Driving from Seattle to Whistler. Anything I need to know?
February 27, 2013 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Tomorrow night, I'll be driving from Seattle to Whistler, BC. What's the drive going to be like, and is there anything that I should know?

Any advice would be helpful on the border crossing (one of us has Global Entry, which I think lets us jump the line?), or the part of the drive that will take us up into the mountains. Keep in mind that we'll be doing all this very late at night. If there's a dearth of 24-hour bathrooms/coffee along the way, that would be nice to know about too.

Backstory: Two years ago, I took a bus from Reno to Tahoe through a snowstorm, and was really glad that I didn't drive, as the roads were just ridiculously bad. Pretty much the worse I've seen, and the locals didn't seem to think that it was anything out of the ordinary.

Am I in for a similar experience here? Do I need to ask for snow chains with the rental car? I've driven through plenty of New England winters, but never experienced anything quite bad enough to require chains.

I know it's a short trip, but I really don't want to be caught off-guard in the icy north.

Side question: Is there any (last-minute) way to get my Verizon Galaxy SIII to work up in BC, preferably with a bit of data, without paying an arm and a leg?
posted by schmod to Travel & Transportation around Whistler, BC (12 answers total)
Regarding the phone, this thread has some instructions for getting it working as a world GSM phone (I haven't tried them yet, myself). Have fun!
posted by exogenous at 6:34 AM on February 27, 2013

Best answer: Hi! I used to live in Vancouver and drove to both Seattle and Whistler lots.

If only one of you has the Nexus card for the border crossing, you still have to go to the slow line.

The ride will take you through downtown Vancouver, so expect a bit of slowdown (but enjoy the sights!). After Vancouver it's 45 minutes to Squamish, and then another hour to Whistler. There are pee stops between the border & Vancouver, fewer in downtown Vancouver, and then some in Squamish.

Gas up before you cross the border.

From Vancouver to Squamish you're at sea level, driving alongside the ocean. After Squamish you get into the mountains, though the forecast for the next few days is calling for rain, so not much to worry about in terms of snow. The elevation rises gradually, so you won't be Driving Up A Mountain at any point.

In snowstorms, you're required to have studded tires or chains past Squamish.

Re: Your phone, no.
posted by lukez at 6:58 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: one of us has Global Entry, which I think lets us jump the line

My understanding is that this is only when coming back into the U.S. and if you are all members. I wouldn't try it. The Washington State Department of Transportation's "Canadian Border Traffic" page will tell you whether the Peace Arch or Pacific Border crossing has a shorter wait.

Also, make sure you have arranged to drive the car into Canada in advance with your rental car agency. This is usually prohibited.
posted by grouse at 6:59 AM on February 27, 2013

You might want to call both US and Canadian border patrol to ask about the Global Entry. Recently I was in a car with my sister who had Nexus, I do not have it, we ended up in customs for an hour getting checked out, a lesson on crossing the border and a written warning of the rules. Also if you want to avoid Vancouver traffic, check out the truck crossing and then head north the the upper highway. If you take the Vancouver route, be aware of the right hand travel lanes in the city-you can be driving along and all of a sudden parking is allowed on the road. It can be a little startling. The road from Vancouver to Whistler is a beautiful and easy drive.
posted by jennstra at 7:01 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely call Verizon to find out what the rates are if you end up using it just so you know how painful this will be. I last did this 3-4 years ago on T-Mobile and the cheapest thing we could do without jumping through hurdles was to stick to text messaging.

I didn't drive but the road up into the mountains to Whistler was kind of desolate and a bit freaky at night and in a snowstorm. The road has likely gotten better since the Olympics were staged so there is that. It was by no means crazy twisting undulating mountain driving but it was still a bit freaky with poor visibility.

