet and hiking on sticky granite domes is just part of the fun. Second peak was by far the best so take your time here to refuel while you take in the gorgeous views. Now for the real fun, when you descend down second peak it is totally safe but can feel a bit scary if you aren’t comfortable walking on these domes of rock. There will be a ladder to climb down and chains to assist you on narrow ledges. While this When you get to the bottom of second peak, look across the path a few feet to where the ladder is cemented into the rock. This is the fastest way to first peak and looks scarier than it really is. There are two ladder segments each only about twenty feet long and then the rest is a path or some easy scrambling to the top. My son who is very scared of heights did it and says it’s not as bad as angels landing if that helps. From first peak follow the trail marked with orange alll the way down to the campground and then do my hip flexor yoga to offset how much stair stepping you just did! If you want to climb something easy with amazing views, hike the hour approach to the bottom of first peak and multi-pitch The Raven’s Castle.
- Rock Climbing The Smoke Bluffs
Besides the Chief, Squamish is most known for its rock climbing. We loved how easy it was to access the climbing in the Smoke Bluffs area. The trails are well marked and there is even a nice playground there that my kids enjoyed while I got some harder climbs in. Most of the area is Trad but there are a few sport routes and quite a few top rope areas making this truly a place for every level of climber.
- Backcountry Brewery
After a long day of hiking or climbing, we always headed over to Backcountry Brewery (uber kid friendly) for pizza and an IPA.
- Squamish Farmers Market
If you are in Squamish on a Wednesday or Saturday, don’t miss out on the farmers market. This was seriously one of our favorite farmer’s markets we’ve ever been to and be sure to taste some Canadian maple syrup and organic sourdough breads from Rising Knead.
Free Camping Tips
We chose to overnight camp on Mamquam River Forest Road (which is also a great place to access a huge network of mountain biking trails).
Canadian Tire also allows overnight parking and has a free dump station (plus its right next to a Starbucks if you are a digital nomad in search of wifi) on a side note: we used the Squamish Library for our wifi needs as it had a nice kids area and was in the center of town.
Squamish to Whistler
You could spend a lot of time exploring the area between Squamish and Whistler.
- Alice Lake
Our first stop was Alice lake, which was only a few miles out of town and a really hard campground to get a campsite for so reserve here ahead of time). Alice lake is a very small lake making it a great playground for kids in kayaks. The actual playground was nice and had a fun box track where my son loved practicing riding over rocks and across logs. My personal favorite was the quick access to the mountain biking area. Since we only recently took up this awesome sport, we were looking for some beginner trails and found that Cliff’s Corner was perfect. It’s a fast and flowy downhill. Getting here, however, is a thigh burner as you ascend the fire access road. Check out more advanced mountain biking trails here. Since we hiked so much we skipped the four lakes hike but I really recommend it.
- Brohm Lake will always be on the top of our favorite adventures we’ve done because of the rope swing. The first day we came here we didn’t know any better and parked in the main parking lot and walk along the east side of the lake which meant, 1) We made a lot of people upset parking a huge RV in a tiny parking lot with few spaces and, 2) you have to (get to) swim across the lake to get to the swing. Totally doable for my older kids but not the little one. When we came back the next day we parked at a large, less popular pull off (coordinates: 49.806204, -123.122863) and hiked the trail in from the west side which was much better. I’ve done a lot of rope swings in my life, but this one was the best. If you start from the highest rock you get a nice twenty-foot drop interest the lake (and my six year old could start much lower and still have fun swinging in by herself).
You can't skip this one! Brom Lake has the best rope swing we have seen!Click To Tweet Plus it’s a great lake for SUP, inner tubes, and kayaks.
- Next, we camped and rock climbed at Chek. There is really only one easy wall here but it has fantastic views. The routes farthest west have easy climbs for new leaders or kids. There are two classic 5.9 and 5.8, 2 pitches that we enjoyed a lot. If you are a climber you can’t beat it here since the climbing is steps from your campsite. The campground here is brand new and from what I could tell…free. Now to get here it is a steep road with some potholes so if you are in a big RV you may want to just park at the bottom and walk up to climb. There is another area similar to this a few more miles up the road called cal cheek. We skipped it because it was full at the time but it was a nice campground for about $16 a night and had great climbing and hiking nearby.
- Hiking and/or Backpacking to Garibaldi Lake
If your legs aren’t too tired from hiking the Chief, hiking to Garibaldi lake is popular and sounded AMAZING. I recommend backpacking out to Garibaldi Lake and sleeping at the primitive campground, then hiking up to the Black Tusk the next day, or continue on to Panorama Ridge. Get details here. Instead, we stopped to check out Brandywine Falls, which wasn’t that impressive but gave the kids an easy walk to burn off some energy after driving.
- Cheakamus Lake Trail
Another great hike is Cheakamus. The only drawback is that you have to drive 7k down a fire access road which is no problem in a car but we didn’t want to beat up our RV anymore than we have. Get the details here.
If I was on a larger budget I could spend days and days here. I loved the mix of dirt bag brings mountain biker culture with the posh upscale stores and restaurants. The mountains are beautiful and everything about the town is just so crisp and clean.
- Alta Lake
There is so much fun to be had on the water at Alta lake unless you want quieter. I love towns with intricate bike paths that can get you anywhere in the city and spent some time exploring the town and lakes along the valley trail.
- Mountain Biking
Whistler is renowned for MTB for a reason. There are tons of trails to ride however watch out for the surplus of Black Diamond trails. If I was a more advanced mountain biker I would’ve jumped on the opportunity to try downhill riding Whistler mountain. If you’re like us and just want a nice easy ride, explore the Valley Trail.
- Stroll through Whistler
Parking to go downtown was easy with an RV as there are huge paid parking lots right next to downtown (which are free from 5pm to 8am). Downtown has a great playground right. Exit to the large grass area and circles of Olympic park. Our two favorite food experiences here were Gelato Lucia and Mount Currie Coffee, which was one of the best coffees we’ve ever had.
- Hike to Wedgemount Lake
When we were there, you needed 4 wheel drive to get all the way to the trail head and our legs just weren’t up for hiking an extra 2 miles from the further parking lot. But this is still a great free camping spot even if you don’t make it to the beautiful glacier filled lake and ice caves. But, seriously, do the hike, we wanted to so bad but didn’t have the opportunity.
Next stop by the cute town of Pemberton and get coffee at Mount Currie Coffee Co and Gelato here if you missed it in Whistler or again if you are like us and just thought it was that amazing! Pemberton’s motto is “ 'Adventure Begins Here'Click To Tweet” and there is a lot to explore especially if you like mountain biking. But save your legs for the last stop.
- Joffre Lakes. I don’t know how we didn’t know about this one and so we accidentally drove past it but by the time we drove to the backside views we really regretted missing this one. There are a few options for hiking here. For an easy hike walk a few minutes from the parking lot to the first lake but I recommend hiking the whole 6 miles for amazing views and scenery. You can even backcountry camp at the top. See details here.
If you are returning to Vancouver, this would be a good turn around spot as the drive gets a bit less scenic as you cross on highway 1. If you are on a long road trip from Vancouver all the way to Banff like we were, I recommend driving the section from Pillory to Kamloops late in the evening as there is much less to see in this section. Stretch your legs at Seton Lake Lookout. Once you get to Salmon Arm it starts getting pretty again. Fuel up in Kamloops or just before for the best gas prices until you reach Alberta. Check out our Alberta national parks blog that will be posted soon.
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