Whistler Hiking Guide: An Introduction To Whistler’s Most Famous Hikes
Whistler is the most famous of the Canadian mountain resorts for good reason! In summer, people flock to Whistler to adventure into the mountains for some world-class hiking trips. Get your boots on!
Whistler is often ranked among the world’s top year-round family friendly ski resorts. Famous for its skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, and everything in between, Whistler offers a little something for everyone. In the summer, hiking in Whistler is a hugely popular activity – and with good reason. The surrounding mountain views, turquoise lakes and dense greenery are nothing short of breathtaking.
Lying just 2 hours north of Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, the town of Whistler tastefully blends into the gorgeous natural environment. The charming alpine pedestrian-only village offers fine dining, vibrant nightlife, revitalizing spas and luxurious accommodations. Step outside of the village and you’ll find Whistler’s vast outdoor playground.
A HIKER’S PARADISE
Located in the Fitzsimmons Range of the Coast Mountains and neighbouring Garibaldi Provincial Park, hiking Whistler’s mountains is truly paradise. