A quick ride on the Whistler Village Gondola delivers alpine hiking without the tough slog up the mountain. I recommend looking down: bears often clamber on the slopes (best viewed in the safety of the gondola) and mountain bikers catch air along the trails.
At the peak, backdrops of white glaciers and teal lakes make for great photos. Few walk far enough to find the wildflowers or sip tea at the Harmony Alpine Tea Hut. But do take caution: as I sat admiring the view on one trip, a small rockslide fell from below the peak and boomed into the restricted-area glacier bowl.
At lower altitudes, hiking trails fan out from the village. Lesser-discovered parks include Brandywine Falls (with its impressive waterfall), Garibaldi (where marmots scurry beside the trails), and Joffre Lakes (with its looming glaciers). It all adds up to some of the best scenery on the west coast.
2. Getting cultured
When I wandered into the cedar Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (4584 Blackcomb Way) just minutes before closing one day, the interpreters were still happy to teach me how to twist a bracelet from spongy strips of soaked cedar bark. Unfortunately for me, the café, with its bread-like Bannock and venison chili, was closed at the time.
But with better planning you can make sure that doesn’t happen to you. Exhibits — be it sculptures and canoes, language games, or lessons on making a craft — illuminate the local First Nations cultures.
Besides hikers, the Village Gondola carries mountain bikers to the top of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. The 200km (124 miles) of trails are divvied up much like ski runs, with easy courses for first-timers and black-diamond routes for the extreme.
Before you go, check their Safety Information.
For no-cost cycling, there’s the paved 35km Valley Trail or a gravel loop around Lost Lake. Known to be clothing-optional, Lost Lake is ringed with nature trails where I’ve spotted woodpeckers, herons, and impressively slimy slugs. As for nudists, I’m told the rare few stick to the dock in Canine Cove.
A raft trip where our guide navigated much of the Green River backwards left me longing for a bumpier ride. I’m already planning a journey to the rougher, raft-flipping rapids of the Elaho and Squamish rivers. Local rivers swell with the spring thaw so schedule in early June for the best runs.
Based in Whistler close to the Village Gondola, Wedge Rafting offers warm weather tours.
For a drier on-the-water experience, head to the lakes that trim the western and northern edges of the village and hop in a canoe or kayak. Alta Lake is where, back in 1914, Rainbow Lodge became Whistler’s first tourist retreat. The lodge has since burnt down, but the fishing, paddling, and swimming remain.
Ziptrek Ecotours suspends its steel cables over creeks and forest. Put trust in the wire and reach speeds of more than 80km/h (50mph). I’m particularly fond of the company’s commitment to sustainability.
7. Climbing and Bungeeing
Rock climbers gather at local cliffs such as the granite face of the Stawamus Chief that stands near the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Although it’s fun to watch climbers, I opt for the hiking trail ’round back. The climb over smooth granite and uprooted trails has lots of ladders, short drops, and panoramas of the ever-snowy Tantalus Range.
8. Eating and Drinking
On a summer Sunday, I love browsing the Whistler Farmer’s Market, where vendors line up with their bounty from local orchards, vineyards, hives, and fields. Arrive hungry and taste the samples.
Although many reserve tables at Araxi (4222 Village Square) with its full wine cellar, and at the flash Bearfoot Bistro (4121 Village Green), I prefer to keep things simple and cheap at Splitz Grill (4369 Main St.) where the burger toppings include tzatziki, kosher pickles, and sprouts. Grab another solid meal at the vegetarian-friendly deli Ingrid’s Village Café (4305 Skier’s Approach).
The Whistler Brewhouse (4355 Blackcomb Way) taps its own kegs and those from regional breweries.
Festivals, people, and wildlife make Whistler an easy-going, sit-back sort of place. Walking along the Village Stroll can be lively, but often requires dodging pedestrian traffic jams of absent-minded vacationers, snowboarders, and kids.
Grab a seat somewhere and just watch Whistler happening.
The Olympics triggered multi-million-dollar upgrades to the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Driving the smooth route from Vancouver to Whistler, I’ve spotted a mother bear with her cubs as well as eagles. From Whistler, a pothole-filled road continues northeast to Pemberton and on to the gold-rush town of Lillooet. Gear-down for the hairpin bends and steep hills.
For those who thought I was about to impart some golf secrets, I’ll oblige: Whistler is also home to four much-lauded greens.
And of course there’s still a chance in summer to get out in the snow at one of North America’s favorite resorts — glacier skiing is open until late July.
How did Whistler get its name? Read Whistler’s Little Secret to find out.
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