It’s fair to say that the Sea to Sky Highway portion of Highway 99 gets all the press, but no-one ever mentions the inland section of this road between Kamloops and Whistler. It’s stunning, and we pass through so many different landscapes that we feel like we’ve been through different countries. The arid plains around Kamloops, the canyons and grasslands around Lilooet, First Nations settlements and finally back to the lakes, forest and mountains that have become so familiar to us. Joffre Lakes is a particularly spectacular find, and it’s a shame we don’t have the time to do the hike to the middle and upper lakes as they apparently only get more and more spectacular.
I’d been looking forward to our final accommodation, Whistler’s Summit Lodge, and it didn’t disappoint. The exterior is a typical alpine lodge, the lobby is warm and inviting with a roaring fire and our room is funkily decorated, with the most amazing-smelling toiletries and a signature sock-monster to greet us. I may never leave. Except leave we do because we have to take the car over to the free of charge public parking lot. There is underground parking on site but its circa $20 per day. Or there’s a free of charge public parking lot a 10 minute walk away. It’s a no-brainer.
We park the car the other side of the Olympic Plaza and then take a walk through town. It’s beautiful and colourful, even though the skies are grey. It’s almost like the town has been conjured up in someone’s imagination and then built to these fairy-tale-like specifications. Whistler Village is pedestrianized, and everything is centered around “the Village Stroll” with Whistler and Blackcomb mountains seemingly looming on every side. We’re still a couple of weeks away from the ski season (indeed we have seen more snow on this October trip than the Whistler residents) but I can imagine that by the end of next month the town will be heaving with skiers, boarders and those just wanting to soak up the apres-ski.
We circle back to the hotel via the Marketplace Shopping Centre. For the first time since Vancouver we have rudimentary kitchen essentials – like dishes and spoons – so we’re able to pick up some breakfast items. We also find here plastic picnic sets, cutlery and tupperware – exactly the kind of things that would have been really handy on our road trip. We clearly started the wrong end. Groceries packed away, we layer up to head out for dinner. In typical Fletche fashion we walk around Whistler Village twice trying to find somewhere that we both fancy to eat; we end up at Tapley’s, a lively sports bar which has a number of rowdy darts matches going on, banks of tv’s showing ice hockey, baseball and American football, and a great funk, soul and rock n roll soundtrack. We sup the local beer and I have a tasty buttermilk chicken and waffle burger. It’s our last proper full day tomorrow and the pre-post holiday blues are already kicking in.
We’ve brought the snow with us! We wake up to the first snowfall of the season in Whistler. The village looks even more like a fairy-tale scene now, with a light dusting on the rooftops. Whistler definitely looks magical in wintertime. We cobble together a breakfast from yesterday’s purchases and head out. Most places are walkable in Whistler but we decide to drive a little way out down the Sea to Sky Highway to the Train Wreck Trail.
We have a plan which slightly goes awry as usual and we end up parking about as far away from the trail as possible thanks to Jane Lakes Road being closed due to an unexploded mine. We’re aware that the signposts to the Train Wreck are a little vague but we still end up walking for a kilometre or two in the wrong direction. Eventually though we find the trail and we’re heading in the right direction, deep down into the woods. We eventually get to the suspension bridge which crosses the Cheakamus River, and there they are, the twisted and graffitied remnants of a number of railway cars which derailed from a speeding train back in the ’50s and were moved here to rust. There is no great scene of devastation, just 60 years worth of forest growth adopting the exposed metal as part of the vegetation. Despite the detour it’s definitely been worth spending the morning’s visit.
We drive on a little way down the Sea to Sky Highway to Brandywine Falls. It’s only a short walk from the parking lot to the first viewpoint, and its quite a spectacular sight with its 70m drop. There’s a second viewpoint with views over Daisy Lake and the surrounding mountain range. We head back into Whistler, drop off the car and go in search of food.
