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Another BC Road Trip - Sea To Sky Highway

British Colombia continues to surprise me. I can't believe I've never taken this gorgeous route from Vancouver. I guess I'm always in a hurry to get home after a family visit and the TransCanada (#1), after all, is the shortest way to get there.

September is our time to slow down though - a time to pack up our RV and dog and go explore our beautiful province. If you've read my other blogs, past Septembers have taken us through Northern BC, the Kootenays in the East, and the Cariboo-Chilcotin. This year, we wanted to check out a part of the south-west I'd never been through - the Sea To Sky Highway from Vancouver to Lillooet.

But first things first, we needed to get a housesitter since my garden was still blooming and we'd be gone a month, so I put out a call on Trusted Housesitters (@trustedhousesitters), a program we've been using happily for a couple years now. We received an application right away, checked out her profile and references, then zoom-called her. She seemed great! (And was!) And, bonus for us, when I told her there might be some bears around, she wanted us to leave our dog behind! We love having him along, but loved even more the idea of RVing without him for a change.

Vancouver To Squamish

Just north of the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, Highway 99 winds north toward Squamish. This is the Sea-To-Sky Highway, an aptly named road where the sea and sky stretch out forever to the west. Here you’ll discover a world spinning at a much slower pace, one that rural-loving BC’ers love to live and recreate in.

Where to Camp and Hike in Squamish

Cat Lake Forest Rec Site can be found 20 minutes north of Squamish up Cheekye Forest Service Road (FSR). If you have a tent, you'll love the tucked-away, forested sites that sit above the lake. We weren't so lucky. To the big, gravel parking lot with you and your big RV, said the camp manager. And $20 please and thank you. Sigh...I guess rec sites are only free in rural BC.

The gravel lot wasn't a lovely spot to camp at but it was just a hop and a skip over the berm to a lovely, forested trail that took us around and down to pretty Cat lake. And it was very quiet in our spacious lot - our only neighbors were , these funny girls.

Although quiet, gravel lots aren't for us, so, remembering there was a provincial park just back from where we'd come, we headed out.

Alice Lake Provincial Park was just what we needed - big forested sites with huge, and very clean facilities. With showers! And, immediately adjacent to the campsite, the fantastic Four Lakes trail.

Four Lakes Trail is a well-maintained, easily walked, and gorgeous with, yes, four lakes, but also a million shades of green, where fallen giants nurse delicate baby hemlocks, and heavy cedars and spruce grow oh-so-tall and straight with not a curve to mar their perfection. I empathized for just a moment with the logger who, undoubtedly would have looked at these trees and said ‘Man, I could build a house from just one of these!'  Yay that he can’t.

Shoreline on one of Four Lakes Trail lakes
One of the lakes along Four Lakes Trail

Squamish itself is a mecca of hiking and biking trails, not to mention the best rock climbing around (so we hear... not for us 62 yr-olds!). Nearby Smoky Bluffs Trail just south of town via Clarke Drive (which turns to Vista Crescent then Smoky Bluff Road) offers a moderately easy trail with a stunning view overlooking the town.

View from Smoky Bluffs over Squamish, BC
View from Smoky Bluffs over Squamish, BC

And then it was time to move on. Not far though...

Brandywine Provincial Park was just 30 minutes north, and our commitment to slow travel had us turning off the highway for a quick and easy walk (2.6 kilometre trail) to the very pretty Brandywine Falls.

Brandywine waterfall  in Provincial Park
Brandywine Falls

Squamish to Pemberton

So, I digress to the personal for a moment...we've been on the road for a week now. Not long, but I'm noticing that my jeans have shrunk. No, it can't be me! After all this hiking, biking and walking? Sigh...too many treats, clearly. Oh well. Out with the jeans. And in with my loose Indian pants and looser-than-loose alpaca sweater. Nice! I'm all about comfort before beauty (unfortunately for my hubby, haha).

girl on log in lake
My beautiful new vacation wear

And I stop buying sweet snacks for campfire moments. Begin my daily mantra – “Today’s the day I stop eating sugar!”

