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Brandywine Meadows is a nice, relatively short hike to a massive flower filled valley high up in Callaghan Valley. Located 40 minutes south of Whistler, this tough and sometimes muddy trail gains a huge 550 metres of elevation in just 3 kilometres(1.9 miles), trailhead to meadows. The trailhead is tricky to find and involves a fairly long gravel road journey that is passable without a 4x4, but barely. Not that the road is potholed, which it is, but that it is at times very steep and strewn with loose boulders. Brandywine Meadows is used mainly for snowmobiling in the winter months and the bumpy ex-logging road to the trailhead is in poor condition in the summer. The Brandywine Meadows trail and access roads to it are for snowmobiles & ski touring only. No free public access until the snow melts and the snowmobiling season comes to an end, usually in mid May.
Far quieter than Whistler & Garibaldi Park hikes
Short, though steep trail is dog friendly
On a sunny day the valley is impossibly beautiful
Alpine beyond the meadows is endless & amazing
Brandywine Mountain is fairly easy to hike to
4x4ing to the hut is an adventure & shortens the hike
Awful gravel access road and no direction signs
Mosquitoes are horrible in July & August
You will know it is open just a couple minutes after you turn off the highway onto Callaghan Road. Take your first left and drive past the treatment plant and quickly come to an enormous gravel parking lot. This is the snowmobile parking lot and the toll booth will be there and manned if the season is still on. If not, and the parking lot is deserted and with no snow, you may be able to continue. Keep in mind that snow can persist well into May, sometimes June, on the Brandywine Meadows access road. So avoid Brandywine Meadows until June to avoid disappointment.
If you have a dog, you will find that Brandywine Meadows is one of the few really nice, dog friendly hiking trails in and around Whistler. Garibaldi Provincial Park prohibits dogs, as well as both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain. Here you won't be bothered by anyone and find no signs of humanity beyond some leftover remnants of the snowmobile season. Bundles of orange poles for marking the snowmobile route are sometimes left behind or lost in the snow. Occaisionally you stumble across a very out of place looking piece of snowmobile. Lost months before when the ground was below several metres of powder snow.
The hike is consistently very steep for the first two kilometres. It is at times scenic though, despite being in very deep forest. The trail runs parallel to Brandywine Creek, which is steeply flowing, very loud and quite beautiful at various vantage points. After two kilometres on the Brandywine Meadows trail, the elevation gain levels off and you catch several alpine mountain peaks through the trees. And finally reaching the meadows, the amazing valley stretches into the distance, ending at the formidable mountains. In that grey and white mass of mountain peaks in the distance you will see Brandywine Mountain. A visible and well worn trail skirts the right edge of the valley leading to the rocky slopes that lead you to Brandywine Mountain. The trail, of course, gives way to the mess of boulders and erratics that make the beautiful, flower filled meadows below look all the more serene. The mountains in the area, including Brandywine are hike-able, though the trails, if any are faint and unmarked. There are no camping facilities in Brandywine Meadows, however, the seemingly endless valley offers plenty of tent sites.
Brandywine Meadows is probably the most difficult hike in Whistler and Garibaldi Park to put a rating to. We give it a 7 out of 10, however that number sways in different directions for almost every hiker. The trail is a fairly steep and exhausting, but short. The Meadows are located in quite a dramatically beautiful valley, which at times looks impossibly beautiful. The stark grey mountains ascending up to snowy peaks. The grassy valley is often a bright green contrasting with the perfectly clear water flowing into a big pool before descending down the valley. One person may go to Brandywine Meadows on a sunny day and find this paradise valley devoid of people, and if you are really lucky free from mosquitoes. Usually late August and early September the biting insects disappear. On a day like this, one could put up a tent on a grassy patch of land inside a wide bend of the idyllic, glacier fed river. You'd have trouble rating Brandywine Meadows lower than perfect on a day like that.
Alternatively, another hiker might find the meadows under a blanket of cold, dark clouds. Pouring rain, cold mountain air, and mosquitoes everywhere. This person may give the hike a pretty low rating. Compared to the extraordinary turquoise of Garibalid Lake, or the raw beauty of Wedgemount Lake, with its glacier filling an entire valley. Brandywine Meadows is not as readily photogenic. Even on an ugly day, Garibaldi Lake is remarkably beautiful. On a stormy day, Wedgemount Lake is majestically beautiful with its truck sized boulders surrounding your tent and clouds curling around the various mountain peaks above. On a rainy day in Brandywine Meadows, the colours dim and the valley looms dark and foreboding.
