Ultimate Travel Guide to Whistler for First Timers

Table of Contents

‘Winter Wonderland’ is an apt description for Whistler Blackcomb, the undisputed destination for winter sports fans.

Snow thickly blankets the glorious Whistler and Blackcomb mountains for wild ski adventures, while elegant hotels are stationed at the base as the perfect headquarters.

But have you thought about its summer allure?

Expect boundless hiking and trails, zipline courses, golfing, and scenic everything.

In this insider’s guide to Whistler, you’ll see why it’s such a welcome getaway.

Best Time to Visit Whistler

Blackcomb and Whistler mountain

Best Time to Ski in Whistler

If Whistler was a country, skiing would be the national sport – so logic dictates that peak season to visit is winter.

Except with the region’s cold climate, ski season lasts around half a year!

For thick powdery snow, cheap accommodation, and fewer people to crash into, visit the slopes in November and December.

Mid-season January and February peaks in temperature and snow quality, while March to May offers Whistler skiers warmer temperatures and longer days for one last ski run.

Christmas and Easter festivities do lure in crowds, so plan around the holidays if you prefer more serenity.

 

Whistler Guide for Summer Activities

The fun doesn’t end there. Warmer seasons are the best time to visit if you prefer water sports, mountain biking, and scenic hikes.

From April and May, you can enjoy picnics and outdoor festivals.

Summer welcomes long beach and water sports sessions at Lost Lake Park, alongside biking and hiking in the mountains.

Get lost in the spectacular natural beauty of the area surrounding Whistler, highlighted by some of the best hiking trails in BC.

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How to Get to Whistler

whistler mountain chair lift

Although Whistler’s remote location means airport transfers are inevitable, international travelers have a few airports to land in.

The closest major airport is Vancouver International (YVR) with a 2-hour drive; Bellingham International Airport (BLI) and Seattle-Tacoma (SEA) are 3 hours and 5 hours’ drive away respectively.

The latter two are in the US so factor in the extra border-crossing time. For convenience, you should fly straight into Canada.

From any of these airports, you can reach Whistler by air (yes, helicopter and floatplane rides are on the menu) or by road.

Embark on an epic road trip down Highway 99 – the stunning Sea to Sky Highway – which is the sole road to paradise.

Free and paid parking is available in the village, although you don’t need a car to navigate within Whistler Village.

Getting Around Whistler

tourist walking in whistler village

Built for visitors, getting around Whistler is a piece of cake.

Choose your accommodation wisely to stay within reach of major spots in the Village; the wider region is connected via the Valley Trail and motor options.

Here are the best ways to get around Whistler:

 

On Foot

Whistler Village is pedestrian-only, reminding you once again to slow down, relax and breathe.

Wide and neatly tiled avenues let you stroll between shops, restaurants, ski lifts, and gondolas – framed by the verdant mountains for additional aesthetics.

 

Valley Trail

Walk right out of Village comfort and straight into nature!

The Valley Trail is a must-mention in any guide to Whistler as it connects various neighborhoods, lakes, and scenic points.

Bask in over 40 kilometers of ‘city’ and parklands with this car-free boardwalk network.

Paved paths allow you to jog, cycle, skate or rollerblade your way from Function Junction to Emerald and back.

Winter doesn’t disappoint either, as sections remain open for cross country skiing and fat biking. It’s practical sight-seeing indeed.

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Bus

In terms of public transport, the bus service and seasonal free shuttles are exceptional.

Operated by BC Transit, there are routes connecting hotspots such as the Village, Creekside, and Cheakamus to northern and southern neighborhoods.

Of course, all transit buses are equipped with bike racks and space to stow away skis and snowboards.

A single trip fare is $2.50 CAD (prepare the correct change!). 10-ticket bundles, day passes, and monthly passes are available too.

Do note that transit schedules change depending on seasonal demand, so check it out pre-trip. You can also download the Rider’s Guide by BC Transit for quick reference.

A free shuttle service is also available seasonally to ferry you to Lost Lake Park, the Marketplace, and Upper Village.

You can admire Whistler’s highlights without ever feeling stranded!

