Things to Do in Whistler
The biggest ski resort in North America and mountain host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains feature 8,171 acres (3,306 hectares) of terrain and over 200 trails. With lift-accessed mountain biking, hiking, and more in the spring, summer, and fall, Whistler-Blackcomb is a world-class resort year-round.
Although Highway 99 technically runs from the US border through Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler to the Highway 97 Junction just north of Cache Creek, it’s the 77 miles (124 km) from Vancouver to Whistler that is commonly referred to as the Sea to Sky Highway.
While it’s easy to whiz up the highway from Vancouver to Whistler in less than two hours, it’s also possible to spend days exploring all the see-it-to-believe-it landscapes along the route. Just after passing the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, the road begins to traverse a series of stunning landscapes: Porteau Cove and its beachfront campground on Howe Sound, the Britannia Mine Museum, the 1,100-foot (335-m) Shannon Falls, a towering granite dome known simply as the Chief, the outdoor-minded town of Squamish and a pinnacle of volcanic rock known as Black Tusk.
For many, the fun truly begins when the Sea to Sky Highway reaches Whistler Village. As the basecamp for Whistler Blackcomb, it is home to North America’s best-known ski and snowboard resort, possibly the world’s most famous mountain bike park and enough entertainment, shopping and nightlife to suit any traveler.
The highway does continue north to both Pemberton and Lillooet, two industry-led towns renowned for their nearby access to the Coastal and Chilcotin mountains, but after Pemberton the road is known as the Duffy Lakes Road rather than the Sea to Sky Highway.
Streaming a sheer 230 feet (70 meters) from a rock ledge, dramatic Brandywine Falls is a sight in any season. Lucky for visitors, a short trail and viewing platform make getting to the falls a breeze, and the they aren’t the only reason to visit this provincial park, which is home to jewel-like lakes, lush forests, and rare frogs.
Tumbling 1,099 feet (335 meters) over granite framed by evergreen trees, Shannon Falls are a scenic highlight of the Sea-to-Sky Highway linking Vancouver to Pemberton. The hike to the falls from the parking lot is a beautiful way to get some fresh air and stretch your legs.
Once the British Empire’s biggest copper mine, the Britannia Mine’s tunnels, shafts, and structures are now preserved in an award-winning museum. Come to the Britannia Mine Museum to ride a train into a mine, pan for gold flakes, and learn about the lives of generations of miners who worked copper deposits at the edge of Howe Sound.
Gliding along the world’s longest unsupported span, Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects two side-by-side mountains—Whistler and Blackcomb—and is the longest and highest continuous lift of its kind. The gondola was built for skiers, snowboarders, hikers, and sightseers alike to travel between the two internationally renowned snow- and sun-sport wonderlands. With incomparable views of the surrounding peaks, you’ll get some of the freshest mountain air and most spectacular vistas in all of British Columbia.
British Columbia’s spectacular Coast Range is home to numerous glacier-covered peaks. Visitors to Garibaldi Provincial Park will find trails that lead to backcountry lakes, campgrounds, and forests that are near the towns of Squamish and Whistler. The most famous peak in the park is Black Tusk, a pinnacle of volcanic rock that juts skyward.
The Cheakamus River flows roughly parallel to the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Whistler and Vancouver, but its path is far different than the paved four-lane highway. Much of the river flows through Cheakamus Canyon, where plenty of exciting whitewater rapids and one sizeable waterfall make the river a popular rafting and kayaking route. None of the rapids are too challenging, so the trip is considered suitable for kids and parents alike.
The river is also a favorite spot for local fisherman. Coho and Chum salmon swim upriver between September and December; Bull, Rainbow and Cutthroat trout fishing is strong from late autumn until early spring; and Steelhead season typically lasts from March until May.
