As a part of a new series, I will be putting out travel guides for a few of my favourite places. These are the places and trips I get asked about the most. I am not here to tell you how you should travel, but maybe this will inspire some ideas of your own! This is the Ultimate Whistler Travel Guide.
Two hours north of Vancouver on the world-famous Sea to Sky highway, lies a little mountain town home to one of the biggest ski resorts in North America. Whistler, British Colombia. I moved to Whistler in September 2013 and spent 3 incredible years calling this epic town home. There is a saying amongst the locals “you come for the winter, but you stay for the summer”, and I couldn’t agree more. From world class skiing and snowboarding to downhill biking and hiking, this is an adventure junkie haven and wonderland for adults.
Whether you’re looking to make this beautiful slice of Canadian paradise home or if you’re looking to plan an epic holiday, this guide will help you get started toward making your Whistler dreams a reality.
Getting there and around…
Whistler is located two hours north of Vancouver and is easily accessed via the iconic Sea to Sky Highway. There are multiple bus companies that do trips a few times a day up the Sea to Sky. Epic Rides and Greyhound offer the cheapest fares, while Pacific Coach will do airport pick up and drop offs. If you’re looking for a super budget option, head online and join the “Hitching Sea to Sky” Facebook group. Snag a ride through here for as little as $10, and get the added bonus of good chats with a local who will probably give you a few good pointers. Once in town, most places are accessible in the village by walking, biking or bus. The extensive Valley Trail network connects from Emerald in the North down to Cheakamus in the South, meaning it is possible to walk/bike your way between many of the neighbourhoods.
When to go…
“Come for the winter but stay for the summer”. While known for world class big mountain skiing and epic backcountry, Whistler has made the transition to a two-season resort. High Season runs through winter from December-April and the height of summer July-Mid September. While travelling in “dead season” will offer significantly fewer crowds and lower prices, you will find a lot of the activities have shut through the seasonal transition. Whistler Blackcomb is closed during this time, but some of the other activities offered in the village like ATVing will still be operational. If you are drawn to the town for a certain activity, definitely check around with local companies if they operate during those months so you don’t wind up disappointed! That being said with such a vast variety of activities on tap, you will always be able to find SOMETHING to do regardless of season.
One of the BIGGEST mistakes that visitors to Canada make is not understanding the tax and tipping culture. Tax is not included in the price that is listed, so expect to pay on average 13% more depending on the tax for that province. The other thing is tipping. It is customary to tip for service in North America. This means tip your bartender, server, delivery driver, or similar. Standard practice is tipping 15-20% for table service. When ordering a drink from a bar, tipping $1-$2 on a drink is appreciated. If you cannot afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out! Most servers make a dismal $9/hour and rely on tips to make ends meet. While sometimes a controversial practice, it is a custom.
Whistler is an incredibly beautiful place with naturegasms left, right and centre. But being so wild also comes with its challenges. Over the years locals have seen many of their favourite places destroyed and closed. We have also seen dozens of bears killed due to human carelessness. So please, no matter the season, help the locals take care of the beautiful wilderness that attracted us all there. Respect the mountain, give bears the space they need and take your garbage with you!
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST YOU?
Whistler is a notoriously expensive place to live and visit. Seasonaires can expect to pay upwards of $800/month to SHARE a bedroom. How I’ve broke the budget down, is my suggestion for a daily base to cover the essentials, food, accommodation, a round trip bus fare and a 6-pack of beer. Depending on what activities/partying you plan on doing your budget will vary greatly, but this is a great starting point. This assumes you are staying in a hostel and cooking some of your own meals.
