Top things to do in Whistler in the fall. Whistler may be best known as a winter destination, when there’s plenty of snow sports to enjoy – skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, tobogganing and ski jumping at the Olympic Park (leftover from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics), to name but a few ideas.
However, there’s also much to do in the area at other times of the year and one of the best times to visit Whistler is in the fall; a season that has the benefit of fewer tourists, as well as scenic autumnal scenery.
This guide to visiting Whistler in the fall includes how to get to Whistler, activities to include in your fall Whistler itinerary, where to stay, and – of course – where to eat.
Where is Whistler
The town of Whistler lies just north of Vancouver, in Canada’s British Columbia. The town is best known for Whistler Blackcomb, which is one of the biggest ski resorts in the whole of North America.
The town has a permanent population of around 12,000 people, but there is also a large population of seasonal workers, on top of tourists who travel to the area – around two million each year, mostly in the winter ski season and in summer for trekking and mountain biking.
How to Get to Whistler
There is no airport in Whistler, though there are options to fly in via helicopter or floatplane (warmer months only, as the plane needs to land on water and can’t land on ice) if you prefer direct transfers. Note that these are weather dependent.
The closest major airports to Whistler are:
- Vancouver International (YVR), which is around 2.5 hours away by car.
- Seattle-Tacoma (SEA), which is five hours away by car.
- Bellingham International (BLI), which is three hours away by car.
There are shuttle buses that run regularly from Vancouver city center and Vancouver’s international airport, or your accommodation or a tour operator may be able to arrange private road transfers for you.
The road that links Whistler and Vancouver is one of the most scenic drives in Canada, known as the Sea to Sky Highway, or Highway 99. The drive is simple, but it’s recommended to leave plenty of time to enjoy the route, as there are lots of great viewpoints and sightseeing opportunities along the way. There are one-way and return car rentals available in both Vancouver and Whistler.
Be mindful that the roads can be busy, especially on weekends and at peak holiday times of year. It’s not recommended to drive in winter unless you’re experienced in driving in snow and ice, using winter tires and/or chains, so check the weather if you’re planning to visit in later fall.
Things to Do in Whistler in the Fall
1. Bear Viewing
One of the biggest wildlife draws of the Whistler region is the large population of black bears. Sunrise and sunset safari tours with a tour operator such as Whistler Photo Safaris usually result in the best, safest, and most ethical black bear encounters.
This small, family-run business includes a small team of photography and wildlife experts and enthusiasts, which has been running tours since 2012. Tours cost CAD149 per adult and CAD99 for children under 12, including pick up and drop off at your Whistler accommodation.
2. Blackcomb Sunset Tour
Fall brings spectacular sunsets framed in autumnal foliage, making for incredible photo opportunities. One of the best ways to get to the most beautiful locations, whether it’s for serious photography or an Instagram shot, is on a sunset tour, such as the Blackcomb Sunset Tour run by Canadian Wilderness Adventures.
The tour winds around Whistler Valley in a 4X4, with highlights including alpine sunsets, the Coast Mountain Range lit up in soft golden hues, as well as evening vistas of Whistler Village.
Tours depart at 5pm and the round trip lasts for two hours. The cost is CAD149 for adults and CAD99 for children aged 12 and under. All tours are private and include one guide.
3. Scandinave Spa
Situated just south of the town of Whistler, the Nordic-themed Scandinave Spa offers traditional therapies and relaxing spa treatments, ideal for chilly fall days. Soak in outdoor pools, immersed in nature; indulge in a massage (the Swedish-style massages and deep tissue massages come highly recommended); or simply unwind in the tranquil ambiance, looking out at the scenic forest views.
The spa is open daily from 10 am to 9 pm, while massages start from 9 am. Guests must be at least 19 years old. At present, there are gendered male and female changing rooms and shower facilities, however, all guests are welcome regardless of gender identity. Massages start at CAD200 before taxes and include access to the hydrotherapy pools.
Note that weekends and holidays can be very busy, and reservations are not available for all areas of the spa. To gain access to the spa without being put on the waitlist you should book a massage at least two weeks in advance. Reservations cannot be taken for the hydrotherapy pools, so it’s best to arrive as early as possible (the baths open at 10am).
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the spa has remained open, though there are some guidelines on wearing masks, social distancing and reduced numbers due to physical distancing. Check the website for the most up-to-date information.
4. Peak 2 Peak Gondola
The epic PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola is a record-breaking continuous lift system, which at the time of completion was the highest and longest gondola of its kind. The 13.5-kilometer loop (when combined with the Blackcomb Gondola), starts at the base of Whistler Mountain and ascends over the valley and then down Blackcomb Mountain. The bird’s eye views of the mountains and forest are unmissable.
The PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola is usually open most of the year for both winter and summer sightseeing, but is currently operating from roughly the end of November to the end of May (check the website for up-to-date operating hours), from 8.30am to 3pm-4.30pm depending on the month.
Tickets start from CAD75 for adults, though there are concessions for seniors, teens and children. Young children ages six and under ride free. Weekday tickets are cheaper than weekend tickets.
5. Hike the Train Wreck Trail
The Train Wreck Trail is an easy, two-kilometer hike with just a 20-meter elevation gain, usually taking hikers around an hour to complete. It’s best enjoyed between May and October. Dogs are welcome on the trail, but should be kept on a leash.