But then we hit Whistler Village. We only wanted to explore the Village for an hour; parking cost $5/hour after all, and if you know Aaron and I, we're pretty frugal travellers. An hour was enough, though, to find Pure Bread, a café in Whistler Village that serves the largest choice of ooey-gooey, sweet deliciousness I’ve ever seen.

muffins, cookies, and delectable sweets
Delectable goodies at Pure Bread cafe in Whistler

Oh well, tomorrow’s another day. If only Aaron wouldn’t be as keen as I to find these places. But his sweet tooth is worse than mine. And frustratingly, he doesn’t feel a bit of guilt over it (he’s 6’3” so the calories are spread high, not wide) - there’s little chance of him saying no to a treat.

Though I'd have loved to stay longer in the Village - great restaurants and pubs, golf courses and lots of trails - the filled-to-the-brim-with-gorgeous-stuff high-end shops were threatening our ability to stay on budget. We decided, instead, to continue 30 minutes to Nairn Falls Provincial Park.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have a map that shows highway elevations?” Aaron mentions as we climb a hill (he pays a lot of attention to gas mileage). For myself, I’d rather have a map that shows bakeries and ice cream parlors.  

Where To Camp, Hike and Wander in Pemberton

Nairn Falls Provincial Park is a great place to hang out. Just five minutes from Pemberton with very clean campsites, and a few, if you're lucky, along the river.

beautiful mountain and Nairn river landscape
Nairn River and gorgeous environs

Nairn Falls itself is a nice and easy trek from the campground along the river. Check out the lower section, but be very careful on the rocks.

waterfall between granite cliff, Nairn Falls
Upper reaches of Nairn Falls

A trip into Pemberton for the day is well worth your time. The friendly folks at the little Tourist Info Centre can send you exploring with great advice. Just beyond the Info Centre, you have a choice of two trails:

One Mile Lake Trail, a short and sweet lakeside loop. If you’re staying at Nairn Falls, hike down the Sea-To-Sky trail from the campground - it'll take you 30 minutes to get down to the lake trail. I really enjoyed its diversity, open in some parts, a boardwalk over the lake, and a lovely cool section through the forest. Bring a picnic to have at the small beach on one end. Or, if you have energy to spare, try the:

Valley Loop Trail: Hike or bike (recommended) this lovely, meandering 7.5 km loop trail around the town, through farmlands and wooded areas.

farmland framed by mountains in Pemberton, Valley Loop Trail
Farmland alongside Valley Loop Trail

View of Cayoosh Mountain Range from Pemberton
Stunning Cayoosh Range from Valley Loop Trail

After doing almost the entire Valley Loop Trail by foot (cursing that we hadn’t brought our bikes), we searched out a place to rest our aching bones and have a bite to eat. We found a great spot – The Pony, a rustic restaurant whose menu supports the local farmers. A delicious donair and a cold beer were the perfect antidote to our exhaustion.

Having rejuvenated ourselves, we wandered over to the Pemberton Museum, where 100-year-old buildings chock-a-block full of doodads from the time make you feel you've wandered back to the early 1900s.

Old rotary-dial phone with old TV and old bottles
The 'olden days'

I Digress To Tell You The Best Thing I Love About Travelling

Once we'd done the museum, we were ready to head on down the road. But we had one more stop before we left - a load of dirty laundry in our RV needed a good wash.

Though it was almost closing time, the young guy running the local laundry welcomed us in. Filipino? I wondered, looking at his wide, open face with its big smile. Crossing my fingers, I said "Magandang gabi," to him, hoping both that I'd guessed right he was Filipino, and that I'd said Good evening correctly. I'd been practicing some Filipino phrases in prep for our winter trip to the Philippines. He grinned. He'd just come to Canada, he said, with his mom and sister, living with his dad who'd come earlier and taken over the laundry. He couldn’t wait to experience his first winter in Canada, he told us. I wonder how it went. If you see him, let me know if he's moving back to the tropics soon? 😊 

One of my favourite things to do when I travel is to connect with the locals. It's why, when I travel internationally, I try to learn the language of the place I'm going to. And it's why, when I travel local, I start conversations whenever I can. Like at the laundromat, for example.

