May Hiking Trails Guide in Whistler
May is an extraordinarily beautiful time of year in Whistler. The days are longer, warmer and a great lull in between seasons brings an abruptly quiet serenity that extends into June
This is because most of the trails have quite deep snow. This keeps everyone away, and for good reason. The Garibaldi Park and Whistler region trails are all steep, so hiking or snowshoeing in deep snow is exhausting. But if that doesn't bother you, then you have a lot to look forward to in Whistler in May. There is something very special about looking across the brutally desolate Wedgemount Lake, still frozen solid, and nothing but pure white all around. That contrast against the perfectly blue sky is unforgettable. It's a hell of a hard hike in May, but it's worth it to have such an amazing place to yourself. This goes for all the other hikes around Whistler. For some hikes that are not so exhausting, Cheakamus Lake is great in May. Depending on the snow accumulation during the year of course, but usually you can drive to the trailhead parking lot by early May and if you can reach the parking lot, the trail should be mostly free of snow. The Garibaldi Park hikes are amazing in May. Taylor Meadows, Garibaldi Lake are great, and not terribly hard, but snowshoes might be necessary, depending on how much the snow is packed down from other hikers. Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk are pretty exhausting with the added difficulty of snow, but considerably more amazing with snow. May is also the month where the road to Sloquet Hot Springs becomes free of snow and you can drive right to the hot springs campsite. A hot springs trip for two or three days going to both Skookumchuck and Sloquet makes for an amazing couple days. There is a charge for Skookumchuck and theoretically a charge for Sloquet (for overnight camping), but I have yet to have the pleasure of paying. The waterfalls around Whistler are great in May. Alexander Falls will have lots of snow, but only a few dozen metres of it to walk through to the viewpoint. Rainbow Falls will be free of snow in May as well as Brandywine and Nairn Falls. Joffre Lakes is possibly the best hike in May. The snow disappears faster from the trail there, and what snow remains is consistently packed down by skiers, snowshoers and hikers. To hike Joffre Lakes in May you just need good warm clothes, good waterproof shoes for the mud and snow patches and the foresight or luck to go on a sunny day. The lake is amazing in good weather and dismal in grey weather. South of Whistler, just 45 minutes away is the beautiful Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls hike. You can hike both from the same trailhead (Shannon Falls Trailhead), and be back in Whistler with half a day to spare. The views are amazing and snow is gone in May. Elfin Lakes in the Diamond Head area are amazing if you are up for a 22k roundtrip hike to an amazing mountain paradise. Better yet, if you have time to overnight there, there is an amazing hut equipped with propane heating and stoves, solar powered lights and the cute little Elfin Lakes out front. This area is breathtaking, though increasingly busy due to its proximity to Vancouver. But in May it's a serene paradise. The Elfin Lakes Hut cost's $15 to stay in (sounds like a lot, but wait until you see it-beautiful). Camping in the area costs $10. This is an exception to the rule in most of the hiking destinations around Whistler and in Garibaldi Park, where everything is free. Camping, parking, etc. The high popularity of the Elfin Lakes and Diamond Head area has necessitated an almost constant Park Ranger presence there. They even have their own hut next to the Elfin Lakes Hut. And the Elfin Lakes Hut is nicer than many hostels in the world. Elsewhere in Garibaldi Park you can leave your wallet at home, with the exception of course of Garibaldi Lake and Taylor Meadows campgrounds where there is a small overnight charge. Further down in North Vancouver, where the snow has all but gone in May so The are now easily hike-able, though the West Lion Summit near the end may not be. , and are all great in May, and make great day trips from Whistler.
Parkhurst Ghost Town in May
A beautiful and surreal adventure in the woods above Green Lake
Whistler has an absurd number of wonderful and free hiking trails and Parkhurst Ghost Town certainly ranks as one of the most unusual, exotic and interesting. Parkhurst was a little logging town perched on the edge of Green Lake way before Whistler was Whistler. Up on the ridge where Parkhurst sits, the views are sensational. Green lake far below, a solid unnatural looking mass of green. Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains out in the distance to the left and Rainbow Mountain across and beyond the lake.
