WHISTLER, B.C. - It’s officially known as the Sea to Sky Highway, but many people call Highway 99 “The Great One” – and it has nothing to do with Wayne Gretzky, who wore the No. 99 during his Hall of Fame hockey career.
Highway 99 is a magnificent ribbon of asphalt that weaves through some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in the world - a hair-raising, roller coaster ride that starts in Vancouver and leads to this British Columbia playground and home to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Along the way, drivers are constantly distracted by the awesome beauty of the snow-capped mountains and sapphire-blue lakes that line the route - not a good thing when one is forced to share the narrow stretch of road with over-loaded logging trucks that tend to drift into the oncoming lane.
While breathtaking, the highway is also considered one of Canada's most treacherous stretches of road, where over the years dozens of people have been killed and injured in accidents - caused in most part by daredevil drivers who put their amateur racing skills to the test against the highway’s tight turns. The highway almost always wins.
Thankfully, now that Vancouver/Whistler have been named co-hosts for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Highway 99, which will carry the bulk of the Winter Games’ traffic to the major ski events in Whistler, has undergone a $1 billion facelift. So, many of the troublesome turns have be straightened out and the long-debated improvements will no doubt lure more tourists to one of Canada’s already most desired playgrounds.
Whether you drive Highway 99 before or after the Winter Olympics, may we suggest you drive slowly – not for safety’s sake but to make sure you don't miss any of the natural wonders that border this 125-kilometre beauty.
Side: The Sea to Sky Highway is one of the world’s great drives.
From the moment you cross Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge and head north through West Vancouver, Highway 99 leads to one awesome spectacle after another:
- Porteau Cove Provincial Park and Giuseppe Garibaldi Lookout: They offer travellers breathtaking ocean and mountain vistas;
- Furry Creek: This is where the Adam Sandler movie Happy Gilmore was made at a local golf course - but don't hold that against it. Furry Creek is also B.C.'s version of cottage country where water activities abound;
- Britannia Beach: This is where the B.C. Museum of Mining is located so pull off the highway and explore one of the old mine shafts;
- Shannon Falls Provincial Park: This natural beauty is home to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of Canada. The cascade can be seen from Hwy 99 but it is best appreciated when you stand at its base, which is surrounded by ancient redwoods;
- Squamish: This has often been called a poor man’s Whistler but has benefited greatly from B.C. being awarded the 2010 Games. Some of the events will be held here and the sleepy town has undergone a major transformation. It sits in the shadow of its paternal mountains, Stawamus Chief and Mount Garibaldi and offers as many outdoor thrills as its more famous cousin up the road. Crystal clear glacial lakes and provincial parks thick with floral and fauna tempt drivers to pull off Highway 99 before reaching Whistler. Stop at as many as you can because it’s time well spent.
The drive from Vancouver to Whistler usually takes about two hours – depending on how many pit stops to you make along the way – and once you reach Whistler you’ll be introduced to a tourist wonderland that offers thrills 12 months of the year. For the past several years, Whistler has held the title of best ski resort in North America and its collection of golf courses is quickly making it a contender for best Canadian golf destination as well.
The compact town dominated by mighty Whistler and Blackcomb mountains offers visitors a collection of great hotels – led by the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and a Four Seasons property that is second to none – as well as an award-winning lineup of culinary establishments. Many of the best restaurants are located in the larger hotels but some can be found in the town’s quaint square, where native Indians entertain during the warmer months and rock music echoes off the mountains all year long.
Whistler is one of Canada’s youngest towns and has become a gathering spot for many nationalities. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who was actually born in Whistler. It’s especially popular with young Australians.
Although the Sea to Sky portion of the road ends at Whistler, Highway 99 actually stretches to the northern outpost of Lillooet. May we suggest you take it as far as Pemberton, 31 km north of Whistler, and enjoy more eye candy treats like Nairn Falls Provincial Park, which rivals the Shannon Falls for beauty.
The only thing better than the drive to Whistler along Highway 99, is the drive back to Vancouver along the same route.
- For more information on British Columbia, go to www.HelloBC.com.