 

Taxi

Maybe you don’t want any fuss – book taxi services from minivans to full-sized sedans, all ready to load up with your gear!

Enjoy 24/7 chauffeuring with either Whistler Resort Cabs or Whistler Taxi.

 

Bike Rental

Glide through residential neighborhoods and serene landscapes on a bike!

It’s an efficient way for you to blast through the to-see list.

Different terrain calls for different bikes so make sure you find the best fit between adaptable cross-country bikes, dual-suspension downhill racers, and smooth wheels for cruising.

Or better yet, book a guided bike tour in Whistler to jumpstart your trip.

 

Car or Motorcycle

If you blew in with the hood down or on a sleek motorcycle, kudos to you.

Cars aren’t necessary to commute around Whistler but enjoy the generous parking spaces anyway.

Find more information on parking here.

Things to Do in Whistler

SNOW-COVERED MOUNTAIN PEAKS IN WHISTLER

It’s no brainer that Whistler’s top thing to do is skiing or snowboarding, but that isn’t all the region has to offer.

To hype you up for Whistler’s full potential, this guide to Whistler maps out the best nature excursions, destinations for pampering, and unique cultural treats.

 

All the Snow Stuff

Need you say more? Whistler and Blackcomb mountains are geared for skiing and snowboarding – fluffed up with snow, snow, and more snow.

Visiting Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort is a must-do if you enjoy winter sports. We get it, it can be frustrating waiting in the queue at these ski-rental shops during peak season.

If you want to give it a try but don’t have your own equipment, you can rent skis and snowboards.

This service delivers straight to your room with in-room fittings!

Now that’s VIP service.

To get the most of your skiing adventures you can hire a Whistler ski guide to show you the best runs on the mountain.

Even if you’re a seasoned skier it’s a great idea to hire one, these professionals know the terrain inside out and can show you the best Whistler ski areas based on weather and lighting conditions.

If you enjoy skiing off the beaten path, there are also Whistler backcountry guides to take you through the road less traveled safely.

There are plenty of alternatives for those who don’t want to race down the slopes on wooden strips too!

Quiet sleigh rides, buzzing snowmobile tours, snowshoeing tours, and snowball fights you’re never too old for are just a few to start with.

 

Take in the Gorgeous Views

Consider the Peak 2 Peak Gondola a ‘stairway to heaven’ because you’re unlikely to forget the views.

The world’s longest and highest lift rises between Whistler and Blackcomb mountain to show off thick cedar carpeting painted a snowy white.

You can marvel at the sights for 11-minutes – through a special glass-bottomed gondola if you’re not afraid of heights.

Built for both skiers and snowboarders for easy movement as well as pure sight-seeing pleasure, the gondola is a panoramic must.

Want more top-down views?

Whistler Floatplane Tours – see glaciers and valleys up close.

Whistler Helicopter Tours – see the Coast Mountains, hover above ice formations and fly by Garibaldi Provincial Park.

 

Experience a Food Tasting Tour

Skai Dalziel and Joe Facciolo had the right idea when they founded Whistler Tasting Tours. Eating local is a signature experience after all, so why not make it official?

Experienced and enthusiastic eaters guide you to the best of local dining, be it lunch, dinner, or specialized dessert.

If you think the beers and Okanagan wines are the highlight, think again. You’ll meet-and-greet restaurant owners and chefs to hear the behind-stories.

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Explore Culture and Art

Distracted by the glamorous resorts and mountain views, you may overlook the cultural richness of Whistler.

There’s plenty of history and art that exist beyond captivating snow peaks!

Keep an eye out for:

Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Center – learn about the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations people whose ancestral lands are the popular tourist destination you know today.

Whistler Film Festival – celebrate Canadian indie films, film musicians and genre favorites.

Audain Art Museum – home to 19th-century Northwest Coast masks, the best of Emily Carr and glossy photo art.

Whistler Museum – learn about the history of this iconic town and see how it all started.

Maury Young Arts Center – engage via creative classes, theatre and live entertainment.

Vallea Lumina – a light show that takes you into the magical Cougar Mountain. Not scary, just cool.