Pemberton to Lillooet

Our Backroads Map Book showed two intriguing stops just past Pemberton: Birkenhead Provincial Park and some forest rec sites on Lillooet Lake. We did the latter first.

Where To Camp and Hike near Mount Currie

We took the In-SHUCK-ch FSR after the bridge, hoping to find an empty site at one of the four rec sites along large, glacier-fed Lillooet Lake.

Lizzie Bay Forest Rec Site was, maybe, the third of four rec sites along, and one which looked spacious enough to hold our 22-ft RV. We snagged the empty RV-sized spot with the gorgeous view at the boat launch, hoping it was actually a campsite, and set up camp.

Two lawn chairs looking over Lillooet Lake and mountains
View from our campsite down Lillooet Lake

two kayaks on smooth Lillooet Lake
Without dog, we can kayak again! No howls from shore!

man with two kayaks pulled ashore Lillooet Lake
A picnic break on the other side of Lillooet Lake

Well, that was certainly worth the 13-km, somewhat bumpy drive!

Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park was next, a short backtrack toward Pemberton to Mount Currie on Pemberton Portage Road. Here, we found an almost-empty, huge campground (perfect for me – few people to notice my mismatched hol-ey socks, and lack of makeup), surrounded by lush forest, and a lake and sweet little beach down a short path. So cool to take our kayak just offshore and see the schools of completely still fish just below the lake's surface. Catfish, judging by the funny whiskers jutting from their snouts. What were they doing? Do fish rest? In the middle of the day?

There are lots of trails in the area:

Lakeshore Loop is an easy 5-km walk on a cushion-y trail through huge Sitka Spruce, Douglas Firs and Yews. “Wouldn’t like to bike this,” I said to Aaron, as I hoisted and maneuvered myself over and through a pile of boulders.

Three huge Douglas-Firs at Birkenhead Lake
Huge Dougies on Lakeshore Loop trail

man by old-growth stump at Birkenhead Lake
Aaron dwarfed by a huge old-growth stump

Lake Trail is a little longer, extending off the Lakeshore Loop, taking you 14 km to the north end of the lake. I’d have loved to bike it (internet says it’s bikeable) but walk 28 km round trip? Nope!

Goat Lookout Trail is a steep 900 metre trail to somewhat of a viewpoint (more good exercise than a fantastic view imho).

View from forest over mountain and Birkenhead Lakest view
View from Goat Lookout Trail at Birkenhead Park

All in all, a lovely, tranquil hangout for a couple days.

I love travelling with Aaron. Like me, he’s curious and adventurous. It is getting harder to adventure though as we get older, though, haha. By 1 pm, we're worn out, our bodies done, unable to move another inch. But there's good things about geriatric pauses too! Nothing like getting to know your partner better when you're too tired to walk, there’s no TV, and no internet. We talk.! What a concept!

We're heading into our last days, though, and so, it is time to move on...

A Gorgeous Drive - Duffy Lake Road

And who knew Highway 99 from Mount Currie to Lillooet was one of the most beautiful drives I've ever done?

Mountains and forested shoreline on Duffy Lake
View of Duffy Lake from Highway

two lane highway along Duffy Lake Road
Warning, two lane highway, but oh, such nice views

We near Lillooet, a funky little town that marks the beginning of the dry Southern Interior, A quick stop here at the Abundance Artisan Bakery for some homemade, seedy bread that was so delicious, most of it was eaten within the hour as we made our way toward Turtle Valley, the gorgeous place we call home.

Not before seeing yet more just-as-stunning scenery just out of Lillooet though. We gaze in awe at the muddy Fraser River far below the winding highway.

Final Thoughts on BC

Yet again, BC has amazed me. How can one province be so beautiful? And although this section of BC didn't offer the ubiquitous and free forest rec sites (other than at Lillooet Lake) that we've been used to seeing throughout other areas of the province, they were great value at $15-20/night, forested enough to give us lots of privacy, great facilities, and tons of well-maintained nearby trails.

I'm already excited about next September. Which what part of BC will we check out?

Stay tuned, and in the meantime, check out my other local and international blogs at

Thanks for reading!

Caryn & Aaron

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