The Best Things to Do in Whistler

Finding a charming alpine town snug at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains may make skiers, hikers, and lovers of beauty feel like they’re having a fever dream, but the dream is real. Whether you come in winter for the world-class downhill skiing and snowboarding, or in summer for mountain biking, hiking, gallery-hopping, and long evenings spent on restaurant decks, you’ve found Whistler Village, one of the jewels of British Columbia.

4315 Northlands Boulevard
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola that connects Whistler and Blackcomb mountains was considered a glitzy and expensive PR move when it opened in 2007. Today the 1.9-mile span, the longest unsupported span in the world, ferries hikers, bikers, and of course, skiers and snowboarders to the slopes they seek. Best of all, the Peak 2 Peak provides access to alpine wilderness usually reserved exclusively for the athletically inclined. (This is the adventure I take my 83-year-old mother on in Whistler, and she is blown away, as is her 8-year-old grandson.) Flying through the air, 1,431 feet up with hardly a support tower in sight, is a thrill. The 11-minute ride soars above snow walls, wildflower meadows, Fitzsimmons Creek, and several trails down, around, and behind the Whistler peaks.
4545 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, BC V0N 1B4, Canada
Whistler Blackcomb receives lots of press about its big-mountain features, but the resort offers plenty of terrain for every family member and skill level. The Whistler Blackcomb Snow School, among the best in North America, is great for both seasoned skiers and kids as young as toddlers. Even tweens and teens can enjoy small-group lessons, which offer equal parts socializing and instruction in the terrain parks and beyond. Welcome on the Whistler and Peak 2 Peak gondolas, non-skiers will have the village to themselves during the day. When back with their group, they can hang at one of the more than 25 on-mountain restaurants.
Alta Lake, Whistler, BC V0N, Canada
There are a few ways to paddle Alta Lake—you can head to Wayside Park and rent a kayak or you can head to Lakeside Park and rent a canoe or a stand-up paddleboard. Either way, drifting around amid this scenery makes a memorable afternoon. Both parks have picnic tables, barbecue grills, and beaches—perfect for a day out in the sun. If you prefer a more intense and guided water experience, Whistler Eco Tours offers a variety of tours via paddleboard, kayak, or canoe, on both Alta and Green lakes.
4282 Mountain Square, Whistler, BC V0N 1B4, Canada
Whistler Blackcomb doesn’t do anything small, so it was no surprise that Whistler Bike Park quickly emerged as the global go-to, lift-access, downhill-biking destination. The park even has its own massive festival, Crankworx, a 10-day rock-hopping frenzy every August. Walking among the armored throngs rolling their studded-tired bikes toward the lifts, you could forget that it snows here at all. Any thoughts of summer being the off-season have vanished. You don’t have to be a millennial—though it helps—to get dirty here; there are more than enough green and blue runs to provide a serious rush for youngsters and boomers. Sign up for the park’s outdoor clinics for critical insights into your technique.
Whistler, BC V0N 0A0, Canada
Brandywine is just one of half-a-dozen provincial parks that surround the Sea to Sky Highway like a fir wrap. A trailhead located just 12 miles south of Whistler leads to a 15-minute walk through the mixed hemlock forest to a 200-foot cascade. The falls overview is merely a picturesque appetizer for the fantastic wilderness beyond. The Lava Lake trail provides a marvelous meander through the forest, and if it’s a hot day, you might want to hike all the way to Swim Lake. You can also access the Sea to Sky Trail and head north to the Whistler Train Wreck then hike to the Valley Trail through Whistler and beyond. The park tripled in size in 2010 to fully enclose the habitat of the endangered red-legged frog, so keep an eye peeled for peepers.
Whistler, BC V0N, Canada
The River of Golden Dreams that connects Alta and Green lakes is a calm, meandering stream that gently conveys your kayak or canoe with hardly a riffle in sight. The self-paced three-mile voyage, typically about three hours, takes you under willow branches and between the second growth alder forests. This rare alpine riparian zone is a habitat for breeding yellowthroat warblers, great blue herons, and all manner of amphibians and reptiles, as well as wildflowers like foxglove and Indian paintbrush. Most rivers in the Coast Range have whitewater passages and require guides, but on this run between Whistler’s largest lakes, a novice will feel comfortable behind the paddle. Vessel rentals, guides, and return shuttle services run throughout the summer.
