12 Top Things to Do in Whistler & Easy Day Trips
Famous ski village Whistler sits at the feet of two immense mountains: Whistler and Blackcomb. Together, the peaks form the biggest winter sports area in North America, and the village provides immediate access to some of the best skiing around. Whistler certainly had international cachet before it co-hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics with Vancouver, but the games only amplified the mountain resort's fame as a recreation hot spot. Since the world comes to ski and visit, the village has a comfortable variety of tourist accommodations, from condos to luxury hotels, all packed along the ambling village stroll - a pedestrian-only path lined with restaurants, shops, and galleries.
Surrounding the village, the rugged region is a mix of untamed rivers, teal-blue lakes, unending forests, and volcanic peaks. Only one main road, Highway 99 (also known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway), connects the area's attractions and communities. This scenic drive rates as one of Canada's most spectacular road trips.
See also: Where to Stay in Whistler
1 Whistler Blackcomb
Whistler Mountain (2,182 meters) and Blackcomb Mountain (2,284 meters), the two peaks that rise above Whistler Village, boast some of the best skiing in North America. The Whistler Blackcomb resort's combined skiable terrain tops 3,307 hectares with more than 200 runs accessed by 37 lifts. Indeed, there is too much to cover in one day, which is why many visitors plan to spend a week or so on the slopes. Thanks to summer skiing opportunities on Blackcomb's Horstman Glacier, the Whistler Blackcomb resort also offers the longest ski season of any resort in Canada.
Some hotels provide ski-in access to the two mountains, and multiple restaurants and village eateries are located within ski-boot walking distance of the gondola base (with ski racks set up outside the door and warming fireplaces inside). Snowmobile trips and heli-skiing are also popular winter pastimes at the Whistler Blackcomb resort.
Besides glacier skiing, in summer, the mountains are busy with hikers as well as mountain bikers, who take to the challenging trails of Whistler Mountain Bike Park. When riding the chairlifts, keep an eye out for bears ambling along the mountain trails in search of berries. Unique to Whistler, a gondola connects the two mountains and provides a spectacular warm-weather sightseeing trip for non-skiers. At any time of year, visitors can enjoy eye-popping views from the mountain peaks over the valley and village far below.
2 Peak 2 Peak Gondola
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola provides an elevated ride between the two mountains. Though the distance covered is a record-breaking 4.4 kilometers, the ride takes only 11 minutes. On a clear day, the view is superb and looks out to snow-capped mountains, alpine lakes, and dense coniferous forests. A glance down to Fitzsimmons Creek is also awe-inspiring - at points the gondola is nearly half a kilometer above the valley floor. From spring to fall, it's part of the Whistler-Blackcomb sightseeing experience, with guided alpine walks and many photo opportunities. At the peak, loop-hiking trails introduce the alpine terrain. There is also a tea hut for warm ups, as the temperatures can be cooler at higher elevations. In winter, skiers and snowboarders make use of the Peak 2 Peak gondola to hop between runs on Blackcomb and Whistler.
Hours: Daily from late spring to early fall
Admission: Adults $53, seniors and youth (13-18) $46, children (7-12) $28 (discounts for online purchase and shoulder-season visits)
3 Squamish-Lil'wat Cultural Centre
Whistler's beautiful and modern First Nations museum is home to a collection of carvings, weavings, and stories that introduce the history and culture of the local Squamish and Lil'wat peoples. Both nations include Whistler in their traditional territory and have lived on and from this land for longer than memory. The on-site café serves an interesting menu of First Nations-inspired dishes and the gift shop sells some handmade souvenirs.
Hours: Daily 9:30am-5pm
Admission: Adults $18, senior and students $13.50, children (6-12) $8
Address: 4584 Blackcomb Way, Whistler
4 Extreme Sports in Whistler
Mountain biking is certainly the most popular summer sport in Whistler Village, and all visitors will see legions of armor-clad bikers heading up the slopes by chairlift to Whistler Mountain Bike Park. But the region offers many adrenaline-fuelled activities. Zip-lining is one of the most thrilling, and though it's a fairly tame pursuit, zip-liners do reach highway speeds while flying across forested valleys. Another high-speed option is at the Whistler Sliding Centre bobsleigh and skeleton track. Built for the Olympics, the center is also open for self-guided tours. More local thrills are available in the form of bungee jumping above the Cheakamus River, ripping along logging trails on off-road vehicles, and rafting the high waters of the spring freshet.
British Columbia is renowned for its many hiking trails and Whistler is no different. Trails range from easy nature walks around Lost Lake to elevation-intense mountain climbs. A well-traveled network of hikes radiates from the lookouts atop Whistler Mountain. Gondolas take hikers above the tree line, where the trails are especially lovely during alpine wildflower season. The mountains also adjoin the mostly un-trod terrain of Garibaldi Provincial Park. Five trailhead areas provide access to the provincial park from varied points between Squamish and north of Whistler. Trails include excellent day-hikes to Garibaldi Lake, Cheakamus Lake, and Wedgemount Lake.
