Explore Duffey Lake Road to Whistler Mountain: A great weekend road trip in British Columbia, Canada
Updated: Mar 14, 2019
The Duffey Lake Road - a highway as notorious for being a majestic and scenic as it is for it’s switchback turns and single lane bridges. If you’re wanting to know the quickest route from Vancouver to the Interior, this isn’t it. The Duffey is for the travelers, wanderers and explorers. If you’re wanting to get to know British Columbia, it’s beautiful mountains and glassy lakes, then this is an epic Canadian road trip for you. If you enjoy a good old fashioned feast at the end of the day, like to structure a trip around knowing exactly where the best spots to eat are, and want to know the best places to stop along the Duffey, then this is the post for you.
Looking up Duffey Rd will bring you countless mentions of the word “scenic”, which also means “do not expect to drive fast”. Put aside a full day in the warmer months to tackle this road and the adventures it has to behold, or plan a weekend around it if you’re into the camping side. This road could quite honestly keep one busy for at least a week with the sights and hikes it has to explore, but this post will focus on the must’s – must see’s, must hike’s, must eats, and for those winter travelers the must ski’s.
The Duffey Lake Rd, more formally Highway 99, will take you from Cache Creek in the Interior all the way to Vancouver. It wouldn’t take a genius to guess at the kind of marvels this sort of drive would bring. Whether you’re starting or ending your journey in Cache Creek, Horstings Farmers Market is the perfect stop for a taste of the Interior. Build your own sandwich out of their farm grown ingredients and daily fresh bread, and then stock up on homemade cookies, pies and local road snacks for your drive down the Duffey. This spot literally has something for everyone, and is a great place to stop, wander around the farm, take in the desert scenery and enjoy some family owned and grown goodies. Make sure you stock up on plenty of picnic style snacks for the road, if you want to do this road right you’re going to want to be prepared to stop – a lot.
Leaving down the Duffey from Cache Creek the road will start dramatically winding almost instantly after you turn off the main highway. You’ll notice the desert swiftly merging into the classic British Columbia scenic road that you will become familiar with on this 3 hour drive. About 30-40 minutes into your drive you’re going to reach your first must-stop, Pavilion Lake in Marble Canyon – that’s if you’re a swimmer! This lake is quiet, serene, easy to reach and down right swimmable. Marble Canyon was also made a Provincial Park as Pavilion Lake was found to hold the largest formations of freshwater stromalite – a fossilized organism very similar to coral. A simple swing off the road into the larger parking lot and you’re pretty much set to go. Float around in the crystal clear turquoise water and wash off that desert dust, and if you’re bold enough – and a good swimmer and climber – you’ll notice a pretty nice rock jumping spot straight across the lake from the parking. Once you’ve swum to the other side, it is a pretty treacherous trail to the top of the rock. There’s some old ropes there, but it’s best to feel out your path as you go. Unless you’re an eager climber this is more of a one jump, bob around and feel chuffed about the rock you just jumped off, wait for your buddies if you’re traveling in a crew, and swim in, because I doubt you’re going to be wanting to climb up there again.
Photo: Marble Canyon Rock Jump, Pavilion Lake Provincial Park, BC, Canada.
If you’re not so much of a swimmer and more one to simply marvel at the beauty of a lake, then this next stop is right up your ally. Joffre Lakes Provincial Parks is a trail that has 3 different lakes, getting more beautiful as you hike up the hill. Suitable for lower and higher level hikers, and appreciated by anybody who has a decent pair of eyes on them, Joffre Lakes simply cannot be missed. If you’re driving the Duffey in a day, don’t commit to hiking to the Middle or Upper Lakes – the Lower Lake is a sight for sore eyes and an easy 10 minute walk from the parking lot. You’ll walk through a well treed forest for 10 minutes, greeting many others if you’re traveling in summer, the forest then thins out to expose the striking blue-green lake and Glacial Mountains behind. The glacial peaks are what give the lakes their incredible color, but that also means the lakes are freezing. This spot is definitely better enjoyed as a picnic or gazing-at-the-beauty stop off. If you’re lucky enough to put aside a few days for the Duffey and are a pretty good hiker and camper, trek your way up past the Lower and Middle lakes and park yourself at the Upper Lake for the night. If the Upper Lake is two times more beautiful than the Lower Lake, then I can guarantee this is a sight you will remember forever.
