Written by Valerie Tkaczyk.
This long weekend in the Pacific Northwest was planned on a whim after scoring some deeply discounted airline tickets to Seattle. We couldn’t be so close to Vancouver and Whistler without visiting, so it turned into a road trip. There were a lot of things we wanted to see with little time to see them. It was going to be a busy weekend!
We rented a car from the Sea-Tac Rental Car Facility. If you do something like this, make sure to check the rules with your rental car company for where you are allowed to go. We were allowed to go as far north as Whistler, but no further. We were told to take the I-5 north and I’m glad we did because there were no tolls!
Rather than staying in downtown Vancouver, we stayed in North Vancouver at the Holiday Inn North Vancouver. We love scenery, so we wanted to be close to the Capilano Suspension Bridge (home of the Cliffwalk) and have easy access to the Sea-to-Sky Highway.
The next morning we were on our way to Whistler via the stunning Sea-to-Sky Highway. This highway was listed as the best scenic drive in British Columbia by Frommer’s. It takes about 2 hours to reach Whistler from Vancouver and possibly longer if you make any stops along the way. We had a list of a few stops we wanted to make:
|Porteau Cove Provincial Park: Surrounded by the southernmost fjord in North America, Howe Sound.|
|Shannon Falls Provincial Park: Shannon Falls is the third highest waterfall in British Columbia.|
|Brandywine Falls Provincial Park: Almost 1/5 the height of Shannon Falls, but it feels much taller. So worth the short walk to the overlook!|
We were bummed out when we arrived in Whistler to dense fog, so we couldn’t even see the two large mountains (Whistler and Blackcomb) that towered outside our hotel windows. As soon as we got settled into our hotel room at Holiday Inn Whistler Village, we took the short walk over to the base of Whistler Mountain to purchase gondola tickets. There are multiple gondolas to choose from, but we were interested in the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, a gondola that traverses the valley between Whistler and Blackcomb.
We were warned that the visibility was low and that it was snowing up there as the only “winter” gear we had were our sweaters, but nothing was going to stop us from going up our first mountain! Our gondola was blanketed in fog most the way up the mountain. Luckily it was enclosed, so we were able to stay warm. When we finally broke through the clouds at the top, we realized that they weren’t kidding about the snow! It was a very cool sight to see the Whistler Inukshuk and Olympic Rings (from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics) at the summit of Whistler Mountain. This was our favorite part of the trip!
We were only 1/3 of the way finished with our gondola journey. Next we took the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola across the valley to Blackcomb Mountain and back. We couldn’t see everything due to the fog, but I still think the scenery was beautiful.
A gondola ride down the mountain later and we were back in Whistler Village ready to explore. Whistler Village is very small and filled with dining options and interesting shops. Many of the shops are specialty shops geared toward winter sports enthusiasts. The village is extremely walker-friendly, so it was no problem and took very little time to walk everywhere we wanted to go.
We wanted to stop at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre on the way up the Sea-to-Sky Highway, but couldn’t find it in Squamish. Well, we found it in Whistler while we were exploring! This museum is filled with artifacts from and information about the First Nations.
Back to Seattle
It was time to head back to Seattle the night before our flight. There were still a few places we wanted to see, but we didn’t have much time to experience them like we wanted to. We made a quick stop at Stanley Park in downtown Vancouver, which is the Central Park (in New York) of Vancouver. It was great with our limited time that a road wound all through Stanley Park with many places to park the car. You can buy parking passes that are valid in all the parking areas. We paid $3.00 CAD for an hour and explored as much as we could with that amount of time.
First, we stopped for a quick photo op at the iconic Lions Gate Bridge. Then we walked along the Seawall for a bit before continuing on to our Seattle hotel. The next morning in Seattle, we had a half hour to spare before returning the rental car, so we power walked while taking in the sights (and smells) of Pike Place Market.
Our Pacific Northwest road trip was quick, but we were able to see a lot of the things on our list. There are a few places we’d love to return to and spend more time exploring next time we are in the area… maybe before or after a cruise to Alaska!