Cradled by British Columbia’s huge, crumpled peaks, Whistler is renowned for being Canada’s premier ski resort and host of the 2010 Winter Olympics. And, once the snow thaws, the town’s location among mountains, lakes, forests, and rivers makes it an ideal base for outdoor pursuits in summer, too.
Emily, from our Canada team, spent a year living and working in Whistler. Here, she weighs up the best things to do in both summer and winter to help you decide when to visit.
Summer activities in Whistler
Whistler really surprised me when I experienced my first summer there. Not only was it much warmer than I’d expected, but I hadn’t envisaged just how much there is to do once the snow melts. Below are just a few ideas for what you can do.
Zip-lining across creeks & valleys
The rock-strewn river gushes below your feet as you approach the edge of the deck. Ahead of you, the zip-line stretches to the next checkpoint, swaying gently above the creek. You take a breath, and step out onto thin air…
In a small group led by experienced guides, you’ll head into a forested valley just outside the town. Here, you can spend a couple of hours navigating a network of suspension bridges, steps, and zip-lines that criss-cross Fitzsimmons Creek. Along the way, you’ll learn about the region’s ecology from your guides, all while soaking up the natural beauty.
Canoeing, kayaking & family-friendly rafting
The rivers and lakes near Whistler are ideal if you want to experience water activities at a gentler pace. You could opt for a three-hour guided canoe or kayak trip along the River of Golden Dreams between Alta Lake and Green Lake, passing through a wetlands area that’s a haven for waterfowl like grebes and red-necked phalaropes — you might even spot some beaver dams.
Or, meander along the river on a gentle rafting trip. Your guides will tell you about the history and traditions of the Squamish First Nations people as you go, and if splashing isn’t enough, you’ll get a chance to cool off with a quick dip in the jade-tinted glacial water.
Helicopter flight with a glacier landing
Soaring above the forested peaks, the scale of British Columbia’s striking landscapes begins to dawn on you. On a half-hour helicopter flight, you’ll gain a bird’s-eye view over Whistler, its two headline mountains, linked by the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, and the surrounding wilderness of firs, rivers, and glittering lakes.
You’ll also pass over the icy blue crevasses of the Cheakamus Glacier and the dark-rock pinnacle of the Black Tusk stratovolcano, before reaching Rainbow Glacier. Here, your pilot will touch down so you can set foot on ice dating back up to 12,000 years.
Bear spotting with a local
Around 50 black bears live among the forests, meadows, and streams surrounding Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. For the best chance of spotting them, join a local guide who knows the ski areas and wilderness spots where the bears are most likely to be.
You’ll travel in a 4x4, pausing to take short walks to bear dens, known feeding sites, rubbing trees, and old-growth trees where bears often hibernate in winter. Your guide will point out any tell-tale signs of the bears’ presence and can help you to capture the best photographs if you do encounter any.
Even if you don’t get lucky, you could spot other wildlife like Coastal Mountain black-tailed deer, coyote, ruffed grouse, red-tailed hawks, barred and great horned owls, and western hoary marmots.
Winter activities in Whistler
The novelty of waking up to pure, untouched snow each morning is what makes Whistler’s winter so special to me. You just don’t get snow like that where I come from. Seeing it from your window isn’t enough — I always found myself itching to get out there and enjoy it, and Whistler is the ideal place to do just that
Private ski or snowboard lesson
Canada’s answer to the French Alps, Whistler’s ski scene is unmatched in the country, and has been established since 1966. You’ll find over 200 marked trails lacing the snow-covered slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, each clearly marked up according to difficulty level.
Whether you’re a beginner, or have been skiing before but need a refresher, we can arrange for you to have a private lesson with a ski instructor before you hit the slopes. Or, you can swap skis for a snowboard — your instructor will take you through the basics.
Snowshoeing along the Medicine Trail
Giant cedars, firs, and hemlock trees heavy with snow line an old path once used by 19th-century trappers who eked out a living in British Columbia’s untamed wilderness. You can follow in their footsteps, spending three hours snowshoeing along the Medicine Trail with a guide who knows the area well.
As you crunch through the snow, your guide will show you some of the plants traditionally used to relieve illnesses, and you can sample some herbal tea. You’ll end at a caboose (railway wagon), where you can warm up with some light snacks beside the fire.
Evening snowmobile ride with fondue dinner
The icy air breezes against your face as you glide across the snowy slopes of Blackcomb Mountain, leaving tracks in your wake. Trees fly past in a blur of green and white, then you spot your destination: a wooden cabin illuminated in a warm glow, 1,800 m (6,000 ft) above sea level.
This four-hour mountaintop experience, led by a local guide, sees you whizz along Blackcomb’s forested trails as you learn to navigate Whistler’s dazzling-white landscape by snowmobile. Once you’re done making tracks, you’ll warm up with a cheese fondue dinner inside a mountainside cabin.
Dog sledding through the Callaghan Valley
Excitable barking fills the air as your team of huskies pant clouds of steam into the crisp air. Then, all of a sudden, you’re off, zooming through the old-growth forest of the Callaghan Valley. It may be the coldest you’ve ever felt, but the adrenaline is exhilarating, and warm blankets await when you’re ready to hand over the reins.
As well as enjoying the ride on this three-hour dog sledding experience, you’ll hear about how the dogs are arranged according to strength and intelligence, and learn the different commands used for mushing (‘gee’ for left, ‘haw’ for right). You’ll also stop for a rest at an former trappers’ camp on Totem Lake, where your guide will tell you about the lives of those who relied on dog sledding while working in the Canadian fur trade.
Experience Whistler for yourself
You can include a few nights in Whistler as part of our suggested western Canada self-drive trip, or for a winter adventure, use our British Columbia and northern lights trip idea as a starting point.
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