Other than by plane or train, a Sea to Sky Highway road trip – also known as Highway 99 – is your route between Vancouver and Whistler, and it’s stunning.
So stunning that I’m usually disappointed to arrive, and would much rather turn around and do it all again. In just 120 km (74 miles) you get ocean views, mountain peaks, waterfalls, ancient trees, bald eagles, amazing coffee and – just maybe – the chance to see a whale or a black bear.Vancouver to Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway is the absolute best of British Columbia in a two-hour, lazy-person concentrate.Click To Tweet
Below, find my best suggestions for a dog-friendly Sea to Sky Highway road trip, including sixteen stops, sights and activities en route. Most can be enjoyed, in some manner, with a dog and the longer options make fantastic day-trips to add to your trip plans.
Sea to Sky Highway Road Trip Tips + FAQs
How long does the Sea to Sky Highway take?
If you’re trying to get to Whistler in a hurry, the Sea to Sky highway from Vancouver can take as little as an hour and fifteen minutes*. Measured from the entrance to Stanley Park downtown, to my favourite dog-friendly Whistler hotel Summit Lodge, it’s a journey of just 120 km (74 miles). Two to two and a half hours is typical, yet you can make the journey last a full day, or much longer still. If you did all sixteen activities below, you could easily take a week or more.
*If you’re a confident, competent driver, like the passing lane, and don’t stop.
Is it safe to drive the Sea to Sky in the winter?
Before you go, check the Sea to Sky road conditions.
7 tips for enjoying a Sea to Sky Highway road trip
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1. Dog road trip success: Start with 39 must-read tips for dog road tips. I had at least five “that’s genius – why didn’t I think of that” moments while compiling the post.
2. Perks of an SUV: If you’re renting a car, an SUV gives you a little more height to enjoy extra ocean views. Proof? The one time we did the drive in an insanely over-sized Surburban, I saw an orca in the Howe Sound. A sun roof also helps with your bald eagle/peregrine falcon observation.
3. Pack a water bowl/bottle: If your dog pants in the car, bring a travel bowl or water bottle to top up his much-appreciated car humidity system when you stop. We have the bottle pictured below and it’s ideal to chuck in a cup holder and fill up at Starbucks.
4. Bring music: North of Horseshoe Bay, you’re only getting one FM radio station – Mountain FM. If you like choice (and don’t have satellite radio), bring some back-up. Other than music, you can skip other road trip entertainment. I always bring a book to read and have never once done anything but stare out the window in awe. If you think you get bored on car rides, believe me – the Sea to Sky is a different game.
5. Strap in your puppy: Given the Sea to Sky’s highway speed, curves, and the chance of slippery roads, we always strap Lord Snuzzington into a dog seatbelt for this – and every – car ride. We’ve used a dog seatbelt/car harness from a Canadian company for years and really liked it, but – update – after researching safety tips for dog road trips, we’ll be switching our current harness to the Sleepypod Clickit Sport Harness. Why? It’s the only one that passes a crash test (details here). Like our previous harness, this one allows your dog to sit or lie down as he pleases.
The only three car harness/restraint options that pass Center for Pet Safety tests are:
6. Busy weekends: Whistler Blackcomb recommends making your Sea to Sky Highway road trip on a week day if possible, to enjoy quieter roads.
7. Car-sickness: In parts, the Sea to Sky is pretty curvy. If you suffer from car-sickness – bring some Gravol or dramamine. If your dog gets car-sick? Neither of you will enjoy this drive.
Things I’ve seen from the Sea to Sky highway:
A WHALE!!! Much like the moose I was determined to see in Banff (and did), I’ve been adamantly staring at the Howe Sound and waiting for it to provide me a whale for many, many years. A few weeks ago, it did.
Bears. Sooo many bears. My record is eleven bears in one drive (in early June). Given that Whistler’s has a resident population of sixty bears – eleven in one drive is pretty good. Seen from a car, this is my favourite part about a Sea to Sky Highway road trip – I get so excited about bears. Other cars will often provide the clue – look for cars stopped or slowing and it might just be a bear. Also seen? A car full of tourists running up a hill towards a mama bear with cubs. … Aaaand an RCMP officer arriving on the scene looking beyond pissed.