The small logging town called Parkhurst came into being in 1926 when the Barr Brothers Logging Company purchased the land from a recent widow looking to sell. Mrs Parkhurst sold the land and a small house which quickly transformed into several small houses, bunkhouses and a steam powered mill on the point of land that still conspicuously juts out from the shore. Soon there were 70 loggers working the mill and living much of the year in the town that was now named after the original owners of the land, the Parkhurst's.
The Great Depression hit the logging industry hard and unable to sell what they produced and the mill went into receivership. In 1932 the mill was purchased by another logging company and was back in business under a new name, Northern Mills. It was to be short lived however, as a fire destroyed the mill in 1938. It was rebuilt and the town once again grew in size to include a school and a store.
Parkhurst continued as a small logging town until the logging industry slowed down in the 1950's and in the 1966 Parkhurst was finally abandoned. If you have a good look around Parkhurst today, you can find remnants of its past almost everywhere you look. From the old disintegrating truck from the 50's to the absurdly and improbably located car being consumed by the forest.
What makes Parkhurst Ghost Town such a great hiking trail and destination is where it is located and the trail to get to it. One route, one of several ways to get to it, runs along the scenic Green River and next to the still active train tracks that run through Whistler.
There always seems to be something to see. From the beautiful meadow along the train tracks, to the suddenly deep forest where you have to play a game of finding the next, pink tree marker or risk wandering off the trail.
The trail markers are numerous, and though getting lost is inevitable, you can only stray a few metres before, the river or steep terrain push you back onto the marked trail. Once up on the ridge above Green Lake where Parkhurst is located, the forest takes on a spooky feel. Trees are all far apart and with branches only high up give the forest a unnaturally lifeless look.
As recent as the late 90's a few houses remained standing, but the merciless winters with crushing snow has collapsed all but one house. There are a couple half collapsed relics, but for the most part the town has disintegrated. Unexpectedly, even in the deep snow of winter, stumbling on remnants of the old town are frequent.
Countless half collapsed houses lay in the picturesque forest that has grown since the town was abandoned. Finding the abandoned vehicles in the town is like a game as you wander around the maze of trails. The old rusty car, the even older truck, and an ancient and enormous logging tractor perched as it was decades ago, on the edge of Green Lake. Quite a marvel to see. Like a giant museum exhibit that looks like it could still be there in a thousand years from now.
Just steps from the impressive tractor, if you are lucky and persistent, you can find another piece of abandoned tractor. This huge and solid piece of steel, left so long ago, has had trees grow in and around it. A large tree, over 50 years old now grows in a triangle shape through this ancient machinery. Squeezing into the only shape it could, but bewildering to see. If you do find it you will probably circle it over and over, trying to figure out how it managed to mold its way through.
If surreal and spooky camping, or just getting away from the noise of Whistler interests you, then Parkhurst Ghost Town will thrill you. With a tent on the edge of the cliff above Green Lake and silence all around, the sunsets are wonderful. There is a nice stream for water just a two minute walk, back from the cliff. Also, there is a water pipe sticking out of the ground where a house once stood, with water still flowing out of it like a little fountain. What a hilarious and great place Parkhurst is.
Trail Map & Trailhead Directions to Parkhurst
Of the many ways to get to Parkhurst, canoeing across Green lake is one is the nicest. You can also reach the town via the new Sea to Sky Trail. Either from the north route from the Wedgemount Lake turnoff or from the Whistler Village side at Lost Lake. It can be tricky to find the Parkhurst Ghost Town however, as the trail to it is appropriately unmarked from the Sea to Sky Trail. From the unmarked parking area just past Whistler Paintball, you walk along the train tracks and see the small "Green Lake Loop/Parkhurst" trail sign on your left(pictured below).
There are at least five ways to access Parkhurst Ghost Town and all of them are fun and scenic. You can canoe or kayak down the beautiful River of Golden Dreams by starting at the end of Lorimer Road. This meandering river is slow moving and you often see a beaver or a bear, and often both while making your way to Green Lake. Once at Green Lake you have to paddle the length of it with the slight current at your back to help you along. Look for the enormous logging tractor(pictured here) perched on the edge of the lake and park your boat there and follow the trail to Parkhurst.
