A lot of people only think about Whistler in winter, but We Explore Canada contributor Jennie Flaming wants to remind us that Whistler is very much a year-round destination, and that when it comes down to it, anytime is a great time to visit Whistler.
When most people think of Whistler, they think of downhill skiing. Whistler is, after all, the most celebrated ski resort in North America!
If you only think of skiing when you think of Whistler, British Columbia, then you’re missing so much of what makes it unique and worth a visit any time of year. This article will cover the best things to do to have a magical visit to Whistler any time of year, including winter and summer-only activities as well as year-round ones.
Ready to explore this mountain paradise with us? Let’s go!
About Whistler, BC
Whistler was initially built to host the Olympics…in the 1960s! Hoping to attract attention to host the Olympics in the 1980s, Whistler had four failed attempts to host the Winter Olympics before Vancouver was awarded them for the 2010 Olympics.
Even before the Olympics became a reality, people worldwide flocked to Whistler because of its epic snow and fun atmosphere. Whistler’s ski slopes gave birth to the avalanche control gun in the 1970s, and Whistler was one of the first places to get “on board,” so to speak, with snowboarding in the 1980s. Later, Whistler Village embraced a pedestrian-only town and built the longest unsupported gondola span in the world! Whistler was also an early adopter of mountain biking in summer utilizing the lifts.
Whistler sits on shared Indigenous land at the crossroads of coastal and inland environments and is the home of the Squamish First Nations and Lil’wat First Nations.
How to Get to Whistler
If you’re driving to Whistler, it’s a gorgeous two-hour drive from Vancouver along Howe Sound with plenty of beautiful places to stop for photos and hikes. If you’re spending more time in the city, you can check out our top things to do in Vancouver here.
If you’re flying into Vancouver to get to Whistler, you have several options.
- Rent a car and drive to Whistler. Add an additional hour from the Vancouver airport for getting through Vancouver as traffic is quite intense most of the time. Another thing to note is that parking and driving are a challenge in Whistler. I recommend parking your car once you arrive and take the free shuttle everywhere (this is available in winter and summer but not the entire shoulder season).
- If you don’t want to drive, or you don’t want to deal with the hassle of renting a car just to park it while you’re there, the shuttles from the Vancouver airport are an excellent option. You can take the motor-coach shuttle from the airport or downtown.
When is the Best Time of Year to Go to Whistler?
The ski season in Whistler is from late November through March, with the highest season from late December through February. If you want to ski or enjoy Whistler’s other winter activities, this is the time to go!
The rest of the year, lodging prices are less, and crowds are smaller. Summer is generally dry and warm, though rain can come at any time of year. Most summer activities are open from late May through to Canadian Thanksgiving. Some summer activities are only open on weekends from Labor Day through Thanksgiving (such as the Peak 2 Peak gondola).
If you are hoping to hike in the high country, snow lingers late into the summer, so plan on the end of July, August, and early September for snow-free high mountain hiking.
Spring and fall are good times to visit without crowds and with less expensive lodging. Some tours may be less expensive during this time also. Spring and fall in Whistler tend to be wet, with some sunny days mixed in. Temperatures can vary from quite cold to hot and change rapidly. Some experiences may be closed during the transition from summer to winter and winter to summer.
Things to Do in Whistler Year-Round
These activities are all available in winter and summer. Some may not be available during the shoulder season of spring and fall. If you’re traveling in April or early May, or late October through mid-November, I recommend checking with any experience you really want to have to make sure they’re open.
Wander Whistler Village
No Whistler visit is complete without spending some time wandering around the pedestrian-only Village. There are bars, restaurants, public squares with benches, and plenty of shops to wander through. Though not very large, the Village can be a little disorienting with so much activity. There are plenty of signs pointing to different locations and places to help you find your way.
Make sure to walk through the Olympic Plaza, an ample open space with a stage and remnants of the 2010 Olympics, including gigantic Olympic rings.
I also recommend Armchair Books, a wonderful independent bookstore with plenty of books as well as recreation and travel maps.
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola
You do not want to miss the Peak 2 Peak 360 Experience if you’re in Whistler on a clear day. Open winter and summer (though it closes during the shoulder season), you’ll be swept away by epic views as you ride three different gondolas from the Village to one mountain, across the Peak 2 Peak, and then down the other gondola to return to the Village.
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola is the longest unsupported gondola span in the world, and some of the cars have glass bottoms if you seriously want to freak yourself out (make sure to get in that line if you want this adventure).
Hikers can enjoy some incredible hikes from here (more on that below), but non-hikers who enjoy big views will also love this experience. It is entirely wheelchair accessible.
In summer, you can go even higher from Whistler Mountain on the Peak Express Chair (see summer section for more), but this is only for skiers in winter.