 

Day Trip to Joffre Lakes

Just north of Pemberton is the beautiful Joffre Lakes. If you’re going to be leaving Whistler for any reason, this is it.

Right from the get-go, Lower Joffre Lake greets you with a shallow gleam of aquamarine.

Venture along the Joffre Lakes hike for two more glacier lakes amid spruce trees and swooping peaks, each more spectacular than the last.

In the silence, you can hear the rumble of ice tumbling from the Matier Glacier up top.

 

Get Off the Slopes but Don’t Stop Moving

Even if snow soothes your soul, mix up your itinerary with other fun physical activities.

Whistler’s ancient forests and Canada’s eclectic winter sports collection offer year-round entertainment that is equally demanding.

Whistler Sliding Center – cop a feel of the Olympic Winter Games at the world’s fastest ice-track. Just lie down and slide. Expect an adrenaline rush.

Superfly Ziplines – hang above ground in a riveting three-hour experience. The impressive combination of suspension bridges, ziplines, treetop platforms, and ground trails make the ultimate adventure.

Treetop Adventure – climb high above the trees in a heart-pumping 3.5-hour adventure

Whistler Mountain Bike Park – might as well appeal to the daredevils! Ride freely down 80 kilometers of trail, from gentle forest wanders to leaping off rock faces.

Lost Lake Park – finally some sand and beach where you can push off into the lake on canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboards.

Whistler Olympic Park – the crown jewel with a plethora of things to do; practice your skills at a 9-hole disc golf course.

 

Retreat in Luxury

Don’t limit yourself to sweating in the snow when you can be sweating in a Eucalyptus steam room instead!

Cedar forests scent the air to remind you you’re on vacation. Slink indoors for a massage or two before enjoying a light lunch.

The Scandinave Spa is by far the most well-known for a pampering retreat. Features Nordic-inspired spa treatments to suck out your stress, starting with Finnish saunas and thermal waterfalls to lazy lounging in the solarium.

Other spas in Whistler to consider:

Glacier Day Spa
Aviva Wellness Massage Spa
Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa
Vida Spa at Fairmont Chateau Whistler

 

Be Impressed by Après-Ski

Definitely the life of the party, après-ski is the heart of Whistler’s skiing culture.

From classy restaurants to beer-laden bars and homely cafés, eateries offer late afternoon deals to cater to the active crowd.

You can even burn off the adrenaline with more movement by dancing the night away at Garfinkel’s.

Where to Stay in Whistler

Select an accommodation that fits your needs, whether it is somewhere intimate for couples or generous enough for group stays.

Addicted to the snow? Book your nights where the slopes are right by the door.

Here’s a few of our picks for the top hotels in Whistler:

Best Hotel for Couples

Four Seasons Resort Whistler

four seasons resort whistler sm
Source: TripAdvisor

Keep the romance alive! Nestled within the lush forest of Whistler’s Upper Village is the tranquil Four Seasons Resort Whistler.

With a perfect view of the Blackcomb Mountains and ski lifts just a short walk away, couples can choose to squirrel away in their rooms or engage with nature.

Heated outdoor pools, fireplace lounge areas and free shuttle services guarantee cozy vibes and convenient access.

Best Hotel for Groups

Powderhorn by Outpost

Powderhorn by Outpost sm
Source: TripAdvisor

Rent a holiday home for family getaways or long-awaited reunions with friends.

This four-bedroom apartment sits right at the base of Blackcomb Mountain with a secluded deck to unwind after an exhilarating snow day.

A beautiful stone fireplace and large dining table offers space for board games – Whistler village is just 10 minutes away for your choice of restaurants and sight-seeing.

Best Pet-Friendly Hotel

Adara Hotel

adara hotel whistler sm
Source: TripAdvisor

If you’re hoofing it from home and too attached to your cuddle buddy to leave them at home, you’re in luck.

Pet-friendly Adara hotel carries all the quaintness you expect from a boutique hotel – stone façade for ambiance, clean rooms and convenient downtown location.

Guest services are plenty, from complimentary cookies to helping you arrange equipment rentals and storage.

Adara is literally only steps away from restaurants and various entertainment in Whistler village!

