The Sea to Sky country is a region in British Columbia spreading from Horseshoe Bay through Whistler to the Pemberton Valley, which, if you do not know, is actually an area north of Vancouver following the path of highway 99. These towns are relatively new (compared with towns and cities further east), and something that is really so magnificent is that it really does have the best of both worlds. It has water and mountains!
As you depart Vancouver on Highway 99, you are on a road that hugs the Howe Sound. The Howe Sound is actually a fjord. Actually, it is the furthest south fjord in North America. This road is often called one of the most spectacular roads in the world, and as you are driving along, you can have spectacular views of the islands of the Howe Sound, the water (which changes color depending on the weather and the time of year) and the coastal mountains. After 45 minutes, when you reach the inner part of the fjord (which is called the sea bottom), you reach Squamish, a former logging town with a population of about 22,000 people and has successfully branded itself as “Canada’s Adventure Capital”.
Driving north and continuing on Highway 99, you leave the water behind and start climbing. As you travel up Highway 99, you will pass through a forest and pass by lakes, and incredible vistas. After 45 minutes or so, you reach Whistler, one of the best resort towns in North America. Continuing north for 45 minutes, also through forests and lakes, you arrive in Pemberton, a much smaller town that has a laid-back country feel and is a completely different feel from the towns further south.
We absolutely love living here, which is one reason we decided to organize a luxury vegan group tour with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Still, even if you are not coming on that particular trip, we thought we would share some reasons why we think the Sea to Sky Region is amazing for vegans!
Disclaimer: I can only give a small fraction of all the things there are to do. For these reasons, I am linking to the Tourism Boards of Horseshoe Bay, Squamish, Whistler, and Pemberton so you can see in more detail everything on offer. I am simply sharing here some things that I think vegans especially will love to do as you explore this area.
Horseshoe Bay, just 20 minutes north of Vancouver on Highway 99, is a village right on the Howe Sound and is considered the gateway to the Howe Sound. It’s small and very busy in Summer, but there really is a lot for nature and wildlife-loving vegans to enjoy here!
Spotting wildlife from a BC Ferry
It’s from Horseshoe Bay you take the BC ferry to a number of destinations, including the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island, or some islands in the Howe Sound like Bowen Island. While just taking ferries can mean you can actually see some incredible wildlife and beautiful scenery from the ferry, they even have a Coastal Naturalist Program that operates in the summer months that you can attend while on the crossing to learn more about the incredible ecosystem here. From the ferry, you can often see various seabirds, but if you are lucky, you will see orcas, dolphins, and seals.
Hire a speed boat
It is possible to hire a speed boat from Sewell’s Marina, where you can explore the Howe Sound more independently. In just 4 hours, you can cover a lot of ground of the sound and being a small boat, you can hug the shore a little more tightly. On a recent boat hire, we were able to see two Orcas swimming away from us, lots of seals lounging on rocks, some of West Vancouver’s fanciest real estate and the little off-grid communities and cottages, and we even managed to get the courage to jump into the water in a beautiful little inlet. It is highly likely you will see some amazing wildlife if you hire a boat but make sure you are familiar with all the rules regarding interacting with wildlife.
Kayaking or SUP with boat trip
While you might not cover as much ground, kayaking and SUP is a super way to be able to get a bit closer to the shore and experience the fjord without the sound of a motor. Sea Dragon Charters offers a 2.5-hour tour where you are taken to a nearby Howe Sound Island where you can choose kayak or SUP and explore with the help of a qualified guide. Don’t like to kayak or SUP? You can stay on the boat and watch the fun!
If you want to do something a little between driving your own speedboat, exploring with your own muscle power and being on an enormous ferry, consider a trip on one of Sewel’s 30 ft rigid hull inflatable boats. An experienced guide will take you around the Howe Sound for a wonderful 2-hour trip where you’ll see waterfalls, some amazing wildlife, and stunning scenery.
Scuba Diving, Free Diving or snorkelling
Did you know that BC was voted as the number one diving destination in North America? The Howe Sound is an incredible spot for those who like to scuba dive, free dive, and snorkel. On the other side of the peninsula of Horseshoe Bay in Whytecliff, there is an incredible spot for diving and snorkelling just off the shore. There are many interesting dive spots in the sound for you to explore. You will probably want to check out Sea Dragon, based in Horseshoe Bay, which offers a number of services to help you access some of these more remote sights, including wreck diving, kelp forests, glass sponges, and seals, nudibranchs and sharks.
