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It can be easy to take the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler for granted when you live close by, or drive it regularly in the winter to go skiing. But once the snow clears and motorbike season begins, this piece of highway becomes a playground for those addicted to the open road on two wheels, powered by a throttle and a dash of adrenaline.
Of course motorbiking the Sea to Sky Highway is not for the faint of heart. With its twists and turns and propensity to bring out the Mario Andretti behind the wheel in even the most conservative drivers, it is a piece of highway to be respected. Motorbiking the Sea to Sky Highway demands skill with a healthy dose of caution.
People come from all around the globe to experience the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler. While it doesn’t rival the Grossglockner High Alpine Road in Austria, or the Bear Tooth Mountain Highway to Yellowstone for mountain pass height, it is a solid competitor for beauty, curves and a fun drive.
The Sea to Sky Highway is more than just a road, it’s an epic drive with mountain and sound views, ocean, lakes, waterfalls, parks and hikes. It’s also an engineering marvel, with points where the highway literally clings to the mountainside, defying gravity.
A couple weekends ago we took our motorbikes from Vancouver to Squamish, and then on up to Whistler and the Callaghan Valley for a daytrip. But you could easily turn motorbiking the Sea to Sky Highway into a 2-day adventure and stay in Whistler or Squamish to participate in outdoor activities the region offers.
Or if you’re feeling even more adventuresome and have the time, continuing along Highway 99 north to Pemberton, through Joffre Lakes to Lillooet is a beautiful ride. Riders can return the same route, or circle back through Lytton and Hope to Vancouver. Depending on activities planned, that could easily be a 3+ day adventure trip.
We’ve shared some photos here (be sure to watch the video below too!) to get you inspired. And as locals, we’ve answered some question you might have about doing this trip yourself.
When is the best time to ride the Sea to Sky Highway on a motorbike?
The highway is open year-round, but it’s certainly subject to winter weather conditions, and it’s not a whole lot of fun (nor safe) to ride it in the rain. You’re best to pick a nice day between mid-April and mid-October, with June, July and August likely to be the most dry and pleasant conditions.
Increasingly BC has been subject to dry hot summers and wildfires in some interior regions, which can create smoky conditions. If you plan to continue on up through Pemberton, Lillooet and Lytton be sure to check out https://drivebc.ca/ for road conditions and events. The site also has up to date weather, road maps and webcams which is helpful for planning.
https://www.hellobc.com/ is also a valuable resource, in particular for travel updates, BC’s response to Covid-19, border information, wildfires, and current details on what’s open. If you are travelling to Vancouver from outside the Lower Mainland, be sure to access travel updates from these two sites.
Where can I rent a motorbike?
If you’re coming from afar, and not able to ride your own bike, there are plenty of options. Cycle BC comes highly recommended. They offer Adventure Touring, Sport Touring, Cruisers, and Dual Sport options to rent. Brands available include BMW, Triumph, Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda. Check out their site for specific models and prices.
Eaglerider has a location not too far from the Vancouver airport. If you’ve got your heart set on motorbiking the Sea to Sky on a Harley Davidson, they are likely your best choice. But they also rent BMW, Yamaha and Royal Enfield. While we have our own bikes in Vancouver, we have rented from Eaglerider in the US to ride Route 66 and the Grand Canyon. They’re a solid company with well-maintained bikes.
What do I need to be able to rent and ride?
Most motorbike rental companies require riders to be at least 21years old and have a valid driver’s license with a motorcycle endorsement. If you’re coming from outside Canada or the US, you’re best to check directly with the rental company for details.
What is there to see and do along the way?
Understandably, you may just want to ride your motorbike. After all, that’s likely what you came for! But there’s tons more things to see and do in the Sea to Sky corridor if you’re interested. Here’s a few you might want to check out:
Porteau Cove Provincial Park:
About 35 minutes out of Vancouver, Porteau Cove is the most southerly fjord in North America, offering incredible views of Howe Sound and the mountains. Be sure to watch the video above with the panoramic view taken from the pier at Porteau Cove if you want a preview!
Britannia Mining Museum:
We’ve driven past this countless times, and have yet to go in, but friends have and they said it’s really interesting. There’s an opportunity take an underground tour, learn about mining, and even pan for gold!
Shannon Falls Provincial Park:
This is the third highest waterfall in BC, at 335 meters. It’s really spectacular in the spring with the snow melt water plunging off the cliffs above.
Sea to Sky Gondola:
The Sea to Sky Gondola has been plagued by vandalism. Not only once, but twice has the cable been cut overnight. With no injuries, but both cases yet unsolved, the gondola has been closed while repairs are made. It is currently still closed, but check for re-opening if interested. The top offers spectacular views of Howe Sound and the Squamish Valley, with hiking trails and a suspension bridge. Previously, this was a popular place for wedding receptions and summer concerts. We hope it opens safely again soon.
Known as “the Chief” by locals, this mountain face overlooking Squamish is a popular place for climbers and hikers. With three peaks towering over 700 meters above the town, the hike up the back of the first peak, which takes about 2.5hrs round tip, is the most popular. Check out Stawamus Chief trail options here.
