Scenery like this is great at any speed … but it’s more fun in a Lamborghini or Ferrari. (Photo: Bill Fink)
Wind whipping through my hair, the Ferrari F430 Spider’s engine roaring at my back like an enraged grizzly, I carved through the mountain highway turns as if I was an Olympic slalom skier. Water to the left a hundred feet below the guard rails, mountains soaring into the clouds to the right, the bright red car burned through the glacier-shaped Canadian terrain like a hot knife. I may have let out a “yee-hah!” but my voice was drowned out by the wind, the motor, the sea. The silent Tesla S P85D ahead of me signaled a turn for a rest stop. I’d have to give up my red Ferrari—in favor of an orange Lamborghini Gallardo. Now this is the way to do a road trip!
I had joined an exotic car convoy outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, led by the Scenic Rush tour company. Our million dollars of automotive ecstasy pulled to a rest stop on the Sea to Sky Highway, 83 miles of road winding north from Vancouver to the ski resort town of Whistler. The route is the beginning of a 360-mile road loop from Vancouver through the wilds of B.C., a route that may be the most spectacular drive in Canada—or anywhere on Earth—that is so easily accessible from a major city. I spent a long weekend exploring the twists and turns of the road and the small towns and jaw-dropping scenery that borders it.
The writer’s Lamborghini Gallardo (top), and the rest of the road-tripping caravan. (Photos: Bill Fink)
My British Columbia road trip began, appropriately enough, at a 1956-vintage motor inn, the stylishly refurbished Burrard Hotel, right in the middle of things in downtown Vancouver. Their outdoor patio borders their parking lot, so you can have an impromptu tailgate before venturing out for the night. For dinner, I walked a few blocks to Exile Bistro, for a “flavor of the Pacific Northwest,” which started with a Canadian Rye cocktail flavored with birch syrup apple cider vinegar and “tree mist.” I dined on elk steak and maybe the best mushroom soup in Canada—or anywhere on Earth. Then I hit a late-night party at the Prohibition bar in the basement of Rosewood Hotel Georgia, “the only real cocktail bar in town,” according to one patron.
Nearly 3,000 feet above the sea on the Sea to Sky Gondola. (Photo: Bill Fink)
The next morning I learned that nothing eliminates a hangover faster than pressing the accelerator on a 650-horsepower Corvette Z06 convertible. The car practically launched itself into the sky as my Scenic Rush tour began. As our group rotated driving the different Super Cars, we parked by the roadside for typical Sea to Sky experiences—we watched scuba divers get geared up for a plunge into the chilly waters, saw logging boats chugging along, and ferries bringing passengers from nearby islands to gawk at our cars. For the sky portion, we stopped near Squamish to ride up the Sea to Sky Gondola nearly 3,000 feet above the sea. Majestic 360-degree views encompassed towering peaks surrounded by pine forests, divided by the blue waters, and documented thoroughly by Chinese tourists and their selfie-sticks, backing ever so precariously backwards to the edge of the viewing platform and wiggling suspension bridge.
(Photo: Bill Fink)
After a few hours of ripping through the roads in the race cars, I had to return the Lamborghini, alas, and continue my road trip in my rental Ford Escape, derp-derp-derping it up the road like a suburban soccer dad. On the plus side, I was now driving slow enough to enjoy the scenery, mountains, rivers, lakes and forests all the way up to Whistler.
(Photo: Bill Fink)
The winter Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort doubles as a four-season playground, with hiking trails, zip lines, scenic gondola rides, and on the weekend I was there, a massive mountain biking festival. But perhaps more impressive than the scenery, the world’s tallest and longest gondola, and all the outdoor adventures, was Whistler’s eighth annual Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival featuring groups of maniacs sprinting down a ski slope to race each other and an 11-pound wheel of cheese. The farmers selling cheese and the display dairy cow seemed unimpressed by the chaos. For something just a bit more sophisticated, I dined at Whistler’s Araxi restaurant, where I was able to sample an artisanal cheese platter without risking a concussion, and enjoyed a chef’s sampler menu of locally sourced cuisine paired with British Columbia wines. It’s enough to make a person want to drive the BC loop just to forage for food.
Beyond Whistler, I left the Sea to Sky Highway to strike inland on Highway 99 past small farming communities and massive mountains. Every turn of the road led to a more spectacular view of jagged peaks, shining lakes, and forests dropping like green comets from the roadside. The jaw-dropping scenery pretty much forced me to stop at every turn-out just to rest my face.
Pemberton’s Mile One Eating House provided a fine roadside lunch break with a Hillbilly Deluxe Burger, complete with elk chorizo sausage and cheese curds with beer-battered onions. And a perfect pairing with all things hillbilly is of course moonshine, so I stopped by the local Pemberton Distillery for a taste of their local potato-based vodka and schnapps. They also produce a fine absinthe, a must-buy, because really, what goes better with a long winding cliff-side road trip than a hallucinogenic spirit?
The farming communities along Highway 99 are not to be missed. (Photo: Bill Fink)
For a proper backcountry experience, I stopped at a friend’s farm outside of Lillooet and camped out amidst dazzling stars and a hint of the Northern Lights. I was able to test out my new Sierra Designs Lightning tent and Nemo Tango Solo “sleep system” of integrated sleeping bag, sheet, and mattress pad. I had been able to pack both into my airplane carry-on bag, so they were compact, lightweight, and passed the critical tests being both comfortable and easy enough to set up that a person could assemble them in the dark after say, a couple shots of absinthe.
If the highway curves don’t make you dizzy, this might. (Photo: Bill Fink)
The next morning my trip back south toward Vancouver along Highway 12 was livened up by a quick visit to the Gates of Hell. The Fraser River, blasting through one narrow canyon pass, gained this nickname by Mr. Fraser as he explored the area in 1808. Nowadays, you can drop into hell via the Hell’s Gate Airtram, a gondola plunging from the roadside 150 feet to the shores of the rapids.
A view of the Fraser River. (Photo: Bill Fink)
After a couple hours of white-knuckle driving through hairpin turns, rock-strewn roadways, and dodging barreling logging trucks, I thought I should make one final stop to relax: Harrison Hot Springs, just north of Highway 7 on the southern end of my looping road trip. The resort area is famous for its natural heated mineral water, a fine beachfront, and of course, Sasquatch, the giant shambling beast who apparently resides at the nearby Sasquatch Provincial Park. It would be fitting to finish off an otherworldly road trip by meeting this mythical beast. So I dipped my feet into a steaming pond, sipped the last of my absinthe and waited.
A post-drive dip at Harrison Hot Springs. (Photo: Bill Fink)
WATCH: Did Sinbad Get This Seasick? Hitting the High Seas of Oman