The Cheakamus River descends from Cheakamus Lake, located in Garibaldi Park and just behind Whistler Mountain. It’s only a 1.8-mile (3-km), one-hr hike from the trailhead near Whistler’s Function Junction to the lake, but it’s a very scenic trail that winds through old-growth forest before arriving at the emerald-colored lake. It’s an additional 2.5-mile (4-km) hike to the opposite end of the lake; however, the views improve every step of the way. There are backcountry tent sites right on the lakeshore, too, for hikers hoping to spend the night.
Learn about the culture and heritage of the Squamish Nation and the Lil’wat Nation at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Center (SLCC). Located in Whistler Village, this award-winning, immersive center showcases the art, history, and culture of both nations through exhibits, stories, arts, crafts, performances, films, and interactive activities.
The Squamish Adventure Centre is a one-stop shop for visitors looking to get out and explore the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada with the help of a local guide or experience. It was built collaboratively, giving the various activities equal exposure, whether its guided hikes, rock climbing lessons or mountain bike adventures.
Alongside the visitor information area are multiple businesses that help turn the Squamish Adventure Centre into a meeting place. Quality coffee and delicious baked goods are served up at Caffe Garibaldi, local artwork and Squamish-branded clothing are for sale at the aptly named Squamish Store and a 38-seat theater rotates mountain-themed films. There are also onsite, stand-up paddleboard and bike rentals, as well as a children’s play area.
More Things to Do in Whistler
Just north of Whistler Village, Green Lake—named for its vibrant emerald hue—is a popular recreation area for activities such as canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. The glacier-fed lake, surrounded by mountains, makes for a great picnic spot too. It’s also a landing zone for seaplanes, which connect Whistler to Vancouver and Victoria.
Considered by many to be the best mountain bike park in the world, Whistler Mountain Bike Park features over 60 trails covering 124 miles (200 kilometers) and nearly 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) of lift-serviced vertical. With four separate zones and five skills centers, there’s something for mountain bike riders of every ability level.
Located at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, Whistler Village is the heart of this British Columbian town. Featuring a range of lodging options, over 200 shops, more than 90 bars and restaurants, legendary nightlife, and a buzzing live entertainment and arts scene, there’s plenty to see and experience at Whistler Village year-round.
The FireRock Lounge, located in Whistler Westin Resort, uses all sorts of unexpected furnishings such as hickory sticks, river rocks and raw logs to create an intimate atmosphere right at the base of North America’s largest ski resort. And just as its name suggests, there is a massive stone fireplace right at the heart of the restaurant.
Whether it’s kobe beef sliders or a charcuterie and cheese platter, the menu choices bring the lounge’s intimate atmosphere right onto the table; more than half of the food items are recommended to share. Traditional menu items like burgers are given a gourmet twist, with choices like the West Coast, line-caught Coho salmon burger and the more unexpected Korean barbecue sauce-laden Brisket burger.
Even with its focus on creating a cozy atmosphere, the FireRock Lounge doesn't ignore the visiting sports fan. TV screens around the bar show everything from the latest happenings on the NHL ice (this is Canada, after all) to the ESPN X-Games.
Located in the Callaghan Valley, the 141-foot Alexander Falls make for a beautiful day trip destination from Whistler Village. Just be sure to bring a picnic, as it’s a favorite lunch spot for locals and visitors alike. Picnic tables are surrounded by thick forest, and the crashing waterfall adds atmosphere to this wilderness setting that makes it easy to forget it’s only 30 minutes back to the hustle of a major tourist resort.
Alexander Falls is only minutes from Whistler Olympic Park and its cross-country ski trails, built for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, which are open throughout the winter. In the summer, the trails double as walking paths and bike trails. Hiking trails that lead further into Callaghan Valley Provincial Park offer access to more pristine nature, while campsites at Callaghan and Madeley Lake provide a beautiful– and absolutely free–place to spend the night.
The Callaghan Valley access road is one of the best places to spot wildlife in the Whistler area, too, including both black and grizzly bears.
Fitzsimmons Creek flows in the valley that separates Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. It also runs between Whistler and Blackcomb villages, but most people spot it from above. The Peak-to-Peak Gondola, which spans a record-breaking 2.7 miles (4.4 km) from Whistler’s Roundhouse to Blackcomb’s Rendezvous day lodges in only 11 minutes, soars 1,400 feet (436 m) above Fitzsimmons Creek.