Squamish used to be a blue-collar mill town, but it’s quickly emerging as a trendy town for young outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Cool new restaurants and brew pubs seem to pop up overnight, especially after knowledge workers fled the city during the pandemic and stayed. Garibaldi Lake and Panorama Ridge are additional hiking areas out of Squamish to check out, if you really want to head into the wilderness.
This is a quick and easy stop. At 70 meters, the falls are shorter than Shannon Falls.
With Olympic rings marking Whistler as a host village for the 2010 winter games, and being a global skiing destination, it’s definitely worth having a look around. Summer hiking and sightseeing options exist in the high alpine too. Learn more at WhistlerBlackcomb.com
North of Whistler:
Pemberton and Joffre Lakes, with its glacial feed Gatorade blue water and surrounding mountains are definitely worth a look. The road through Joffre Lakes is full of twists and turns. Tons of fun on a bike, but be cautious. Every year there are motorbike fatalities on this stretch, due to speed and vehicles straying across the center lane on corners.
In early July 2021, Lytton BC broke a Canadian heat record at 49.7C (which is almost 122F) during a weather even that saw a “heat dome” locked in over much of southern BC and the interior. Days later the 250 residents of Lytton were evacuated, when a wildfire swept through town, leveling everything in sight. You would be best to check for current updates at https://drivebc.ca/ if venturing through the area.
What kind of accommodations are available?
If you’re just doing a day trip up the Sea to Sky, you’re likely to be staying in Vancouver. However, if you plan to overnight along the way, Squamish and Whistler are solid options, or perhaps Pemberton or Lillooet if you are venturing further north. Check out options for all these areas on Hotels.com or through Expedia You can also find accommodation options through this interactive map of the Whistler Squamish corridor.
If camping is more your style, there are sites available at Porteau Cove, Alice Lake Provincial Park (just out of Squamish), and at the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. Reservations are available through BC Parks https://bcparks.ca/reserve/ You can also camp in Whistler. Check out private and public parks options at this site https://www.whistler.com/activities/camping/
A few more tips from locals
Here are a few more helpful tips that you’re unlikely to find in guidebooks, based on local experience.
Don’t let a cop ruin your day
Distances and speeds are posted in metric in Canada, and helmets are mandatory. The Sea to Sky Highway has variable speeds between 80-100km (50-62 mph) posted depending on conditions. There is a 60km (37 mph) section through Lions Bay, Britannia Beach and parts of Squamish. These are monitored and police won’t hesitate to ticket you if you speed through these sections.
Pick your day and time carefully to ride the Sea to Sky
The Sea to Sky Highway becomes much more busy Friday evenings, weekends and holidays. It’s most fun to ride it without a lot of traffic, so if you plan mid-week and early morning, the chances of having an open road to yourself go up significantly. The sunset over Howe Sound and the mountains as you’re returning from Squamish to Vancouver can’t be beat. Planning the end of your day to include this will be the icing on the cake!
Take the low road through West Vancouver to get to Horseshoe Bay
While it is tempting to get out of Vancouver and on to Highway 1 as quickly as possible via the Upper Levels Highway to access the Sea to Sky (Hwy 99), there is a beautiful ocean side drive through West Vancouver, which locals call “the low road.” You’ll find it on your map as Marine Drive. It ambles and twists between West Vancouver and Horseshoe Bay, allowing you to drive ocean side through some of Vancouver’s most tony residences. Once you’re in Horseshoe Bay, you can easily link up with the old Hwy 99 and access to the Sea to Sky Highway.
Be sure to check out the Callaghan Valley
Whistler Village is great, and a must see if you’ve never been, but if you want to avoid the crowds be sure to check out the Callaghan Valley and the Whistler Olympic Park too. The turn off is just short of Function Junction before you get to Whistler. The 2-lane road out through the valley is a great ride. You’re likely to be one of the few on the road, and if you’re lucky you might even spot a few bears beside the road. Alexander Falls, at the end of the road, is a nice place to have a rest too.
The cheapest place to eat in Whistler
Doing many things in Whistler is expensive, including dining out. But there’s one place that will save your wallet while providing the essential Whistler Village experience – El Furniture Warehouse at 4314 Main Street. Locals call it “Fernies.” All menu items are $4.95 and the portions are decent. Food is pub style burgers, wings, nachos and salads. The bar features great local brews, and there’s a patio. It’s a busy place, but tables turn reasonably quickly.
We hope this overview has inspired you to plan a motorbike ride on the Sea to Sky. If you need to load up on some riding gear (pants, jackets, boots, gloves or bags) before your trip, be sure to check out Chromeburner.com and Viking Bags. CarryOnQueen.com has an affiliate arrangement with both of these companies to promote quality motorcycle gear. So when you purchase through the above links, a portion of the sale (at no cost to you) helps us to continue to offer useful and inspirational content like this to our fellow riders.
Now get out there, and plan that trip. See you motorbiking the Sea to Sky Highway!