One of the best things about living here in Vancouver is our incomparable location between the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Range mountains running up and down the coast of British Columbia. We have several mountains nearby, some less than half an hour from downtown Vancouver. We really do live in a natural wonderland!
Whistler Mountain is a little bit more of a journey, but the two hour drive from Vancouver up the scenic Sea to Sky Highway is well worth it. Home of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler is a world-renowned ski destination, but locals know a secret: Whistler is a fantastic family destination year round! There are so many things for families to do here that don’t have anything to do with skiing or snowboarding.
We decided to end our summer with an extended weekend getaway in Whistler Village a few weeks ago. The summer season in Whistler is a nature lover’s paradise with scenic hikes on mountain trails, mountain biking, ziplining, wildlife spotting, and more. The shoulder seasons in spring and fall allow visitors to enjoy all the adventure the mountain has to offer and still find some great deals on accommodations (check Groupon if booking ahead).
One of my favorite things about Whistler is that it’s so very walkable. There are over a hundred hotels, lodges, and rental properties to fit every budget within walking distance of Main Street and the pedestrian only Village Stroll. Shopping, restaurants, attractions, and the mountain gondolas are all within a few minutes’ walk. You can also rent a stroller, wagon, or baby carrier for your little one if you’ve arrived without. If you do need to get somewhere else (like one of the ziplining tours discussed below), chances are there’s a shuttle that will pick you up and transport you there and back.
The centre of all the action is the pedestrian Village Stroll stretching from the Whistler and Blackcomb gondolas at the south end through the Village Centre, then across the bridge into the Village North all the way to the Olympic Plaza at the north end. It’s about a 15 minute brisk walk from end to end.
There’s always something to see and do in Whistler Village. On weekends, you’ll find live musical entertainment, welcoming patios, and you might even spy the balloon man handing out free balloon animals! In the spring and summer, be sure to stop by the Whistler Farmer’s Market in the Upper Village. The market is open Sundays 11:00 am-4:00 pm from May to October, and a second day on Wednesdays in July and August from 2:00 pm-7:00 pm.
Olympic Plaza Playground
Whenever we come to Whistler, my kids always clamour to spend an hour or more at the Olympic Plaza inclusive playground. Built as one of the plaza features for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the playground structures are designed to look and feel like you’re playing in a coastal forest, complete with a play boat and a couple of bronze lynx statues prowling the area. There’s a sensory wall, water table, slide, merry-go-round, saucer swing, baby swing, toddler-friendly play features, and plenty of seating for parents.
Be sure to stop by the Great Glass Elevator Shop on the north side of the plaza for yummy treats, popcorn, and a huge wall full of bulk candies and jelly beans. If you’re feeling especially daring, try one of the super sour candies kept in a glass jar on the counter. Ages 8 and up only!
You can’t visit Whistler Mountain without trying the ziplines! ZipTrek EcoTours has been around the longest – hubby and I first went on a ZipTrek tour back in 2007 when we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Nowadays, ZipTrek has five different tours. Most of them require children to weigh at least 75 pounds, but there is one tour that allows younger and smaller kids to zipline. The Bear Tour has a minimum requirement of 65 pounds to zip solo, but kids who are at least six years old but weigh less than 65 pounds can tandem zip with a guide.
After checking in at the Ziptrek desk in the village, we all piled into the ZipTrek van and headed up the mountain. The Bear Tour takes about two and a half to three hours and leads you along a network of trails, boardwalks, four suspension bridges, and five ziplines through the tree tops of the old growth forest. The ziplines range from 120 metres (400 feet) to 335 metres (1100 feet) and take riders from peak to peak, crisscrossing high above Fitzsimmons Creek.
Kay begged to be first to zip, and from that very first exhilarating flight through the treetops, she and her sister loved the entire experience. At 65 pounds, Tee could have chosen to tandem zip with a guide, but once she tried it she decided to go solo for all the lines.
