Living in the Pacific Northwest, I’m used to having incredible mountains and scenery all around me constantly. You have the Olympics and the Cascades, along with the Puget Sound and the coastal beaches like Ruby and Cannon Beach. But just a few hours north of Seattle, you hit the Canadian border, which takes you up into Vancouver. While Vancouver in itself is an absolute blast, I love to take people on a detour north of the city along the Sea to Sky Highway, the only route to Whistler and Whistler Village, especially in the summer.
WHISTLER VILLAGE BACKGROUND
Nestled in the Fitzsimmons Mountain Range in British Columbia, Whistler, only about an hour drive from downtown Vancouver, was the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Most people know Whistler as the largest ski resort by acreage in North America.
In the winter, you’ll find the mountain open to skiers and snowboarders from early November sometimes all the way through Memorial Day in May. During those months the hotels in the village and even the surrounding neighborhoods can range anywhere from $400 a night up to a couple thousand.
What people don’t know is that Whistler Village is just as cool in the summer and ¼ of the price! And not only is the village full of summertime activities but the drive from Vancouver, the Sea to Sky Highway, is probably one of the most scenic roads in the world.
SEA TO SKY HIGHWAY
Back before the 2010 winter Olympics, the Sea to Sky Highway (highway 99) was one lane each way and a dirt road. The Canadian government put a lot of money into both the highway and Whistler Village itself to make it suitable for the event, and boy does it show.
Now the highway is fully paved and has passing lanes on either side almost the entire way. It’s named aptly – most of your drive will consist of mountain cliffs on one side and the sea on your other side. The water will basically stretch out to the horizon – the sky. Unless it’s stretching to the mountains, which it’ll do the farther north you get.
In the Wintertime, the days are pretty short this far north, so you don’t get more than 8 hours of sunlight. However, in the summer you have from 6am to 9pm to drive this route and stop as many times as you want.
SUSPENSION BRIDGES ALONG THE ROUTE
A lot of reviews of the highway will recommend stopping at the Capilano Suspension Bridge as your first stop. It’s just north of Vancouver, so it’s a popular tourist stop. The only problem with this one is that it’s not cheap. You’re looking at $54 for one adult.
So, I would actually recommend skipping Capilano Bridge and going to Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge instead. It’s not quite as long or as impressive, but it’s still cool and it’s free! It’s also a part of a longer hike out to a local swimming hole, so if it’s a nice day, don’t forget your bathing suit under your clothes!
PORTEAU COVE PROVINCIAL PARK
Once you get back on the Sea to Sky Highway, head north until you come across Porteau Cove Provincial Park. If you can, I’d almost suggest catching this stop on your way back as long as you hit it right before sunset. It’ll be on your left-hand-side as you’re going north, so have it in your Google Maps or you might miss the turn-off.
It’s no more than a pier jutting out into the cove, but with the mountains in the background across the water, it makes for some incredible panoramic photos. If you’re a scuba diver, I hear it’s also a great place to check out the underwater world. Just remember to bring a wet suit because the glacial run-off water is freezing cold all year round.
Your next stop on the drive should be Shannon Falls. The parking lot will be on your right and it’s a quick path up to the base of the falls. It shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to get up there, but the falls are impressive.
Following Shannon Falls, you can add Brandywine Falls into your Google Maps. This is more of a hike, but it’s pretty flat. The path will take you into the woods and over old railroad tracks until you come to an overlook of another waterfall. It’s less wide than Shannon, but almost a cooler setting. Both falls are well worth a quick stop for.
As you get farther north, you’ll come into the town of Squamish. Keep in mind this is pretty much the only true town between Vancouver and Whistler, so if you’re hungry or you need gas, definitely stop here. You’ll see a store called Canadian Tire – fun fact: this is not just a tire shop. It’s got supplies and it’s a hardware store. So, if you need anything, this is your spot. There’s also a McDonalds if you need a bathroom break.
The rest of the drive up to Whistler has a few pull-outs, mostly on your left side going North, that overlook the mountains. On a clear day even in the summer, you’ll see snow-capped mountains in the distance.
WHISTLER VILLAGE IN THE SUMMER
Once you start to approach Whistler Village, you’ll pass a few smaller villages – there’s not much in these. I believe maybe a visitor center but I’ve never stopped to check. They’re always packed during the winter season, but during the summer they’re pretty empty.
When you come to the main Whistler sign, turn right into the Village and look for a place to park. There are quite a few parking garages where you can pay to park for the day.
WHISTLER VILLAGE ACTIVITIES
There are probably two main sporting activities that you can plan to do when you’re in the village – ziplining between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains or mountain biking. Seeing as I have no clue how to ride a mountain bike down what is a pretty steep and windy path, I’d recommend the zipline.