Movies. And let’s not neglect BC’s vibrant arts scene – movie production for all the Twilights, Scooby Doo, and Ice Cube’s notable turn in ‘Are We There Yet’.
Sea to Sky Highway Road Trip with a Dog
Here are sixteen dog-friendly things to do along on your Sea to Sky Highway road trip, and dozens of reasons that it will be a drive of a lifetime.
Starting from Vancouver
1. Stanley Park
You can’t visit Vancouver without visiting Stanley Park – but if you’re really short on time, a drive through the park can suffice. You can do a full circuit of the park and then – excepting rush hour – merge right on to the park’s through road, and begin your journey crossing the Lions Gate Bridge. (You might recognise the lion statues at the bridge entrance as the logo for Lions Gate Films ).
Stanley Park with a dog: Except for a tiny fenced dog run, dogs can’t be off-leash anywhere in Stanley Park. Still, the seawall is beautiful and – as you can see – bike/walking lanes are separated. Dogs aren’t allowed on any Stanley Park beaches, but there’s lots of park/picnic space where you can enjoy the views. Most of Stanley Park’s top 10 attractions aren’t dog-friendly, but Prospect Point and the totem poles are worth a photo stop.
Closest dog-friendly hotels: If you have a night or two in Vancouver before or after heading north on the Sea to Sky, the area around Stanley Park is a fantastic spot to stay with your dog as you’ll be able to walk everywhere. Just outside of the park, Denman Street has some great pet shops and every kind of food you could imagine, while Coal Harbour is sleek, shiny and the spot chosen for Kate and William’s first glimpse of Vancouver. For their locations and reputation, I’d recommend:
- The Sylvia Hotel
- The Westin Bayshore
- Fairmont Pacific Rim
- Apartments: Rosellen Suites at Stanley Park and Robson Suites
2. West Vancouver
Cross the Lions Gate Bridge from Stanley Park, and head northwest into West Vancouver. You have speedy and slow options throughout this Sea to Sky road trip and, while it might not make sense to stop just as you’ve begun, West Vancouver with a dog offers some real treasures.
For a faster road trip, turn almost immediately north from the bridge on to Taylor Way, from which you’ll join the Sea to Sky highway just up the hill (you can see it cutting a straight line across the hill in the photo above). If you’re especially Type A, cue Life Is A Highway to start just as you’re pulling on to the highway ramp. It’s an ascent that suddenly puts the ocean in your view – at speed. Both horizon and soundtrack announce in tandem: this is going to be the drive of a lifetime.
Want to take your time? Otherwise, consider some leisurely stops at:
- West Vancouver’s Ambleside dog beach: Ambleside Park is beautiful, off-leash dog park and beach with lots to all kinds of dogs – swimmers, fetchers, socialisers. This is a great spot to tire your dog out before the drive (more photos here).
- Whole Foods: Ambleside Park backs on to West Vancouver’s large indoor/outdoor Park Royal Mall. If you want to stock up on healthy snacks, you won’t have much choice along the Sea to Sky – Whole Foods at the far west end of the mall is your best choice. On a sunny day, you can enjoy the large Whole Foods patio with your dog – as well as some other nice coffee shops.
- House hunting: If you’re taking the slow road, West Vancouver’s Marine Drive hugs the coast all the way to Horseshoe Bay – pretty much everything you can see in the photo above. It offers a rare glimpse of what West Coast life looks like beyond sightseeing destinations, as well as the chance to house-hunt for your dream house … West Vancouver is the wealthiest area in Canada (average household net worth: $3.5 million). It will add about 15-25 minutes to your journey, but it’s well worth it.
