Video by Rachel Ryle

National Geographic sent New York-based illustrator and animator Rachel Ryle to Whistler, British Columbia, for a nature-based, autumn escape. The four-day trip is a scenic two-hour drive from Vancouver, and the season's crisp alpine air and turning of the leaves make fall an ideal time to experience the vibrant arts, cultural, culinary, and outdoor adventures in this quintessential West Coast mountain town.

TOP FIVE REASONS TO GO

    1. Enjoy a vibrant pedestrian-friendly village linked to an extensive recreational trail network.
    2. Immerse yourself in Whistler’s rich Indigenous and British Columbian art heritage.
    3. Zipline hundreds of feet above a valley and deep into a forest.
    4. Experience an enchanting, multi-sensory night hike.
    5. Relax and recharge at a rejuvenating spa.
Rachel Ryle’s artistic view of fall in Whistler Village captures the beauty and charm of the real scene.
Rachel Ryle’s artistic view of fall in Whistler Village captures the beauty and charm of the real scene.
Illustration by Rachel Ryle and Photograph by Krista Rossow

DAY ONE: WHISTLER VILLAGE AND THE VALLEY TRAIL

Begin your fall getaway in postcard-perfect Whistler Village, a pedestrian-only hamlet in the heart of Whistler. The meandering Village Stroll walkway is lined with shops and restaurants. Follow the walkway to Whistler Olympic Plaza (hub of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games) where you can snap a selfie in front of the Olympic Rings.

Tour the outdoors on two wheels

Try renting a bike to pedal the Valley Trail (a multi-use, paved trail and boardwalk network linking neighborhoods, parks, and lakes) or to tackle one of Whistler’s cross-country mountain biking routes. Biking along the family-friendly Valley Trail is the best way to visit shimmering mountain lakes like Alpha, Alta (a top spot for sunsets), Green, Lost, and Nita.

Explore cool cultural sites

Spend time in the village exploring the Cultural Connector, a scenic walkway linking six impressive Whistler cultural institutions. Experience the living heritage of the Squamish and Lil’wat at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. At the Audain Art Museum, the award-winning architecture—designed to seamlessly blend into the surrounding forest landscape—rivals the world-class collections of British Columbian, Canadian, and Indigenous art.

Whistler’s Audain Art Museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of Northwest Coast First Nations masks.
Whistler’s Audain Art Museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of Northwest Coast First Nations masks.
Photograph by Krista Rossow

INSIDE TIP: Enjoy cocktails outdoors by the firepit or indoors near the fireplace at Cure Lounge & Patio at Nita Lake Lodge. The lodge is on the Valley Trail, overlooking glacier-fed Nita Lake.

DAY TWO: GARIBALDI PROVINCIAL PARK

Hike to a glistening, icy-blue lake

Pack a picnic lunch and fuel up with coffee and a fresh-baked pastry at Purebread in Whistler Village before heading slightly south of the Village to Garibaldi Provincial Park—starting point for the enchanting Cheakamus Lake hike. Following the trail through an aromatic forest of towering cedar trees to the icy-blue lake feels like stepping into the pages of a fairytale.

Feast on creative comfort food

After a full day of hiking, reward yourself with a steaming bowl of comfort food at Ohyama Ramen Restaurant, conveniently located in Whistler Village. The creatively cool restaurant (the interior is evocative of a mid-century Tokyo streetscape) takes noodles to the next level. Try the signature—BBQ pork belly, house blend spicy sauce, green onion, and sesame seeds—or the creamy vegan ramen, a local’s favorite.

INSIDE TIP: After dinner, follow the locals to Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub for live music and late night (11 p.m.-1 a.m.) happy hour.

DAY THREE: MOUNTAIN ADVENTURE AND VALLEA LUMINA

Go high-altitude ziplining and off-roading

Spend an adrenaline-pumping morning soaring hundreds of feet above the valley and zooming through the trees on a zipline tour with Superfly Ziplines or Ziptrek Ecotours. Return to earth for a rollicking, two-hour rumble up and down Cougar Mountain (a short shuttle journey north of Whistler) on a wild RZR-Tour through a coastal rainforest. The route includes several Instagrammable mountain and valley overlooks.

Exploring Whistler’s rugged backcountry by RZR is a wildly fun way to see sweeping views of snow-capped peaks and pristine forests.
Exploring Whistler’s rugged backcountry by RZR is a wildly fun way to see sweeping views of snow-capped peaks and pristine forests.
Photograph by Krista Rossow

Take an enchanting night hike

At sundown, return to the base of Cougar Mountain to experience the artistry and wonder of Vallea Lumina, a magical, multi-sensory walk in the woods combining illumination, holograms, legend, sound, and the beauty of British Columbia’s old-growth forests. Spend an awe-inspiring hour following the trail, guided only by twinkling lights, lantern-lit staircases, and the unfolding story.

INSIDE TIP: Get a late supper at The Raven Room, a locally owned bar and restaurant specializing in creative cocktails and dishes crafted with ingredients from the Pacific Northwest.

DAY FOUR: TRAIN WRECK TRAIL AND SCANDINAVE SPA

Express yourself

Start the day with a signature Whistler experience: the Train Wreck hike. Spend at least an hour (round-trip) on the leisurely walk through the woods, which leads across a Cheakamus River suspension bridge to graffiti-covered boxcars scattered in the forest. Remnants of a 1956 derailment, the cars have become canvases for artists to express themselves. After the hike, try a pint of local craft beer or sample a few brews in a tasting flight at cozy Coast Mountain Brewing tap house, located a short walk from the trail.

INSIDE TIP: Coast Mountain Brewing doesn’t serve food, but you can carry in pizza or other takeout from nearby restaurants for a post-hike lunch with your pint.

Relax and recharge

After three action-packed days, indulge in a restorative break at Scandinave Spa Whistler. Bordering the forest of Lost Lake Park, the outdoor spa rejuvenates body and spirit by following the traditional Finnish hydrotherapy cycle: hot, cold, relax, repeat. Blissfully move between cycle elements—such as a wood burning sauna, icy Nordic waterfall, and outdoor fireplace area—in silence thanks to the spa’s no-phone, no-talking policy.

INSIDE TIP: In the evening, stroll into the village for a shared-bites supper at charming Bar Oso or a regionally focused Italian dish (such as local beet tortolloni) at Il Caminetto.

HOW TO TAKE THIS TRIP
Whistler, is only a two-hour ride north of Vancouver International Airport via the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Highway 99). Rent a car at the airport to make the drive or take a Vancouver-to-Whistler shuttle bus. Once you’re in Whistler, it’s easy to get around on foot or bike via the Valley Trail and the pedestrian-only Village Stroll. For longer trips, use public transit.

WHERE TO STAY
For easy access to shops, restaurants, and attractions; the Village Stroll and the Valley Trail; choose a centrally located Whistler Village hotel like the all-suite Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside. Also consider the Sundial Boutique Hotel, the Crystal Lodge & Suites, or the Westin Resort & Spa.

TRAVEL TIP: Fall in Whistler is considered the season between Labor Day in early September through late November.

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