Snowbirds! Spending Your Winter in the Vancouver Area? Check Out This Side Trip – North Vancouver to Whistler
Recently, we wrote a blog about things to see and do if you are a Snowbird staying in the Vancouver area. We suggested a drive from Vancouver to Harrison Hot Springs along Highway 7. Here is another drive that follows the Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99) from North Vancouver to Whistler.
The Sea to Sky Highway hugs the coastline as it winds its way north offering up stunning views across Howe Sound and to the mountains beyond. It then heads inland north of Squamish to the year-round destination of world-famous Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort. Mt Seymour, Grouse Mountain, and Cypress Mountain are all popular winter activity destinations, two of which are included in this trip.
- Rent a pair of ice skates and enjoy the exhilarating fresh air atop Grouse Mountain on their 8,000 sq. ft. ice skating pond. The Skyride allows for stunning views across Vancouver, Stanley Park and beyond.
- Take a self-guided snowshoe tour or go cross-country skiing at the top of Cypress Mountain through a forested winter wonderland. Warm up with a hot drink or bowl of soup.
- Back on Highway 99 and a further 18 km (11 mi) is the tiny, picturesque village of Lions Bay which hugs the shoreline. A must stop-off is the Lions Bay General Store and Café, located on the east side of the highway (take Lions Bay Avenue exit) and a favourite of those who have travelled this road for decades. You’ll find local products, great coffee, beer, lunch, souvenirs and great views too.
- Adjacent to the highway is the Britannia Mine Museum, an award-winning national historic site. It was a working copper mine from 1904-1974 and opened in 1975 as the BC Museum of Mining. You’ll be dazzled by the light and sound show as you are transported underground by train.
- Just south of Squamish is the entrance to the Sea to Sky Gondola. Be amazed at the stunning views of snow-capped mountains, old-growth forests and turquoise waters of the Howe Sound stretched out before you. At the top take in the brisk winter air, try snow-shoeing or tubing and then warm up with a hot drink or visit the Sky Pilot Restaurant where you can enjoy delicious West Coast fare.
- Like to try local craft beer? Howe Sound Brewing in Squamish produces an abundance of craft beer, from seasonal to year-round brews. Pair their excellent beer with small bites or big bites, all made in-house. It’s located on Cleveland Avenue left off Highway 99, almost at the end of town; you will see the pub on your right.
- For some eagle spotting, head back to the highway and continue north towards Brackendale and Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park, one of North America’s largest congregations of wintering bald eagles. These majestic birds gather in this area from November to January to feast on salmon. There are plenty of lookouts and shelters to view the eagles (the Eagle Run viewing shelter is at 41015 Government Road) and you can take an organized tour or even an eagle viewing float trip. Visit Squamish Tourism’s web page on eagle viewing for more information.
- Get back on the highway, it’s time to head to Whistler! There is so much to do in this world-renowned resort. In winter the snow is the big attraction with skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and more, but if you want to do something different or your ski legs need a rest there are fabulous restaurants, art galleries, spas, winter events, festivals and more. A must-see is the Whistler Village stroll where you will find fun and sporty shops, bistros and cafes, and the Whistler Olympic Plaza, which is transformed into an outdoor skating rink in winter.
- To experience First Nations art, history and culture visit the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler. Hear the stories and songs and admire the traditional regalia, carvings and art. This is a beautiful museum with stunning works and exhibits; guided tours are available.
- If you are in Whistler on a Sunday evening from December to March check out the free Fire & Ice Show in Whistler Village. Grab a cup of hot chocolate or warm cider and be prepared to be amazed at the spectacle created as expert skiers jump through hoops of fire!
- Once you have explored Whistler then it’s time to head back, and the views are just as stunning on the return journey! You will pass Furry Creek, known for its golf and country club, and the villages of Lions Bay and Horseshoe Bay, home of the BC Ferries terminal for taking travellers over to Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Bowen Island. Horseshoe Bay has some shops and eateries and it’s always fun to watch the ferries coming and going.