3. Lighthouse Park
If you’re already restless, you can drop off the highway after a few minutes to find Lighthouse Park on West Vancouver’s northwestern-most corner. While Stanley Park is Vancouver’s #1 tourist destination, Lighthouse Park is much more a local’s secret (so … don’t tell). Given that it’s off-leash and usually pretty quiet, I far prefer it.While Stanley Park is Vancouver's #1 tourist destination, Lighthouse Park is much more a local's secret (so ... don't tell).Click To Tweet
Why stop at Lighthouse Park? If, like me, you like your bears seen from a moving vehicle rather than up-close and startled, Lighthouse Park is a great hiking spot for sissies. You get all of the beauty of BC – for relatively little effort. Best of all? It’s dog friendly and OFF LEASH!! The whole park! This is really rare in BC – and it’s a spectacular place to enjoy with your dog. (See tons of photos here). According to Summit Lodge (my favourite dog-friendly hotel in Whistler), some of the trees in Lighthouse Park are 500 years old.
Shoes for Lighthouse Park? It’s rocky in parts, but running shoes would be fine if you watch your step. Flip-flops would be okay-ish just to walk the main path to the lighthouse. It can be muddy in the winter and spring. For this park – and any other bit of easy-ish BC day-hiking – I always wear my Merrells and they’re ideal – lightweight, waterproof, ideal in all seasons and soooo comfy.
Parking: Parking can be tricky in the summer (especially on sunny weekends), but most people only stay a half-hour to walk down a groomed path to the eponymous lighthouse and back, so turnover is quick.
Breakfast picnic: If you’re starting your Sea to Sky Highway road trip in the morning, this is a stunning place to bring your Starbucks and some breakfast. (Hiking with coffee might be the most West Coast thing ever). Enjoy a gorgeous forest walk and then find a log on the beach or a nice flat rock with an ocean view. The park is big enough to be breathtaking, but small enough that you really can’t get lost. It’s ‘nature 101’, without feeling too manicured. If your dog is a swimmer, there are a few small beaches … but until Nissan makes its dog car with hair dryer … you’ll be spending two hours in a car with a wet dog. More tips and photos here.
Wildlife I’ve seen at Lighthouse Park: A million bald eagles, a garter snake, and a sign announcing ‘bear seen in area’ (rare), but not the bear itself.
History buffs: Lighthouse Park comes with a little history – don’t miss the buildings surrounding the lighthouse.
4. Horseshoe Bay
Horseshoe Bay is a sweet little stop if (A) you like boats and/or (B) fish and chips. It’s a ferry terminal for BC Ferries – the launching pad to day trips and destinations on Bowen Island, the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island. Parking can be hard to find in the summer (especially on weekends) and – in truth – there’s not really much to do here, but the views are pretty.
Dog-friendly boat rental: To add a further mode of transport to your road trip, you can rent boats from Sewell’s Marina in Horseshoe Bay and explore the Howe Sound. Dogs are very welcome on the boats! We do this a few times each summer and have seen orcas, dolphins, seals and sea lions. Guided sea safaris are also offered, but are not dog-friendly (the boats go at insane speeds and require weatherproof jumpsuits).
Whether you took the Sea to Sky or Marine Drive to Horseshoe Bay, from here you’ll start to head into the mountains. Leaving sea level, you’ll now wind and climb to 670 metres (2,200 feet) above sea level in Whistler … that’s 7% of Mount Everest’s height.
5. Porteau Cove
In truth, I’ve only ever stopped at Porteau Cove to use the washrooms at the park’s parking lot. To me, it’s “just another stretch of beautiful scenery” but it’s popular with divers and campers. Dogs must be kept on-leash within the park
6. Furry Creek
Again, this is an area I drive through and gawk at, rather than stop. As for the strange name, Furry Creek is named for a 19th Century prospector, last name Furry.
Split your journey: To split your journey into two days, Furry Creek Bed & Breakfast is pet-friendly and has exceptional reviews.
Golf: If you’re dog-less and in the mood to golf, there’s a golf course with incredible scenery.