The first zipline is shorter and less steep to give everyone a chance to warm up. In between ziplines, our two friendly guides, Cian and Naomi, shared interesting information about the local area and wildlife. Smaller kids can zip on their own for three of the five lines, but they’ll need to zip down the longer lines in tandem with one of the guides.
On the fifth and final zipline, the guides taught everyone how to hang upside down!
The entire family loved it, including my kids who had been a little nervous ahead of time. Once they rode that first zipline though, they couldn’t wait to go again! You don’t have to take my word for it though. Here’s what the kids thought of their first time ziplining.
Of course you can bring along your phone to take photos and videos of your adventure (at your own risk), but you also have the option of borrowing a GoPro camera from the Ziptrek counter and purchasing the SD card with the footage after your tour. That’s what we used for our little video above.
The Bear Tour is open year round, and it’s the perfect Whistler adventure excursion for families with children. By the end of our tour, everybody was talking about going on one of the more advanced tours that Ziptrek offers, including the 2.2 km long Sasquatch zipline. Unfortunately, the Sasquatch is only available to visitors ages ten and up (and over 75 pounds), but if you’ve got older kids, go for it!
This is Vallea Lumina‘s second year on Cougar Mountain, and if you haven’t visited yet you’re missing out. It’s a little hard to explain, but the best way to describe it is an immersive nighttime multimedia experience with lights, surround sound, music, sculptures, and projections that come together to create a truly enchanting experience.
The Vallea Lumina site is about 15 minutes out from Whistler Village. We caught a shuttle by the Whistler gondola, and returned to the village via shuttle at the end of our visit.
Once we arrived at Base Camp, we were advised to keep an eye out for two hikers who had been declared missing. As we followed in their footsteps up Cougar Mountain, we continued to learn more about these intrepid explorers and their quest for the mysterious Hidden Valley.
The night was filled with magical lights, talking trees, glowing paw prints, shooting stars, and a haunting song that we found ourselves still humming days later. This was actually our second visit to Vallea Lumina, and it was just as enchanting the second time around.
Vallea Lumina is a self-paced tour along rough trails, boardwalks, and wooden staircases. The whole hike takes about an hour and a half, and most children and adults should find it quite manageable. Younger children under five may get tired and want to be carried. If you’re bringing your baby or toddler, leave the stroller at home and bring a baby carrier instead.
If you missed Vallea Lumina this summer, never fear! Vallea Lumina will be re-opening for the winter season from November 28 until April 2020.
Peak2Peak 360 Experience
The Peak2Peak 360 Experience is a must for anyone visiting Whistler. The gondola is an incredible feat of engineering spanning the 4.4 kilometer (2.7 miles) distance between Whistler and neighbouring Blackcomb Mountain in just 11 minutes. It’s the highest lift in the world and the second longest longest free span lift.
Since the Peak2Peak gondola connects the two mountains at their peaks, you’ll still need to get up there, either on the Whistler or Blackcomb sides. The Whistler chairlifts were already closed for the season when we arrived, so we rode the new Blackcomb gondola up to its peak before transferring to the Peak2Peak gondolas.
The view from up here is simply breathtaking. Glass windows all around the gondola provide spectacular 360 degree views of snow capped mountains, ice fields, deep evergreen forests, and glacier-fed lakes.
If you don’t mind waiting longer in line, you can ride across in one of two glass-bottomed gondola cars. Despite the name, the gondolas aren’t entirely glass on the bottom. Each has a roughly two by five foot glass square in the floor, surrounded by a barrier, and seats all around the perimeter with a good view through the glass to the snowy forest and valley below.
Even in late September, it was several orders of magnitude colder on the top of the mountains, so be prepared with warm layers and waterproof shoes or boots. When we went up there was already a good eight inches of snow on the ground.
