10 Must-Do Adventures
By Steve Fisher / Images By Joern Rohde
Whistler resort, known in the early 1900s as Alta Lake, started out as a summertime fishing destination, and skiing followed a few decades later. However, not long after the resort was born, it became a destination for all kinds of adventure. Endless expanses of forested mountains provide world-class opportunities for outdoor recreation, whether you prefer a simple hike or the intense rush of whitewater rafting.
Ten years ago, Whistler Traveller’s first-ever issue included a roundup of Whistler’s 10 Must-Do Adventures. Many of the activities we highlighted then have remained popular choices for locals and visitors alike, but some of the classic “must dos” have been updated or expanded upon with new opportunities for outdoor fun.
While Whistler has no shortage of thrills for adrenaline junkies, plenty of great activities are accessible to just about anyone. If bungee jumping or driving an ATV through the backcountry is a bit too much for you, you might prefer to take a bear viewing tour, go for a casual float down the River of Golden Dreams or take a ride on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. With so many choices, Whistler Traveller presents our updated 10 Must-Do list, helping you get out and experience all that Whistler has to offer.
ZIP THROUGH THE TREES
Offering a thrilling ride that almost anyone can experience, ziplining has remained a top activity for Whistler visitors for many years. Zipping down the lines that slice through Whistler’s old-growth forests is a great way for families or friends to get an adrenaline rush while enjoying the outdoors.
Located between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, Ziptrek has been sending guests down its ziplines since 2002. Different tours offer visitors the chance to ride their “normal” ziplines (Bear, Eagle and Mammoth tours) that trace the hillsides, but in the summertime there’s also something bigger for those who want a serious rush: Ziptrek’s Sasquatch line, the longest in Whistler, which spans two kilometres (1.2 miles) and reaches heights of 183 metres (600 feet), takes guests on a wild side-by-side ride, reaching speeds of more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) per hour from Blackcomb to Whistler Mountain. If a calmer adventure is more your speed, Ziptrek’s TreeTrek Tours provide a walking tour of the old-growth forest canopy. TreeTrek guests embark on a guided interpretive experience to learn about local ecology while exploring a network of suspension bridges, suspended stairways, boardwalks and treetop platforms. ziptrek.com
EXPERIENCE THE RAPIDS
Whistler is surrounded by rugged mountains and deep valleys, many of which have been carved out by raging rivers. Offering everything from slow-flowing sections to Class 4 rapids, several of our local rivers make great routes for whitewater rafting. Rafting is a physically demanding activity, but on a guided tour anyone who can handle some spirited paddling can enjoy the excitement of bouncing along on the swift-flowing waters. Previous experience is not required, and rafting gear is provided by the tour operators.
Canadian Outback Rafting’s tours provide everything from scenic river floats to two-day rafting expeditions in the Whistler/Squamish area. Their Family-Friendly Cheakamus Splash and Scenic Twilight Float allow children, seniors or anyone looking for a low-intensity experience to get out on the river. More daring participants can opt for their tours on the Elaho and Squamish rivers, where your group will tackle bigger waves and Class 3-4 rapids. canadianoutbackrafting.com
Wedge Rafting offers two different tour packages that give guests the choice of riding fun — bouncy Class 2 rapids or challenging Class 4s. Their Green River tour heads north of Whistler Village for a beginner-friendly but eventful ride. Those looking for a bigger thrill can choose the Elaho-Squamish tour. This eight-hour experience offers more difficult rafting in Squamish’s Paradise Valley and includes a barbecue lunch. wedgerafting.com
If nothing gets your motor running like a running motor, there are several ways to explore Whistler’s rugged terrain on wheels. Off-road tours in 4x4 vehicles, side-by-sides and ATVs give visitors the chance to enjoy a fun ride with spectacular views all around.
Professional drivers lead Canadian Wilderness Adventures’ 4x4 tours, so you can focus on enjoying the ride. There are two tours to choose from, one that explores Blackcomb’s alpine areas and one that roams through the Callaghan Valley. If you’d rather ride an ATV, three different tours of either Blackcomb Mountain or the Callaghan Valley are available for beginner to advanced riders. Finally, their Odyssey Off-Road Buggy Tour gives guests the chance to drive a side-by-side off-road vehicle, pounding through creeks, over boulders and up rugged trails.