Pro tip: Start on the Blackcomb Gondola, then do the Peak 2 Peak and finish on the Whistler Gondola. Most people go the other way, and this way has fewer lines.
Relax in the Day Spas
Whistler is known for its day spas and massage treatments, among its many other delights. They are expensive compared to the same services in other places, but if you’re going to splurge, I recommend doing it at the unique Scandinave Day Spa.
A bit outside of the village (you’ll probably want to drive) but still close, their outdoor pools are a delight no matter the weather, and you’ll never forget you’re in a stunning mountain location.
You can visit the baths only or schedule a massage or other treatment as well.
Take in Whistler’s Food and Drink Scene
Foodies take heart! Whistler is for you. From fine dining on local ingredients to low-key taco joints and everything in between, the food options are many and diverse. You’ll find plenty of BC wines, craft beer, and inventive cocktails.
Whistler’s food is known for being very expensive, and wait times can be quite long when it’s busy. It’s worth looking around on Yelp or Google for prices, offerings, and reviews. Get a reservation for places that take them.
If you’re looking for casual and more affordable options, try El Furniture Warehouse, with good bar food at an affordable price and a large, year-round outdoor seating area. Functional Pie in Function Junction is a great low-key option away from the hustle and bustle of the Village and is close to two breweries (Whistler Brewing Company and Coast Mountain Brewing).
Make sure to try the local institution Purebread (excellent baked goods) in both the Village and Function Junction.
If you’re looking for fine dining and lingering awhile, head to Rimrock Cafe in Creekside or Araxi in the Village. These are totally worth it splurges in this expensive destination.
Visit the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Center
Do not miss the fantastic Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, located in Blackcomb Village. This beautiful building allows you to learn about the culture and history of the local First Nations People.
Whistler is where the coastal environment meets the inland environment, and the First Nations people of the area embrace both. See beautiful art, read and hear stories and walk the trail around the building, which shares about the plants of the forest and how humans use them.
Make sure to come hungry because the food in the Thunderbird Cafe is absolutely incredible. I recommend the Salmon Chowder, which comes with a generous serving of Bannock (like fry bread).
The gift shop is also a step above as all the offerings are Indigenous-made or designed. This is the best gift shop in Whistler!
BC has a rich indigenous history, something another We Explore Canada writer clearly noted on their trip to the Broughton Archipelago.
Set Eyes on the Whistler Train Wreck
The Whistler Train Wreck is one of the most unique things in Whistler and a short (approximately 1 km) primarily flat hike through the forest and over a suspension bridge.
No one was hurt in the train wreck, which makes it easier to enjoy the visit. Once you cross the bridge, you’ll see rusted old train cars from the 1950s laying haphazardly among old-growth trees. The train cars are covered in brightly colored graffiti.
A train carrying lumber on the nearby tracks took a corner way too fast, which caused the cars to go flying into the forest.
Things to do in Whistler in the Summer
Go for a Hike
Whistler is a hiker’s paradise, whether you’re looking for a mellow and mostly flat walk or an epic high country mountain hike.
If it’s a clear day, you absolutely must do the Peak 2 Peak (described above) and go up to the Cloudraker Skybridge. From there, you can hike either the Half Note or High Note Trail for incredible views in all directions. I recommend the Half Note Loop unless you are a very fast hiker. You don’t want to miss the gondola going back down! Also, the elevation drops are very steep and slow on this trail.
Another big view hike that is very challenging but doesn’t involve the gondola is Garibaldi Lake. This is a very popular and challenging hike amongst Vancouverites.
For a more mellow option, try Cheakamus Lake, Lost Lake, or the Ancient Cedars Trail.
Walk the Snow Walls
Snow lingers late (well into July and in some places all summer) in Whistler’s High Country.
When the PEAK 2 PEAK experience opens in late May, they plow through the still deep snow creating the Whistler Snow Walls. There’s nothing like walking between walls of snow as high as a multi story building on a warm summer day!
While the snow walls are at their most epic in early summer, they usually don’t melt evenly, so don’t look sharp by the time September rolls around.
Enjoy Beach and Water Fun at Whistlers’ Lakes
There are many lakes in and around Whistler that are worth enjoying (Alpha, Alta, Nita, Lost, and Green, for example) that are perfect for a hot summer day. You can walk or bike to them or take the shuttle. There is some limited parking at Alta Lake as well.
Whistler’s long, warm, mostly sunny mid-summer days are perfect for relaxing at the beach or getting out on the water on a canoe, kayak, or SUP.
Whistler Eco Tours offers canoe rental on Alta Lake at Wayside Park. They also offer paddling tours of the lake and the River of Golden Dreams.
