Editor’s Note: This post was originally written in 2017, and has been updated with new initiatives, images and links.
With car-sharing programs becoming more and more popular and self-driving cars starting to ease out of the testing grounds and onto the streets, our relationship with the ol’ automobile is undergoing a huge change. What better time to shake off the shackles of the car than on vacation, when you can enjoy the many benefits of self-propelled adventuring while getting the best value from your trip?
Here in Whistler, we’re set up for car-free exploring year-round with pedestrian-only strolling and shopping areas in Whistler Village and Creekside, and over 47 kilometres of paved, multi-use Valley Trail. During the summer months, there’s free transit service on weekends and Holidays, free shuttles to some of Whistler’s parks and lakes, free bike valet services and a new, e-bike program.
Simply put, you really don’t need to drive at all. Here are eight reasons to leave the car keys at home when you come to Whistler.
1. You Don’t Need a Car to Get Here
We’re approximately two hours away from Vancouver and two-and-a-half hours from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) by road, and there’s a plethora of transfer options to get you from the city to the mountains in comfort. Dedicated shuttle buses running multiple services up and down each day, chartered vehicles of all shapes and sizes, and even helicopter and floatplane transfers (seasonal) for an extra-special look at the mountains on the way.
The best part of getting someone else to drive? You get to soak up the views on the Sea to Sky along the way and arrive rested, relaxed and ready to go.
2. You Don’t Need a Car to Get Around
Whistler’s pretty compact, and the base village is designed with walking in mind with shops, restaurants, hotels and activity centres all lining the pedestrian-only Village Stroll. It’s a delightful meander through the European-inspired streets from one end of the Village to the other or from the Upper to the Lower Village – you’re on vacation, why rush? Access to the mountains is easy year-round with the lifts for the Whistler Bike Park, sightseeing, hiking and skiing converging on Skier’s Plaza at one end of the Stroll, with additional uplifts from the Upper Village via the Blackcomb Gondola and in Whistler Creekside.
Walk, Roll and Ride Whistler’s Valley Trail
For exploring further afield – finding lakes, trailheads and other neighbourhoods – you can use the Valley Trail, which goes all the way through Whistler from one end to the other and is for non-motorized users only (e-bikes get a pass as long as the owners keep the speed to cruise).
In summer you can walk, run, ride and roll your way from patio to picnic while in winter, the Valley Trail is snow-maintained making a fabulous way to walk around or try a fat bike rental – some sections are even groomed for cross-country skiing.
Transit, Taxis, Activity and Accommodation Shuttles
Whistler’s transit system services the resort from north to south, and it’s a popular way to get around. The RMOW provides free transit for special occasions such as New Year’s Eve, Canada Day, and during certain peak periods in the summer. Check out the RMOW’s site for more details. Kids 12 and under also ride free on local transit, and Whistler’s fixed-route buses have lifts or low floors to accommodate passengers of different abilities. It’s also worth noting that BC Transit has operated electric and low-carbon buses since 2019 and is committed to achieving an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in support of the Province of BC’s CleanBC Plan.
For getting directly from point A to B, Whistler’s taxi services run 24 hours a day through all weather, with the ability to carry ski gear, golf clubs and in some cases bikes, pets and wheelchairs – ask when you request the ride.
Hitting up Whistler’s summer and winter activities is no problem without a car – most of them either happen around Whistler Village, or the tour operators provide shuttles from the Village to get you to where you need to be. It’s also worth checking with your accommodation, as some hotels and complexes offer a complimentary shuttle service for guests looking to move around the resort.
Bike Valet and evo E-bikes
An incredible, summer-based initiative by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is Whistler’s bike valet program. As they’re encouraging more people to explore via bike they’ve recognized the need for safely storing them for when you want to go by foot. That’s why you’ll find free, bike valet stations at Whistler Olympic Plaza, Meadow Park and Lost Lake Park on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Holiday Mondays until September 4 from 11 Am to 6 PM. They will also be at the Whistler Summer Concert Series, open until 10 PM.
The evo e-bike share program will be available all summer in Whistler, giving you an affordable way to get from A to B without a car or your own e-bike! Take a look at the evo website for how to rent, the cost and where the bike parking zones are.
Free Summer Park Shuttles
The RMOW has also added free shuttles to two of Whistler’s most popular parks – Rainbow and Lost Lake. Rainbow Park is currently closed for a refurbishment project for this year but will be back in 2024.
The free shuttle operates between Whistler Village, at the Gondola Transit Exchange Post 4 and at Olympic Plaza, and Lost Lake Park daily until September 4, from 11 AM to 7 PM. Shuttles run every 10 minutes between 2 and 6 PM, and every 20 minutes from 11 AM to 2 PM and from 6 to 7 PM.
The Lost Lake Shuttle is wheelchair accessible and stops at all Whistler transit stops between the Gondola Transit Exchange and Lost Lake Parking Lot.
3. You’ll See More of Whistler
You could drive to the lake (be aware of the pay parking) – but did you ever think of what you might be missing on the way? Walking or riding from A to B puts you in the great outdoors where you get fresh air, sunshine and lots of little viewpoints to explore that you can’t see from the road.
Even in the Village, there are opportunities to be surprised – go for an old school walk and shop in summer and you could find a grassy green park just begging you to linger and read a book for a while. Take a slow wander to check out the festive lights twinkling in the snow and you might just find a new favourite firepit. Remember, the journey is just as important (sometimes more so) than the destination.
4. You’ll be Doing Something Good for the Environment
We all know the benefits. Even one less car means less air pollution, less noise pollution, less greenhouse gases being released. Chalk one up for fresh mountain air.
Moving beyond the car is the number one strategy in the RMOW’s Small Steps for BIG MOVES campaign, with the goal of having 50 percent of all trips in Whistler by transit and active transport, by 2030.
5. It’s Better for Your Health
First of all, getting someone else to drive completely removes any stress that might arise from a snowy highway drive, navigating a new environment and finding parking. But the benefits don’t end there. Even a small amount of exercise is good for your physical and mental health and leaving the car at home is a great way to encourage movement in your day.
Plus, you’ll be getting much closer to nature which has all sorts of health benefits. Even on the short walk between the Upper and Lower Village, you’ll come across trees, green spaces and running water – a good dose of Vitamin N, for Nature. Lingering recommended.
6. It’s Better for Your Wallet
Gas, parking, insurance, rental fees, running costs – go car-free and once your transfer is covered that’s cash that could be spent on renting a bike, paddleboarding and ordering a cold beer on one of Whistler’s patios.
7. You’ll Meet More People
From the shuttle driver that knows the names of all the peaks in the Tantalus Range, to the bike store guy who gives you directions to his favourite lakeside spot, to the cute dog at the Whistler Farmers’ Market and the girl with the skis on her fat bike who tells you where to get the best coffee in town – there are opportunities galore for making new friends and getting locals tips on things to see and do.
Not to mention walking goes hand in hand with chatting – the natural time to catch up with the people you’re on vacation with.
8. You’ll Sleep Better
More moving, more discovering, more chatting with people and more adventures in general – chances are if you go car-free you’ll sleep like a baby and come back from vacation in better shape than when you left. Isn’t that the point of a getaway, after all?