There is a reasonable grocery store in Squamish that you should stop at to buy provisions if you get there before it closes. The road between there and Whistler is the desolate part. I do hope you at least get to the start of the mountains with some light because as you ascend the views of the water to your left and below are spectacular.
posted by mmascolino at 7:07 AM on February 27, 2013

I've done the drive through the mountains (well I went from Kelowna to Vancouver, but it's a similar weather pattern) a number of times in rental cars, including late at night in snowstorms. As lukez says, you may need to have studs or chains. I've never needed chains, and all of the rental places should be able to give you studs. I'd suggest calling your rental company to make sure it won't be a problem to get studded tires.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:26 AM on February 27, 2013

+1 on the truck crossing; that is how I usually went. As noted, the part from Squamish to Whistler is the twisty part but not horrendous. I've done it in light snow in a 4 wheel drive car and it was no big deal. It was pretty light- like barely more that flurries- though, so YMMV if serious snow is predicted.
posted by lyra4 at 7:28 AM on February 27, 2013

I took a bus to Whistler over the Christmas break. It was lightly snowing on the way up. That road does not seem to be a particularly challenging one. There are no steep inclines or hairpin turns if that's what you are wondering. Vehicles were moving at a pretty good clip. Whistler is gorgeous - have fun.
posted by Dansaman at 8:25 AM on February 27, 2013

You definitely cannot jump the line if you don't all have Nexus cards. Don't even try it.

You definitely need to have permission from the rental company to take the car in to Canada.

You definitely need snow tires to pass the snow-tire inspections that the Mounties periodically put in place. The best way to get these is to rent from a company in Canada, not in Seattle, and to specify that you need these. American rental cars almost never have snow tires, particularly not in Seattle. But Canadian companies can and do provide these (for an additional charge). To get from Seatac to the airport in Vancouver, take a shuttle.

Roaming charges will be hell, but if you're in need of emergency service, they're a bargain. So turn of roaming as you approach the border, and turn it back on again if you need to call for help.

And if you're nervous and the weather looks bad, get a hotel and drive in the morning. The other reason to do this is that the drive is absolutely beautiful, and you'll be able to see it.

It's a wonderful drive, and I'm happy for you to be taking it.
posted by Capri at 10:01 AM on February 27, 2013

If you are crossing the border tomorrow evening there will probably not be any long lines, ten minutes or less, so the advantage of Global Crossing will be nullified. The drive itself should be easy.
posted by Keith Talent at 12:16 PM on February 27, 2013

Best answer: You shouldn't have a problem with the drive.

Once in Canada, you will go from highway, to city streets throughout Vancouver (downtown and otherwise), and then in North Vancouver until you get back to the highway. It's reasonably well signed, but you may want to look/have a map or a phone if you figure out a reasonable method for data. If you're coming through later in the day, ie after 7pm, you shouldn't have major traffic issues (though you never know).

It's supposed to rain in Whistler village tomorrow so you shouldn't have to worry about the roads. Unless you get a real significant snowfall, the highway isn't a big deal. However, at night there are some dark sections and some of the drivers will be aggressive/fast so be cautious and take your time. I drive to Whistler on a fairly regular basis in the winter and have never used chains. I have had snow tires the last two winters, but didn't before then.

Hopefully you're going skiing because rain in the village means lots of snow on the mountain!
posted by sinical at 6:57 PM on February 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everybody!

Some notes from my trip for posterity:
The drive to Whistler was nasty, rainy, dark, and easy. Much less scary than driving in the Rockies, even if there had been snow on the road. It's not quite up to freeway standards, but it's easily one of the best-engineered mountain roads that I've driven on.

It apparently rains a lot at Whistler. The more you know....

The McDonalds in Squamish is unreasonably nice. I know that it's weird to comment on the quality of a fast food establishment, but this place was like the Taj Mahal of McDonaldses. No, really.

My Credit Union sure didn't like it when I bought $300 worth of lift tickets at a Canadian gas station. I think they deactivated my card three times during the trip, all because of that one purchase. Understandable, but blergh. (Phone rep: "Wait. You actually spent $300 at a gas station at 3AM in Canada?")

The border crossing was uneventful in both directions. The Canadian border agents were far friendlier than the Americans. No surprise there. Why does my country feel that it's in our best interest to be mean to people at airports and border crossings?

Lots of traffic in Vancouver (during the day, at rush hour) on the way back.
posted by schmod at 9:46 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Safe storage of clothing in under-stair cupboard...   |   Long term parking at JFK Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.