Whistler is probably one of the most famous destinations for skiing in North America: over two million people visit the resort town annually, primarily for alpine skiing and snowboarding. But perhaps less people realise just how stunning it is the rest of the year.
A group of six of us went for a long weekend at the end of September, just before the leaves really started to turn, but while the weather was still beautiful.
We hired a car and drove the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler with the sun setting behind the mountains and creating magical reflections in the ocean. It was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever done, and our spacious, hi-tech SUV definitely helped add to the atmosphere by letting us play some good tunes.
We stayed in the International Hostel and had an enjoyable evening of good cider and even better conversation. Our multicultural group was made up of two Aussies, two Danes, a Briton & a Canadian – all united by a love of exploring and the outdoors, of course.
The next morning we got up bright and early (7am certainly felt like the crack of dawn) and set off to hike to Garibaldi Lake! We did roughly 20km in a round trip, with over 900m of elevation on the way up, so it was fairly intense but definitely manageable. And man was it worth it!! Dramatic mountains and glaciers surround Garibaldi Lake and the water is crystal clear and pure turquoise: it is unbelievably beautiful.
During one day we experienced what felt like every season and most types of weather: it was raining heavily on the drive there, mysteriously misty during the hike up, then it snowed for a good half an hour just as we arrived at the lake, before clearing to glorious sunshine for the rest of the day. Honestly, you’d have to see it to believe it!
The rest of the afternoon we explored the lake and some of the trails in the surrounding forest and alpine meadows.
It is a very quiet and peaceful area: away from the main paths, the only company we had were inquisitive squirrels and birds! The brave little bird below is called a Gray Jay or Whiskey Jack, which are a very intelligent species that recognise humans as an excellent source of food. They particularly like trail mix and are perhaps emblematic of how some of the wildlife in Whistler has become very comfortable around humans as a result of huge numbers of visitors.
On the way home we saw THREE bears – another thing checked off the Canadian bucket list. Our first sighting was a mother with her cub at the side of the road, which is quite sad in a way: it is well documented that urbanisation causes a lot of problems for bears by dividing their traditional territories. Later in the afternoon, a wrong turn took us to some fields at the end of a residential road, where our resident wildlife expert James spotted a very large black bear just chilling on the hill. We certainly kept our distance – he was huge!
After dinner in Whistler Village we headed back to the lodge that we had booked that morning (because we’re super organised) for hot chocolate with Bailey’s… Dreamy.
The sun was shining again the next morning as we tried not to fall off the log out to a platform in the middle of a smaller lake on our aching legs!
We also walked down to some pretty impressive rapids and explored nearby: the roar of the water is astounding, but as soon as you head back into the forest the huge evergreens block any sound very effectively.
All too soon it was time to head back to Vancouver – at least we could make some good stops along the incredibly scenic drive…
One weekend is simply not enough to visit this stunning place, and I can’t recommend a trip to Whistler enough – at any time of the year.