Still Brandywine Meadows has a lot of aspects that make it unique and amazing. The snowmobile hut is a weird little oasis near the end of a brutally challenging stretch of logging road. The road is steep, narrow, strewn with basketball sized boulders and several bad washouts. A good 4x4 like a Jeep Grand Cherokee will have little difficulty getting up to the hut. It sits at the edge of a cliff, and has windows that face out to a beautiful, all forest and mountain peaks view. There are tables, a wood stove as well as a ladder up to a roomy loft with lots of room to sleep. A great spot to ride out a storm, or as a base for the Brandywine Meadows hike that is about a kilometre shorter from here than the main trailhead. There is an old logging road that you hike to join the main trail. It looks drivable from the hut, however gets very bad, very quickly with washouts too deep for most 4x4's.
The tranquil beauty of Brandywine Meadows is another wonderful feature. Little sign of humanity, aside from a faint trail that ascends up the valley towards Brandywine Mountain. The trail cuts straight along the side of the valley for a while before winding through some boulder areas where the crashing water is impressively loud and chaotic. If mosquitoes are bothering you in the meadows, hiking up the valley here often finds you clear of them. The wind tends to pick up and air a bit colder, driving them down lower. Near the top of the valley you will spot a few nice spots among the giant erratics, to put up a tent. Near rushing, glacier water and a vantage point down Brandywine Meadows and the distant and ominously huge Mount Garibaldi. Camping here is also 30 minutes closer to Brandywine Mountain, which the trail fades away and you have to follow a fairly easy, unmarked route to the summit.
There is even a draw for those who love geology. Mount Cayley is not far away, and a dormant volcano that could come back to life anytime. Some old timers and geologists will tell you on the Whistler Gondola that they always cast their eyes toward Mount Cayley to look for a gasp of life in the form of a wispy white cloud emerging from its snowy sides. It is one of only eleven known Canadian volcanoes with recent seismic activity. There are even a few "warm springs" in the mountains above Brandywine Meadows. Extremely hard to find, one warm spring is supposedly located up Brandywine Creek as it ascends toward Mount Fee.
Brandywine Meadows Trail Map
Brandywine Meadows is very remote and wild by comparison to other Whistler hiking trails, so there are few direction signs. Even the trailhead sign is easily missed and the parking lot area is difficult for most vehicles to get to. Make sure you have the above map memorized, saved to your phone or printed. Getting lost on the way to a trailhead can make for a late and frustrating start. If you have a good 4x4 with high clearance, you should take the very challenging 4x4 road to the snowmobile hut and start at the trailhead there. It is much shorter, much easier, and the snowmobile hut is a pretty nice pit-stop or place to overnight.
History of Brandywine Meadows
Brandywine Meadows, Brandywine Mountain and Brandywine Falls share the same interesting name that remarkably has its origin in a wager a long time ago. 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 the height of the impressively abrupt waterfalls that pour into Daisy Lake. Measured by a chain, Mollison won the wager and bottle of brandy and Nelson named the falls Brandywine.
Camping at Brandywine Meadows
If you plan on camping before mid July, you will likely be on snow as the valley is snow filled until mid summer most years. The meadows are somewhat notorious for mosquitoes so bring lots of mosquito repellent or eat garlic to avoid the swarms. September and even October are possibly the best months to explore Brandywine Meadows. No snow, bugs or hikers to take away from the wonderful solitude of this great spot in the Callaghan Valley. As the Callaghan Valley is outside of Garibaldi Park, dogs a welcome in Brandywine Meadows. There are no set campsites in Brandywine Meadows, which is a good thing. It keeps the area wild and beautiful. There are lots of amazing spots for a tent. Down by the small lake or at several places along the gorgeous river. Lots of grassy areas on the wide bends in the beautifully clear glacier water. Further up towards Brandywine Mountain the terrain is erratic and rocky. But finding a tent site is still quite easy. Just keep walking up the valley until you spot a nice flat area. There are a few good areas like this easy to locate.
Facilities at Brandywine Meadows
There is one outhouse at the trailhead to Brandywine Meadows and none along the trail or at the destination. Water sources are plentiful and you area rarely more than 50 metres from a pristine freshwater stream. The lack of facilities is common on this side of the valley. The Callaghan Valley is slowly increasing in popularity and slowly getting new trails and facilities. One of the aspects of Brandywine Meadows that makes it special is the lack of facilities. There is little to distract you from the picture-perfect alpine scenery. No outhouses, not huge signs, and no prohibitions. Just a wild and beautiful place hidden up in the mountains of Callaghan Valley.
