- Take in the views over the Strait of Georgia from the Vancouver Lookout
- Search for bald eagles from Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park
- Enjoy a morning hike and picnic lunch in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
- Stand on Top of the World on Whistler Mountain and walk the Cloudraker Skybridge
|Arrive in Vancouver
|Explore Vancouver: Museum of Anthropology, Kits Beach, & Stanley Park
|Vancouver to Whistler (2 hours)
|Explore Whistler: Garibaldi Provincial Park, Train Wreck, & Scandinave Spa
|Explore Whistler: Joffre Lakes, Pemberton, & Cloudraker Skybridge
|Whistler to Vancouver, Depart (2 h 30 min)
Day 1: Arrive in Vancouver
Fringed by the Pacific Ocean and backed by the stunning Coastal Range, Vancouver is one of the world's most livable cities with some of North America's best cuisine, rich indigenous heritage, and outdoor venues that beckon the active traveler.
It only takes around 30 minutes to get from the airport to downtown via taxi or Skytrain ride. The city center and surrounding neighborhoods are easily walkable, and all the main attractions are a short distance away. To get your bearings, start with a stroll along the seawall from English Bay to False Creek before wandering the historical, cobbled streets of Gastown and Chinatown.
With over 60 different cultures, there is a slew of international restaurants serving anything from Asian cuisine to seasonal farm-to-table dishes. For dinner, choose from a selection of top-notch eateries—from downtown and the West End to the North Shore and Kitsilano vicinity. Bear in mind, Vancouverites love eating out any day of the week so be sure to make a reservation if it's a popular restaurant.
- Vancouver Art Gallery. See historical and contemporary exhibits by regional, national, and international artists.
- Chinatown. Snap pics of the towering Millennium Gate and mosey through the tranquil Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.
- Sam Kee Building. At just 6 feet (1.8 m) wide, marvel at the world's narrowest office building.
- Vancouver Lookout. Ride the high-speed elevator up 40-stories for 360-degree views. Keep the receipt and come back later to watch the sun setting over the Strait of Georgia.
Day 2: Explore Vancouver: Museum of Anthropology, Kits Beach, & Stanley Park
In the morning, head southwest of downtown to the University of British Columbia's ("UBC") campus to dedicate a couple of hours to explore the Museum of Anthropology, a great introduction to the history of the Pacific Northwest. Showcasing spectacular First Nations totem poles and impressive carvings, join a free daily tour to get a better understanding of British Columbia's rich indigenous history.
After that, make your way along the coast to Vancouver's trendy beachside suburb of Kitsilano (locally referred to as "Kits") for an afternoon of picnicking on the beach and swimming in the ocean or the outdoor saltwater pool. From Kits' shoreline, you have some of the best views in the city of Vancouver's skyline and nearby Coastal Range.
Walking distance from Kitsilano, head over to Granville Island, checking out the restaurants, gift shops, fresh food markets, and local boutique shops that reflect the island's maritime heritage. For a deep-dive of the island's culinary offerings, join a walking food tour that takes you through the bustling Granville Island Public Market.
Just before sunset, work up an appetite by walking (two hours) or biking (one hour) around Stanley Park's Seawall, a 6-mile (10-km) loop around a 400-hectare natural West Coast rainforest with views over the city. Time your walk to hit the midpoint at Siwash Rock and Third Beach for the best spot to watch the sun dip below the horizon.
- Bard on the Beach. Catch a Shakespeare play in beautiful Vanier Park overlooking the city (theatre festival that runs annually from early June through September).
- Science World. Witness the wonderful world of science with hands-on displays in a 17-story geodesic-shaped dome (great for kids).
- Vancouver Aquarium. Learn about Pacific Canada's sea life at Canada's largest aquarium in Stanley Park.
- VanDusen Botanical Garden. Get lost in an Elizabethan hedge maze in this popular botanical garden.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 3: Vancouver to Whistler (2 hours)
Collect your rental car (keeping in mind Vancouver's rush hour is from 8-9 am) and begin your road trip north to Whistler along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, one of British Columbia's most iconic drives. A scenic route between the ocean and mountains, there are several great places to stop to break up the short drive.
Halfway to Whistler—and where the ocean, river, and alpine forest meet—there's Squamish, an access point for outdoor activities and adventure. Just before reaching Squamish, you can see the area's most famous peak from the highway, the Chief, a sheer granite rockface popular with skilled climbers. Pick up the Stawamus Chief Trail for a hike up the back to reach the summit (divided into three peaks and graded as an intermediate hike, it takes the average person 3-4 hours to reach the first—and most visited—summit). Or, take the Sea-to-Sky Gondola up the mountain for excellent views of Howe Sound from Summit Lodge at the top where you can also grab lunch.
You'll reach Whistler, an upscale, chalet-style pedestrian village (and venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics) in the early to mid-afternoon. Whistler is North America's largest winter sports resort worth a visit at any time of year. The village is built around Whistler-Blackcomb, twin peaks accessed by an ultramodern lift system that provides opportunities to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, rock climb, or zip-line in warmer months and ski or snowboard in the winter.
