Instead of taking the Sea to Sky highway, you can consider walking on the Sea to Sky trail. The trail heads up north from Squamish for 180km! If you don’t feel up to tackling the whole thing, you can always try a part of it. Since I don’t have any camping equipment, I explored the track between the Cheakamus neighborhood in Whistler and the Brandywine Falls provincial park. This hike is just over 12 kilometers and the start can easily be reached by bus.
Getting off the bus in Cheakamus I had to look for the trailhead. Even while I lived in Cheakamus I had never noticed it, but it turns out it is on Janes lake road, next to a dirt road used for logging. Straight from the start the trail was well signposted and surprisingly easy to walk on. It would be perfect for trail running as well. Most of the trail is fairly wide and even. It goes up and down through the forest in between the Cheakamus river and the logging road. Even though you hear the river almost constantly, you don’t really get to see it much. Most of the scenery is forest and at times you come into more open areas with less and smaller trees.
The trail is surprisingly quiet. I didn’t see a soul, not until the very end anyway, which is a major tourist spot. All I heard was my own breathing, the sound of my shoes and squirrels running through the bushes. Up and down I continue until I reach the Cheakamus river crossing, a beautiful suspension bridge. On the other side the path gets a lot wider. It looks like I’m out of the old growth forest. I walk along the river for a while and pick up the pace a bit. Then the forest opens up a bit again and I pass some weird stone pattern before taking a few switchbacks down.
I reach a tall forest again and I make my way to the Cal Cheak campground. What a beautiful area! I sigh and wish I had camping gear. Cal Cheak is where the Callaghan creek and the Cheakamus river meet. There is another suspension bridge, but on the other side the trail suddenly looks a lot different. It looks rougher and older, but I keep going. I come to a crossroads where you can choose to keep going or cross the railway lines to the other side. This is where I expected another sea-to-sky sign, but all there was was a written note with graffiti over it. I decided not to cross the railway and keep going.
The path got narrower, openend up again and then I hit the sign ‘Brandywine Falls provincial park boundary’. Yes! At least I’m getting somewhere. But as I continued I felt more and more like I was on the wrong track. My destination was this park, but I was definitely not on the Sea to Sky trail. The ground got very uneven and I was walking over rocks and roots. After walking for a while I got to a trail where I had to hold my arms in front of my head so the branches wouldn’t hit me in the face. This was obviously not a much used path. And yet there was another surprise on the other side. As soon as I got out of the bush, there was a very pretty, even, almost paved path waiting for me. Looking at the map now, I see I was walking on a trail that is under construction and not maintained. If you want to stay on the Sea to Sky trail, don’t cross the suspension bridge.
Anyway, I found my way back to the right trail, because that’s where my ‘under construction’ path ended up. I decided to make a small detour to the Whistler bungee site before making my way to the falls. From this path you get some stunning views over the river and towards the mountains in the south. There is also the incredibly cute Pothole lake and you can use this spot for a picnic. Unfortunately there was nobody at the bungee, so I walked the 800m back to the point where I got out of the bush and continued down the hill to the waterfall. Aparently I was pretty high up, because I walked along some high cliffs and kept descending.
A short side track went to the waterfall and a viewpoint. Brandywine falls is pretty high and you can only see it from a high point of view. Unfortunately the angle isn’t great. I wish I could somehow get closer to the river below. It is still worth a visit though and I was not the only one who thought so. Suddenly I was in tourist central. Brandywine falls is a popular stop for tourist on their way to Whistler from Vancouver. Most of them only go to the viewpoint though, which is close to the parking lot. I expected it would be easy to find a ride back to Whistler since there were way more people than I’d expected. It took me about 45 minutes to find two friendly Canadians with their dogs who didn’t mind taking this smelly girl back to Creekside. Mission accomplished.