Best Luxury Hotel

Fairmont Château Whistler

fairmont chateau whistler sm
Source: TripAdvisor

The garnish on top of an already delicious cake, Fairmont Château Whistler is your luxury option.

Poised like a castle within the dense forestry at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, it sits further away from Whistler Village.

Still, there’s plenty on-site to enjoy – experience a massage at Vida Spa or sign up for yoga lessons.

There are even heated lap pools with underwater music, mountain-view lounges, Eucalyptus steam rooms and a variety of dining options.

Best Hotel for Ski-In Ski-Out

Westin Resort and Spa

westin resort whistler sm
Source: TripAdvisor

Meshing modern style and comfort, Westin Resort and Spa spoils you with an on-site spa and wellness center.

Imagine soaking in outdoor tubs, lounging in front of a private fireplace, and enjoying stunning views out of every window.

But the real highlight is its proximity to the slopes – literally 2 minutes’ walk from the Blackcomb Gondola.

Ski-in and out of your hotel with minimum fuss! Adventure waits for no one.

Best Hotel in Whistler Village

Executive Inn Whistler

executive inn whistler sm
Source: TripAdvisor

Center of action, anyone? Executive Inn Whistler is smack-dab center of Whistler Village, just 150 meters from the Whistler Village Gondola.

They don’t skimp on comfort either, offering you spacious two-level rooms with a balcony and fireplace for extra feels.

On-site Il Caminetto restaurant is a bonus, featuring authentic Tuscan cuisine.

Enjoy access to an adjacent fitness center; Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club and Scandinave Spa are within a few kilometers distance as well.

Where to Eat in Whistler

dining in whistler

You’re probably hungry after a long day out in the mountains. Here’s a ready-made list for your eating pleasure:

Peaked Pies – born out of an Aussie-Canadian love story is one of the best pie stores in the hemisphere; buttery crust, homey filling, made with love.

Sidecut – open veranda seating, large fireplaces and spectacular views of the mountains make Sidecut an excellent grill and bar. Don’t forget the juicy regional meats and fresh salmon.

Araxi Restaurant & Oyster Bar – all about the farm-to-table experience with fresh oysters, seafood and accompanying wine list.

Grill & Vine – serving you American classics, bistro-style.

Crepe Montagne – wooing customers with savory and sweet crepes since 1997.

Rimrock Café – combining cozy lodge vibes and fine dining, Rimrock Café experiments with seafood and meat to offer delicious dishes.

Il Caminetto – comfort food galore, serving risotto, meatballs and classic pastas.

La Cantina – for those who like industrial décor and even more adventurous menus. Must try: the tacos with pork belly in Surprise Sauce.

Sachi Sushi – if you miss the sea while near the sky, Sachi Sushi is a refreshing and authentic treat.

Bar Oso – for those who love tapas and wine.

Pasta Lupino – super affordable and generous with their fresh Italian pasta, it’s a favorite among young travelers.

Purebread – for all your bakery needs.

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Whistler Travel Tips

gondola in whistler, bc

Just a little extra information to make your travels stress-free and fun-only!

  • Look for accommodation that suits your needs. It’s compelling to book a stay in the center of Whistler Village but those traveling with family can consider quieter spots like Creekside and Upper Village instead.
  • Use the secret code to get better deals on lodging. Whether you book online or call the hotel directly, ask for the “Advance Purchase” rate – you’re guaranteed up to 15% less than the listed price.
  • Note that Whistler and Blackcomb are two separate mountains connected by the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.
  • Tipping is expected – set aside some cash or you’ll end up overspending. Unless the service was terrible, tip between 15% and 20%.
  • Whistler isn’t just about winter! Visit in the summer for hiking trails, glittering lakes and green mountains. Golf courses and a weekly farmer’s market are available too.
  • Save on lift tickets by purchasing them before the trip, or as part of a vacation package.

Final Thoughts

Many words were used in this Whistler travel guide, but to see is to believe!

Pencil in enough time to explore its various attractions – don’t just stick to the slopes.

Better yet, drop by in the shoulder seasons to experience this nature-wrapped destination at your pace.

What activities are you most excited to do in Whistler?

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