From Whistler Village, take the Peak 2 Peak Gondola up the mountain for an afternoon adventure. You can hike through the high alpine to Harmony Lake (1.6 miles / 2.5 km from the top of the gondola) or touch the toe of a small glacier on a similarly lengthed trek. For something unique, rent a pair of snowshoes to explore areas covered in year-round snow. Alternatively, there are hiking trails you can take from the village itself. Follow the Valley Trail to Lost Lake, where you can take a dip or enjoy a picnic in the summer months or cross-country ski along its shoreline in the winter.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Shannon Falls. Short trail to British Columbia's third-highest waterfall at 1,099 feet (335 m)
- Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park. Home to one of North America's largest eagle populations
- Brandywine Falls Provincial Park. Stand atop a 230-foot (70-m) waterfall and hike a 4-mile (7-km) circuit through dense forest and ancient lava beds to Cal-Cheak Suspension Bridge.
Driving time (Vancouver to Whistler): 2 hours (75 miles /120 km)
Day 4: Explore Whistler: Garibaldi Provincial Park, Train Wreck, & Scandinave Spa
Grab an early breakfast at Mount Currie Coffee before taking to the trails south of Whistler for a full day of hiking in Garibaldi Provincial Park. En route, pull over to warm up the legs with an easy in-and-out trek through forest and over the rushing Cheakamus River to the historic Train Wreck site, a popular attraction of colorfully graffitied boxcars leftover from a 1956 derailed train (1.2 miles / 2 km).
Home to glaciers, wildflower meadows (late summer), and saw-tooth peaks, including the park's namesake mountain and impressive Black Tusk, Garibaldi Provincial Park offers a host of trails to choose from (most requiring at least a moderate level of fitness and expertise). From the Rubble Creek parking lot, pick up the Garibaldi Lake trail for an intermediate 11-mile (18-km) trek through thick forests of Douglas Firs, as you hike over an elevation of 2,690 feet (820 m). Stay awhile to soak up the view of the turquoise lake and glacier off in the distance before looping back. (Allow five to seven hours.)
Back in the village, indulge in a post-hike meal at Garibaldi Lift Co.—a popular spot with the locals and affectionately referred to as GLC—for a casual dinner of pub fare, draft beer, and live music that carries well into the night. Alternatively, grab a quick bite to eat and get cleaned up with a soothing mineral soak at Scandinave Spa and then make your way to elegant Araxi Restaurant & Oyster Bar, one of Whistler's long-running top restaurants.
Day 5: Explore Whistler: Joffre Lakes, Pemberton, & Cloudraker Skybridge
Take full advantage of Whistler's prime location to the great outdoors. Get an early start to beat the crowds and drive the hour north to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park for a morning hike. The drive along Highway 99 itself is spectacular and the views of the glacial lakes of the park even more so. With a picnic lunch, set out from the parking lot (where most people linger for the quick and easy snapshot of Lower Joffre Lake) and follow the 6-mile (10-km) trail, an intermediate route with rewarding views of turquoise lakes, old-growth forests, waterfalls, and towering glacier-laden peaks.
On your return, stop in the quirky town of Pemberton. Founded as a farming and cowboy town that's retained its distant-outpost feel, join a tour of the Pemberton Distillery and stay for a tasting of their wild-honey liqueur followed by a visit to the Pemberton Museum for a peek into the town's past.
Grab a pastry at the woodsy Blackbird Bakery to fuel up for an afternoon of hiking, sightseeing, or summer skiing (Horstman Glacier is accessible most of the year for the advanced skier) back in Whistler. Check out Cloudraker Skybridge and Raven's Eye Cliff Walk on Whistler Mountain for 360° views over the Coast Mountains, reached by the Whistler Village Gondola (purchase tickets online in advance for discounts, check the weather forecast, and dress in layers).
Round out the day with an evening of live jazz and fine dining at Bearfoot Bistro, serving contemporary Canadian dishes from a multicourse prix-fixe menu and wine from one of western Canada's largest wine cellars. If you're still up for a short walk, head over to Cougar Mountain after dinner (10 minutes outside of the village) for Vallea Lumina, an enchanting lit-up night walk through an old-growth forest, alive with glowing lights, music, and special effects.
Day 6: Whistler to Vancouver, Depart (2 h 30 min)
Sit down for a smoothie bowl and green drink from The Green Moustache and then load up the car and follow the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Vancouver and onwards to Vancouver International Airport (keeping in mind that you may hit some traffic passing through the city).
If you have time before your departure, stop at The Naam in Vancouver for lunch before making your way to the airport. If you're feeling indulgent, splurge on a seaplane harbor tour to take in the mountain-and-sea-dominated city from a new perspective. Alternatively, spend an hour walking (or biking) around Stanley Park's seawall to get some exercise before your flight.
It usually takes 30-45 minutes to drive from downtown Vancouver to Vancouver International Airport. Best to arrive at least two hours prior to your international departure, and additional time if you need to drop off your rental car.
Driving time (Whistler to Vancouver): 2 hours, 30 minutes (80 miles / 130 km)