Alternatively you can use the the Green Lake boat launch and dock just across from Parkhurst. There is room for parking near the dock/boat launch. From here to Parkhurst via canoe is just a few hundred metres or about 5 minutes. Finding this well hidden boat launch is actually very easy.
Just drive north from Whistler Village on the Sea to Sky Highway. Continue past the first half of Green Lake, then when it disappears behind trees keep your eyes out for the second street on your right called Summer Lane. Turn right, then immediately left and follow it straight to the dock. You can park about 5 metres from the pier and boat launch(pictured here on the left).
Yet another way to reach Parkhurst by boat is via Green Lake Park. If you back up from the boat launch area and back onto the paved Summer Lane follow it as it bends towards the lake, take the next right and you will see the Green Lake Park sign and room for about four cars to park. This is a cute little park with picnic tables and park benches looking out to the lake. The tractor is just 350 metres from the beach here. If the water wasn't bitter cold, year-round you might want to swim across, it's that close. Occasionally in the summer you see locals paddling one-man rubber dinghy's across from here. In terms of hiking to Parkhurst, you have two excellent choices. The longer, though beautiful way, is to hike directly from Lost Lake Park in Whistler Village via the new section of the Sea to Sky Trail. On foot, expect to take two hours to get there from the village. Alternatively you can bike this wide, crushed rock and dirt trail and get to Parkhurst in about 20 minutes. The Sea to Sky Trail actually runs from Squamish all the way to D'Arcy, well north of Whistler, and you can access it from both ends of Green Lake.
The shortest, yet very nice way to get to Parkhurst on foot or bike is from the north end of Green Lake. The trailhead is well marked and visible after you take the turnoff off of the Sea to Sky Highway at the sign for Wedgemount Lake, cross the bridge over the Green River then turn right. You can drive up the gravel road for a few hundred metres if you want as there is parking just past the entrance to Whistler Paintball. Continue past the left turn to Whistler Paintball and you will see a clearing on the right side of the gravel road across from the Sea to Sky Trail.
For the Parkhurst trail, don't follow the Sea to Sky Trail. Instead take the gravel road as it continues straight(pictured here on the right). Cross a car bridge over the river and continue keeping the train tracks on your right. Follow this route for about 8 minutes and keep an eye out on your left for the "Green Lake Loop/Parkhurst" sign see the map below. Roundtrip this is just 5 kilometres and you can even do it in a nice loop trail. Parkhurst, being a ghost town is somewhat off the radar in Whistler, so there still are no signs except the small "Green Lake Loop/Parkhurst" on along the route show on the map below.
Parking, Hiking & Camping Details for Parkhurst
As mentioned above there are several ways to access Parkhurst, but the access from the Wedgemount Lake turnoff on the Sea to Sky Highway is the most direct if arriving on foot or bike. If you zero your odometer at Village Gate Blvd in Whistler Village and drive north on Highway 99, at 11.3 kilometres you will see the Wedgemount(Garibaldi) turnoff on your right. Turn here, cross the train tracks and then the bridge over Green River, turn right and follow the gravel road for a few hundred metres. You will pass Whistler Paintball on your left and then see a yellow gate and a sign for the Sea to Sky Trail. Park on the clearing across from the yellow gate and walk straight ahead along the old gravel road, passing the yellow gate, road and Sea to Sky Trail on your left.
The places to put up a tent in and around Parkhurst are too numerous to list here. From the obvious camping among the crumbling houses at various places around the town to the less obvious areas down by the lake. If you go down to the shore of Green Lake to where the giant tractor is you will notice that if you head along the shore of Green Lake north for about 200 metres you will come to the old cement foundations of the mill and some clearings hidden in the spooky forest there. This area has some positives and negatives.
The bad of course is the train goes by at 2am and again at 6am, just 40 metres from your tent. If you don't mind that then this area is great. Spooky, though cute little forest, steps from the lake and nice, clean, grassy areas to wander around. If you are a fan of history, you might revel in the fact that this is the once home of the iconic Toad Hall naked picture from the early 70's. This picture can be seen at the Whistler Museum as several originals were donated. Back up the trail to Parkhurst, you have the beautiful ridge, high above the train tracks with mossy and grassy fields overlooking the lake.