Squamish to Whistler via the Sea to Sky Trail on Drop Bars

Photos: Sam James

BC is full of epic bike rides, as we all know. In fact epic rides surrounded by amazing vistas of glacier-covered mountains, endless forests and beautiful rivers are the reason many of us come here and do the sport we do, myself included. Some of these rides are multi-day adventures, but thankfully some of them can be done in a single day; such is the diverse nature of BC’s beauty.

What to expect on the Sea to Sky Trail

The Sea to Sky Trail is an absolute gem of a trail that links Squamish and Whistler with singletrack extending further toward Pemberton. Rideable as an out-and-back and with a few different start and end points, it’s easy to customize the ride length to suit you. Between Squamish and Whistler the trail is around 90% gravel singletrack with few technical sections and a couple of short stretches of highway (around 9km/5.6mi total).

The trail mostly follows the Cheakamus river and the highway between Squamish and Whistler yet for the most part feels remote and wild, despite never being too far from a road. There’s plenty to see on the way up with some amazing river crossings, cliffs with panoramic views, and stunning lakes. The trail itself is for the most part relatively easy in terms of technicality, with a few rocky spots, mostly around the Squamish end of the trail where the climb is steep enough that most people are going to be walking it either way. The rest of the trail is more suitable for a gravel bike or a cross country mountain bike – a gravel bike certainly makes the paved parts of the trail a lot more pleasant.

Riding the Sea to Sky Trail

Depending how big a ride you want to do, there are several different places to start your day, but it’s probably advisable to start in Squamish as that gets most of the climbing out of the way first, with the return ride being mostly downhill.

Most people start in the Squamish/Paradise Valley area – I started my ride at Fergie’s Cafe since it’s a great place for a pre/post-ride coffee and the quiet Paradise Valley road makes a good warm up. Otherwise some people start by the bridge over the Cheakamus by Paradise Valley campground.

Starting from Fergie’s means a nice relaxing road ride out with very little traffic and a nice mellow climb to warm the legs up before getting into it. As the road turns to gravel, it draws you in with a nice smooth dirt surface, quickly turning into a rough washboard — which doesn’t last long before turning into rocky potholes — before going down into the campground at the very end of the road. This is probably the least pleasant part of the ride, and after passing through the campsite the singletrack begins, with a nice smooth gravel grade.

Climbing quickly out of Paradise Valley, there are a few rocky technical sections to clean before a super steep climb full of small boulders. Probably 90% of riders will be pushing up here and only the most technically adept climbers with a decent low gear will ride all the way up to the train tracks at the top. Crossing the tracks the trail meanders up and down and along cliff edges with rewarding views, finally climbing up to the highway with a few steep sections.

Pay attention to your GPS here as you follow the highway for around 4km, turning off left over the Cheakamus and train tracks again, through a gate on the right and back onto singletrack. The trail meanders uphill for a while on smooth gravel singletrack, past Shadow Lake where the trail turns into wide doubletrack for several kilometers, crosses a creek, and eventually brings riders out at Pinecrest Estates where the trail joins the highway again for about another 4km/2.5mi.

The trail turns right off the highway at the Brandywine Falls parking lot where it follows the Brandywine Falls lookout trail then forks left as you cross the train tracks again. The trail then slowly climbs through the forest with spectacular viewpoints and some fun little descents through sections of bedrock until it crosses the Whistler Bungee bridge.

On the other side of the bridge the trail follows the Cal-Cheak FSR, through the Cal-Cheak Rec Site, and across the road. From here the trail steadily climbs and then descends a couple of times, crossing the Cheakamus through a cool suspension bridge somewhere along the way. Eventually popping out at Function Junction in Whistler, the trail gets a little busier at the end so keep an eye out for pedestrians. From here you can take your pick of coffee shops (or Whistler Brewery) on the other side of the highway or take the paved Valley Trail into Whistler village, adding a few extra kilometers.

From Whistler the Sea to Sky trail goes through Lost Lake Park and around the East side of Green Lake, eventually coming out at the highway once again. Here a new section of trail begins right away, joining up with the river and following it all the way down to Green River MX Park in Pemberton. Again, this is an out and back but could be joined up with various FSRs in the area and is quite a big ride in its own right and probably not recommended for a single-day ride.

Where to park/start

As I mentioned earlier, a great spot to park is outside Fergie’s Cafe at the junction of Squamish Valley Road and Paradise Valley Road; otherwise parking is available in a couple of other spots at the bridge over the Cheakamus by Paradise Valley Campground, or a few more kilometers down the road at the very end. The ride from Fergie’s to Function Junction and back is 90km on the nose. If you want to cut that down you could park either at Chance Creek Bridge, start from there and cut out roughly 40km/25mi total. Alternatively you could start at the Brandywine Falls parking lot and cut out another 20km/12.5mi total.

Check out the full ride profile here. It’s about 79km/49mi and 1,370m/4,500ft of climbing with 2,440 feet of descending from Squamish to Whistler.

This ride recap was first published on Steed Cycles.

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