7. Britannia Beach
Refuelling: Before you know it, you’ll be swinging in towards Britannia Beach (which offers zero opportunity to spend time on a beach – it’s a former mining/industrial area). However, Galileo Coffee Company is worth a stop – whether or not you think you’re hungry. Great coffee, bagels and pastries make it a popular carbo-loading spot for hikers headed to Squamish and, on a foggy morning, it’s super West Coast moody (more photos here).
Britannia Mine Museum: Just next to Galileo (about a 2-minute walk), you’ll find the Britannia Mine Museum. Does it look familiar? It will if you’re an eagle-eyed X Files fan (though it has been refurbished since filming). No huge surprise, dogs aren’t allowed in the museum, however it’s a big hit with kids. If you’re travelling as a family, and one parent is happy to either stay at a Galileo patio table with book + dog (or read in the car), it’s highly recommended. The visit will last about one to two hours.
8. Murrin Provincial Park and Sea to Sky viewpoints
From this point, things get mountainy. Whether you want to stop for a second, a swim, or a nice walk, this section of the Sea to Sky highway gives you tons of options to literally choose your own adventure.
Murrin Provincial Park and Browning Lake: Fun fact – Ryan Reynolds loves Murrin Park. Is that reason enough to visit? Probably. It’s really popular for fishing. In the summer, dogs are only permitted around a section of the lake and must always be on leash (more details here). I guess this means that, if you swim, your dog just has to watch.
Sea to Sky viewpoints: You’ll also have the option to stop at a few viewpoints along the Sea to Sky (the photo above is taken from one of them). Plan to stop at these when you return to Vancouver, as you’ll be on the same side of the road and able to make the turn.
9. Shannon Falls
Love massive scenery for zero effort? Again, the Sea to Sky highway rewards you at Shannon Falls.
Hiking: Katrina has tons of photos of Shannon Falls on her blog – along with some stats: the falls are 1,099 feet tall and the 3rd largest in BC. The walk to the falls is easy enough to do in flip-flops and takes about five to ten minutes. To enjoy a longer walk, find details at Squamish Hiatus. Dogs are welcome in most areas, but must be on-leash.
10. Sea to Sky gondola / hike
Just a minute from Shannon Falls, you reach the parking lot for the Sea to Sky Gondola. In good weather (relatively clear skies), it’s a must-visit. However, with a dog … you’re going to have to earn those views.
Dog drawback #1: Dogs are only allowed to download (go down) on the Sea to Sky Gondola … they have to hike up. I think this is really weird – the muddy, wet dog is allowed in the gondolas (with a paid $15 ticket), but not the dry, clean dog? Whyyyyy. As such, you can only do the Sea to Sky Gondola with a dog from approximately March through November. We did it in early October and it was pretty cold. Check the comments section on Vancouver Trails for recent trail conditions.
Dog drawback #2: I’ve done the hike to the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola with my dog and did enjoy it. However, once you get to the top … you can’t go anywhere with your dog. Not the viewing platform. Not near the restaurant’s outdoor patio (dog outside the fence, you inside). Nowhere; there’s a blanket dog ban. I was really disappointed by this. After three hours of straight up-hill, you’re guaranteed the best-behaved dogs on earth. Admittedly, the Sea to Sky gondola company has taken the trouble to make a “dog parking area” which contains some reserved-for-dog-people picnic benches. However, you’re very much shoved in the back corner – it’s in the tree-line and offers no views. It was a big let-down after a hike. We were really looking forward to some lunch and a beer, and enjoying the views but … no dice. Want to do it anyway? Here are some details for the “Buster Dog Pass“.
The views you won’t see with a dog:
- Sea to Sky Gondola in January (snowy sunshine)
- Sea to Sky Gondola in February (foggy day)
- Sea to Sky Gondola with kids
Hiking details: If you choose to hike up, bring food and water for lunch at the top (as you’re not allowed near the restaurant with a dog). Or – dispatch one of your group to buy take-out sandwiches while you wait in Dog Parking … which is pretty dispiriting. Vancouver Trails lists the hike as intermediate and taking 3.5 hours. The start is stairs-stairs-stairs and pretty vertical and I found it tough, but it’s easier from there. Despite not being in “intermediate shape”, we completed it well under the estimated time. Your dog can be off-leash, though ours lost some freedom privileges after a hillside chipmunk investigation. While parts of the trail requiring pulling yourself up chains, our big, strong dog was able to do the whole thing without help (mountain goat-style), except for needing a push up one particularly steep rock.
