The Big Bad Backpackers Guide to Whistler
Backpacking through Whistler can be a daunting challenge. While it’s hands down one of the most beautiful places in BC, and a must-do destination, the luxury prices can put some backpackers off Whistler. But they shouldn’t!
Whistler is a town built by ski-bums, and their free spirit is still strong here. There are many, many, locals who live here for years on seemingly impossible budgets and love every second. So take a few tips from us, and you’ll be glad to find that Whistler is for backpackers too!
How to Get to Whistler
Only two hours from Vancouver along the stunning Sea to Sky highway, it’s pretty simple to get to Whistler. Budget-conscious backpackers have plenty of options to choose from, especially if you plan ahead.
- Cheap Buses to Whistler
There are loads of bus companies that run several times a day to and from Whistler. You’ll save a lot of money by hopping on the Skytrain from the airport to central Vancouver, then taking a bus from there with a budget company like Epic Rides. There’s not even a maximum luggage allowance, so boards, bikes, and skis are all welcome.
Dreamed up by some entrepreneurial Whistler locals, Poparide is a local ride-sharing app that has saved many a stranded backpacker. Download the app before you arrive, and you can book a ride with a local who is driving from Vancouver to Whistler anyway. It normally only costs around $15 each way and you get some insider intel on the drive.
- Rent a Car
If you’re backpacking to Whistler with a group, and you want to explore beyond the village, it can be worth renting a car. Rentals are a lot cheaper in Vancouver than Whistler, so pick up your adventure-wagon at the airport. A rental car is also a great way to explore the hidden gems of Whistler that many backpackers don’t get to.
Psst. We wrote a full guide to travelling to Whistler, so you can be sure you’ve found the very best option.
Where to Stay When Backpacking Through Whistler
If we’re honest, accommodation is probably the most expensive part of backpacking through Whistler. But only if you arrive unprepared! With a bit of pre-planning, there are plenty of options for a backpackers in Whistler.
- Whistler Hostels
As you might expect, there’s no shortage of hostels for backpackers in Whistler. But still, in the busiest seasons they can book up months in advance, so it’s worth booking ahead. The HI-Hostel in Cheakamus organizes tons of fun activities and adventures, while the Fireside Lodge has a quiet, authentic ski-chalet vibe. Check out our in-depth review of the Whistler hostels to get the insider low-down.
- Campsites in Whistler
In the summer months (or the winter, if you’re brave/crazy), camping is a brilliant way to save some dollar while backpacking in Whistler. The Whistler RV Park and Riverside Resort both offer amenities and some home comforts if you want to keep a bit of luxury in your life. If you’re down to rough it a little more (and save more cash), the closest campsite to Whistler is Cal-Cheak, tucked in the forest on the banks of the Cheakamus River. And because we love you, we wrote a whole guide to camping in Whistler too!
- Cheap Hotel Choices
If slumming it isn’t your thing, don’t panic. There are a few affordable hotel options in Whistler too. One of our favourites is the shiny new Pangea Pod Hotel. Modelled on Japanese pod hotels, the “pods” give you more privacy than a dorm bunk, but cost far less than a hotel room. Winning!
Another great tip is to check out the deals on Hotwire. If you aren’t fussed about exactly which hotel you stay in (and you’re backpacking, so you probably aren’t), you can snag some amazing last minute deals on fancy Whistler hotels.
Where to Eat or Grab Groceries on a Small Budget
With so much to do while backpacking through Whistler, it’s worth saving your hard-earned toonies for adventures (or apres-adventure beers). It’s easy to end up spending a lot of money on food in Whistler. But by being a little savvy, you can save a lot and max-out your adventure time.
- Grocery shopping
Obviously, the most wallet-friendly choice is to buy groceries and cook your own meals. Luckily, most hostels have communal kitchens for that exact purpose. The Fresh Street Market is the cheapest supermarket in Whistler village.
If you have a car, or don’t mind a short bus ride, the Independent in the Rainbow neighbourhood is ever cheaper. Or if you’re really organized, stock up at Walmart in Squamish on your way to Whistler, and feel smug about how much money you’re saving for the rest of your stay.
- Cheap Eats in Whistler
If you weren’t organized, or just want to sample some local cuisine, you can still find plenty of cheap eats. Main Street, at the far end of Whistler village, is a hidden treasure trove of tasty, affordable meals. Within about 50 metres, you can grab delicious meals at Peaked Pies, Splitz Grill, Hunter Gather, Pizzeria Antico and Main Street Noodles.
Naturally, no backpacking trip to Whistler is complete without a visit to the infamous El Furniture Warehouse (Furnies to the locals), where every dish is only $5.95! And then there are the countless pizza joints, where a slice will normally set you back less than $5, even at 2am.
