The Ultimate Lower Mainland BC Road Trip

The Lower Mainland of British Columbia offers a diverse landscape to explore. From the small and welcoming communities up the Sunshine Coast to the rainforests of E.C. Manning Park, to overland routes north of Pemberton and the tourist destinations of Vancouver and Whistler, there is no shortage of places to see and destinations to discover! There are countless fantastic areas to hike, bike, drive and explore across British Columbia, and many of them are featured in our Vancouver Coast and Mountains Backroad Mapbook.

While it is possible to do a loop and cover most of the Vancouver, Coast and Mountains region, a pair of out-and-back drives are required to take in all that is offered in this region of British Columbia. We highly recommend packing up your car and hitting the road for this unforgettable trip!

Duffey Lake Road

Exploring the Sunshine Coast

Reaching the stunning Sunshine Coast requires a 40-minute ferry ride which leaves Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver and lands in Langdale after making its way across Howe Sound. Heading up the coast, the first community reached is Gibsons. Those of a certain vintage will well remember the CBC TV series, The Beachcombers, which was filmed in this quaint town. Molly’s Reach still sits along the waterfront and nostalgia buffs can grab something to eat here before continuing their journey.

There are a number of quaint, laidback communities as one heads north towards Powell River and Lund including Roberts Creek, which is home to an old post office, trendy café and restaurant, general store and one of the only sand beaches on the coast which is located by the pier, Sechelt which contains a beautiful seaside walk and modern-day shopping and convenience stores, Halfmoon Bay and Madeira Park which host some stunning, remote hikes. The Sunshine Coast Community Forest also offers a ton of hiking and mountain biking trails just waiting to be explored, and the Coast Gravity Park in Sechelt is a mountain biker’s paradise.

Map Courtesy of Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Backroad Mapbook

Continuing along the Sunshine Coast Highway past the fishing village of Egmont, take the Saltery Bay ferry over towards Powell River. Our destination here is the Sunshine Coast Trail, north of Powell River. This 180 kilometre (112 mile) route runs between Sarah Point on Desolation Sound south to Saltery Bay. There are sixteen huts spread along the trail offering overnight accommodations, evenly spaced along the route, for the slowest or fastest of hikers. While it takes seven to ten days to hike the entire route, there are several locations along the trail that provide access to complete a day trip. A great trail section worth considering is the Wednesday Lake/Manzanita Bluff Loop which can be accessed from Gilpin Road off Sarah Point Road just north of Lund.

Once you have explored the Sunshine Coast, it is time to head back to Vancouver on the ferry. And that fare you paid to cross over to the coast? It covers the return trip too, so put your wallet away and enjoy the view from the upper deck!

Sunshine Coast

Sea to Sky

The Sea to Sky Highway is a spectacular drive which winds its way 165 kilometres (101 miles) from West Vancouver through Squamish and Whistler to Pemberton. Heading north from the ferry terminal, the highway hugs the coast of Howe Sound offering stunning scenery and beaches before reaching Squamish. Billed as the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada”, there are more than 600 mountain bike and hiking trails weaving through old growth forests, whitewater rafting tours, some funky campgrounds and B&B’s and some great local craft beer. Two spots worth exploring visiting include the 337 metre (1,105 foot) Shannon Falls, right off Highway 99, and the Sea to Sky Gondola which climbs to the top of the summit where visitors will find hiking trails, the Sky Pilot suspension Bridge and a Via Ferrata.

Continuing north, plan to stop at Brandywine Falls Provincial Park. One of the most photographed waterfalls in the province, a 2 kilometre return hike leads to this 66 metre (215 foot) cascade which free falls over the lip of a cliff into a deep bowl below.

Just a bit further up the highway, take some time and play tourist at Whistler. With countless high-end restaurants and bars in the village as well as world-class skiing and plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, there is something for everyone here.

Map Courtesy of Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Backroad Mapbook

Found down the Cheakamus Lake Road, accessed off Highway 99 at Function Junction is the Whistler Train Wreck. The trail begins by crossing a suspension bridge and leads through the forest to the site of an old train wreck where seven, now heavily graffitied box cars lie scattered along the river. To the west of town is the Whistler Olympic Park and Callaghan Lake Provincial Park, while to the east you will find Whistler Blackcomb and Garibaldi Provincial Parks. There are plenty of trails right in town that make their way past Alta, Lost and Green Lakes which can be walked or cycled, the options are endless.

Leaving Whistler, it is only a short drive to reach Pemberton. Just south of this community is Nairn Falls Provincial Park. Pull off Highway 99 at the day-use parking area and hike the 3 kilometre round trip to visit another spectacular waterfall. The 60 metre (200 foot) total drop is made up of a series of 10 to 20 metre falls.

Whistler Train Wreck & Brandywine Falls Provincial Park

Duffey Lake Road

At Pemberton, roads divide with a few options to explore. In the winter, check out One Mile Lake in Pemberton which is often frozen over thick enough for skating. For those in cars, Highway 99 continues northeast to Lillooet on what is known as the Duffey Lake Road. En route, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park features a spectacular, but often busy, hike that leads past two smaller lakes before reaching Upper Joffre Lake. This lake sits directly below the icefields of Matier Glacier and while it is a challenging hike, the views are just stunning. There are several recreation sites spread along Highway 99 to camp at, with plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife including grizzly and black bear, deer and mountain goat. Located east of the summit of Cayoosh Pass is Duffey Lake Provincial Park – Duffey Lake is known for its crystal-clear water, perfect for kayaking or a picnic lunch.

Map Courtesy of BRMB Maps App

Another option to reach Lillooet is the Hurley Pass from Pemberton. The Hurley Forest Service Road is best left to off-roading enthusiasts, as the four-wheel drive route is rough in certain sections. From Gold Bridge, continue east along Highway 40 to Lillooet.

