It may be a skier’s paradise, but did you know that Canada’s Whistler is named after its resident marmots (burrowing rodents), which “whistle like deflating balloons?”
For decades, the indefatigable resort town has been a magnet for thrill-seekers. It also attracts the occasional celebrity visitor; last year, football legend David Beckham spent quality family time in Whistler and shared his elation—and virgin attempt on the slopes—on social media because “it’s so beautiful up here.”
All year around, adventure options keep the Whistler spirit alive, and you can read our winter and summer guides to enjoy the best of its adrenaline-inducing attractions. But should you wish to take a pause to appreciate nature’s bounty, the untamed wilderness of the former Olympics host promises to “evoke reverence and awe.”
Here are some of the best wildlife-sighting opportunities in Whistler.
1. Whistler Bear-Viewing Tour
A bear encounter is as much a part of the Whistler experience as any of its high-octane activities. Whistler’s majestic mammals are of the Ursus americanus or black bear variety, and the area’s most respected bear researcher Michael Allen estimates that there are about 55 black bears who call Whistler home.
Visitors can watch bears roam from mid-March to November. If you are lucky, you could catch a glimpse of them while up on a chairlift in the Whistler or Blackcomb mountains.
Sightings have also been reported at the Valley Trail around Whistler Golf Club in spring, around the Chateau Whistler Golf Course, beside the Easy Does It Trail in Whistler Bike Park, and the area around the entrance to the Whistler Olympic Park.
For a dedicated experience while travelling in comfort in a 4×4 vehicle to bear-viewing areas, book a tour that includes walks to feeding sites and a chance to wander through forests where bears hibernate through the winter. Contact Whistler Bear Viewing Tours to enquire about tours led by Michael Allen and other expert guides.
2. Wilderness and Eagle-Viewing Tour
Every year in winter, Brackendale (south of Whistler, about a 40-minute drive away) plays host to one of the largest bald eagle populations in the world—it is where these magnificent predators congregate to feast on spawning salmon. The highest recorded gathering was back in 1994, when over 3,700 bald eagles descended on Brackendale during the snow season.
The Squamish Rafting Company organises rafting tours for nature enthusiasts to view the eagles from the ideal vantage point of the Cheakamus and Squamish rivers. On these tours, only the guide steers the raft, and participants do not have to assist with paddling. This frees them to focus on the most important tasks of all—wildlife watching and photography.
Bird lovers: stay alert, as you may also spot giant blue herons, hooded mergansers, dippers, seagulls, and more while on the tour.
3. Bird Walk With the Whistler Naturalists
The Whistler Naturalists are volunteers who are committed to spreading knowledge about the natural world. On the first Saturday of each month (during summer and winter), they conduct a bird walk from Whistler’s Valley Trail to Rainbow Park, covering various wildlife habitats.
The walk is free and open to anyone interested in winged creatures. Among the volunteer guides are birding experts who have extensive knowledge to share, as they are involved in compiling a yearly inventory on birding activity in Whistler.
4. Spot a Hoary Marmot
How did Whistler become the namesake of the hoary marmot (a.k.a. “the whistler”), the furry squirrel-like creature known for its piercing distress call? According to one account, Whistler Mountain was formerly known as “London Mountain.” However, as entrepreneurs pushed to develop the area into a world-class resort in the 1960s, they felt that “London,” with its connotations of fog and gloom, would hamper marketing efforts. The new name “Whistler” was appointed, and the rest is history.
For your best chance of a marmot sighting during your Whistler summer vacation, head to Blackcomb Mountain and follow the Alpine Walk trail, a gentle walking loop that will take about an hour to complete. This area is thought to be the “perfect place for a marmot colony to survive,” because its large boulder fields provide marmots with a way to evade predators, while serving as a source of shelter during the winter.
5. Take a Heli-Hike
Heli-hiking is a recreational activity where a helicopter ride lets you access hard-to-reach areas for hiking. Or, as Blackcomb Helicopters puts it, “Don’t work for the view, work with the view.”
Blackcomb Helicopters offers a 3.5 or seven-hour guided heli-hiking adventure during the summer months, taking participants through the backcountry terrain of Tricouni Meadows, the Callaghan Valley, and Ogre Mountain. Possible wildlife sightings include marmots, pikas, hares, goats, deer, and of course, black bears.
Welcome to Whistler! Our Whistler holiday planner provides all the information you need to prepare for your trip. To find out about Whistler “ski and stay” packages, or the best place to stay in Whistler in summer, speak to our friendly teams at Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside and Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre.