Premier Listings: Cycling & Biking: Whistler, Sea to Sky Highway

There’s a long, level 12-mile (19-km) stretch of the Squamish Valley Road that makes for a mellow cycle ride. The route begins at the Cheekye Bridge. Follow the signs to Squamish and Paradise Valleys from Hwy 99 north of Squamish, directly across from the entrance to Alice Lake Provincial Park. Or you can cycle out along Government Road from downtown Squamish, a rambling 6-mile (10-km) route with charm of its own.

As the Squamish Valley Road heads northwest from the Cheekye Bridge through the long, narrow valley, it parallels the Squamish River for much of the way. The road is overhung with the sheltering branches of tall broadleaf maple trees that blaze with colour in September. The road passes through several Indian reserves on its way to Cloudburst, a small community where the pavement ends. Along the way you’ll be treated to more staggeringly beautiful views than you can imagine. One of the best ones occurs at the Pillchuk Creek Bridge, about 8 miles (13 km) from the Cheekye Bridge. This route also features many places to pull off and take a break beside the river.

Possibly the most vital transportation route through the Whistler Valley, after Hwy 99 and the BC Rail line, is Whistler’s Valley Trail. Paved for much of its 10-mile (16-km) route, the trail links almost every neighbourhood between Alpha and Green Lakes. Snowshoers, cross-country skiers and warmly shod hikers are the principal users in winter; once the snow melts, cyclists and in-line skaters, as well as walkers, joggers, and strollers, vie for space. Although cyclists should be able to cover the entire loop, in-line skaters will have to avoid unpaved sections around Lost Lake, at least for the time being. Community opinion is split over the merits of black-topping the entire trail. Be that as it may, there is plenty of ground – mostly level – to explore. You can join the trail at numerous places throughout the valley, including the Whistler Golf Course, directly across Hwy 99 from Whistler Village, and use it to reach any of the seven parks, five lakes, several creeks, and a river along the route.

The really big cycle and in-line skate journey around the valley is the 22-mile (35-km) section of Sea to Sky Highway 99 that links Whistler and Pemberton. Some folks use this as a commuter route, while others simply cover sections of it before turning around. How long it will take you and how far you go depend on your conditioning. There’s always the choice of returning on the private bus service that operates frequently throughout the day, but you’ll have to ship you bike back separately as freight. In places, Hwy 99 parallels the Green River, as well as Rutherford Creek, both cheery companions whose rolling motion is an encouragement to pedal harder. Hills will challenge you no matter which direction you’re travelling. Be particularly cautious in the narrow section between Nairn Falls Provincial Park and the BC Rail bridge that spans the highway south of the falls. Although you’ll find paved shoulders along much of Hwy 99, there are none in this tight section.

The Coast Mountains Circle Tour, a longer route encompassing the above sections and more, introduces cyclists to the backcountry region in the Sea to Sky corridor. This stunning 600 km circle tour begins north from Vancouver on Hwy 99 and follows along steep-sided Howe Sound, a fjord-like body of water that cuts into the Coast Mountains of BC. As you approach Squamish admire the remarkable series of geographical formations laid before you: Shannon Falls, BC’s third-highest waterfall, and the smooth granite features of Stawamus Chief Mountain, one of the largest free-standing granite monoliths in the world with Mount Garibaldi (Garibaldi Provincial Park) and craggy friends on high in the distance. From here the highway starts climbing up into the Coast Mountains. Something magical happens when you arrive at the summit of the small valley that contains Whistler. A cluster of little lakes is gathered here, reflecting the outline of the mountains high above – no other lakes have scenery quite like this to mirror. When you let your eyes rise from the reflection to admire the real thing, the contours of the ski runs on Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains pattern the forested slopes. Take a deep breath of the freshest air imaginable.

From Whistler the Sea to Sky Highway continues to Pemberton and beyond and passes through the most notably varied terrain of its entire length. Here the change from coastal temperate zone to aridity occurs abruptly. This section of the highway is known as the Duffey Lake Road – the corridor between Pemberton and Lillooet. As the Pemberton Valley opens up, so too does the number of roads leading off from Hwy 99 that will be of interest to those seeking backcountry adventure. The scenery makes this cycle trip special: high peaks straddle the valley, while the river, aided by various creeks, bubbles along the forested floor.

The weather around Lillooet is much drier and hotter than elsewhere in the Sea to Sky region, so be prepared to consume a lot of liquid as you pedal along. From Lillooet the cyclist has the choice of turning south and following the Fraser River to join Hwy 1 at Lytton or going north and east, climbing the Fraser River Valley to Pavilion. Highway 99 continues east to meet Hwy 97 near historic Hat Creek Ranch on the old Gold Rush Trail. From here cycle south to Cache Creek and Hwy 1. This is the Trans-Canada Highway and it travels south paralleling both the Thompson and Fraser Rivers. (You’ll find roadside fruit and vegetables stands between Lytton and Cache Creek). Between Yale and Hope a series of tunnels, interspaced by long sections of heavily forested roadway, leads through the rock walls of the Fraser Canyon. From Hope you may decide to follow Hwy 7 along the north side of the Fraser River, through rich agricultural country, or continue along Hwy 1 to Vancouver.

The Pemberton Valley is a natural for cycling: mostly level, lightly trafficked, it’s a pastoral setting with incredible mountain views. Beginning from the town centre, the Pemberton Valley Road runs north and links with Pemberton Meadows Road. Both roads are paved and run farther than you’ll probably care to pedal in the course of a day, about 28 miles (45 km) one way. Follow Prospect Street for a short distance past the Pemberton Pioneer Museum, to where Pemberton Valley Rd begins. From here north the road gently meanders past rich farmland, much of which is cultivated with seed potatoes. Miller Creek and Ryan River empty down off the slopes of the mountains to the west into the nearby Lillooet River. North of Ryan River the road subtly changes its name to Pemberton Meadows Road, and carries on north for the next 23 miles (38 km).

An important intersection to watch for is the Lillooet Lake Road, which begins slightly more than 4 miles (7 km) north of the Outward Bound Centre. Follow Lillooet River Road for about 1 mile (1.5 km) to the Lillooet River Forestry Bridge, a good place to take a break. At this point you are 16 miles (26 km) northwest of Pemberton and will have a great view back down the valley. The trailhead to Tenquille Lake is located on the north side of the bridge. If you choose to follow Pemberton Meadows Road north of the Lillooet River Road intersection, there are few approaches to the Lillooet River; the road eventually peters out as the mountains crowd in on both sides of the river.

When you cycle the D’Arcy-Anderson Lake Road to Mount Currie (50 miles/80 km return) you are also covering the same ground as that of the Gold Rush Heritage Trail (see Hiking). The road runs through a narrow valley and follows the course of the Birkenhead River for much of the way. It a tight squeeze to fit hydro towers, the BC Rail line, and the two-lane paved road side by side. Fortunately for cyclists, the road is not heavily trafficked. The scenery makes this cycle trip special: high peaks straddle the valley, while the river, aided by various creeks, bubbles along the forested floor. Unless you’re really hard-core, you’ll want to do this ride from north to south. The elevation gain between Mount Currie and D’Arcy is 924 feet (280 m), as the road climbs to the Pemberton Pass; most of that gain is between Mount Currie and the pass. The road is fairly level between the Pemberton Pass and D’Arcy. You may wish to ride the morning passenger train to D’Arcy with your bike, (bikes travel on a space-available basis, and there is a charge) and then cycle back as far as you wish.

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