Secret Cove is a stop along the Sunshine Coast Highway
Bonus: The Sunshine Coast, B.C.
Distance from Seattle: 243 miles one way, 6.5 hours of travel time, including one ferry crossing
Editor's note: Before planning a trip to Canada, check current travel requirements.
Northwest of Vancouver, B.C., stretches the Sunshine Coast Highway, a scenic drive along sheltered bays fringed with fir-scented forests and winding through offbeat, artsy towns. The entire stretch of rocky outcrops and sandy beaches lies in a rain shadow, and in late summer the water is warm enough for swimming. Pack your passports for this cross-border adventure.
The route: From Seattle, stay on I-5 until you cross the border into Canada and get on BC-1 West. Continue on BC-1 to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal and sail to Langdale (reserve online). From here, the rest of the road trip is primarily on the Sunshine Coast Highway.
Stops along the way
Mile 61: COA Mexican Eatery (Mount Vernon): This place serves authentic Mexican food starting with crispy chips and fresh salsa the minute you sit down.
Mile 174: Black Bean Cafe (Gibsons): A short distance from the ferry is Gibsons, a quaint seaside town; stop at this café with its sunny patio for great coffee and breakfast sandwiches.
Mile 175: Sunshine Coast Museum (Gibsons): Enjoy a quick history lesson on the way of life for First Peoples on the Salish Sea and the fishing and logging industries that still dominate today. Also of note: an exhibit on "The Beachcombers," a popular Canadian TV show that was filmed in Gibsons (admission by donation).
Mile 191: Porpoise Bay Provincial Park (Sechelt): Set on Sechelt Inlet, this park has a sandy swimming beach for a summer dip. Keep an eye out for the pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins that frequent the fjord.
Mile 194: Lucky’s Smokehouse (Sechelt): This tasty, casual lunch spot features some of the best barbecue on Canada’s west coast: expect tangy, tender ribs slow-cooked to perfection, plus pulled pork and homemade mac ’n’ cheese.
Mile 215: Francis Point Provincial Park (Madeira Park): You’ll pass an old-growth stand of madrona trees (called arbutus trees in Canada) on your hour-long beach walk to a lighthouse and back.
Mile 246: Rapids at Skookumchuck Narrows (Egmont): As the tide goes in and out, water pours through these “narrows” with a strong current, creating the Sechelt Rapids. Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park has trails and viewing areas.
Where to stay
Bonniebrook Lodge (Gibsons): Set on two wooded acres overlooking the ocean, this century-old inn has child-friendly suites with views.
Driftwood Inn (Sechelt): Get a seaside room and you’ll see this place is literally a stone’s throw from the water. Rooms are basic but nicely furnished, some with kitchenettes.
More family getaways around Washington...
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated most recently for 2022. Mile markers mentioned are from Seattle and are approximate, depending on your starting point and exact route. Have a fun trip!