Bare bones budget: $70/day
How much for…
Hostel: $33-39/night for a dorm
Pitcher of beer: $15
Classic Poutine from Zogs: $6.75
Breakfast and coffee to go from Moguls: $10
All dishes at El Furniture Warehouse: $4.99
Bus fare around Whistler: $2.50 (10 tickets for $22)
Whistler Blackcomb Lift Ticket: $58 (Sightseeing), $69 (DH Bike Park), $258 (Ski/Snowboard for 2days)
Ziptrek Tour (4.5 hours tour including the 2km Sasquatch line) $269
Canadian Wilderness 2hr ATV tour: $129
Blackcomb Snowmobile 3hour Wilderness Snowmobile Tour: $199
Bike Rental: $90/day
Your Dignity (Maxx Fish cover, a Jaagerbomb and a tip for the hot bartender): $15
Tips to help you save!
Eat and drink like a local. The legendary locals of Whistler are able to stretch barebones budgets to accommodate their epic lifestyle by hitting the deals around town. Hit El Furny’s for a menu with nothing over $4.99. Crystal Lounge après wing deal is unbeatable at 20c a wing. Dups Burrito, Pasta Lupino and Splitz Grill are a few off the main track budget friendly favourites. Head to Tapley’s on a Sunday for $9 half litres of wine and the local favourite bands. Hit Earl’s for their afternoon and late night happy hour. Or check out Whistler Bites for a daily breakdown food and drink deals in Whistler!
Enjoy the great outdoors. While you may come for the big mountain sports, there are plenty of free things to do in the great outdoors. Go hike a mountain, hang out at a stunning lake or explore the vast valley trail network. Check out Whistler Hiatus for some hiking ideas. Please remember that this is bear country and help protect the local wildlife by packing out ALL of your garbage. In recent years whistler has seen many bears killed because of careless humans, as well as many favourite local spots closed. Respect our environment.
Visit during dead season. For fewer crowds, significant cost savings and an undeniably local vibe, visit Whistler during their dead season. Most of the restaurants around town offer amazing deals on their otherwise budget busting menus. Valley centric activities can sometimes go on special as well, such as the Ziplining, ATV tours and Glacier Flight tours. Get hiking and biking trails to yourself as the peak season crowds are gone. Locals love this time of year because they get to go out and enjoy the amazing place they live without the massive crowds.
View of Green Lake from the Rainbow Mountain Hike in late September
Top Ten Things To Do in Whistler
Whether you make the trip to Whistler in Winter or Summer, the top undeniable activity is to head up Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain. Skiing and snowboarding dominate the mountain in the winter months. Sign up for lessons with Whistlers excellent Ski School, join steeps clinics or advance lessons to up your game, or spend your day exploring the 8,171 acres of terrain. When the snow melts the fun doesn’t stop. Strap on your pads and helmet and try your hand at hurling yourself down Whistler mountain on two wheels. One of the best downhill courses in the world, including the legendary A-Line and Top of the World, attracts pros and amateurs alike.
If adrenaline pumping sports aren’t for you, you can still buy a sightseeing pass to head up and check out the view in the winter or explore one of the many hiking trails in the summer. Take the Peak to Peak Gondola between Whistler and Blackcomb for unbelievable views of the valley below. Bottom line? If you only do one activity, make it an adventure on Whistler Blackcomb.
Lake like a Local
The ultimate local pass time and unofficial social gathering place are the many lakes of Whistler. From Lost Lake near the base of Blackcomb Mountain, Rainbow Park with its epic views of the ski slopes, to Lakeside and Wayside parks closer to Creekside there is no shortage of lake side hangouts.
Après like a local
Whistler has earned a reputation of one of the top party spots in Canada, and it is no surprise that the work-hard-play-harder locals start the party the moment they get off the slopes. Running through the winter months you will find snow pant clad locals letting loose all over town. Head to Cinnamon bear on Wednesday for their epic Swedish Apres patio party. Beer specials and dance tunes draw crowds in the hundreds. Don’t be surprised to be greated by a long line throught the lobby of the Hilton Hotel.