Close to town, the creek creates a natural green space, and Rebagliati Park, named after 1998 Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Ross Rebagliati, sits smack dab in the center of it on a small island. The Valley Trail creates a loop, which follows both sides of Fitzsimmons Creek, while a nearby BMX park with dirt jumps rounds out the recreation options found within a few minutes walk of town.
Fitzsimmons Creek also flows into Whistler Village at the trailhead for several backcountry hikes. The Singing Pass trail (7 miles/11.5 km, one way) takes a full day to complete; however, the pass is really just the gateway for multi-day trips in Garibaldi Provincial Park that bring hikers closer to Fitzsimmons Glacier and the eye-popping scenery of the Garibaldi Ranges.
Full of ancient forest and surrounded by Pacific Coastal mountains 56 miles (90 km) north of Vancouver, Callaghan Valley is real BC backcountry. In summer, the valley is home to backpackers and hikers looking for a wilderness experience, while in winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing is popular, with over 45 miles (70 km) of cross-country trails and six miles (10 km) of snowshoe trails to explore.
Home to the 2010 Winter Olympics’ Nordic events, the wall of mountains that surrounds the valley creates a unique climate that sees some of the deepest snowfall in the whole of Canada. The ski season is often 150 days long, running right into mid-April.
In spring and summer, Callaghan Valley is all wildflower meadows and wetlands, where you can go lakeside camping, canoeing, boating, fishing and hiking. The 6,590-acre (2,667-hectare) park is also prime wildlife-spotting territory. Look out for bobcats and squirrels, black-tailed deer and moose, black and grizzly bears.
It goes without saying that Whistler Olympic Park is a world-class athletic training facility. One third of the medals given at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver were awarded here. There are more than 130 kilometers of alpine wilderness trails, weaving through mountain scenery and perfect for skiing and snowshoeing in the winter months. It was the first Olympic Nordic sports venue to include all three events (cross-country, biathlon and ski jumping) at the same site. Visitors now can enjoy a wide variety of winter activities, including tobogganing, ski jumping, biathlon and base-boarding. There is also a public cross-country and back country skiing area in the park.
For non-skiers, the extensive Day Lodge has all the indoor facilities one would need. In the summer months, the ski areas become scenic hiking trails for all to enjoy.
Nestled at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain in the Upper Village at Whistler, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler offers ski-in ski-out access to the slopes in the winter and an on-site championship golf course in the summer. A favorite of celebrities, this luxury hotel has 528 rooms, fine dining, and a full range of amenities.
British Columbia’s Callaghan Valley is a noted backcountry recreation area, so much so that it was home to the 2010 Winter Olympics for biathlon, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, and Nordic skiing. Though the provincial park is famous mainly for winter sports (the average annual snowpack can yield up to 150 days of skiing), the area is just as gorgeous in the summertime. Callaghan Lake is one of the most beautiful and convenient places to camp near Whistler, and the relatively undisturbed wilderness and rugged mountain terrain provide a stunning backdrop to outdoor adventures at any time of the year. Hanging valleys, talus slopes, and waterfalls are just some of the natural sights the park has to offer.
Canoeing, fishing, boating, and hunting go hand-in-hand with rustic lakeside camping and hiking around the numerous wetlands and small lakes found throughout the park (especially in the southern and eastern areas). The main camping area at Callaghan Lake is quite nice, but for a really spectacular place to pitch your tent, try checking out one of the little islands in the lake that can only be accessed by canoe or boat. Boat launches, campfires, picnic areas, toilets, and vehicle-accessible camping are all available at the park.
Explore the artwork of British Columbia from the 18th century to the present day at Audain Art Museum. Head to Whistler to see the museum's permanent collection of works from some of Canada’s most celebrated artists, including First Nations artists, as well as visiting exhibitions from around the world.