There is so much more to see in this area, particularly in and around North and West Vancouver. Check out Vancouver’s North Shore Tourism. You could spend a day or two exploring the parks and waterfront walks, Lonsdale Quay Market, with its specialty shops and services, or the historic and growing urban neighbourhood of The Shipyards District.
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Olympic Legacy Cabins at Porteau Cove, BC: Camping for the Non-Camper
Although I really love tent camping, my husband does not. He does however love being outdoors and exploring new parts of BC, so how did we get to explore the amazing Porteau Cove Provincial Park without the tent? Simple – we booked a weekend at one of the Olympic Legacy Cabins. Cabin camping is the perfect way for non-campers to camp: you still get the opportunity to unplug from everyday life and relax in the outdoors but without sleeping in a tent.
Porteau Cove has two small cabins located right beside the campground check-in office at the entrance to the park. These cabins are fully equipped: beds to sleep four people, a small kitchen with place settings for four as well as basic kitchen supplies (pots and pans), bathroom (with shower), sitting area inside, and a deck that looks out into Howe Sound complete with BBQ and outdoor table. The patio area is covered making it possible to eat all our meals outside and enjoy the view of Howe Sound, even though it was raining for most of our visit.
We stayed in the North Cabin for a family get away in Mid-April. There is something about pulling up to the campground and knowing that your space will be warm and dry – without having to pitch a tent, tarp the area, and unload the car – that is really appealing! I could get used to this type of camping. The cabins really have everything you need (except food of course!) so it only takes a few minutes to unload the vehicle before you can start enjoying the beauty of the park.
Once you are all settled in and ready to explore, what is there to do at Porteau Cove?
- Easy Hiking Trail to the Look Out.
- Check out tide pools when the tide goes out.
- Watch for sea life – each morning we watched a sea otter swim from the pier to the shore and then hang out on one of the rocks in front of the cabin (we named that rock “Otter Rock”).
- Watch the divers, or go diving if you are a diver.
- Geocache, there are a few larger sized caches here, as well as an earth cache to help you learn about how Howe Sound was formed.
- Venture up to Squamish – possibly stopping at the Britannia Mine Museum, Shannon Falls, or the Sea to Sky Gondola. During our visit to Squamish we enjoyed a treat at the Sunflower Bakery and picked up some locally made craft beer at the Howe Sounds Brewery.
Porteau Cove also has 60 campsites for tents or trailers (in case cabin camping isn’t your thing). This Provincial Park has drive-in sites, as well as walk in sites. All the sites we saw when we took a walk around the park had great views of Howe Sound.
I’m not sure if cabin camping will ever replace tent camping for myself and my daughter, or if it will ever replace hotels for my husband but I do know that it is a really great half-way point between the two. I can see us exploring more cabins in BC in the near future and my daughter is already planning a return trip to the Olympic Legacy Cabins at Porteau Cove for the family next spring. See you then Porteau Cove!
Things to know:
- The cabin is small and truly only sleeps four people. In the North Cabin there is a double bed in the loft and a bunk bed in a small room on the main floor (great for kids!).
- The cabins don’t have a path to the beach from them, there is a bit of a drop off from the patio area to the beach below (a few feet) so if you are bringing small kids be prepared for that.
- If you haven’t been to Porteau Cove you probably need to know that there is a train line that runs past the campground. Some nights the trains are pretty active, some nights they aren’t.
- Camp office has some items for sale like ice and ice cream, but for actual groceries make sure you stop in Vancouver on your way up.
- Cabins do have a Coffee Press but no coffee maker, so if you really need a coffee maker (like we do) – bring your own!
- There is no fire ring at the cabins, so campfire cooking is not possible but you can rent a propane fire pit at the camp office to get the campfire experience.
- Pets aren’t welcome – for this camping experience you’ll need to leave your pets at home.
For more choices on camping in BC go to Where to Camp.
Rafting on the Elaho River in Squamish, BC
When the sun is beating down as it has been in BC for the last few weeks, the only thing you want to be near is cool, refreshing water.
Not one for being idle, I’ve found the best remedy (more…)
Published: July 31st, 2013
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