If deep house is more your speed, head to the legendary Deep and Cheap apres at The Amsterdam on Thursday. The small venue means you have to get in early to get a table outside. Unbelievably cheap drinks, half price food, and the deepest of house music is a recipe for a good time. Always a laugh for people passing by, most partiers end up dancing table top by the end of the afternoon.
If you’re looking for something a little more lowkey, head to the Crystal Lounge for 20cent wings and cheap jugs of beer. This place is always crowded with locals swapping stories of epic drops and face shots. Don’t expect to get a table after 4:30pm as this place fills up quick!
Party like a local
The party doesn’t stop after après, and while weekends always see visitors fill all the clubs in town, the best nights to party are weeknights. Each night a different venue hosts a local’s night, Moe Joes legendary Glo party Sundays, Case of the Mondays at Garfs and Tropical Tuesdays at Tommy’s to name a few. If you want to party like a local, head to the local’s night and get ready to see why Whistler has the name for one of the best places to party in Canada.
See a local band
Whistler is home to a number of extremely talented individuals and this isn’t just confined to sport. Be sure to catch one of Whistlers local bands like Neverland Nights or the Hairfarmers while you are in town. Ask around to find out where and when the bands are playing and be sure to fit them into your schedule!
Dog Sled or Snowmobile in the winter
If your legs are burning for a break after a few days smashing the slopes, look at booking a dog sledding or snowmobile tour. Head with one of the tour operators into the nearby Callahan Valley and get lost in a winter wonderland away from the crowds. Tours are offered at all skill levels, and the knowledgable guides help create memorable experiences.
ATV or Zipline tour in the summer
If you are visiting in the summer, there is still plenty to do! Conquer the sky flying ziplines that snake between Whistler and Blackcomb or rip around the mountain trails on an ATV. Ziptrek, Superfly and Canadian Wilderness offer great summer tours.
Drink a Mexican bulldog at the longhorn
With one of the most iconic and recognizable patios in town, head to the Longhorn at the base of Whistler Mountain. Try one of their signature Mexican Bulldogs, a margarita mini-pitcher with a Corona sticking out, and take in the views. In the summer, the patio is equip with water spritzers to keep you cool and in the winter, heaters and fire pit tables! If you chat up your server they will most likely hook you up when you come back tomorrow.
Treat yourself at the Scandinave Spa
After all the partying, skiing and activities head to the most relaxing place in Whistler to recharge the batteries. The Scandinave Spa is an impressive mountain side oasis with hot pools, cold pools, steam rooms, saunas and solariums. Follow the recommended hot-cold guidelines and feel all the stress melt away. Take advantage of their locals deal and visit on a Tuesday for $40. Once all your troubles have melted away head back to the village for some cocktails to get the night started right!
Climb a mountain
With some of the most incredible mountains nearby, it would be a shame if you didn’t climb at least one! From the three tiered Joffre Lakes, natures stairmaster the Chief in Squamish and the bucket list worthy Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge, there are hikes for all ability levels. Check out the Whistler Hiatus website for a rundown of all the epic hikes in the area, including information like skill level required and how long it should take you. Please remember to respect the trails and natural environment in these places. Take ALL your garbage with you and if you come across a bear, please give it the space it needs!
Summer gondola ride to the Roundhouse
ASK A LOCAL
With so many amazing spots in town, it was hard for me to narrow down the “best of the best”. So I reached to a few locals near and dear to my heart to give me their favourites! These are the places you will find locals hanging out on a regular basis.
Jennie Sasman, Founder of This Way for Locals, Toronto Canada
“Mount Currie Coffee does the BEST coffee in town and I still have dreams about their Chorizo Breakfast Burrito. Wildwood for $6.50 double caesers, Stonesedge’s Buffalo Chicken Sandwich (Be sure to add blue cheese!), Crystal Lounge’s jug deal (buy 4 get the 5th free), Sushi Village for a Super Hiro roll and Jug of Sake Margaritas and of course Maxx Fish! Case of the Mondays at Garfs is hands down the best night of the week, with Tapley’s Sundays a very close second. The people in Whistler are some of the raddest around, so don’t be afraid to chat up some locals you never know where it’ll lead! My friend once met a couple waiting at a bus stop and they ended up spending their entire Whistler holiday riding and partying with us!”
