Whistler is packed with tremendously beautiful hiking trails. Whistler, as a resort community, is only decades old but the enormous number of hiking trails is staggering. The huge number of trails ensures that most remain sparsely hiked and incredibly diverse. You can find hikes with majestic waterfalls, enormous glaciers, heart pounding summits, impossibly blue lakes, and fantastic views. Lots of fantastic views. Two hikes listed below even have user maintained huts that are free to use by anyone. It is of course difficult to narrow a top 5 list down to only five hikes out of so many wonderful hikes. Black Tusk tops the list mainly for the its extraordinary view and its incredible geology. It is constantly amazing. From its crumbling sides to its alarmingly dangerous looking approach, you can't help but marvel at everything about this mountain. And standing on its summit, you stare down at everything. Recalling how impossibly steep the sides look from every angle, you can barely believe it when you reach the top. Another wonderful aspect of the Black Tusk is simply the hike itself. It is really three hikes in one as you can hike to Garibaldi Lake on the way and Taylor Meadows on the return journey. Both of these hikes are worthy destinations on their own, but combined with Black Tusk are incredible. The roundtrip hike, trailhead to trailhead for Black Tusk is 30k. Wedgemount Lake comes in the top 5 here as it is such a wonderful alpine hiking paradise. There is a perfect turquoise lake, a nice, free hut to use, tent platforms everywhere you look and all with jaw dropping views from all of them. There are several great hikes that emanate from the lake and the Wedgemount Glacier is easily accessible. The hike to Wedgemount Lake is only 7k, trailhead to lake and only takes about two hours to hike but the elevation gain is huge, so you'd better be in good shape. Wedgemount Lake is 14k roundtrip, trailhead to trailhead. Russet Lake is another amazing hike listed here that has a hut free to use by anyone. Russet Lake is usually accessed via the Whistler Gondola then hiking via the Musical Bumps Trail or the High Note Trail, then Musical Bumps Trail. Either way the views are incredible. Russet Lake is located in a wonderful, usually snow filled valley and just like Wedgemount Lake, there are amazing hikes in all directions. Cirque Lake enters the list here for many reasons. Its remote feel, its difficult though, short trail is quite an adventure. It requires canoeing to its trailhead at the far end of Callaghan Lake, which is a wonderful way to start a hike. Cirque Lake is a beautiful and compact world. The cirque that the lake exists in shuts the world out and the invariably mirrored surface of the lake reflects the mountains and clouds hypnotically. Cirque Lake is also so far off the radar that it remains infrequently hiked and almost always a serene paradise far from humanity. Panorama Ridge has to be included on a top 5 list for hiking for Whistler. The hike is beautiful and challenging and the views from the ridge are unbelievable. You can see in all directions and Garibaldi Lake far below is impossibly blue. Panorama Ridge stretches for over a kilometre then descends down the valley, finally reaching Garibaldi Lake. Once in a while you see a tent at the far end of Panorama Ridge and it immediately brings to mind the thought... Where on earth could you find a better tent view? In Whistler, evidently, there are plenty of contenders. Certainly a testament to the wonderful hiking around Whistler is the runners up for this list. Joffre Lakes and Rainbow Lake are not on this list. Joffre is a bit far at over an hour to the trailhead from Whistler, but it is marvellously beautiful. You would be hard pressed to find a more incredibly coloured lake. The turquoise colour is extraordinary at Joffre Lakes. Rainbow Lake is a great hike as well. The trail on the way to the lake is quite beautiful. You see several waterfalls, two impressive bridges, and an unexpectedly wonderful meadow on the way to the picture-perfect lake. As Rainbow Lake is Whistlers water supply, camping, swimming and dogs are prohibited, so that weighs on its attractiveness as a hike. For a list of easier and shorter hikes take a look here..
#1 Best Hike in Whistler - Black Tusk
Jul-Oct | Strenuous, Long Trail (1735m in 15k) | 30 Minutes South of Whistler Village
The barely distinguishable trail skirts its edge, along a perilous scree slope, winding its way around its trunk. As you clamour carefully along the trail you come to a chute heading almost straight up. Again, even this close you will wonder out loud, as almost everyone else at this spot, “I don’t think this is a safe way to go.” Then you pause and look around. Spectacular. Just spectacular.
Above the clouds, looking over the impossibly blue Garibaldi Lake, nestled in endless snowy mountains. There is even snow just below you, in the valleys of scree that crumbled from Black Tusk. The scree is black, very black. Contrasted with the snow, clouds, lake and sky, the view is breathtaking.
Most people don’t continue up the final chute to the top, it’s that scary. This is justifiable. It is unquestionably unsafe. Chunky rock holds pull free as you grip them. Above you jet black, jagged rocks tumble and ricochet down on and around you. And the view is so spectacular around you that it’s easy to justify turning around. How much better can the view get just forty or so metres further up you think.
Of course, the last scary ascent to the summit of Black Tusk is worth it. You will never see it again in the distance and not remember standing on its impossible looking summit.