You’ll need to head to the store in the Carleton Lodge, right across from the Peak to Peak Gondola at the far south end of the main village. The zipline company will take you on the gondola to the first stop, about ¼ of the way up to Whistler mountain. There you’ll get off and then take 6 separate ziplines to get back to the village.
What’s cool and unique about this specific zipline path is that the platforms are built right into the trees, so it gets higher and higher every year. It’s a pretty exhilarating experience and it’s not too bad for people who are afraid of heights like myself. If you are curious about the mountain bikers, you can sit at the base of Whistler mountain to watch them come down the end of their route.
At the end of the high octane activity for the day, one of the coolest things you can do is take the gondola all the way to the top of Whistler Mountain. There you’ll find not only unreal views of the area but also the first set of Whistler’s Olympic rings!
You can then head over just a couple of steps to the Peak 2 Peak gondola, which is the longest suspended gondola in the world. It takes you to Blackcomb peak and back again. This is a cool option on a cloudy or sunny day. Riding a gondola into/through the clouds is a pretty unique experience. Not to mention they have a glass bottom carriage, so if you’re brave you can wait for that one!
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK AT WHISTLER VILLAGE
Once you’ve finished being active, I’d suggest grabbing a bite to eat. There’s a bar called Longhorn Saloon and Grill with outdoor seating that’s usually packed for après ski in the winter, but should be pretty easy to get a table at during the summer. You can also grab a pint at the Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub next door if you’re looking for an authentic Irish beer.
There are plenty of other options, but my favorites are all of the restaurants right in the center of the village like Beacon Pub and Eatery or La Bocca, where you can sit outside and eat. If you’re lucky, you might be there during the BBQ tournament. There’s one weekend every summer where all of the best BBQers from Canada and the Pacific Northwest gather in the village to compete to make you the best ribs, pulled pork, and chicken you’ll ever eat.
There could also be an event going on in the Amphitheater on the other end of the village from the gondola. I’ve seen a couple of different beer festivals there that were pretty affordable and fun.
Depending on how hot the day is, you can also check out COWS Ice cream parlor. Here you’ll find all kinds of unique flavors along with every possible gift you can think of with a cow on it. You’ll know you’re in the right place from the giant cow right outside.
SHOPPING IN WHISTLER VILLAGE
For the girls, the other thing I’d suggest is checking out the Lululemon store. Since this is a Canadian company based in Vancouver, the store in Whistler village is stocked with new arrivals and more product than most stores. In addition, because of the exchange rate, it’s probably one of the cheapest ways to buy lulus. I get a pair almost every time I’m in town!
Summer is also a good time to get deals on ski gear. I bought my ski boots from one of the village stores in the summer and with the exchange rate included, they were probably half the price.
The last thing to do in the Village before heading out is the ground-level set of Olympic Rings. Having a pic of you and your best friends in front of these is a pretty unique photo op that you can’t get just anywhere, especially in North America.
On your way out of the village, as long as it’s not too late in the day, you can take a detour out to the Olympic ski jump. If you’re lucky, or unlucky depending on the person, you might see a black bear on your way. When we were on our way back to the highway, we saw one hanging out on the side of the road looking for food. This pretty much made my parents day.
Finding bears in the wild is one of their favorite things to do in National Park settings. Keep in mind – do not go after a bear, do not get too close, and keep as quiet as possible. That said, as long as you leave it alone and stay a good distance away, it will leave you alone. We were able to stand next to the car a good 50ft away from the bear for a while taking pictures and watching.
WHERE TO STAY IN WHISTLER
Most people don’t realize that Whistler is also an attraction in the summer, so if you do want to stay the night, hotels like the Hilton right by the gondola aren’t too expensive, and they’re excellent quality. Other well reviewed nearby hotels in Whistler Village include the Westin, the Listel, and the previously mentioned Carleton Lodge. Most of them also have an outdoor pool and hot tub that’s great to hang out in.
If you’ve got a big group, there are plenty of 2-3 bedroom condos or townhouses either right in the village or just on the far end of it and there’s a shuttle that’ll take you right to the base of the mountain by the gondola. AirBnB is the best way to find those.
SEA TO SKY HIGHWAY AND WHISTLER VILLAGE WRAP UP
Whistler village in the summer and especially the drive up there are definitely underrated items. Most people spend their time in Vancouver riding bikes around Stanley Park or hanging out at the beaches. But if you do have an extra day and want to see something unique, I highly recommend the Sea to Sky Highway.
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Whistler Village in the summertime. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Our Top Places To Stay In Whistler Village, Whistler:
- Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa
- The Westin Resort and Spa
- The Listel Hotel Whistler
- Carleton Lodge
- Find the best price on hotels in Whistler Village, Whistler
- Sign up to AirBnB and receive a US $35 off your first booking
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