- Whistler Bites – The Best Restaurant Deals in Whistler
With over 200 restaurants, you can nearly always find a great deal somewhere in Whistler. And the handy Whistler Bites website normally has a full list of the current deals for each day of the week. It even includes all the best Happy Hour drinks deals so you can afford to stay out even later!
What to do in Whistler on a Shoestring Budget
Whistler may be becoming synonymous with luxury travel and high-adrenaline (high-cost) activities, but it’s still an amazing place to explore on a smaller budget too. The incredible scenery and fresh mountain air are accessible to everyone. So our main tip is: go out and enjoy them.
Hiking is by far one of the best ways to really experience the beauty of Whistler – even if you can afford big-budget activities. There are literally endless hiking trails around Whistler that will take you through ancient cedar forests, past crystal-clear glacial lakes, and up towering peaks, for free
Some of our favourite, easily accessible hikes include the Whistler Train Wreck, Ancient Cedars Trail, Panorama Ridge, and Rainbow Lake. All are just a short drive from Whistler and a truly unique experience. Do a bit of research with our Whistler hiking guide and we guarantee you’ll have an incredible (and Insta-worthy) adventure.
- Forged Axe
If you’re backpacking across Canada, you basically have to try the most Canadian sport going: axe-throwing. Don your plaid shirt and head on over to hang out at Forged Axe Throwing. At only $40 per person, we love being able to offer a one-of-a-kind Whistler activity that doesn’t break the bank.
Axe throwing is best enjoyed with lots of friends (old or new), and finished off with a trip to one of our local craft breweries. You’ll find you know your hostel bunk-mates much better after a laughter-filled afternoon at Forged. You’ll probably be planning the next day’s adventure together by the end of the day.
The Whistler Mountain Bike Park is one of the main attractions in Whistler during the summer months. It’s enormous system of world-class trails entice avid bikers – and beginners – from around the world. If your budget allows, we’d definitely recommend spending a day throwing yourself down a hill on a burly downhill bike – it’s heaps of fun.
But if you can’t afford the full Bike Park experience, don’t despair. You can rent cross-country mountain bikes, or trail bikes, for much lower prices all through Whistler village. From there you can explore the free mountain bike trails at Lost Lake, or take a leisurely cycle around the paved 40km Valley Trail network.
- Lake Days
The five lakes in Whistler valley don’t get as much attention as the mountain peaks, but they offer just as many opportunities for a great day out. Take a picnic and top up your tan in one of the many lakeshore parks in Whistler. Rainbow Park offers amazing panoramic views of Whistler Blackcomb, while Lost Lake has the warmest waters if you fancy a dip.
If fishing is your thing, most of the lakes in Whistler offer great catch and release fishing, with many species of salmon and trout native to our lakes. Another increasingly popular activity in Stand-Up Paddleboarding. Not as hard as it sounds (although still hilarious when you first start out), renting a paddleboard is a great, affordable way to explore Whistler’s lakes from a different perspective.
Pro Tips for Whistler Backpackers
Okay, we’ve sorted out with cheap transport, accommodation, food and activities. All you need now is a handful of sneaky local tips and tricks, and your backpacking trip through Whistler is all sorted. Here are a few to get you started, and for the really budget-conscious, a whole guide to visiting Whistler for free!
- Book Early
While being spontaneous is one of the most fun parts of backpacking, booking your Whistler accommodation is not the time to be spontaneous! Keep an eye on hostel prices before you arrive, so you can snag a good deal in one of the best spots.
- Visit in the Quiet Season
Winter and summer still bring the most visitors to Whistler, but the spring and fall are quietly fantastic times to visit too. Everywhere is quieter, hotel rooms are less than half the normal price, and most restaurants put on killer deals to bring in tourists. If your schedule is flexible, it pays to arrive in Whistler outside of the busiest times for sure!
- Free transport around village
For most of the year, there are lots of free buses around Whistler village. Check out the BC Transit schedule for up to date details, as the buses change with the season. During summer, buses are normally completely free on weekends and holidays, which is great news if you’re staying somewhere a little further from the village.
- Give Van Life a Go
If you’re planning a big backpacking trip across Canada, renting or buying a van can be a brilliant way to save money and have the ultimate freedom. Van life is alive and well in Whistler, and you’ll likely meet locals who live out of their vans for months on end. There are plenty of places to park for free (if you know where to look), and you’ll save heaps on accommodation. Just remember to shower – or at least take a dip in a lake – occasionally too!
Whistler Is for Backpackers Too!
Trust us, Whistler is not just for the mega-rich. If it were, there would be no locals left! With a little bit of ingenuity, planning, and a bit of insight from the locals, you can plan a brilliant backpacking trip through Whistler at a budget-friendly price. And you won’t have to sacrifice the best bit of Whistler: the beautiful mountains, forests, and lakes that make it one of the most spectacular places in the world.