Whistler ATV offers several tours of the Callaghan Valley. Their Easy Rider tour follows wide trails over gentle grades, allowing first-timers to enjoy the backcountry at a casual pace. Their other tours offer longer and more challenging rides, and certain tours include lunch stops in scenic mountain settings.
HIT THE TRAILS
A perfect complement to Whistler’s more intense activities is one of humankind’s simplest pleasures — hiking in the woods. Surrounded by forests, Whistler offers an expansive network of municipally maintained hiking trails to explore.
Whistler’s newest development is the Alpine Trail network, which provides hikers with access to scenic, high-elevation areas. Rainbow Mountain’s Skywalk Trail and Rainbow Lake trail offer all-day hikes, while Into the Mystic leads to several loops on Mount Sproatt. Exploring the Ancient Cedars Trail on Cougar Mountain is another Whistler favourite. This 5 km looping trail takes hikers through a grove of massive old-growth cedar trees.
The Train Wreck trail in Function Junction is another classic. After several train boxcars plunged off their tracks in the 1950s, the wrecks became a popular spot to visit. The cars now feature some cool graffiti art and are safely accessed by a suspension bridge over the Cheakamus River. Cheakamus Lake is also located in Whistler’s south end, and makes a great option for a summer hike and swim. The trail follows the Cheakamus River to the lake, which features small beaches, campsites and outhouses.
For fitness-minded hikers, Whistler Blackcomb recently created three connecting “ascent” trails on Blackcomb Mountain. Climbing to a lift-serviced descent has become a trend among hikers, as the uphill provides a solid workout and riding the lift saves your body the stress of hiking downhill. The Little Burn, Big Burn and Heart Burn trails allow hikers to climb from the valley floor to the Rendezvous Lodge and ride the new Blackcomb Gondola down. whistlerblackcomb.com
TAKE A GONDOLA ... OR THREE!
Bridging the gap between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola is a feat of modern engineering that offers breathtaking views of Whistler Village and the surrounding mountain peaks. Riding the Peak 2 Peak is a definite must-do Whistler experience, and it’s accessible to nearly anyone willing to soar 436 m (1,430 feet) above the trees! The Peak 2 Peak Gondola not only holds the Guinness World Record for its height, but also for traversing an unsupported span of 3.024 km. To make the most of the view, wait for one of the glass-bottomed cabins to come around, and have your camera ready.
With a 360 Experience lift ticket, visitors can ride up one mountain, explore the alpine areas of both via the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, then ride down the other. This three-lift connection also holds a record as the world’s longest continuous lift system. From late June to mid-September, the 360 Experience pass also allows guests access to Whistler’s Peak Chair, where the new Cloudraker Skybridge is located. This suspension bridge spans 130 m (425 feet) high above Whistler Bowl and leads to the West Ridge and Raven’s Eye viewing platform, which affords 360-degree views of Whistler and Blackcomb, the Village below, and British Columbia’s snow-capped Coast Mountain range. whistlerblackcomb.com
LAUNCH OFF A BRIDGE
Since 2002, guests have been launching themselves off Whistler Bungee’s bridge into a 50 m (164-foot) freefall towards a raging river. Located off Highway 99 south of Whistler, Whistler Bungee offers a scenic location in a natural canyon, with views of Black Tusk Mountain in the distance and the Cheakamus River below.
Whistler Bungee’s crew are happy to accommodate just about anyone who wants to jump; couples can go tandem, thrill-seekers of all ages are welcome (youth under 16 require a parent or guardian to sign their waiver), and even wheelchair users can be harnessed in for a jump. Guests can drive themselves to the site, but transportation to and from Whistler Village is available too. If you come with a group, a viewing platform at the site allows everyone to watch each other leap. Non-jumping spectators are also allowed.
There’s no better way to get your dose of adrenaline than bungee jumping, but while it’s delightfully scary, you can rest assured knowing Whistler Bungee has a perfect safety record. Whistler Bungee operates year-round in all weather conditions, and all jumps must be booked in advance. And every jumper gets a free T-shirt to prove they took the plunge! whistlerbungee.com
BIKE WITH A BOOST
Electric-assist bicycles (or e-bikes) have become the fastest-growing trend in the cycling industry, and for good reason; they’re very rewarding to ride! Most electric bikes require the rider to pedal, but with the motor’s assistance, shooting up hills becomes surprisingly easy, and riders can typically cover two or three times as much distance as they could on a normal bike. Renting an e-bike or joining a guided tour is a great way to see and enjoy Whistler’s outdoors.
