Whistler has an absurdly beautiful selection of hiking trails. From the skyline dominating Black Tusk to the reclusive Whistler Train Wreck, Whistler has a spectacular hiking trail for everyone's taste. This is our Top 10 list of favourite hiking trails.
Top 10 Whistler Hiking Trails #1 - Cirque Lake
Cirque Lake is number 1 on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails list for plenty of reasons. The first reason sets it apart from every other trail in Whistler, the journey. Hiking the trail is very enjoyable and though steep, is surprisingly quick. The Cirque Lake trail is less than two kilometres and is constantly interesting. Lots of viewpoints and scenic areas distract you from following the trail, which at times can be tricky to keep to. Steep, meandering trail, a massive boulder field and a short cliff bring you to the edge of the cirque that Cirque Lake resides in. Cirque Lake's wonderfully short and entertaining trail is a sharp contrast to other trails in Whistler and Garibaldi Provincial Park. Black Tusk, Wedgemount Lake, Panorama Ridge, Rainbow Lake and Russet Lake all require hiking very long and often uninteresting trails to reach them.
The second reason that Cirque Lake tops our Top 10 Whistler Trails list is the wildly beautiful geography that lends the lake its name. From the moment you catch sight of Cirque Lake, the abruptly steep sides all around give you the humbling feeling that you are inside a volcano. A volcano filled with emerald water and ringed by grassy meadows and crumbling, near vertical cliffs. A cirque is not formed by a volcano, but instead by a glacier.
A near perfect combination of size, sloping terrain, and 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.
Another wonderful aspect of Cirque Lake is its location far up in the Callaghan Valley. The remoteness, as well as necessity of having a canoe to reach the trailhead have kept the Cirque Lake trail infrequently hiked. On a typical weekday in August you may have the entire lake to yourselves. Contrast that to Garibaldi Lake, Joffre Lakes or Wedgemount Lake which on a similar day will find your tent alongside a dozen more. Garibaldi Lake often numbers several dozen tents in the well designed, though consistently overcrowded campground.
If serenity is something you cherish, you will enjoy continuing your hike beyond Cirque Lake to the sensationally remote feeling Sky Lake. A faint trail extends along the right side of Cirque Lake and up through the grassy meadows to this wonderful lake. The unmarked trail disappears about 20 minutes into this 1 hour(one way) route to Sky Lake. A trail is not necessary however, as you simply bear right as much as you comfortably can until you reach the lake. Cirque Lake is number 1 on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails list. For more information, details, directions and hiking inspiration for Cirque Lake click here.
Top 10 Whistler Hiking Trails #2 - Black Tusk
Black Tusk is high on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails list for many reasons. This incredibly iconic pinnacle of black rock is visible from so many places. When you get off the Peak Chair on Whistler Mountain you are met with a stunning view of distant Black Tusk. Hiking through Brandywine Meadows you will catch a beautiful view of Black Tusk flanked by Mount Garibaldi. Black Tusk is so prominent and beautifully visible that you find yourself using it to gain your bearings on other hikes. Whether you are hiking Brew Lake, Cirque Lake, Brandywine Meadows, or simply driving along the Sea to Sky Highway, Black Tusk will be dominating the skyline. When you wander through the shops and galleries in Whistler, Black Tusk dominates much of the paintings and sculptures. This unmistakable icon is everywhere you look, and though hard to believe, has a hiking trail to the top of it!
Another feature of Black Tusk that puts it high on our Top 10 Whistler Trails list is the almost perfect balance of challenge and reward. At 13.5 kilometres, trailhead to summit, the trail to Black Tusk is constantly demanding, though never excessively hard. 13.5 kilometres is quite a distance and you are looking at over three hours to hike the trailhead to the summit with an elevation gain of 1735 metres. Compare this elevation gain to the very challenging Wedgemount Lake trail which gains 1220 metres in just 7 kilometres.
The mercifully drawn out elevation gain on the trail to Black Tusk allows most hikers to keep a reasonable good pace for the entire length of the trail. Alternatively, many hikers choose to camp at either Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake. Both these campgrounds are halfway along the trail and allow you make camp and continue on without your heavy gear.