El Furniture Warehouse is not in fact a Spanish Furniture Warehouse, but is a busy busy little small plates bar where all dishes are $4.95. We join the queue, and we’re seated within 10 minutes on benches made of old snowboards. Considering all dishes are $4.95 they certainly don’t skimp on portion sizes, and we make our way through three or four different dishes and a beer each
It’s time to walk off lunch. Whistler has a network of biking and hiking trails called the Valley Trail, 40km of pathways for pedestrians and non-motorised vehicles linking lakes, parks and neighbourhoods to Whistler Village itself. There were a number of walks we could have selected, but we (I) chose the 11km round trip around Alta Lake. Whilst Alta Lake itself is a pretty spectacular sight, a lot of the route seems to be through residential areas, and although it’s a loop, we lose the Valley Trail at some points. This may well be a route that’s better suited to biking than hiking as it seemed to take us an age to return back to our starting point at the Village.
It’s our last night in Whistler – and indeed in Canada – we’re pretty exhausted. There’s a final trip to the drugstore so I can pick up a Smashbox lipstick much cheaper than here in the UK, and then we fall into the nearest eatery for dinner which happens to be BG Urban Grill. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but the food and service is better than the distinctly average TripAdvisor reviews suggest. It’s not our best meal here in Canada, but it beats yet another Subway.
It’s with heavy hearts that we pack up our bags for the final time. Now we have to find space in the suitcases for all those coats and shoes and bags we’ve flung in the trunk since we picked up the car in Jasper all those days ago. I try and convince Mr Fletche (to no avail) that we should purchase the sock monster that has kept us company for the past couple of days. I do however end up bringing a Summit Lodge keycard home with us as it’s packed away in the back pocket of my jeans.
We hit the Sea to Sky Highway once more for the drive back down to Vancouver and our 18:40 flight home. I’d been expecting amazing sights and scenery from this drive, but we’ve driven on so many spectacular roads that we’ve almost become blasé (“oh look, another lake…”). I can imagine that taking the drive Vancouver to Whistler would be more breathtaking as you’re driving into the mountains rather than leaving them behind. We stop at the Sea to Sky Gondola but decide that we’d be clock-watching too much if we did the ascent, knowing we’re on a tight schedule today. So we grab a hot drink at the cafe, take a look at Shannon Falls and get back on the road. We do make a stop at the particularly picturesque Porteau Cove, where the low clouds hanging over the mountains create a dramatic and atmospheric scene.
We arrive in Horseshoe Bay a little earlier than planned so we don’t stop for lunch, just taking the opportunity to stretch our legs and wander around the village, a busy gateway to Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast as the ferry terminus is located here. We continue driving south to Lighthouse Park – which in typical Fletche fashion we struggle to find. Eventually we do find the park, by which time we don’t have time to actually walk and find the lighthouse. We are however ready for lunch, so we retrace our steps back up to Horseshoe Bay. We park up in the exact same spot we left about an hour previously. In a village famous for its fish and chips, we dodge the massive queue at bustling Trolls and instead head for the more sedate Olive & Anchor a couple of doors away. There are lots of locals dining here, and it’s clearly a popular spot for weekend brunches and lunches. Mr Fletche goes for the fish and chips whilst I opt for the crab cakes special – I can never resist crab cakes when they’re available. The food and service is excellent and it’s a lovely final meal before we head home.
We’ve given ourselves plenty of time to drive back to YVR, but the city traffic is bumper-to-bumper all the way from Lionsgate bridge. All of a sudden it seems a good job that we didn’t do the gondola, or take the hike to the lighthouse, or attempt to fit in a visit to Lyn Canyon. But we’re on time returning our car to Avis, and all too soon we find ourselves waving goodbye to a beautiful country that we’ve fallen in love with. Canada, we will return soon xx
This is the final stop on our Canada journey, and the final day-by-day blog! I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey along with me; you can find the rest of A Brummie Home and Abroad Canada blogs right here! And if you’re interested in seeing more of Mr Fletche’s stunning photos from this trip, pop along to www.cpf-photography.com/canada