Of all the reasons to hike in B.C.’s Coast Range, visiting a train wreck would not rank high elsewhere. This is Whistler, though, where a train derailment becomes a canvas for artists and a must-see novelty that remains well off the beaten track (sorry!), even for many locals. A new bridge spanning the Cheakamus River makes the hike legal and considerably less treacherous. The trail’s steel-meets-seedlings design is reminiscent of New York City’s High Line, and among the many spurs are a boardwalk into the coastal rain forest and a longer trek that leads to the Sea to Sky Trail. Once a hush-hush locale for graffiti artists and mountain bikers, the Train Wreck hike and suspension bridge route are now well-marked at the Sea to Sky trailhead, just outside of Function Junction.
Whistler, BC V0N, Canada
Whistler’s famous wilderness expert, Michael Allen, has studied the black bears that live in the Coast Mountains for more than 20 years. Allen and his team of guides lead bear-watching tours from Whistler. Learn about Whistler’s black bears and cubs in their natural habitat as you travel in a 4x4 vehicle to viewing areas, feeding sites, daybeds, and dens. Even if you don’t spot any bears, you’ll get a great view of the glacial valleys, alpine meadows, red-tailed hawks, adorable marmots, and old-growth forests.
4350 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, BC V0N 1B4, Canada
Not merely another showcase for a wealthy patron’s personal collection, the Audain Art Museum is arguably Canada’s most important cultural installation to open recently and a significant resource for scholars and fans of Canadian and First Nations art. The works include a range of aboriginal masks and several seminal canvases by Canadian artist Emily Carr. Photographs by members of the Vancouver School, along with the works of many other regional artists, are well represented in the glass-lined galleries of the museum. Only one tree was removed from the heavily wooded site, and the building, on stilts, seems practically to lift off from the forest floor and hover among the dense conifers.
4584 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, BC V8E 0Y3, Canada
The 34,400-square-foot Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre engages visitors on many levels. Socially, it is the first joint cultural project between two separate native nations in North America. The center is also a stunning architectural addition to the community. The design of the concrete, cedar, and fir structure melds the longhouse of the coastal Squamish people with the traditional Lil’wat pit house. Permanent displays of carvings, dugouts, and implements used by the coastal fishermen and hunters are supplemented by temporary exhibitions, including a presentation about Canada’s infamous residential schools. The SLCC also anchors one of Whistler’s most exciting new projects, the Cultural Connector—a path that links six local arts institutions—which is another indication of Whistler’s rising status as a fine arts destination.
122-4090 Whistler Way, Whistler, BC V0N 1B4, Canada
You can’t miss the Stawamus Chief Mountain when you travel to Whistler via the Sea to Sky Highway. The granite edifice, the tallest monolith north of Yosemite, provides a fine introduction to how stone shapes and defines this landscape. Fathom Stone Art is a gallery dedicated to artists’ work in the local granite as well as marble, jade, quartz, and many other minerals. The grizzlies on display here, carved by founding sculptor Jon Geoffrey Fathom, are particularly popular. Examples of iconic inuksuit, the tall stone markers used by peoples of the Arctic region, are displayed alongside contemporary sculptures from leading stone artists across the region. Many of these sculptors began their careers as Fathom apprentices. You can, too, by signing up for a soapstone art carving class.
4293 Mountain Square #108, Whistler, BC V0N 1B4, Canada
Much of the indigenous artwork for sale in the Pacific Northwest is, unfortunately, counterfeit. It’s difficult to tell if the masks and other artwork carved and painted in Salish styles of gentle curving lines, depicting animal icons such as the raven, wolf, and orca, are actually the work of Coast Mountains First Nations artists. Black Tusk Gallery, in the heart of Whistler Village, is a cooperative founded to represent indigenous artists. You can commission an artist to carve a totem that tells the story of your family. The gallery supports emerging teen artists of the British Columbia and Yukon First Nations people through an annual aspiring artists award.
8010 Mons Rd, Whistler, BC V0N 1B8, Canada
Scandinave Spa, at the edge of the forest beside Lost Lake, is a Nordic–inspired spa that recommends alternating dips in the hot and cold pools, steam rooms, and brisk waterfall rinses. There are myriad ways to stitch together a rejuvenation regimen: Breathe deeply in the eucalyptus steam bath, then follow up with a series of hot baths before a shocking plunge under a chilly cascade, followed by a series of cold, colder, and almost freezing baths, or go the other direction. You can finish the treatments in around 90 minutes, but some choose to make a day out of a visit to Scandinave, tossing in a massage or facial, hanging out in the solarium to read or snooze, or even napping in one of the hammocks strung around the large property. The spa’s café, an open timber-paneled space with floor-to-ceiling windows, serves freshly prepared soups, sandwiches, salads, and smoothies.
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