Sea to Sky Gondola - Squamish Aerial Views
The Sea to Sky Gondola opened in the spring of 2014 and has rapidly exceeded expectations. In June the number of season passes sold numbered more than 4000. A number which seems to have more than doubled confident estimates. Located between Stawamus Chief Provincial Park and Shannon Falls Provincial Park the gondola carries you rapidly from the sea to the sky. Departing just a few hundred metres from the ocean at an elevation of 35 metres, to 885 metres in just 10 minutes. In early June you will still feel the chill in the air from the snowy mountain peaks all around.
The deluxe, shiny and new gondolas comfortably seat 8 and the entire 10 minute ride gives you stunning views of Howe Sound, the three summits of the Chief on your left, and distant snowy mountains up ahead. The gondola cabins are almost entirely windows so no matter where you sit you have amazing views. If you are driving from Vancouver the large and easy to spot, Sea to Sky Gondola parking lot is just 45 minutes from Vancouver.
Just off of the Sea to Sky Highway, look for the entrance just past the Shannon Falls Provincial Park entrance or just a couple hundred metres before the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park entrance. Parking is free, however they have signs that indicate that if you plan on parking more than 3 hours you should park at the Shannon Falls parking lot instead. This is a good option as well if you want to take a look at Shannon Falls as well. You can park there, see the amazing Shannon Falls and continue walking to the Sea to Sky Gondola along the connecting trail in less than 15 minutes.
At the top of the gondola you arrive at the spectacular Summit Lodge. You immediately are drawn to enter this cliff-edge building with a restaurant, coffee shop, bar and an enormous sundeck that stretches around half of the building. The sundeck has dozens of tables and of course views of everything. Gondola's coming and going, Howe Sound, Sky Pilot and Co-Pilot(mountains). At one end of the sundeck the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge extends across a chasm to a rocky outcrop in the direction of Sky Pilot Mountain.
The amazing Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge takes you across to the Spirit Trail and your first of several massive and stunning viewing areas and the start of an interpretive tour of this wonderful forest. Everywhere you turn you see an interesting, written description of what surrounds you as well as frequent park benches to sit and enjoy the view.
Most hikers take the easy and short, Panorama Trail that starts just past the Mount Habrich trailhead. The 1.6 kilometre(roundtrip) Panorama Trail is a wonderful loop trail through the forest to various amazing lookouts. The highlight of this trail is breathtaking Chief Viewing Platform. This wooden deck juts out over a cliff almost 200 metres high. With the three peaks of the Chief far below you and Howe Sound filling the view to the left you stand with treetops all around you. The Look Back Viewpoint is another highlight of the Panorama Trail as it sits on a wonderful viewpoint across from the Summit Lodge and perpendicular to the gondola. This unique vantage point allows you to see the Summit Lodge framed by the distant Ledge, Sky Pilot and Co-Pilot mountains. As the Look Back trail runs off the main trail, it is usually passed by, making it a quiet corner of the otherwise busy trail network. The hiking trail network is still growing, however the 400 metre Spirit Trail and the 1.6 kilometre Panorama Trail are a beautiful start. You can wander through both trails in about 40 minutes, however if you appreciate all the views and enjoy the viewing platforms and viewpoints you will probably take over an hour. Also, if you grab a coffee, beer or have a meal in the lodge, you can easily spend another hour or two just marvelling at the view.
Porteau Cove Provincial Marine Park
is a beautiful little stop between Vancouver and Squamish. Located 19 kilometres south of Squamish, it is an ideal, scenic and quick pit-stop along the Sea to Sky Highway. There are public washrooms located just a off the highway. The marine park is centred around a wonderful pier with viewing platforms that jut out and above the ocean of this majestic and enormous Canadian fjord - the most southerly fjord in North America.
Porteau Cove is well known in the Scuba Diving community for amazing diving. In fact a ship was purposely sunk in the area to increase the already amazing diving appeal. Other underwater curiosities make this a well used and beautiful place to dive. On any given day, you will see groups of scuba divers in the distance or getting in or out of the water. The scuba diver entry area by the boat ramp has a nice description of what is under the water that makes it such a fascinating place to dive. One the pier you will find an interpretive tour of sorts as their are descriptions, every few metres along the railings of what you may see from the pier viewpoints.
Much like Lighthouse Park further down the Sea to Sky Highway, you can visit Porteau Cove during any type of weather and be glad you stopped. The views are sensational and the enormous pier takes you right out, far above the ocean. Porteau Cove is very easy to find. Just keep your eye out for the highway sign directing you to the turnoff. If driving from Vancouver the Porteau Cove turnoff is 41 kilometres from Vancouver if you zero your odometer on the Lions Gate Bridge.
If driving from Squamish, zero your odometer at Cleveland Ave and drive south on the Sea to Sky Highway and you will see the Porteau Cove entrance on your right in 19 kilometres. When you turn in from the highway you will see a parking lot on your left with the washrooms and another huge parking area next to the wonderful Porteau Cove Pier. This pier is quite large and has great views of the fjord. There is a nice beach and campground if you continue along the road just past the pier. Lots of picnic tables and a great place to stop for lunch on the way to or from Whistler.
Stanley Park Aerial Views
Stanley Park in is a beautiful and astoundingly huge network of hiking/walking/biking trails. An estimated 8 million hikers, walkers, rollerbladers and cyclists visit the park yearly. The wonderful spider web of trails throughout the park add up to a staggering 200 kilometres, which explains how the park generally feels serene and relatively quiet most days despite its phenomenal popularity. Stanley Park can be walked or biked in any number of routes and lengths. Certainly one of the popular, and most straight forward routes is by a large, 10k circle, paved trail that runs around the perimeter.
If you are entering Vancouver from Lions Gate Bridge, you will notice just as you leave the bridge you will see a turn lane and road entering the park on your right. This takes you to Prospect Point(pictured below). This is a wonderful way to start your tour of the park. A large viewing area over the ocean and Lions Gate Bridge amazingly close. There is a small restaurant, a cafe and dozens of picnic tables in this amazing setting. This is a fantastic way to watch sunsets and appreciate the enormous gap the Lions Gate Bridge spans.
From Prospect Point, Stanley Park Road continues through the park with the next parking area being on your left for the Hollow Tree. Definitely worth a look, this massive, now hollow tree has quite an interesting history, depicted on pictures and murals near it. The next parking area is for Third Beach where you will find concessions, washrooms and stairs to this remote feeling and often very lively beach. Further along the road you come to Second Beach, more concessions and home to frequent festivities throughout the year. A huge swimming pool and kids play park is located here as well. From here you can continue driving to English Bay or turn left and along Lost Lake, cutting across the park to the other side.
Any visit to Vancouver should include a wander around Stanley Park. Everything about it is beautiful. The seawall, the huge trees, the ocean views, small beaches, the gardens. The Vancouver Aquarium is a great sight to see as well as the various landmarks scattered throughout the park. The pitch and putt golf course, the seaside swimming pool, the Theater Under the Stars, the Nine O'Clock Gun, Siwash Rock and of course the Hollow Tree. Finally, seeing the Lions Gate Bridge from below as you pass under via the seawall is quite a sight.