This mountain resort boasts a list of summer family activities as long as its famed winter ski trails.
Nestled in the mountains north of Vancouver, British Columbia, Whistler Blackcomb is the world-class ski resort that hosted the ski events during the 2010 Winter Olympics. But what you may not realize? When all that snow melts, Whistler transforms into British Columbia’s premier summer destination for adventure-seeking families. The list of kid-friendly activities is nearly as long as the Peak-to-Creek trail on Whistler’s face. In addition, Whistler hosts Crankworx, a huge downhill mountain biking competition, on its slopes every summer. My family and I like to watch the races and partake in all the festivities. If you love biking or simply enjoy fresh mountain air, Whistler is calling.
KidTripster Tip: Whistler enjoys a moderate summer climate with warm sunny days, but an occasional cloudy or rainy day is not uncommon, so be prepared.
Photo courtesy: Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler
Where to stay?
Whistler Blackcomb is a large ski resort comprised of two adjacent mountains: Blackcomb and Whistler. The main village is at the bottom of Whistler Mountain. Both mountains are easily accessible to one another via walking paths, free shuttles, and the Peak-2-Peak gondola.
When we stay somewhere for more than a couple days, we prefer a condo with a full kitchen, so that we have the option to cook our own meals. Whistler offers a wide range of condo-style accommodations from one- to three-bedrooms. For a quieter, more relaxing experience, stay outside of the village. A couple of our favorites are Lost Lake Lodge and Horstman House. Both offer workout facilities and secluded outdoor pools. Free bus service to the village makes getting around easy. Rates start at $142/night.
If you want to stay right in the heart of the village, the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside is located at the base of Whistler Mountain. With a rooftop pool, you can soak in some rays while watching the action on the mountain below. Rates start at $270/night.
The Westin Resort and Spa Whistler is also located at the base of Whistler Mountain but tucked to the side. You’re still close to the action, but you'll have a quieter experience; there’s also a pool. Rates start at $173/night.
Photo courtesy: The Westin Resort and Spa Whistler
What to do?
Whether Crankworx is happening or not, Whistler is a mecca for cycling enthusiasts or even those just getting used to two wheels. For an easy ride, the Valley Trail offers 25 miles of flat, paved paths to explore around scenic lakes and forests. These trails are great for all ages and skill sets – strollers, scooters, trikes, and bikes are all welcome here. Pack a picnic and stop at one of the many parks along the way.
For slightly more adventure, the single-track dirt trails near Lost Lake (known as the Zappa Trails and named after Frank Zappa songs) will give you and your kids more speed and more of a workout. These trails are a great introduction to the more advanced downhill trails in the bike park. When my kids were ages 7, 10, and 15, we all had fun exploring this network of rolling trails through the forest. Consult a trail map to know which trails have wood features for an extra thrill. The pump track, dirt bike jumps, and bike skills park are located near parking Lot 3 for bikers of all levels to warm up on.
For adrenaline junkies, buy a lift ticket and take your downhill bike to the bike park on Whistler Mountain. My 10- and 13-year old sons really love gaining speed and catching air while going off jumps on these downhill trails. I gave them a try, too – after renting a bike and full protective gear! But if you’re a slow and cautious rider like me, be prepared to pull over and let (lots) of other riders pass.
Bike rentals can be found on every corner in Whistler Village, and they offer bikes for all sizes and abilities, along with helmets and body armor for downhill riding. But we've found the best rates at Arbutus Routes bike shop in Whistler's Upper Village.
Camps and classes are offered for those looking to improve their biking skills. The Whistler bike school for kids (ages 5 and up) runs for one-day or full-week sessions.
KidTripster Tip: If you purchase two days of bike school, you get a third consecutive day free.
If your family isn’t into biking, there’s a host of other outdoor activities.
Buy a Peak-2-Peak pass and ride the gondola to the top of Whistler Peak and explore. Take a family photo with the Inukshuk or ham it up with the famed Black Tusk in the distant background. You’ll have access to both mountains for sightseeing and hiking with a gorgeous 360-degree view of the valley. From the top of Whistler Peak, you can hike down to Harmony Lake and back. It’s an easy and scenic hike with a spectacular showcase of alpine wildflowers.
KidTripster Tip: To save money, buy your lift tickets online at least five days in advance.
KidTripster Tip: If you visit during early spring, you actually can hike through a labyrinth of towering snow walls. Of course, those walls don’t last forever!
For a no-cost, daylong hiking adventure, head across the valley to Rainbow Mountain and hike up to Skywalk Trail. This trail isn’t for the faint of heart and is more suitable for older kids; my 10- and 13-year old sons were able to do it with no problem. It’s a steady uphill climb with a round trip distance of about ten miles. However, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous streams, waterfalls, and green foliage. We spotted a cute black bear spying on us from 20 yards away. Plan on all day for this hike and pack plenty of water, food, plus bug and bear spray.
