Almost every Vancouver road trip starts with a blissful drive down Sea-to-Sky highway. If you are lucky the clouds have lifted enough to expose the peaks of the mountains sharply reflecting in the silky lake water. Pemberton is just over 2 hour drive from Vancouver passing by multiple lakes, rivers, hills, and waterfalls.
With a couple of stops to soak in the views and a brief hike up to see Shannon Falls Pemberton can be reached by lunch time. As you drive into town you will notice Mile One plaza fronted by Mile One Eating House, a great place for lunch. The selection is quite generous, all fresh ingredients, in-house smoked meats, such luxuries as Elk Chorizo and off course, craft beers. This was admittedly some of the best beef brisket I have ever had. Tip: you order and pay before sitting down and the dinner is pretty popular with the locals so arrive early.
After lunch we hit the road with a goal to reach Skookumchuck Hot Springs, the closest set of hot springs to Pemberton. As soon as we got there both of us realized the springs are a bit past our level of acceptable “roughing it.” The area is open year round for day visits and camping and is actually quite beautiful. The springs themselves are an unmaintained set of tubs scattered around the forest – wooden tubs, blue plastic tubs, rusty metal tubs – you get the picture. If your vision of hot springs has not been spoiled by a spa-like maintained wilderness than Skookumchuck are for you, if however, like us, your first hot spring expereince was strolling down a wooden boardwalk to a bubbling spring than this might be out of your comfort zone.
The road to Skookumchuck, however, did introduce us to the beautiful wonder that is Lillooet Lake. The lake stretches along unpaved In-Shuck-ch forest road and offers a few opportunities to turn off and observe the majesty of the mountains. A good point to stop and have a picnic is around 45 minutes in at 14+ mile. The stop is a planned picnic area with a full view of the lake and mountain hills. The water in Lillooet is fed by the glacier runoffs and soft crumbles of the mountains which means that its colour and consistency changes significantly throughout the year. In March the lake was milky green, magically thick making it impossible to see the bottoms of the brunches resting in the water just off the bank. Seeing this surreal lake alone was worth the drive.
Note: around 45min driving into the mountains, as your ears start popping, all of your devices including radio, will loose reception so things like CDs, USB cables and satellite maps are pretty useful.
Pemberton does not have a wide variety of accommodations or AirBNB options so we stayed at Pemberton Valley Lodge. The lodge is set at the foothills of the mountains, has plenty of parking, and a free shuttle to Whistler if you are skiing. There is a fireplace, lounge area, and various games in the lobby, there is also a heated outdoor pool, sauna, and a lovely kitchenette in the room. There are no bars or restaurants at the lodge so you do need to go out for dinner if you are not planning to cook.
For dinner, a 5min drive or 20min walk away from the lodge, is The Pony – a local hangout spot with a nice menu, large craft beer selection, and some unique sweets. The menu on the website is not up-to-date and there are market-fresh daily specials. Tip: sit at the bar, let the bartender choose your beer, and instead of one main try the sides and appetizers such as mussels and daily vegetables.
Begin your second day with a hot cup of coffee from Mount Currie Coffee Co., also located at the Mile One plaza, and head out to Joffre Lakes. The first lake is a half-hour drive into the mountains and a five minute hike. In the winter (and early spring) the lake freezes over and despite it being around 3 degrees above zero there was plenty of snow. The other two Joffre Lakes are a 3+ hour hike away which isn’t the best option if you plan to get back into the city the same night. Instead you can get in the car and drive back to Vancouver with a stopover in Whistler maximizing your views from Blackcomb Mountain.
The big site-seeing point in Whistler is Peak 2 Peak Gondola. As you look out through the gondola window during the 20 min ride up the view changes from bright greenery to dark snow covered pines. On a good day the tops of the mountains are covered in snow and if the snow cloud is still hovering over the peak the visibility is minimal which somehow makes for a rather magical expereince.
Tip: The tricky part is that the Gondola closes at 4pm and if you plan to take advantage of it you need to get there by 2:30pm. Note: In the winter the starting point is in the Whistler village (not Main).
Afternoon is a busy time in the village, visitors are packed into restaurants and patios surrounded by bright ski fences making it a fun place to hang back for a pint, or you can always head out early to beat the traffic. Despite scattered rain, stormy clouds hovering over the mountains and at times low visibility this road trip is great even in the winter and one I intend to repeat in the summer with a few additional stops.
More photos from this trip can be found on Instagram under the hashtag #XOVan