The third beautiful aspect of Black Tusk that we love is its proximity to other spectacular hikes and destinations. Garibaldi Lake is a hiking destination on its own and is usually a pit-stop on the way to or from Black Tusk(or both). Taylor Meadows is another worthy stop on the way to Black Tusk. If you are hiking Black Tusk in one day and not camping, a good idea is to hike through Taylor Meadows on the way up and via Garibaldi Lake(for a swim) on the way back. Both Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake are worthy destination on their own, but when combined with Black Tusk, amazing.
Black Tusk is so centrally located in Garibaldi Park that it can, and often does get hiked from the Cheakamus Lake side as well. Just 1.5 kilometres from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead you will see a sign for the Helm Creek trail. The Helm Creek trail descends quickly to cross the beautiful and crashing Cheakamus River, then climbs 7.5 kilometres to the beautiful and often serenely quiet Helm Creek campsite. From Helm Creek to Black Tusk is another 7.5 kilometres. At 15 kilometres, this route is only slightly longer than the Rubble Creek(Garibaldi Lake) trailhead route, and with considerably fewer people. Black Tusk is number 2 on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails list. For more information, details, directions and hiking inspiration for Black Tusk click here.
Top 10 Whistler Hiking Trails #3 - Wedgemount Lake
Wedgemount Lake is number 3 on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails list because it is one of the most spectacular hikes in Garibaldi Park. Though it is a relentlessly exhausting, steep hike, it is mercifully short at only 7 kilometres(one way). The elevation gain in that short distance is over 1200 metres which makes it a much steeper hike than most other Whistler hiking trails. Compared with other Whistler area trails, Wedgemount Lake is half the roundtrip distance of either Black Tusk or Panorama Ridge, for example, at 13.5k and 15k respectively(one way).
Wedgemount Lake itself is a magnificent destination for a day hike or spectacular overnight beneath the dazzling mountain peaks and stars. Many sleep under the stars on one of the many beautiful tent platforms that dot the landscape. Solidly built, wooden tent platforms are everywhere you look at Wedgemount Lake. Strategically positioned, these platforms manage to maintain an amazingly secluded feel despite their numbers. In all Wedgemount Lake has 20 of these tent areas. Most are wooden, but several down by the lake shore are gravel, yet every bit as nice.
At a fast hiking pace you can reach Wedgemount Lake from the trailhead in just an hour and a half but at a leisurely or backpack laden pace you will likely take over two hours. The trail is well marked and well used. The steepness of the trail doesn't require any technical skill, however that last kilometre before the lake you will be scrambling on all fours quite a bit.
One of the defining features of Garibaldi Park, and Wedgemount Lake in particular, is the staggering number of branching hikes from the main destination of the lake itself. For many, Wedgemount Lake and the Wedge 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 sheltered valley, beautiful turquoise lake, wonderfully huge glacier across the valley and brutally jagged mountains all around all contribute to making Wedgemount Lake something special. It's challenging and exhausting to hike to and an absolute paradise to relax in. Down by the lakeside you can actually find two recliner chairs, built out of the rocks by the lake. Such a perfect way to enjoy the sun rising over the not-so-distant glacier across the lake.
Top 10 Whistler Hiking Trails #4 - Panorama Ridge
Panorama Ridge is number 4 on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails list and is easily one of the most amazing hikes in Garibaldi Provincial Park. The 15 kilometre hike from the trailhead at Rubble Creek to Panorama Ridge takes you through beautiful and deep forests, across countless idyllic streams, through meadows filled with flowers, and past dozens of jaw dropping viewpoints. The amazing views start once you reach Taylor Meadows and get even more spectacular as the trail progresses.
Once you arrive at Panorama Ridge and its phenomenal vantage point, high above Garibaldi Park, you will stare in wonder. Mesmerized first by Garibaldi Lake, far below you and looking unnaturally blue, the lake looks amazing surrounded by green, untouched wilderness and snow capped mountains.
The Table, the massive and unusual looking mountain with its bizarre flat top lays across the lake with the enormous Mount Garibaldi just beyond. In the distance, where Garibaldi Lake ends, a massive glacier rises out of the blue and jagged crevasses can be seen even from such a great distance.
Behind you, Black Tusk lays across the valley. Close to the same elevation as Panorama Ridge, you get this wonderful view of it. Certainly the best and closest viewpoint to this iconic mountain.