How long does it take? The gondola ride up takes 12 minutes … we did the hike in about three-ish hours. The insanely fit Swiss retirees that passed us probably did it in an hour.
Worth it? Check the daily conditions – in fog or clouds, you won’t see much.
Time of day? If you’re driving past in late afternoon, check the times for last ride of the day (they change seasonally).
Price: Without a dog (ride the gondola up and down) it’s $40/person. With a dog (hike up, ride down), it’s $15 per person or dog. Check Groupon for good rates on a Sea to Sky Gondola ticket. At time of writing you can get one for $29.
As a not-super-outdoorsy-person, I count Squamish as a thoroughfare on the Sea to Sky – a place to grab a White Spot burger (a BC restaurant chain a few rungs higher than fast food), grab some Starbucks and/or Tim Hortons. However, Squamish is a major adventure destination and is especially known for The Chief – a popular hiking/mountain climbing spot. Fancy facts? It’s the “second largest granite monolith in the world” (Wiki).
Trains: West Coast Railway Heritage Park will be of zero interest to a dog (not allowed), but children will love it. At Christmas, the Polar Express comes to town, and Thomas the Tank is on site year-round. Admission prices are 50% for Canadas’s 150th birthday (through August 2017)
If you own a bite-sized dog … this might not appeal, but Brackendale just outside of Squamish offers some of the best eagle-viewing in the world, especially in winter months. (A 1994 record counted 3,769 eagles). The route is well-signed, and a riverside path makes a nice place to walk your leashed dog. If you’re hungry by this point in your Sea to Sky road trip, Northshore News recommends a spot I’ve never tried (but now want to), Fergie’s Café.
13. Alice Lake and Brohm Lake
Sick of mountains, water and big trees just yet? Good – because you’ve got two more options on your route: Alice Lake (and its namesake provincial park) and Brohm Lake, easily accessed from the Sea to Sky highway. Both are equally lovely ways to break up your journey, have a picnic and/or stretch your legs.
14. Brandywine Falls
Unlike Shannon Falls, which gets really busy due to its highway proximity, Brandywine Falls are quieter – yet you have just a 1-km (0.6-mile) walk to the falls. While it’s sometimes hard to gauge what “easy” means in hiking terms, if it can be done in a wedding dress… I tend to think anyone can manage. Dogs are welcome but must be leashed.
15. Callaghan Country
Of all the places on the list – perhaps tied with Lighthouse Park – Callaghan Country is my favourite spot. While it’s technically on the Sea to Sky Highway, I recommend visiting either as a day-trip from Whistler, or a chunk of your day on the return. We usually check out from our dog-friendly Whistler hotel (around 11am/noon), then spend the afternoon in the Callaghan before driving back to Vancouver.
Callaghan Country in the summer:
Callaghan Country in the winter: The most dog-friendly place in Whistler for winter sports – Callaghan has dog-friendly cross-country skiing and dog-friendly snowshoeing. It’s absolutely fantastic, and a snowshoe hike down to Alexander Falls is incredible.
16. Whistler train wreck
If not the best for last, then certainly the most random. I’d never heard of the Whistler train wreck until I started this post – and Whistler Hiatus filled me in. With zero elevation gain and an easy hour-long round trip, it’s definitely on my list of sissy hikes for the near future.
You’ve arrived! Welcome to Whistler
1. Where to stay in Whistler?
- Summit Lodge Boutique Hotel is my favourite pet-friendly hotel in Whistler
- You also have tons of options (at all price points) in these 16 Whistler dog-friendly hotels
2. Ready for a drink?
Leash your puppy and head to any of these dog-friendly patios in Whistler. Have fun!