Located just south of Whistler near the Cheakamus River, the route follows part of the Sea to Sky Trail, along a gravel path through forest. Crossing over a suspension bridge, hikers can enjoy views of the rushing river below before they arrive at the colorful box cars that give the Train Wreck Trail its name and have called the forest home since 1956.
The cars were derailed when a freighter train heading south from Lillooet ran into a damaged section of track too fast. Today, the train wreck site is a kind of public art gallery, but has also been the site of horror movies, photo shoots and a bike playground.
6. Audain Art Museum
The Audain Art Museum houses a permanent collection of local artworks, as well as visiting international exhibitions. There are 200 works from British Columbia, including a notable collection of 19th century Northwest Coast masks, a collection of Emily Carr’s works, and post-war modernist pieces. Check online for the latest on visiting exhibitions.
The Audain Art Museum is open from Thursday to Sunday, 11am to 6pm. Admission costs CAD20 for adults, CAD18 for seniors, CAD10 for young adults aged 19 to 25, but is free for young people and children aged 18 and under.
If you prefer, there are options for a guided tour at an additional cost of CAD100, available on weekends only at set times (9am, 9.30am, 10am, 10.30am, 5.30pm, 6pm and 6.30pm). Tours are limited for up to six people.
7. Whistler Waterfalls
As you may expect from a region blessed with rugged peaks, snow-topped glaciers and roaring rivers, there are plenty of fairytale cascades to visit around Whistler, for visitors who love to chase waterfalls.
Some of the best include Brandywine Falls (the most popular and arguably the most photogenic), Rainbow Falls (less frequented by crowds), Alexander Falls (known as a good bear watching spot), Nairn Falls (beautiful tiers cut into rocks), and Shannon Falls (further away from Whistler and one of the highest waterfalls in British Columbia), though there are countless other options, depending on how far you’re willing to hike and what kind of waterfalls you like.
8. Whistler Village
Whistler is an adventure playground at any time of year, including fall, with activities such as bungee jumping, zip-lining, rafting, hiking, and golfing, to name but a few suggestions.
However, if you’re looking to stay in Whistler Village, or to escape some rainy weather, there are other arts and cultural attractions to enjoy in addition to the Audain Art Museum mentioned above, such as The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), Whistler Museum, Suzanne Johnston Art Gallery, Lost Lake PassivHaus (a 2010 Olympics site), Maury Young Arts Centre, Whistler Public Library (hosts events such as workshops, seminars and movies nights), Adele Campbell Fine Art Gallery, The Plaza Galleries and the Vallea Lumina (multimedia night walk).
The Whistler Wine Walk takes place every Friday in October from 5pm to 7pm, and incorporates local galleries. In addition, there are contemporary art galleries located in the Fairmont, the Four Seasons and the Hilton resorts.
Where to Eat in Whistler
Whistler Village is making a name for itself as a great foodie destination due to its diverse array of cafes, restaurants and bars, many of which specialize in classic North American dishes made using locally-sourced ingredients. Here are a few places to check out:
The iconic Araxi Restaurant + Oyster Bar, located in Blackcomb Lodge, has been ranked Whistler’s best restaurant consistently for over 10 years and is considered one of Canada’s best dining venues. Helmed by Executive Chef James Walt, local cuisine and Pacific Northwest dishes are the specialty here, plus wine and sophisticated cocktails.
Located in the Fairmont Château Whistler, this chic and elegant restaurant specializes in breakfasts and Pacific Northwest cuisine, led by Executive Chef Isabel Chung. Ambiance is warm and welcoming, and in milder weather there is alfresco seating out on the garden patio.
Grill & Vine is The Westin Resort & Spa’s signature restaurant, which serves up North American classics in a laidback tavern atmosphere, putting a local twist on traditional favorites, in a venue replete with cozy and contemporary interiors.
Purebread has three locations in Vancouver and two in Whistler; one at Function Junction and another in Whistler Village. The famed baked goods, from breads to cakes to pastries, paired with excellent coffee, are what put this family bakery chain on the map.
Where to Stay in Whistler
The Four Seasons Resort & Residences, Whistler
Tucked into the bottom of Blackcomb Mountain, The Four Seasons Resort is a luxury property that boasts some of Whistler’s largest guest rooms, suites, and residences.
Guest rooms include private balconies with mountain views and gas fireplaces, while facilities include a heated outdoor swimming pool, spa, library, fitness center with yoga facilities, business center, playroom, and vintage camper for cozy nights spent around a campfire.
Dining venues include SIDECUT Steakhouse and Braidwood Tavern, plus 24-hour in-room dining and special culinary experiences.
The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler
The Westin is an all-suite hotel nestled into the Coast Mountains. All suites comes with kitchenettes, living areas and homely fireplaces, and some feature terraces with mountain panoramas.
Facilities include a gym, spa, kids’ club, business center, and both indoor and outdoor swimming pools. For dining, guests can choose from Grill & Vine (mentioned above), FireRock Lounge, Grab & Go, or 24-hour room service.
More Things to Do in Whistler in the Fall
This guide to visiting Whistler in the fall is a great introduction of some of the most popular things to do and see in the off-peak months of September, October and November, but there’s plenty more to enjoy in the lead-up to winter as well. If you have any suggestions and recommendations to add to what is already included here, let us know in the comments below.