Whistler, British Columbia is a world-famous hub for outdoor recreation and alpine-resort fun. But you don’t need to pay loads of money to enjoy this amazing swath of the Pacific Ranges, as legitimately fantastic as those ski/snowboard slopes, zipline canopy tours, and other fee-based activities are.
If you’re looking for free thrills and sightseeing that nonetheless show off the best of the Whistler area, read on! These make great outings from your accommodations in town (which you can track down via sites such as WhistlerPremier.com).
Fantastic Hiking Trails
A surprising proportion of people who flock to Whistler are unaware of the remarkable hiking opportunities within easy reach of the ski resort. Miles and miles of trails will lead you through deep-valley forests, along timberline ridges, and to the shores of alpine lakes–some of the most sublime countryside anywhere in North America.
One of the most special hikes in Whistler’s vicinity is the Ancient Cedars Trail. Just a half-hour or so north of the resort, this easy, 5-kilometer-round-trip route takes you through the heart of groves of titanic yellow-cedars, some thought to be 1,000 years old. Tack on a side trip after seeing these venerable, barrel-trunked ancients and check out the pretty Showh Lakes. Just keep in mind that the final access road (Cougar Mountain Road) to the Ancient Cedars Trail trailhead can be a bit dodgy.
South of Whistler, meanwhile, you have another legendary destination, one highlighted by manmade monuments. The Whistler Train Wreck, reachable by a trail starting in Function Junction, features a string of boxcars along the Cheakamus River that mark the site of a mid-20th -century derailment deemed too expensive to clean up. Now festooned in beautifully rendered graffiti art, the boxcars make for one of Whistler’s most idiosyncratic destinations. The trail out to the site is basically level and perfect for all ages and skill levels.
Other stellar hiking goals in Whistler’s backyard include the Packhurst Ghost Town (a derelict logging settlement) and Brandywine Falls, just a kilometer off the Sea to Sky Highway en route to the resort town. Given the interconnected routes of the mighty Sea to Sky Trail, ambitious Whistler hikers can compose daylong adventures out in the wilderness. For more information on trails in the area, check out the website Whistler Hiatus (which also provides a nice roundup of free recreational opportunities).
If you’re patient and sharp-eyed, you can spot an incredible variety of wildlife in and around Whistler. Black bears are common sights in summer and fall, lumbering about the high meadows and deep woods in search of insects, berries, herbs, and other omnivorous fodder. You’ve also got a good chance of seeing black-tailed deer, chickarees, ravens, jays (Steller and gray), ptarmigan, and bald eagles–which winter in enormous numbers in Brackendale, less than an hour’s drive south of Whistler.
Pumas, gray wolves, and wolverines are far more elusive, but snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in Whistler’s more farflung hinterland sometimes turns up their exhilarating tracks.
Other Free Attractions
You don’t need to head into the wilderness to enjoy beautiful, free public spaces around Whistler: There are plenty right in town! Check out Rainbow Park, for example, sprawled along serene Alta Lake: perfect for beach volleyball, swimming, picnicking, or giving Fido a workout.
The town’s also stocked with an impressive array of public art. You can pick up a brochure and map for a self-guided tour of the installations, or enjoy an audio or online version via your smartphone. In the winter, meanwhile, Whistler Olympic Plaza offers free-admission ice skating (though if you don’t have your own skates, you’ll need to cough up $5 for a rental).
If you want to save your money for the slopes, Whistler still offers a fantastic array of family-friendly attractions that come free of charge!
Martha Smith is a regular visitor to magical Whistler and loves the wild outdoors. An avid blogger, she hopes to inspire others to check out the beauty of British Columbia. Her posts mainly appear on travel and outdoor sports blogs.
Image by IamNotUnique under Creative Common License