Whistler Hiking Trails

Whistler sits in a remarkable, glacier carved valley surrounded by a staggering array of snowy mountains, emerald blue lakes, dramatic waterfalls and lots and lots of hiking trails.  Garibaldi Provincial Park wraps around Whistler with one access point that actually starts in Whistler Village. 

Black Tusk is a mountain of unbelievable beauty. It possesses the incredible distinction of looking more impossible to climb the closer you get to it. Even when you are close enough to touch its vertical, black and foreboding sides, you wonder in amazement how anyone can ever reach the top. It’s vertical on all sides.  The barely distinguishable trail skirts its edge along the ledge of a perilous scree slope that runs 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, as almost everyone else at this spot, “I don’t think this is a safe way to go.” Then you pause and look around. Many take a seat at this moment and marvel at the view. 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.  But the final ascent is not really that hard. Keep your head down, three points of contact at all times, slow and steady and you reach the top of the world.

Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is a beautiful stop in between Squamish and Whistler.  It's about 25 minutes north of Squamish, 11k south of Whistler.  The hike from the parking lot to the falls is less than a kilometre and on a wide and flat trail.  Most people miss the other viewpoint from above the falls, from the train tracks bridge.  To find it is easy.  As you walk toward the falls from the parking lot you will have to cross train tracks.  Standing at the train tracks look to your right and you will see a bridge that the train tracks cross.  Walk over to that to see the falls from above.  Amazing!  Brandywine Falls drop an amazing 66 metres (216 feet) into the chasm far below that the viewing platform extends over.  Another trail extends past this viewing area leading to another, quieter area overlooking Daisy Lake.  This area is just a short, minute or two walk from the first viewing area.  During the winter months the parking lot gate is locked and buried in snow.  The snowplows make room for cars at the edge of the highway making Brandywine Falls open year round.  With the deep snow however, you may need snowshoes.  Brandywine Falls is popular with cross country skiers and snowshoers in the winter.  The Sea to Sky Trail runs through Brandywine Falls Provincial Park and you will immediately see Sea to Sky Trail signs from the parking lot.  From the parking lot you cross the covered bridge, turn right and after just a couple hundred metres you will see a Sea to Sky Trail branch off to the left.  This trail meanders through the forest and rises up to a plateau with views of Black Tusk and the distant Daisy Lake.  Further along, (3 kilometres from the trailhead), you will come to the amazing Bungee Bridge that crosses the Cheakamus River from a dizzying height.

Brew Lake is beautiful mountain lake in the Callaghan Valley, north of Squamish.  Compared to Garibaldi Provincial Park across the valley, the Callaghan Valley is relatively unknown and seldom hiked.  Brew Lake lays in a massive alpine valley of enormous erratics scattered around and in the lake.  On first seeing it, it looks serene, yet wild and hostile.  The lake is surrounded on one side by idyllic tree covered hills and lakeside cliffs and on the other side a brutal looking wasteland of huge boulders sloping up from the lake to the skyline.  Hiking into this wasteland of erratics reveals an amazing paradise of small, island forests, cute streams and endless worlds within worlds to explore.  You find yourself wandering along like a kid mesmerized at what you will find next.  Brew Lake itself doesn't come close in wow factor to the postcard-perfect alpine lakes such as Wedgemount Lake, Joffre Lakes, Cheakamus Lake or Garibaldi Lake, but I does beat these lakes in other aspects.  Because Brew Lake is outside of Garibaldi Provincial Park, few people have heard of it.  More often than not you will have both the lake and entire valley to yourself.  An increasingly rare occurrence elsewhere that gives the place a quiet calm and that strange and satisfying feeling that there are no other humans for quite some distance.  You have that exhilarating wilderness feeling that sometimes gets lost on other Whistler area hikes when you start the trail from a parking lot packed with cars.  The fact that the Brew Lake trail doesn't have a parking lot or proper trailhead actually makes it more mysterious, adventurous and in some ways more fun...

There is something magical about starting a hike in a canoe. A childlike sense of adventure and novelty. The hike to Cirque Lake begins with this sense of excitement. Sheltered by mountains Callaghan Lake is eerily calm and mesmerizingly clear. You slip away from the shore in tranquil silence as if floating on air. The other end of this once glacial valley is the trailhead. Hidden in the forest and so little used as to remain invisible until you stumble onto it after repeated aborted attempts to find it. The key to finding it is to aim toward the waterfall in the distance. Cascading almost straight down a couple hundred metres from its starting high up the steep mountains.  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 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.

Garibaldi Lake is the centre and base for much of the hiking in Garibaldi Park.  The Garibaldi Lake campsite is located on the amazing, turquoise shores of this massive and mostly undisturbed mountain lake.  There are no trails around the perimeter of the lake with the exception of the small section leading to the campsite, so your view of the lake is a sea of unnaturally coloured water ringed by swaths of forest and a magnificent glacier towering in the distance.  The water is painfully cold, though plenty of brave hikers swim here as well as camp.  The camping area is well laid out and stretches deep into the forest with 50 tent clearings.  You can, except for the busiest of days, put your tent out of earshot and sight of others. The trail to Garibaldi Lake from the Rubble Creek trailhead, just off of the Sea to Sky Highway takes about two hours.  You gain a fair amount of elevation, 900 metres in just 9k, trailhead to lake.  Partway along the trail to Garibaldi Lake the trail forks.  Right to Garibaldi Lake and left goes to another beautiful campground, Taylor Meadows.  Beyond Taylor Meadow and Garibaldi Lake is the amazing Black Tusk.  Black Tusk, Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake can be done in one long 30k dayhike, trailhead to trailhead, but expect to take 8-10 hours.  The Garibaldi Lake trailhead is located just 25 minutes north of Squamish.  Keep your eye out for the hard to miss highway sign.

Panorama Ridge 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.  Panorama Ridge sits, along with Black Tusk in the midst of some of the most popular and beautiful hiking trails in Garibaldi Park.  There are two main trailheads for Panorama Ridge, Cheakamus Lake and Rubble Creek.

Ring Lake is a fantastically beautiful and wonderfully remote lake similar to Cirque Lake but considerably farther to hike to reach it.  The 10k hike takes you through a beautiful forest of cedars then to a spectacular meadow filled with ponds and ringed with distant, enormous mountains.  5k into the hike you come to Conflict Lake with trails running around it.  Signs at various junctions indicate which trail to take to reach Ring Lake, a further 5k from Conflict.  The trail from Conflict Lake to Ring Lake passes through a huge valley for a couple kilometres, then abruptly ascends on the right side of the valley.  The trail is poorly marked in this section and you have to keep bearing right to avoid descending back into the valley.  3k of, at times very steep, but not technical trail gets you to the magnificent Ring Lake and the imposing Ring Mountain across the emerald green water.  The trailhead to Ring and Conflict Lakes is very close to the Callaghan Lake Provincial Park campsite.  From the campsite, drive a couple hundred metres as if returning to Whistler and you will see a clearing on the right and a very well worn trail.  From this trail you will see plenty of signs to guide you first to Conflict Lake in 5k, then Ring Lake, another 5k past Conflict.  The 5k hike to Conflict Lake is quite relaxed and easy as you don't gain any significant elevation.  The 5k from Conflict to Ring Lake is very steep, and though marked well with flagging tape and cairns, if often difficult to follow.