Year-round, Whistler teems with life. Bears roam freely on the golf courses in spring’s warm glow. Alpine lakes shine emerald green in summer. Trees illuminate the fall with brilliant yellow and red leaves. And winter’s thick blanket of snow covers every surface with magic. So, no matter when you visit, nature is set to inspire.
Whistler experiences four seasons in one year with distinct weather patterns. Animal behaviour changes with the seasons, as does the plant life. Similarly, human activities change with the seasons meaning no matter what time of year you arrive there is a new way to get outdoors.
- Snow blankets the landscape, starting from the top of the mountains in fall and moving to the valley
- Many animals reduce activity or hibernate like the bears, some animals (like hares and ptarmigan) change colour to blend in with the snowy surroundings
- People take in the winter wonderland by skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating and more
- Snow melts in the valley first, although it may continue snowing in the alpine for many months
- Bird and animal activity increases - hummingbirds arrive and bears emerge from hibernation
- Plants start to bud and grow again leading to an explosion of green leaves
- People continue to ski in the alpine, while hiking, biking and trail running and other activities start as soon as the trails are clear of snow
- Snowmelt continues over summer exposing high altitude alpine hiking and biking trails
- In late summer the alpine wildflower come into bloom, creating meadows of colour
- Water temperatures are warmer, and plants and animals in wetlands become active
- Warm days and long nights mean people hike, bike, go alpine sightseeing, enjoy water sports in the lakes and rivers
- Temperatures start to fall and leaves on deciduous trees change colour - brilliant yellow, red, orange and gold
- Animals are feeding and storing food for the winter as snow begins to dust the mountain tops
- Salmon may be seen spawning in creeks and rivers
- The forest is cool and damp - excellent conditions for the growth of mushrooms
- Bald Eagles begin to arrive in the area south of Whistler
- Bear viewing tours continue, eagle tours begin and activities like fishing, ziplining and tree top adventures in the rainforest are popular
Animals Around Whistler
Whistler’s natural surroundings provide ideal homes for many different species of wildlife, including bears, cougars, deer, marmots, pika, hares, squirrels, chipmunks, otters, beavers and more. The marmot (a rock-dwelling rodent), is what gave Whistler its name. Marmots whistle to warn other marmots of potential danger and their calls can be heard throughout Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains where they live.
Bears in Whistler
It’s not uncommon to witness a black bear wandering through the trails, mountainside or parks looking for berries. From mid-March to November bears are active and looking for food. Often, their appetite draws them to urban areas with garbage which is why there are bear-proof litter bins throughout Whistler Village.
Bears and Food
A bear hooked on garbage is a dead bear as it is difficult to relocate a bear to another habitat once they recognize an easy source of human food. It is up to us to be bear aware and prevent this from happening. Black bears have been living in Whistler long before any of us and they deserve our respect.
Where to See Bears in Whistler
A professional bear viewing guide or group tour is the absolute best way to view bears and learn more about them from local experts. Seeing bears in their natural habitat is an exciting and memorable experience. It is however important to ensure we do not disturb bears while they are eating, mating or rearing their young. The following are guidelines for giving bears the space and respect they deserve to ensure they remain safe and wild:
- Never approach, feed or call out to bears
- Maintain a generous distance between you (or your vehicle) and the bear at all times. The standard distance is 100 metres (about the length of 7 school buses). If the bear is disturbed by your presence even at that distance, move away
- If in a group of people, stay together. Don’t crowd or surround bears
- Bring binoculars or spotting scopes and long telephoto lenses for taking photos. Flash photography should be avoided as it can disturb bears
- If you see a bear by the roadside, only pull over if it is safe to do so. Stay inside the vehicle to minimize disturbance and maximize your safety
- Don’t call out or whistle to attract the bear’s attention for a photo. Noises or actions that might stress bears should be avoided (loud talking and laughing, children crying, diesel engines) — this is imperative for keeping bears wild
- Viewing moments should be kept short – observe, then leave the area and bears in peace
- Dispose of garbage in appropriate bins – never leave food or litter out that could attract bears
Bear Smart is a fantastic local resource for more Bear Smart tips.
What to Do if You See a Bear
If you are out hiking and see a black bear, try not to panic and follow these simple guidelines:
- Remain calm — you are smarter than the bear
- Please do not try to feed or pet the bear
- Back away slowly and never run
- Keep dogs on a leash and do not let them provoke a bear
- Keep children near you and well-behaved
How to Be Bear Alert
There are many things you can do to avoid encountering an unexpected bear.
- Be alert for signs of bears — watch for bear tracks and droppings
- Make noise as you walk — whistling, clapping, singing and talking. Bears often leave an area when they are aware of human presence
- Always take your garbage home with you — including biodegradable items such as banana peels
The lakes, rivers and wetlands around Whistler are home to various species including Salmon, Rainbow Trout and protected Western Horned Toads.