There are several excellent options for camping in the valleys around Panorama Ridge. The beautiful though often crowded Garibaldi Lake campsite, the less crowded and also beautiful Taylor Meadows campsite, the seldom crowded and serene Helm Creek campsite (located on the Cheakamus Lake side of Black Tusk). Panorama Ridge sits, along with Black Tusk in the midst of some of the most popular and beautiful hiking trails in Garibaldi Provincial Park. There are two main trailheads for Panorama Ridge, Cheakamus Lake and Rubble Creek.
Top 10 Whistler Hiking Trails #5 - Russet Lake
Russet Lake is a fantastic alpine lake that lays at the base of the Fissile. The Fissile is the strikingly bronze coloured mountain so visible from Whistler Village. From the Village look into the distance at the Peak to Peak hanging between Whistler and Blackcomb and you will see the Fissile. Its pyramid shape in the distance perfectly separates the two mountains. Though Russet Lake is not terribly impressive in terms of size or colour, the valley around it is remarkably beautiful. The colours change from moment to moment in and extraordinary way. The distinctive colour of the Fissile and the stark grey of the mountains around contrast amazingly with the blue of the lake and green grass in the valley. So many different factors fill the place with colour.
There are several ways to get to hike Russet Lake. The Singing Pass Trail from the base of Whistler Mountain near the Whistler Gondola. The Musical Bumps Trail that begins near the top of the Whistler Gondola. The High Note Trail that begins at the top of the Peak Chair on Whistler Mountain. There is an increasingly popular route that begins from Blackcomb Mountain. And finally, a very infrequently hiked route from Cheakamus Lake that runs along Singing Creek.
Top 10 Whistler Hiking Trails #6 - Joffre Lakes
Joffre Lakes is number 6 on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails list for plenty of reasons. The three Joffre Lakes are some of the most stunning lakes you are likely to ever see. The three lakes get progressively more beautiful and impossibly blue from one to the next. By the third lake the intense blue is breathtaking. The mighty Matier Glacier rises above and beyond the third lake, making the experience even more spectacular. The Joffre Lakes trail is rough and tricky in some parts, but not terribly difficult. The trail is 5.5k to the third lake so give yourself 1.5 - 2 hours(one way). Lots of trail construction work has being done in the past couple years as a new trail replaces much of the old trail. The old boulder section between the lower and middle lakes can now be avoided.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is centred around the three Joffre Lakes. All of them are beautiful on their own and each more beautiful than the last. Frozen over in the winter, you won't be able to marvel at the amazing turquoise colours the lakes, caused by light reflecting off of the particles of glacial silt suspended in the water. At the upper, or third Joffre Lake, there are several nice, though rugged places to camp.
In a hilly, lightly forested section of paradise in between the impossibly turquoise Joffre Lake and the abruptly monstrous Matier Glacier descending from Mount Matier beyond. A waterfall cascades near the camping area. The campsite has one nice and well maintained outhouse.
You will notice several clearings for tents in the gravel and boulder strewn landscape(see the map below). Each one barely enough room for a tent, but the ruggedness adds to the beauty of Joffre Lakes. The park is wonderfully untouched by people. With the exception of the trail, some signs, outhouse and bridges, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is beautifully wild and picturesque.
Near the campsites there is a prominent helicopter pad close by as a reminder of how many injuries occur on the trail and the accessible mountains and glaciers around. There are in fact four distinct glaciers close by, Matier, Anniversary, Stonecrop and Tszil. Beyond Mount Matier there are two more, Twin One and Hartzell.
Top 10 Whistler Hiking Trails #7 - Whistler Train Wreck
Whistler Train Wreck is number 7 on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails list. The trail is easy and relatively short at just 5 kilometres roundtrip. Five minutes into the trail you come to a wonderfully scenic underpass under the Sea to Sky Highway along a small stream. Brightly coloured, ever-changing graffiti adorns the broad cement sides under the highway. The first part of Train Wreck is not train wreckage, but instead some amazing views of the Cheakamus River. This extraordinarily beautiful river crashes violently through here and various viewpoints can be found along the trail.