Sightseeing, alpine hiking, and photo opportunities abound up here. The Rendezvous Lodge on top of Blackcomb offers a comfortable spot to grab a casual bite or a cup of hot chocolate. There’s a few more options at the Roundhouse Lodge on the Whistler side with a cafeteria, restaurants, gift shop, bar, and a patio with incredible mountain views. Grab a commemorative photo on the medalist’s podium in front of the Olympic rings. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings throughout the summer, you can add a mountain top feast with live music to your Peak2Peak 360 Experience. Kids under six eat free!
You could spend an entire day hiking on top of the mountains and exploring the unique alpine scenery. Be sure to grab an Alpine Trail Map from any of the tourism racks around town. On the peak of Whistler, you can take the Peak Express chairlift (children must be a minimum of 40″ tall to ride) to the Top of the World Summit where you’ll find the brand new Cloudraker Skybridge rising 2195 metres (7200 feet) above sea level, the Raven’s Eye Cliff Walk, and the Whistler Mountain Inukshuk. Unfortunately, the Peak Express and Skybridge were already closed by the time we arrived so we didn’t get the chance to walk across the 130 metre (427 feet) suspension bridge and look down onto the Whistler bowl.
The Peak2Peak 360 Experience will re-open for the winter season on November 28, 2019.
When you read up about Whistler, pretty much all the lists and blogs focus on the outdoor fun to be had in Whistler. Yes, it’s true that Whistler is an outdoor playground, but when you want to try something different or it’s raining cats and dogs, Escape! Whistler is the best place to bring the whole family for a fun, interactive adventure indoors!
Most escape rooms are oriented towards adults, but Escape! Whistler has a Pirate Ship escape room designed for beginners and families with kids as young as six. No phones or cameras are allowed inside, so we’ll just have to show you this photo from Escape! Whistler of the pirate ship room and some very happy strangers in handcuffs. The room is decorated with a mast, ship’s wheel, barrels, and lanterns so it feels like the hold of a pirate ship (or how I imagine one might feel).
I won’t ruin the adventure for you, but this was the most fun we’ve had in a long time! The clues are colour-coded, so even the youngest seekers can help. We were told the clues in this escape room are a little easier as well, but it certainly wasn’t a walk in the park by any means. Our whole family worked together to discover the clues and solve the puzzles. We were all complete novices so it took us just a little bit longer than the 45 minutes allotted (and a couple of extra clues), but in the end we escaped the pirate ship and found the treasure. Cheers and high fives all around!
As soon as we walked out the door, the kids were begging to go back and do it all over again. I wholeheartedly recommend Escape! Whistler for any family or group in the mood for some smart fun and teamwork.
Where to Eat in Whistler
Whistler Village is filled with a multitude of places to eat that will suit every palate and budget. Here are a few of our favourites.
The Old Spaghetti Factory is always a family favourite. You can get a complete meal with bread, soup or salad, entree, and spumoni ice cream for a very reasonable price. The kids menu has all their favourites, and the restaurant offers a full gluten-free menu that makes hubby happy too.
Crepe Montagne was our choice for breakfast while we were in Whistler. This authentic French creperie serves delicious sweet or savoury crepes, omelets, and other breakfast favourites. There’s a complete kid’s menu with kid-portioned dishes named after classic French comic book characters like Lucky Luke, Tintin & Milou, and Obelix.
Finally, look for the big cow and stop by Cow’s Ice Cream on Main Street for dessert or an ice cream cone treat one afternoon. You can tell you’re getting close by the heavenly smell of fresh-baked waffle cones!
Plan Your Whistler Visit
Visit www.whistler.com or call 1-800-WHISTLER to learn more about Whistler and for help in planning your visit. Once you’re here, you can always stop by the Whistler Visitor Centre for help with directions, activities, accommodations, and upcoming events.
Disclosure: I received complimentary admission to the above attractions in partnership with Tourism Whistler in order to facilitate this post. All opinions are honest and my own, based on my personal experience. Your experience may differ.