Birds Around Whistler
Whistler is on the natural migratory route for numerous bird species from hummingbirds to bald eagles. Some birds like the Stellar's Jay, Ptarmigan and Whiskey Jack live in Whistler all year round. Keep your eyes open — their curious nature may bring them closer than you think, especially when you're eating.
If you love winged creatures, it may be worth coming in early winter. Each year thousands of Bald Eagles gather on the Squamish River Valley to feast on the spawning salmon. The world record for an eagle count was in 1994 at 3,769 in a single day!
The Whistler Naturalists organize numerous events including a monthly bird walk on the first and third Saturday of each month. They're free and open to anyone interested in birds. You'll be joined by birding experts who compile a detailed inventory list on year-round bird activity. Start time changes seasonally. Learn more at whistlernaturalists.ca.
Sea to Sky Bird Trail
Tourism Whistler has officially partnered with Tourism Squamish and the BC Bird Trail to create the Sea to Sky Bird Trail, a guide to exploring birding, conservation, and community in the Squamish and Whistler areas. The trail leverages BC’s unique location along the Pacific Flyway, a 20,000 kilometre migration route from Alaska to Patagonia, which is travelled by at least a billion birds each year.
This exciting trail allows guests to explore our spectacular natural environment and what makes the Sea to Sky region such a special area to diverse bird species. Local collaborators include the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Whistler Naturalists and Whistler Blackcomb.
Discover the Sea to Sky Bird Trail Itinerary for Whistler at www.bcbirdtrail.ca. It features popular birding locations in Whistler, eco-friendly retail, lodging, and activity recommendations.
There is an incredible variety of plant life around Whistler. You can see many varieties of trees such as pine, cedar, hemlock and evergreen, plus a multitude of smaller plants, lichens, mosses and wildflowers depending on the season. Hiking, tree trekking and ziplining are all great ways to get out into the trees.
Old Growth Forests
Whistler has some spectacular old growth forests that are well worth the effort to go and visit. The Ancient Cedars Grove is a popular destination about a 10 km drive north of Whistler on Cougar Mountain. Check the map at the trailhead for detailed directions. It's a great picnic and photo opportunity spot.
Whistler's Interpretive Forest
Whistler's Interpretive Forest is an area of 3000 hectares / 9000 acres with an extensive road and trail network designed with educational signs along the way. Learn about the flora and fauna, tree growth, animal habitat, and local ecology.
The Whistler Interpretive Forest is a self-guided route that is fun for everyone and very picturesque. It is located 10 km south of Whistler and has six popular hiking trails with scenic views. Overnight camping is not permitted, but this is a great day trip!
In summer the alpine and subalpine meadows burst into life with a huge variety of colourful wildflowers. Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains have a number of hiking trails accessible by gondola where these wildflowers can be seen up close.
Whistler has several significant wetland areas, including one in Lost Lake Park with a viewing platform. The area is accessible off the Lost Lake Loop road and features a series of interpretive signs detailing wetland ecology, hydrology, flora, fauna and the area's history. Watch for the classic wetland indicator species throughout Whistler — the vibrant green and leafy skunk cabbage.
Landscape and Ecosystems
The rugged Coast Mountain Range has been formed through millenia of geological processes, each leaving their unique mark on the landscape. As a result, there are plenty of different ecosystems to explore from the valley to the peaks.
Every spring, the snow melts and after a heavy rain, the waterfalls around Whistler pour out from mountain tops and cascade over giant cliffs. The following are the area’s finest:
- Alexander Falls are 14 km south of Whistler and then another 16 km west over the gravel Callaghan Forest Service Road. It’s well worth the effort to see this natural wonder.
- Brandywine Falls plunge 70 metres / 230 feet; it's a tremendous sight. Etched into a horseshoe, the falls are a magnificent piece of nature and worth the 15 minute walk no matter what the season. Yes, they are even beautiful in the cold of winter when ice and snow has covered all of its surrounding area. They are located about 20 minutes south of Whistler; watch for the Brandywine Provincial Park signs along the highway.
- Nairn Falls are 35 km north of Whistler; follow the signs to Nairn Falls Provincial Park and then hike in about half a km for a wonderful view.
- Shannon Falls are probably the most popular. About 10 minutes south of Squamish there's a park with picnic tables and a short walkway up to see this magnificent wall of water spray falling off the mountain. Watch for the signs along the highway; the stop is a popular one.
The peaks surrounding Whistlers hold a number of glaciers. In winter, it is possible to ski on several glaciers while in summer you can hike, climb or even take a helicopter tour of these magnificent ice formations. Hiking is an excellent way to see the glaciers.
Alluvial Forest Soils
Whistler's alluvial forest soils are rich in black organic material, very high in nutrients and support an unusual diversity and density of plants and trees such as ferns and spruce.