After an average ride along the Upper Levels highway through West Vancouver the sign points the way north towards Highway 99. As you lean into the sweeping right hand curve you leave the North Shore behind and start to focus on the road. You will be tempted to drop down a gear, not because the incline demands it but simply because you know this is going to be fun and the feeling that transfers through to your right hand on the throttle knows it is more exciting when the revs are a bit higher.
The Sea to Sky Highway stretches out before you and stunning views of Howe Sound fill your vision. But don’t stare too long because if you want to enjoy this ride you’d better pay attention.
Motorcyclists have long known the joy of the ride to Squamish. At roughly 42 km it is an easy distance to travel offering the most entertaining route available from the Lower Mainland.
Before the improvements that were made for the 2010 Olympics the highway was rougher, had some tighter corners and some painfully long single lane sections, which meant once stuck behind a bus you stayed stuck. The road was widened, repaved and made safer. The incredible views remained and now you don’t have to spend half the journey breathing in diesel fumes from that slow moving truck in front of you.
Today’s Sea to Sky Highway is an engineering marvel. It offers spectacular views, fabulous curves and perfect pavement. It has everything that makes for a great ride. The elevation is frequently rising up only to drop back down to sea level again. The longer straight sections are few and for the most part the feeling is of constantly leaning the bike through one curve after another.
As you head downhill by Porteau Cove the blasted rock face that was cleared to create the road is right beside you and the ocean is immediately on your left. At the bottom of the hill is a tight right hand turn that leads you past the Furry Creek Golf Course, but no time to enjoy the fairways today as you still have plenty of great riding ahead.
There are a couple of sections to be mindful of. After the wonderful curves that wind down into Britannia Beach remember you are now in a built up area with the slower speed limit that goes with it. As you climb up the hill towards Murrin Lake be aware that this popular spot often has traffic turning in and out of the parking lot.
There are a number of viewpoints to stop and enjoy the scenery and they are all worth checking out. The views along this road are spectacular but only momentarily enjoyed while riding so pull in and get off the bike for a spell, it will just make the memory of the day that much better.
Heading into a final set of curves the first view of the Stawamus Chief is visible. The massive rock is a huge attraction to the local climbing community but before you get close to it you’ll be coming up on Shannon Falls. From the highway it is seen as a towering column of cascading water briefly glimpsed between the trees. Don’t miss the more impressive view of it from the ground.
Before you reach the Chief you will have the opportunity to see sights that previously were reserved for the local eagle population. The Sea to Sky Gondola has opened and offers breathtaking views from the comfort of an 8-passenger cabin that will effortlessly take you up 885 meters above sea level. From the top you have a range of options that include enjoying the views from the cantilevered platforms, hiking two different interpretive loop walking trails or heading across the incredible Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge. At 100 metres long you will be walking above the treetops and enjoying a dazzling 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and all the way down to the fjord below.
Back on the highway you’ll be riding up to the rock face of the Chief and will be twisting your neck to see all the way to the top of its 652 meters. There is an accessible trail that will allow the average hiker to get to the top and a chance to enjoy breathtaking views of Howe Sound and the local mountains.
Once in Squamish there are plenty of opportunities to stop for something to eat or drink. The traditional stop, however is the Starbucks where on any sunny day you will see all manner of motorcycles lined up. It’s a great chance to sit down and enjoy a conversation with other riders. This is one place where no one will get bored with more talk about motorcycles.
From Squamish you can easily turn around and enjoy just as exciting a ride heading back or you can continue north. Depending on your timetable there is still more fantastic riding all the way to Whistler, and for those looking to make a full day of the trip you can carry on to Pemberton then onto the Duffey Lake road for even more fun.
The best part of the route is that it doesn’t matter where your turnaround point is. Going back along the same road will feel like a new experience with different leans into the curves and new views of the incredible scenery found along the entire Sea to Sky corridor.