Do Some Road and Trail Biking
Biking is a great way to get around the different parts of Whistler Village and some of the lakes nearby. If you don’t have your own bike or a way to bring it with you, no problem, as you can rent both traditional and e-bikes by the hour or the day to get around or just to get some mellow exercise.
You’ll happen across a rental spot very easily, so just spend a few minutes comparing prices (or see if your accommodation has a connection to a particular company) and go from there.
Experience the Cloudraker Suspension Bridge
The Cloudraker Skybridge is only open in summer, and to get there, you ride the Whistler Gondola or the PEAK 2 PEAK and then transition onto the Peak Express Chairlift (an open chairlift, not a gondola) over rocks and lingering snow fields (even in late summer) to the Top of the World Summit.
The views from this point are truly stunning in all directions, from the Village below to Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park to the many mountains and glaciers in all directions!
The Cloudraker Skybridge takes that experience to the next level by taking you across the Whistler Bowl on a very bouncy cantilever bridge that you can see through (it’s okay, you don’t have to look down!). You can also walk out onto the Raven’s Eye, which is a less bouncy platform that still takes you out over the edge of the mountain.
This is a must-do for anyone who loves extensive views, though it could be scary for anyone afraid of heights.
The bridge is not ideal for anyone using mobility aids as the base moves around and has holes through it. There are handrails on the bridge to help with stability. The bridge is not wheelchair accessible (nor is the chairlift to get to it).
Take Part in Whistler’s Famed Downhill Mountain Biking
Looking for a more intense bike riding experience? Whistler Blackcomb has fully embraced summer operations for epic mountain biking and was one of the first ski resorts to do so.
Make sure to consult the map and pay attention to signs, so you don’t find yourself on something super technical as a beginner. There’s plenty of beginner terrain, but some of it is also very advanced.
There are many places to rent a mountain bike. No need to bring one with you to try out Whistler’s legendary mountain bike trails.
Pop by the Whistler Farmers’ Market
British Columbia has plenty of agriculture, and much of it is close to Whistler. It’s not surprising that Whistler has an expansive farmer’s market on Sundays from late spring through early fall. You can pick up delicious local produce and art and craft items from local artisans.
Things to Do in Whistler in Winter
The downhill skiing experience in Whistler probably doesn’t need much more explanation! If you’ve heard of Whistler, you likely already know we’re talking about the best skiing in North America.
Not only are you in one of the largest ski areas with a wide range of runs for all experience levels (even beginners), Whistler has a long season with epic amounts of snow.
If this sounds a bit overwhelming, study the trail map ahead of time and come up with a plan for how to spend your day or days on the slopes, Whistler Blackcomb’s website is an excellent resource for ideas and especially what skiing is typically like at different points in the season.
Not a downhill skier but still enjoy winter? Or want to take a day off from expensive lift tickets? If so, Whistler is a beautiful place to try out cross-country skiing. There is a network of trails in the Village and the Callahan Valley at Whistler Olympic Park.
Whistler Olympic Park is a dream come true for cross country skiers, this is where all the cross country events were held at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. There are over 120 km of cross-country ski trails here, ranging from beginner to very advanced. You can also ski around the Olympic stadium!
This is an excellent place to take a cross-country ski lesson. They have many rentals, washrooms, food service, and plenty of opportunities to take group or private lessons. I highly recommend trying out biathlon, which is a challenging sport to learn, so this is a fantastic opportunity to see how challenging it is to shoot a rifle in between ski loops!
They even have several dog-friendly trails where you can ski with your dog.
If you’re feeling extremely brave and are there at just the right time, you can even try out ski jumping.
Snowshoeing provides another opportunity for snow fun with even less gear required. You can rent snowshoes and explore the trails of the village, or you can head over to Whistler Olympic Park, where they have separated snowshoe trails from the ski trails.
An important etiquette note, never snowshoe on top of groomed cross-country ski trails. This destroys the ski surface for cross-country skiers.
Check Out the Sliding Centre
If you’re looking for a unique winter adventure, you can take a lesson to try out one of the Olympic sliding sports such as Bobsleigh and Skeleton, no experience is required.
That’s a Wrap on What to Do in Whistler, BC
Whistler is an unforgettable and epic destination for year-round outdoor adventure as well as delicious food. Even non-skiers will find plenty to love in the winter. While summer brings lake days, water sports, and hiking. The shoulder seasons bring a mix of summer and winter fun, lower prices, and fewer crowds.
Jennie Flaming is a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years, and now lives back in Seattle. A former tour guide, she loves to share the places she loves in Alaska, Western Canada and Washington State on her website, Ordinary Adventures. Jennie is most keen to recommend low key outdoor adventures for everyone and insider tips from decades of experience in this part of the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram: @ordinaryadventurespnw.