Never done diving before? You can get started with Sea Dragon Charters with their Discover Diving course.
Vegan Eats in Horseshoe Bay
Pickings are a little slim in Horseshoe Bay. While there is probably something in every restaurant, there is only one vegetarian place which is actually located within the BC Ferry terminal.
Squamish is a little further north, and it is our hometown! We have been living here for a year and a half now, and we think it is a very special place. It has pretty much everything: the ocean, mountains, stunning views and vegan food (including a vegan grocery store and two vegan food trucks. It is known as being a mecca for kitesurfing, parasailing, and mountain biking. People come from all over the world to experience some of the best environments for these sports. We should also add that the hiking, waterfalls, and incredible scenery opportunities are also mind-blowing.
There is honestly so much to do and see here, but as this is a blog post about activities here that vegans will especially enjoy, we will focus on them.
Squamish is a winter home for a large number of bald eagles that come here from further north. They stay here as the winters are so mild and there is so much food in the rivers due to the recent salmon spawning. You can easily go to the eagle run and just walk around the river and see plenty of eagles, but one of the nicest ways is to go eagle rafting. It’s very low-key (no rapids), so it is suitable for everyone, and it is a wonderful way to see eagles, and you will likely see other animals too in this quiet and isolated area.
In Squamish, there is a ranch that offers guided trail rides and horse riding lessons. Now we know most vegans would object to this (as do I), but the ranch also has a rescue program where it rescues, rehabilitates, and rehomes horses that were up for auction for meat. It is not clear if these rescued horses are ridden and use bridles and the strict vetting requirements for adoption, but much of the work this organization does would align with vegans’ values. You can visit the sanctuary by appointment and volunteer and reach out ahead of time and decide for yourself.
World Vegan Travel
Did you know there is a vegan group tour company in Squamish? It’s us! While you probably don’t want to seek us out. There is literally nothing scenic about our office (although our view is pretty good), but we would love to go out for coffee with you and share some secret places that we love with you. So drop us a line, and if we are not out on tour, then we’d love to meet up at one of the most amazing coffee places here in town!
Squamish is the site for some really incredible bird-watching opportunities. There are peregrine falcons that nest around Smoke Bluffs park and on the Chief. In addition, I often see birdwatchers out with a vengeance around the estuary area of town and around the Mamquam Channel. I often see a lot of herons and kingfishers while walking around these places.
Out of all the destinations we talk about here, Whistler is probably the place that requires the least introduction. Whistler is basically known as a Winter Wonderland. It has incredible skiing, snowshoeing, skidooing, zip-lining, and we love doing all these activities. Still, there really isn’t a lot of animal-related activities that are vegan-friendly in the winter. Sadly, there is a lot of dog sledding and ice fishing… BOO but many of the animals you might see in Whistler are hibernating in the winter. In the summer though, those animals are awake and doing some really cool things.
Although I have not vetted this one completely, summer does have some animal-related activities that could be worth checking out. Whistler is home to many Black Bears, and you can go on a tour to Callaghan Valley in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Going off the beaten track will surely increase the likelihood of seeing bears, especially if you go with a guide that knows where they like to hang out. There is also a high likelihood you will see other animals too like deer, eagles, and coyotes.
Vallee Lumina is basically a multimedia light show in the forest. While this is not especially a vegan activity, we did find it really fun as vegans. The reason we are included is that animals are used in the show. Not real animals, of course, but we are big fans of these alternative circuses. It’s really hard to know what to expect when going there, and it is actually pretty hard to explain. Just trust us. This is not just a light show for kids. We were simply blown away by this performance.
Twilight Wildlife Canoeing
This is a summer activity only as it is only available between June and August, but if you do happen to be in Whistler at this time of year. This canoe trip is simply beautiful, especially if the light is good and you might see some incredible birds, beavers, otters, eagles, osprey, fish, birds, mink, raccoons and if you are lucky, you might see bears!
Pemberton is a more rustic version of Whistler and is just 30 minutes north of Whistler. It’s got lots of snow, it’s got a lot of nature, and everything is a little bit cheaper here. Many Pemberton residents work in Whistler and enjoy the quieter atmosphere, incredible views, and a more laid-back feel.
There are many animals and nature in Pemberton but no specific tours to see animals, so you will just have to go out and find them for yourself when you hike, run, bike, or cross country skiing.