KidTripster Tip: For maps and other hike suggestions, ask a village host at the information booth.
Whistler has several lakes in which to cool off. Our family’s favorite is Lost Lake. It’s surrounded by large pine trees that protect it from the wind, and it has a sandy beach for lounging and digging. Locals gather here every evening to enjoy swimming and picnicking. Be mindful of the tiny toad migration each August. This year, the beach was closed to accommodate this endangered species’ crossing from the beach into the forest.
We also like Alta Lake. Rent stand-up paddle boards from Backroads Whistler. Cost: about $23/hour.
Photo courtesy: Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler
More things to do
Whistler has three scenic and beautifully-maintained golf courses. Each one offers free green fees for kids after 5:30 p.m. with a paying adult. These are family-friendly courses that kids with a basic knowledge of golf should be able to play.
At the base of Blackcomb Mountain, you’ll find the Family Adventure Zone, complete with a giant slide, mini golf, bouncy slide and castle, batting cages, free-fall airbag, go-carts, bungy trampoline, and rope course. Phew! This area is great for younger children, who want a thrill-seeking experience but are not yet old enough to hit the slopes on their bikes. Cost: $38 for a 5-activity adventure pass.
You can book numerous tours, including ATV rides, UTV rides or ziplining. For the ultimate zip experience, lock into the Sasquatch line (10 and up, minimum 75 pounds) that spans more than a mile from high up on Blackcomb Mountain to mid-mountain on Whistler. Clearly, it’s not for those afraid of heights! Tamer ziplines are available for younger kids (6 and up).
But perhaps the most unique tour at Whistler is the one to view Black bears, as the area is home to more than 60. Yes, it’s incredibly pricey but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Bear tour cost: Youth (10-18) $147; Adult $154.
KidTripster Tip: For tour discounts of 15%, book online at least three days in advance.
Or simply stroll through Whistler Village. During the summer, it’s bustling with activity. It’s an interesting dichotomy of dirty, sweaty mountain bikers walking alongside well-groomed and high-heeled sightseers. Shop for souvenirs, take photos in Whistler Olympic Plaza, play on the elaborate play structure, attend free summer concerts or buy fresh berries at the farmers market (Upper Village on Sunday & Wednesday afternoons).
Photo courtesy: Michael Allen/Tourism Whistler
Where to eat?
You can find any cuisine in Whistler. All the restaurants that we have tried offer a kids’ menu (with mac n’ cheese, burgers or chicken strips) or other great selections for tiny appetites. While we have sampled many restaurants over the years, these favorites always garner a return visit:
La Brasserie is a cozy spot in the village that has a nice patio for relaxing and people watching. Order the eggs Benedict for brunch.
El Furniture Warehouse, aka El Furny, offers all menu items for $4.95 (CAD)! And it’s good food, including salads, burgers, tacos, and more. Plus, there’s an outside patio for grabbing some rays with your meal.
Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub is a fun, upbeat restaurant with pub fare and a great atmosphere. It’s conveniently located at the base of Whistler Mountain. The cottage pie is a favorite.
If you want a change of pace from the village, dine at Table Nineteen at the Jack Nicklaus North Golf Club. Enjoy the beautiful patio and view overlooking Green Lake and the golf course; reservations recommended.
For sweet treats, a trip to Whistler wouldn’t be complete without stops at Bocca Gelato, Cows Ice Cream, and Tim Hortons for doughnuts.
A note about a few Canadian specialties to try: if you see poutine on the menu, order it. This quintessential Canadian dish consists of French fries covered in brown gravy and topped with cheese curd. It really hits the spot after a day of activity. Another must-try is a Nanaimo Bar. You can buy it in the bakery at the Marketplace IGA. It’s a layered brownie-like dessert with cream filling; you won’t want to miss it!
Whistler is a 1-1/2-hour drive north of Vancouver, B.C., along the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway. Plan a rest stop in Vancouver and visit Granville Island Public Market and Stanley Park. Check the border crossing website for passport/birth certificate requirements.
If you’re flying, the nearest airport is in Vancouver, but you may find a better rate flying into Seattle. Also check to see if booking your airfare through the resort may be less expensive. In addition, you’ll need to either book a shuttle or rent a car to complete your trip.
KidTripster Tip: Remember to upgrade your wireless plan to include international coverage. Unless you buy a hearty international data plan, don’t rely on Google maps to direct you through Vancouver. Study a map beforehand for routing.
For KidTripster's winter recommendations at Whistler Blackcomb, click here.
Amber Connell is a wife and mother of three, who lives in Portland, Oregon. Her family travels to Whistler up to twice a year to enjoy both winter and summer activities. She enjoys seeking out culinary specialties in every new place that she visits.