6 Whistler Olympic Park
Another facility built for the 2010 Winter Games, Whistler Olympic Park now offers ready access to winter cross-country skiing trails. The unusual-looking ski jumps are still in place at the facility, as are a set of Olympic rings. In winter, Nordic skiers take to the groomed trails while snowshoers follow the route to Alexander Falls and other viewpoints.
Address: 5 Callaghan Valley Rd, Whistler
Celebrity-designed courses add to the resort vibe in Whistler. These Pacific Northwest fairways are set amid a lush landscape of stately conifers, pocket lakes, and a mountain backdrop. Options for playing 18 holes include the Arnold Palmer-designed Whistler Golf Club and the Nicklaus North Golf Course, among others. Avid golfers are advised to book in advance during peak season.
8 Lost Lake
Lost Lake is a year-round destination for activities, be it mountain biking and bird watching in summer or snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Trails fan out from the lakeshore exploring quiet forests filled with British Columbia wildlife. The small lake offers a beach and is generally one of the busier spots on a hot summer day, especially as there is a shuttle from the village. For more sandy, freshwater beaches near Whistler, head to Alpha Lake and Alta Lake.
9 Whistler Museum
This small but ambitious museum tells tales from Whistler's early days. Exhibits introduce local characters, including early settlers and lodge owners, quirky area artists, and world-class athletes who have trained on the slopes. A few interactive exhibits let visitors dress up or touch pieces of Whistler history, and there's a large focus on Olympic memorabilia.
Hours: Daily 11am-5pm
Admission: Adults $7.50, senior and students $6, youth (7-18) $4
Address: 4333 Main St, Whistler
Where to Stay in Whistler for Sightseeing
Whistler is spread out along the Sea to Sky Highway, with a number of different developments, but the best place to stay is right in Whistler Village. The Village, as it is commonly referred to, is fairly compact and there is no one best location. The closer you get to the main walkway through town, Village Stroll, the more lively the scene. Skiers will want to be near the southern end of the Village to shorten the walking distance to the lifts. Below are some highly-rated hotels in great locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Right in the center of the action, along Village Stroll, is the Pan Pacific, with oversized suites, full kitchens, and gas fireplaces. A breakfast buffet and après ski snacks are included in the room rate. Further out from the center, and near the lifts of Blackcomb Mountain, is the Four Seasons Resort, known for its first-class service, luxurious rooms, and amazing amenities. The Sundial is a boutique hotel at the southern end of the Village, at the base of the Whistler lifts. This hotel is just steps from the lively street scene and features a rooftop hot tub with amazing views.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In the northern end of the Village, near the Olympic Park, is the pet-friendly Summit Lodge. This boutique hotel offers spacious rooms, with balconies and full kitchens, and an outdoor pool. Just slightly north on the Village Stroll is Delta Whistler Village Suites featuring a large indoor/outdoor pool and hot tub and a well-regarded steak house on the premises. Located slopeside at Blackcomb Mountain, about 2.4 kilometers from the Village, Coast Blackcomb Suites at Whistler offers good-value suites with kitchens and balconies, and a deluxe complimentary breakfast is included in the room rate.
- Budget Hotels: The Pinnacle Hotel, near the Olympic Park, has oversized rooms with soaker tubs and full kitchens at a fair price. Adjacent to the Whistler Convention Center, the Aava Whistler Hotel is pet-friendly and also offers guests free use of GoPro Hero 4D video cameras. In the heart of the Village and offering quality rooms at reasonable rates, the Crystal Lodge Hotel is steps from restaurants and entertainment activities.
Day Trips from Whistler
In its spectacular setting at the head of Howe Sound, the old logging town of Squamish is now a destination for outdoor activities such as rock-climbing, hiking, and mountain biking. The town is located on the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Hwy 99), which makes it a natural stop on a road trip to Whistler. Shannon Falls Provincial Park is a favorite rest area, with the third highest falls in British Columbia (335 meters high) being an awe-worthy draw only a five-minute walk from the parking lot. The granite monolith at Stawamus Chief Provincial Park is a favorite (though very challenging) hike for its panoramic views. Gondola-access hikes at the Sea-to-Sky Gondola offer more varied mountain routes.
Located northeast of Whistler, Pemberton is the next stop on Highway 99. The settlement offers a wealth of outdoor activities, from golfing and mountain biking in summer to heli-skiing and snowmobiling in winter. This area is mostly uninhabited, with glacier-fed lakes and mountains surrounding the valleys. An easy road trip stop is Nairn Falls Provincial Park, where the Green River tumbles into a series of roaring waterfalls. Pretty Joffre Lake Provincial Park is also worth seeking out to photograph the teal hue of the lakes.
A twisting drive further northeast on Highway 99 takes tourists to the small town of Lillooet. The community owes its existence to the Cariboo Gold Rush of 1858. It was here that gold hunters exchanged their canoes for ox-carts and set off up the Cariboo Road. The Lillooet Museum is full of memorabilia from these gold-craze days, and a Mile 0 cairn marks the historic route.