After a few amazing viewpoints, the Cheakamus River forces you back towards the train tracks. Walk past this bend in the river by keeping well left of, off and away from the train tracks. The trail picks up again on the left and descends into the forest again. This is the stretch of forest that contains seven train wrecked cars strewn over one kilometre. Some perched at the edge of the Cheakamus River, others mangled against trees. It is amazing to see the impossibility of where they rest.. with huge trees all around. In the decades since they crashed and wrecked here, trees have grown all around.
Top 10 Whistler Hiking Trails #8 - Cheakamus Lake
Cheakamus Lake is a wonderfully relaxing way to get in the wilderness easily and quickly from Whistler Village. The trail begins on the far side of Whistler Mountain, 8 kilometres from the Sea to Sky Highway at Cheakamus Crossing across from Function Junction. This 8 kilometre stretch of logging road is fairly bumpy and potholed, but does have the benefit of allowing you to drive the elevation gain instead of hiking it. You can easily manage this road in a car, however carefully and slowly in parts.
Once you reach the trailhead/parking the entire 7 kilometre trail to the end of the Cheakamus Lake trail has barely any elevation gain. In fact, this makes it one of the few trails in Whistler and Garibaldi Park that can boast that. The nearby Garibaldi Lake trail and the Wedgemount Lake trail make you work for the views, however, the Cheakamus Lake trail hardly makes you work at all.
The trail to Cheakamus Lake takes you through an amazing forest of giant cedars that fill the forest with their amazing aroma. This forest is so packed with ancient giants that year to year the trail is adjusted by a monster of a tree fallen across the trail during some winter storm. Sometimes the trail bends around these behemoths, but more often they are laboriously chainsawed by BC Parks staff. The more enormous of these remain as fixtures of the trail. Either edging the trail or as a mighty obstacle to climb over. Cheakamus Lake is number 8 on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails list. For more information, details, directions and hiking inspiration for Cheakamus Lake click here.
Top 10 Whistler Hiking Trails #9 - Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls is number 9 on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails list for plenty of reasons. Brandywine Falls is one of the must see sights on the way to or from Whistler. The falls drop from a 66 metre, unnaturally abrupt cliff to the valley below. It is such a popular and beautiful sight that it is a Provincial Park complete with a large and elaborate viewing platform directly opposite the falls. Located just 20 minutes south of Whistler, Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is just off of the Sea to Sky Highway. If driving from Vancouver, keep your eyes out for the Brandywine Falls sign on your right about 25 minutes north of Squamish.
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park was established in 1973 as a campground and recreational area. The origin of the name for Brandywine Falls is suspected to have come from a wager by two surveyors. Legend has it that Jack Nelson and Bob Mollison, working for the Howe Sound and Northern Railway made a wager for a bottle of brandy for who could guess how high the falls were. Measured by a chain, Mollison won the wager and bottle of brandy and Nelson named the falls Brandywine.
Top 10 Whistler Hiking Trails #10 - Rainbow Lake
Rainbow Lake is number 10 on our Top 10 Best Whistler Trails. The Rainbow Trail is a convenient and popular trail near Whistler Village that takes you to Rainbow Lake as well as the Flank Trail, Rainbow Falls, Hanging Lake, Madeley Lake, Beverly Lake, Rainbow Mountain... and even Whistler Olympic Park if you are determined. It is a consistently uphill and very beautiful trail with several water (bridge) crossings and waterfalls on the way to the picture-perfect lake. There are a few views of the valley across to Whistler, Blackcomb, and Wedge. Few views, though fantastic. Rainbow Lake itself is in a gorgeous alpine valley with branching trails that extend further beyond the lake in at least three directions.
Along with the waterfalls, bridge crossings and valley views, the Rainbow Trail passes through deep forest with some impressively huge trees. Plenty of birds can be heard and seen along the trail and though black bears frequent the area, they are infrequently spotted due to their migration down into the valley. Cougars are also known to roam around this area, though also rarely spotted. As recently as 2014 signs of cougar activity were identified on the Flank Trail near where it branches off from the Rainbow Trail.
The Rainbow Trail has a small side trail that takes you to Rainbow Falls. Not far from the trailhead, the small Rainbow Falls sign is easily missed. It is located about five minutes into the Rainbow Trail and your best bet to find it is to keep bearing right along the first couple trail branches. Don't worry about getting lost here though as all the trails reconnect further along the trail when you briefly exit the forest at the water treatment building.