After leaving Joffre there’s only about 30 minutes until you reach Nairn Falls, but I highly recommend the stop. Nairn Falls Provincial Park is also only 20 more minutes to Whistler, so if you’re staying in Whistler it’s definitely worth a day trip out there. Once you get to the park there’s a 20 minute walk down a trail that winds right above the Green River which feeds the falls and the walk itself is beautiful. The walk has some steeper slopes at points but nothing too steep or hard that a novice walker couldn’t handle. The falls’ lookout is easily the coolest part, with steel barriers drilled into the rock face and the waterfall thundering so loud you can’t hear anybody it really is strangely peaceful. It would be very easy to stand there and watch the waterfall rumble into the pool of water below it all day and not notice any time has gone by. Another great part about this stop is that it isn’t super tourist populated, the walk to the falls is a bit long for some to just stop by and look at, so it takes the ones that like to adventure out for their scenery to find it. It’s definitely an amazing spot, but do prepare to get wet as it is a serious waterfall!
Photo: Nairn Falls Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Even if you’ve just driven the Duffey without any of these stops you are going to arrive in Whistler pretty hungry – and even if that’s not your destination, life simply wouldn’t be complete without witnessing Whistler Mountain in BC, Canada. Even though the mountain is somewhat tainted for Canadians due to how tourist populated it is – my math says 99% Australian – it can’t be denied that Whistler covers all bases in it’s majesty. Skiing, hiking, eating, drinking and partying are all high points of visiting Whistler.
Once you arrive after your drive your first stop to snack has to be Purebread and if it isn’t, you aren’t living right. Purebread is a haven of baked goods, artisan products and great tea and coffee. They have an incredible amount of looks-too-good-to-eat-but-will-demolish-anyway snacks, and it is almost too hard to narrow down your order to a reasonable serving for one sitting. Sit in the cafe and munch away, or take your food and go wander around the village, but if you don’t stop here you may as well not even visit Whistler.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Whistler on the fringe where the mountain itself is open for skiing then there’s almost too much to cover, but if you’re someone who likes to plan their runs around where they will be stopping for lunch then the Crystal Chair is the place to go. Situated on Blackcombe the Crystal chair could almost be missed if not for the Crystal Hut. The Hut is a log cabin that makes all day Belgian waffles that are sure to fill you up, warm you up and get you ready to get back on the snow. There’s a few different topping options, and also wood-oven baked lunches if waffles aren’t your thing. The hut is on the smaller side so you definitely want to plan to be there outside of peak lunchtimes otherwise you will be struggling to sit down – this is a very badly kept secret on the mountain. The Crystal chair also features some pretty amazing runs, and I would recommend that side of the mountain to anybody wanting to ski some harder runs to earn their face sized waffles for lunch.
The Duffey Lake Road should be recommended to anyone who loves taking the scenic route. The Duffey itself is full of seriously breathtaking views, and it’s crazy hard not to pull over every 5 minutes to get some photos to document the beauty, but there’s simply not enough hours in the day to stop that often. A windy journey through some of the best scenery British Columbia has to offer, unreal scenes through every switchback, great food stops as you start to reach the coast, and winding past and through North America’s largest ski resort, the Duffey brings a lot to the table for any adventurer. There’s some well kept secrets and some crazy touristy spots but the views, the places, the lakes, the hikes and the food make any amount of hustle and bustle worth it. The Duffey is a perfect way to see the beauty of British Columbia and a great way to immerse yourself right into the nature and vastness that this scenic mountain road has to offer.
This is a guest post by the amazing Frankie Knight. Photo credits (minus some editing) as well!
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