Jodie Yearwood, Perth Western Australia
You may remember Jodie from “Meet a Local”, check out her story here!
“Do a day trip up to Pemberton, its a short 30minute drive from the village or you can take the 99 Bus. Go strawberry picking in the summer at North Arm Farm. Head to Barn Nork for the best Thai food or Mile One for their burgers. Sushi Village is my favorite spot in Whistler. The strawberry Sake margaritas are amazing and it is totally acceptable to dance on the tables if you have a few too many.”
Tom Nuttall, London England
“My favourite bar in town is Tapley’s, on a Sunday night to be precise. Neverland nights and $9 half litres of wine, hard to beat! Stonesedge does the best brunch and lunch in town. Definitely pay The Great Glass Elevator a visit. Perfect for picking up sweets when you’ve got the munchies, they also make the best flavoured popcorn. Must do activity? Grab some buddies and ski through the trees.”
Matt Barlow, Founder of Ninja Academy, England
“My Favourite drinking spot is Fitzsimmons Pub. It’s a small quiet local hidden away from the crowd. Different beers, comfy décor and games on hand! La Cantina serves up the best burritos in town. The spicy pork is my favourite flavour on the menu. Definitely check out Garibaldi Lift Company, they put on some great bands and DJs. Apart from snowboarding, which is my passion, the Whistler Sliding Centre is a unique venue you won’t find in any mountain town. An Olympic sliding track where you can rack up speeds of 125km/hour in a bobsled. Epic!”
Hailey Manchee, Marketing Account Manager for Gibbons, Whistler Canada
Best Dinner: (Newly opened) Hunter Gather
Hunter Gather was created by Whistler Cooks and concept is local food presented in a laid back whistler environment. Its non-table service which is unique in Whistler (and Canada really). I like the concept of ordering at a counter and then sitting down and getting your food brought over. They have an amazing craft beer selection from local breweries and a small but adequate wine menu. I’m not a big cocktails with dinner person, so this is perfect. The food is amazing, thoughtfully made and really good value.
Wine: Beacon or Stonesedge
Beacon – $5 wine in a great bar. Always busy as its in a prime location, looking out onto the main village stroll, Stonesedge – Wednesday they have 50% off wine bottles and the patio is the perfect setting for a wine night. Much better patio than beacon but the daily value of beacon is nice.
Craft Beer: Whistler Brew or Coast Mountain.
Its always best to get craft beer is BC from the source, and Whistler is lucky enough to have two breweries in town right now. Whistler Brewing is bigger and the bartender Hugh is amazing. Really beautiful setting and amazing beer. Coast Mountain is also great, but is smaller. The beer selection is amazing and a little more industry-experimental than Whistler
Hangover Breakfast: Southside Diner
Great caesars in a laid back diner feel. The service is fast and friendly. Good old greasy food made in front of your eyes. Located in Creekside so you get a great dose of locals.
Heading to Whistler?
Check out Ninja Academy! They offer all the tools to help you take your ski and snowboarding to the next level with fun, all-inclusive improvement camps, private coaching and holidays. Visit www.ninjaacademy.co.uk for more information!
Check out the Gibbons Hospitality website for a list of all the events going on at their amazing venues! Visit www.gibbonswhistler.com for a full list of events, or join one of their epic Bar Hop tours!
Thanks for reading!
Did this help you? Anything you think I missed? What were your Whistler highlights?
Leave me a comment below! I want to hear from you!
*Huge thanks to Hailey and Gibbons Hospitality for sending me some epic photos to include! All opinions, recommendations and photos are my own unless otherwise stated.
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