Restrictions and Concerns at Brandywine Meadows
Brandywine Meadows is well off the grid and aside from the blanket ban on fires, you are free to do most anything. The area is dog friendly and you even see ATV's on the logging roads in the area. The whole Callaghan Valley is popular with ATV's and the tour operators are very considerate when they encounter hikers. Often stopping completely as you pass by. ATV's don't venture up the Brandywine Meadows trail or up to the Meadows, which is a very good thing as they would chew up the marvellous grassy terrain in the Meadows. The hut was put up by snowmobilers and once in a while you see a lock on the door.. or a recently broken off lock. Depending on who you talk to opinions on mountain huts seem to vary. You often hear that huts on Crown Land cannot be owned unless some special land use permit is granted. Therefore must be made available to everyone, otherwise people would put up huts everywhere and claim them as their property. Others will tell you that mountain huts have to be accessible in times of emergency and therefore unlocked. What can be said for certain is that someone built an amazing little oasis in the mountains near Brandywine Meadows. Causing any damage, leaving garbage, or abusing the hut in any way would be a horrible violation of something beautiful.
Wildlife at Brandywine Meadows
Wildlife in the Callaghan Valley is fantastically varied. Owing to the fact that it lays on the quieter side of Whistler and its location in an extensive wilderness, means few BC animals don't live here. If you take a look at Brandywine Meadows on Google Earth, and zoom out, you see the vast wilderness stretching to the ocean. Because of this, you are far more likely to encounter a grizzly bear at Brandywine Meadows, than at Garibaldi Lake, for example. The good news(or bad news) is that you are still not likely to see one. Grizzly bear encounters are so rare in and around Whistler and surrounding mountains, that most years only see a distant snapshot of a grizzly taken by an excited tour guide or lucky hiker. The problem with rarely seeing grizzlies, is that you forget they are out there. Grizzles are far more dangerous than black bears. Black bears are extremely retiring and Whistler has never had an unprovoked bear attack, ever. Every couple years someone comes home to find a bear found their way into their house and frightened, charges and claws them as they escape. Grizzlies on the other hand, are much more likely to become aggressive when encountering humans. Though you will likely never encounter a grizzly at Brandywine Meadows, you will likely see a black bear. Often one crosses your path on the drive up, and less frequently you see on on the trail or at the Meadows. Other animals that roam this vast wilderness, yet are rarely spotted are wolverines, moose, mountain goats, bobcats, coyotes, minks, and somewhat more often, black-tailed deer.
Parking & Trailhead Directions to Brandywine Meadows
There are two trails to Brandywine Meadows. The regular, official trail is near the end of a very rough, though 2WD passable vehicle. The shorter and more interesting route is at the end of a very dodgy 4x4 only ex-logging road. Both routes are difficult to find due to infrequent signs after leaving paved roads. Follow the signs that direct you to Brandywine Valley and "snowmobilers".
1. 14k south of Whistler Village, on Highway 99, turn right at this sign: Brandywine Valley (1 on the map below).
2. Turn left almost immediately at another sign for Brandywine Valley. Drive down the road that passes to the left of the Waste Transfer Station (2 on the map below).
3. Follow this road for about 1k as it passes through the very large snowmobile parking lot. At the far end of this parking lot (pictured here) follow the gravel road to the right (3 on the map below).
4. Follow this logging road for about 4k and you will come to a fork in the road. Continuing straight takes you to the official Brandywine Meadows trailhead in 2 kilometres, (shown on map below as Parking symbol furthest to the left). This 2 kilometre section of logging road quickly becomes 4x4 only as parts are very steep and the gravel road becomes a boulder road. Your best bet is to drive as far as you can and park at the edge of the road and walk to the trailhead. There are plenty of wide sections suitable for parking.
To go to the shorter, easier trailhead (shown on map below as the parking symbol nearest the tent symbol) next to the snowmobile hut, turn right here, then left after you pass the large parking lot on your right. This section of logging road to snowmobile hut is very bad and requires a good 4x4 vehicle due to several large washouts, many steep and boulder strewn sections. If you do brave this section of road you will be rewarded by avoiding 2 kilometres of steep hiking from the normal trailhead. The hut is a great place to relax and spend the night. Due to the brutal access road it remains mostly unused, most of the winter. The section of road from the hut to the 2nd trailhead gets progressively worse.
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