Exploring Whistler for a weekend

Exploring Whistler with BMW Canada

by Megan McLellan & Emanuel Smedbøl

Whistler is one of the world's great mountain towns. With great views, massive ski runs, and world-class hiking and mountain biking, it draws millions of visitors every year from across the planet. Add to this a vibrant pedestrian-only downtown packed with bustling shops, great dining, galleries, spas, and what seems like unending wilderness pawing at its doorstep, it's really no wonder that it routinely tops lists as a must-visit destination.

Despite Whistler's proximity to Vancouver we somehow barely knew the town at all, so it was no small excitement teaming up with BMW Canada to spend a couple September days exploring it's trails, treats, and attractions. Plus zipping up to Whistler on the scenic Sea to Sky highway — our favourite drive — in a purring powerful bimmer was a thrill all its own. We've driven the road many times, and while it's always stunning never before had it been so much fun.

Whistler! Here we come.

HIKE

If you're coming to Whistler in the summer, the best bang for your buck is to head out on a trail or two. Nestled in a mountain valley, there are nice hikes around the town's lakes and ancient forests, but it isn't til you begin to climb that the magnificent mountain surroundings come fully into view. In most places this usually means a big sweaty slog with lots of exhausting elevation gain, but the beauty of Whistler is that you can hop on a chairlift and skip all that. You just look back as the town slowly recedes behind you, dwarfed by a sea of rugged peaks spanning out in all directions, thick blue glaciers shimmering in the sparkling September sun.

Whether you're looking for an ambling meadow walk, a thrilling Via Ferrata, or an overnight backpacking trip into high alpine of Garibaldi and beyond, Whistler has a trail for every skill level. One of our all-time favourites is to chain the High Note Trail with Singing Pass and Russet Lake, where you get sweeping views of the iconic Black Tusk spire, the bright blue Cheakamus Lake framed by towering glacier-capped ranges, and softly rolling meadows with unobstructed mountain views. But this time we caught the Peak to Peak gondola — the longest and highest lift of its kind, travelling across a vast valley from one mountain to another — to neighbouring Blackcomb Mountain and onto a new trail: the Overlord Glacier Overlook.

Surrounded by mountains, the area around Whistler has a great many trails to choose from. Among the most popular is Garibaldi Lake, from which both Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk are accessed, but other notable trails include Brandywine Meadows, Joffre, and Cheakamus Lake. We had our eyes set on Wedgemount Lake, one of Whistler's tougher trails, but one we'd been wanting to do for years.

Wedgemount is a difficult trail with substantial elevation gain (and no gondola, sad sad). Climbing 1100m (3600ft) in just 7km (4.3miles), at times it felt like a heroic effort with our big overnight bags. Much of the trail is through forest, but once you climb out onto the rocks and see towering mountains, glaciers, and the grey-blue waters of the lake all the sweat and effort are immediately worth it. It's easily one the most rewarding hikes we've done, and one we can imagine doing again and again. Just be sure to be easy on your knees and leave yourself plenty of time to hike back down as the steep descent can take almost as long as it did coming up.

EAT & DRINK

With all the things to see and do you're bound to work up an appetite, and luckily Whistler has a rich variety of great dining options from ski town essentials like pizza and burgers to fine dining staples Araxi & Red Door Bistro.

For lunch we went to La Cantina for tasty burritos one day and to Hunter Gather the next. One of the newer restaurants in town, Hunter Gather piqued our interest with a focus on local ingredients and their leafy outdoor patio, where you can enjoy the sun at a table with fresh herb planters. Pretty nice! For dinner we visited the local favourite Sushi Village a couple times... with delicious udon soup, great sashimi, and some innovative rolls, we couldn't not.

Another favourite was Camp Lifestyle + Coffee Co, a coffee/clothing/design/home shop just south of the Village in Function Junction. They have a little bit of everything with an intimate and hip community vibe, and they even make their own marshmallows to enjoy with your coffee or tea.

RELAX

Whether you're skiing, hiking, or just strolling the village you don't want to skip on a rejuvenating visit to Scandinave Spa. Nestled in the woods 5 minutes north of town, Scandinave is an outdoor oasis of lush landscaped plants amid terraced hotpools and solariums. Key to the experience is the Scandinavian tradition of hydrotherapy — a cycle of lounging in a hot pool or sauna for 5 minutes, doing a cold plunge, then relaxing in a solarium, hammock, or on a yoga mat, and repeating. This cycle of hot-cold-relax is meant to improve blood circulation and energize your body, and we loved every minute of it (even if Megan did her best to resist the cold plunges).

STAY

With numerous chalets, chateaus, condos, cabins, and campgrounds you can pretty well customize your stay to fit almost any taste or budget. We sampled the lot, camping a night, staying in a hotel in the Village, before finally settling into a lovely little log cabin at Riverside Resort.

We came to Whistler with a long list of things to do and places to visit, and we barely hit up half of them. But we knew we'd be coming back soon... any excuse to drive the Sea to Sky.

Big thanks to BMW Canada and Tourism Whistler for helping make this trip possible

BMW Canada