#2 Best Hike in Whistler - Wedgemount Lake
Jul-Oct | Very Rugged, Steep Trail (1220m in 7k) | 10 Minutes North of Whistler Village
One of the defining features of Garibaldi Park, and Wedgemount Lake in particular, is it’s incredible number of branching hikes from it’s main, more travelled destination. For many, the Wedgemount Hut is the base for hikes to Wedge Mountain, Mount Cook, Mount Weart, Mount Moe, Mount James Turner and Mount Currie in Pemberton, crossing glaciers such as Wedgemount Glacier, Weart Glacier, Armchair Glacier, Mystery Glacier and the Needles and Chaos Glacier to name a few. Dozens of unforgettable peaks can be reached from this quiet little hut overlooking this perfect, turquoise lake. In short, if you were to design a paradise in the mountains, Wedgemount Lake would be the standard to which all others would pale.
The cabin at the lake is wonderfully rustic. Built by the BC Mountaineering Club it is free to use by anyone, first come first served. It is cozy with two large tables and a loft above. Often, during busy times you will find the tables used as beds, a couple on the floor and four people up in the loft sleeping. Though this hut is wonderful, there are also several magnificent tent platforms. Nestled in alpine trees about 50 metres up the slope from the hut three wooden tent platforms hide. Closer to the hut, nestled in the massive erratics are three more platforms.
#3 Best Hike in Whistler - Russet Lake
Jul-Oct | Steep Trail Lots of Peaks and Valleys (14k to Lake) | Trailhead In Whistler Village
Russet Lake is a wonderfully spectacular and varied destination. For a start it can be accessed by trail or by gondola. By the Whistler gondola, it’s an unbelievable, yet arduous trek along the High Note Trail. The 22 minute gondola ride with its wonderful views of Whistler Village in the summertime, then from the top of the gondola, a wonderful walk to the Peak chair where the best is yet to come.
Any time of year the Peak Chair is like a carnival ride, exhilarating, and wonderful, but in the summer, it’s surreal as well. Great walls of snow pass under you far below, as you glide upward at times at a shocking degree. The incline of the ride is extreme, so steep as the breathtaking scenery cannot even distract fully from the nervousness you will surely feel as you glance down, 20 metres to the boulder field below. Then you arrive, the peak of Whistler, what a magnificent way to start a hike. You are still four hours from Russet Lake, but the adventure is well underway.
From the top of the Peak chair, follow the signs for the High Note Trail and Singing Pass. The trail is 14km with several ascents and descents on the way. The entire hike from the Peak Chair to Russet Lake and back to Whistler Village via the Singing Pass Trail is 30k.
#4 Best Hike in Whistler - Cirque Lake
Jul-Oct | Extremely Steep Trail (300m in 2k) | 35 Minutes South of Whistler
As you canoe across the length of Callaghan Lake to the Cirque Lake trailhead, keep aiming toward the waterfall in the distance. The closer you get, the less likely it will seem to be the correct way. To the right the valley slopes away in a much more inviting angle. Keep toward the waterfall though and get ready for the next hour of clinging to the scarcely visible, though well flagged trail that snakes upward, often at a 50 degree incline, astonishingly close to that majestic waterfall. Your destination is one of those fantastic forces of nature, a cirque lake.
A perfectly arranged glacier is required to form a Cirque Lake. A magical combination of size, a certain slope and more unexpectedly, a certain angle away from the sun. In the northern hemisphere, this means the glacier must be on the northeast slope of the mountain, away from the suns rays and the prevailing winds. Thick snow protected in this way grows thicker into glacial ice, then a process of freeze-thaw called nivation, chews at the lower rocks, hollowing out a deep basin. Over a thousand winters you are left with a magnificently circular lake with steep slopes all around.
If you arrive at Cirque Lake, near Whistler, BC on a favourably sunny, summer day, you will almost certainly fall silent, gaze in wonder at this spectacular place, and feel in that moment that this place is as perfect as it is possible for a place to be.
#5 Best Hike in Whistler - Panorama Ridge
Jul-Oct| Continuously Steep Trail (1520m in 14.5k) | 25 Minutes South of Whistler Village
Panorama Ridge is remarkably beautiful. It lies so wonderfully near the end of the massive Garibaldi Lake. With its unbelievable blue colour filling your view and the endless snowy mountains, the reasons for this destinations popularity are obvious. Despite the long distance, 29km round trip, which is exhausting, the views are magical. Often cited as the one hike to do, if you can only do one in Whistler.
Panorama Ridge, one of the most amazing hikes in Garibaldi Park, has inevitably become a popular trail running route as well. It is fantastic for several reasons. The first of course is the magnificent view from the top, the second is the challenging distance, 29k return. Because of the long distance the elevation gain is gradual, at least more gradual than the Rubble Creek Classic or Wedgemount Lake.
Another great feature is a little variation in the route between Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake. Even though it is starts and finishes at the Rubble Creek trailhead, the trail splits part way up, branching into a trail to Taylor Meadows and another to Garibaldi Lake allowing for one route up and the other down. And another bonus is passing Garibaldi Lake which allows for a detour to a beautiful swim.