Continuing northeast, Lillooet has plenty to offer the adventurer as well including the Red Rock Trail, which leads to an outcropping 500 metres above town, the Camelsfoot Peak Fire Lookout, and the Seton Viewpoint which overlooks the emerald-green waters of Seton Lake and the surrounding Chilcotin Mountains, and is accessed by a short hike. 

From Lillooet, it is possible to head south on Highway 12 to Lytton but continuing along Highway 99 leads over to Highway 97, passing Marble Canyon Provincial Park en route. The large Pavilion Lake and smaller Turquoise and Crown Lakes sit in a limestone canyon in the Pavilion Mountain Range. There is a small campground, hiking trails, climbing opportunities and some rainbow trout fishing just waiting to be enjoyed.

Pavilion Lake

Looping Back to Seton

If you can get a spot on the Kaoham Shuttle, jump at the opportunity! Linking Lillooet with Seton Portage and Shalath, this formerly two-car train, which has recently been replaced by a high rail bus, runs along the shore with massive towering cliffs on one side and Seton Lake in the other. It also passes through the Seton Tunnel, the third longest in British Columbia at 1,200 metres (3,940 feet).

Map Courtesy of Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Backroad Mapbook

The Meeting of the Rivers

Now that we have arrived in Lytton, whether it was directly from Lillooet along Highway 12 or after exploring more of the Seton Portage or Marble Canyon areas, it is time to explore this town that is rich in gold rush history. Lytton sits at the meeting point of two powerful rivers -the silty, muddy Fraser and the clear blue Thompson. One of the oldest continuously settled communities in North America, the white water of these two rivers makes for some excellent rafting adventures. The Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park is a wilderness park with spectacular scenery, steeped in First Nations history and culture. Primarily known for its multi-day backpacking routes, there are a few easy day hikes, allowing visitors to discover the beauty of this area.

While those in cars will continue south from Lytton along the Trans-Canada Highway, overlanders can cross the Fraser River on the Lytton ferry and make their way south following the South Spencer, Keefers and Chaumox Roads to Boston Bar.

Just south of Boston Bar is Hells Gate. Here the mighty waters of the Fraser River are forced through a 35 metre (110 foot) opening in the towering canyon’s rock walls. The site features a suspension bridge, museum, observation decks and the highlight, a tram ride over the canyon.

Hells Gate

Rambo Draws First Blood

Continuing south on the Trans-Canada Highway, the next stop is the Spirit Caves at Yale. From the trailhead across from the Pioneer Cemetery, this 5.5 kilometre trail climbs through the forest to reach an impressive viewpoint over the Fraser River. There are also several caves to explore so be sure to bring a flashlight.

At Hope, just a short distance further south, we begin our second out and back part of the road trip. The Othello Tunnels sit just east of Hope off the Coquihalla (Highway 5), and these engineering marvels are a sight to see. The five tunnels sit along what was once the Kettle Valley Railway. Blasted out of sheer granite rock, this section of railway was the most expensive ever built in Canada. The mighty Coquihalla River rushes below the rail bed, and while it is possible to just do an out and back trip to the tunnels, it is more worthwhile to hike the loop trail which leads along an old pack trail up into the rainforest. This area was used as a substitute for Vietnam in the first Rambo movie, and visitors will quickly see why.

From the Othello Tunnels, a short drive back west picks up Highway 3 which leads into E.C. Manning Provincial Park. Several hiking trails lead north and south off the highway as it makes its way through the park. The loop trail around Lightning Lake or the drive up Blackwall Road to the Cascade Lookout are highlights here, as are the prairie dogs which pop up and down out of holes in the ground near the Visitor Centre. Just past Hope, there is the option to visit the Skagit Valley, which was carved during the ice age by advancing continental glaciers.

Map Courtesy of Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Backroad Mapbook

A Final Backcountry Detour

From Hope, it is possible to take one more backcountry detour before making your way back into Vancouver. Heading north on Hot Springs Road from Highway 7 (or if you are traveling the Trans-Canada, take Highway 9 north to Highway 7) leads to Harrison Hot Springs. While there are hot springs at the resort for visitors, there is also a community hot springs if you want to take a relaxing soak after a busy day of adventuring.

Forest service roads run up both sides of Harrison Lake, and the road up the eastern side is generally in good shape. The scenic drive passes waterfalls and beaches, and those with a high clearance vehicle can even head up to the hot springs on the Clear Creek Main. Closer to the highway, overlanders and backroad enthusiasts may want to head over to Chehalis Lake to the massive rock slide that was triggered by a tsunami several years ago. Once a popular loop ride, this is now an out-and-back drive.

Back to the Big City

Highway 7 and the Trans-Canada both lead west into Vancouver, on opposite sides of the Fraser River. Here you will find something for everyone, from natural attractions to museums, art galleries and aquariums. A number of beaches line the shores of English Bay, and Stanley Park is a popular destination park found within the city. Hiking and biking trails lead through the old growth forests and along the Sea Wall, and there are horse-drawn carriage rides, monuments, ponds and more.

Near where our trip began, check out either the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge or the Grouse Mountain Skyride, which is North America’s largest aerial tram system. And if time permits, plan a visit to either Pinecone Burke and Golden Ears Provincial Parks, both of which offer some spectacular scenery and great hiking trails.

Map Courtesy of Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Backroad Mapbook

Are you excited to explore the Lower Mainland area of British Columbia? If so, be sure to pick up a copy of the Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Mapbook, the BC Backroad GPS maps and/or the recently updated BRMB Maps smartphone app, which works with both IOS and Android systems. Whether using on their own or in unison, these products are much more than a set of maps -they are the ultimate planning guide for your next great adventure.