For an off-road e-biking experience, Canadian Wilderness Adventures offers guided tours in the Callaghan Valley. After a briefing on basic cycling skills, guests ride full-suspension electric mountain bikes along a wide, novice-level trail. After winding through old-growth forest, the trail turns around at the base of Alexander Falls and features some fun downhill sections on the way back to base camp. canadianwilderness.com
Whistler EBikes offers on- and off-road e-bike tours and e-bike rentals for self-guided rides. One tour takes riders around Whistler Village and Blackcomb’s Benchlands neighbourhood, and another explores Whistler’s 40-km-long Valley Trail network. The third option allows guests to go off-road, riding the Lost Lake trail network aboard a full-suspension electric mountain bike. Whistler EBikes’ tours can also be customized with added activities. whistlerelectricbiketours.com
RIP DOWN THE HILL
Lift-accessed mountain bike parks are becoming a summer staple for many ski resorts, but did you know the whole idea was born right here in Whistler? Since the first rudimentary bike trails were cut into Whistler’s ski slopes many years ago, the Whistler Bike Park has continually expanded and improved to retain its status as the world’s biggest and best. Today the bike park boasts roughly 80 marked trails filled with berms, jumps, roots and rock slabs.
Over the past few years, the bike park has greatly expanded with the addition of the Upper and Lower Creekside Zones. With the new trails came the opening of the Creekside Gondola to mountain bikers, which provides easy access to the new zone and allows riders to venture further around the mountain than ever before.
It may seem like a daredevil activity, but the bike park offers a variety of trails that suit all skill levels, from first-timers to seasoned professionals. Trails are rated like ski slopes with a green dot, blue square and black diamond designations so you can choose to ride trails that suit your ability. If you didn’t bring your own downhill mountain bike, rentals are available from Whistler Blackcomb (whistlerblackcomb.com), Gateway Bikes in Whistler Village (whistlersports.com) and Coastal Culture in Creekside (coastalculturesports.com).
SPOT SOME WILDLIFE
One thing every summertime visitor to Whistler hopes to see is a bear. With a population of more than 60 black bears living between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains alone, you can often catch a glimpse of them sauntering across the ski slopes. However, if you want to learn more, get a closer look, or snap some photos, Whistler Blackcomb and Whistler Photo Safaris guided tours will take you where the wild things roam.
Whistler Blackcomb’s bear-viewing tours take guests around the mountain in a 4x4 vehicle, stopping at common feeding areas, bear-family daybeds and bear dens. Along the way, knowledgeable guides explain bear biology, the area’s ecology, and how Whistler has learned to live with these wild, beautiful beasts. Be sure to bring suitable clothing, a camera and a pair of binoculars. WB’s tours run May 1 to Oct. 30 and are recommended for ages 9 and up. whistlerblackcomb.com
CHASE YOUR GOLDEN DREAMS
A classic Whistler experience is to spend a summer day slowly floating down the River of Golden Dreams. Winding its way from Alta Lake to Green Lake, the river is a relatively shallow, slow-moving waterway that is safe to explore. While water levels change with the seasons, you’re more likely to have to negotiate your way past shallow areas than navigate challenging currents.
It’s easy to float the River of Golden Dreams on your own; all you need is a reliable inflatable boat, stand-up paddleboard, canoe or kayak, a lifejacket, and two vehicles parked at your start and end points. However, adventurers should be competent paddlers with river paddling experience recommended.
A few local companies offer guided tours as well. If you’d like to get some tips and techniques for paddling a canoe or kayak and learn about Whistler’s history, geography and ecology, a guided tour is the way to go.
Canadian Wilderness Adventures’ guided canoe tours lead guests on a three-hour trip that crosses Alta Lake while offering paddling tips, then follows the scenic, meandering river to just after Meadow Park. canadianwilderness.com
Backroads Whistler offers guided tours by canoe or kayak, with a maximum of four boats to one guide, and their tours can be customized for large groups. They also offer guided private tours and a unique, limited-availability Wildlife at Twilight tour.
A boat rental river package is also available, for a self-guided river experience. riverofgoldendreams.com
Whistler Eco-Tours also offers self-guided, guided and private guided tours by canoe or a kayak. whistlerecotours.com
At Lakeside Park, Backroads Whistler also rents canoes, kayaks, pedal boats and paddleboards to explore Alta Lake. backroadswhistler.com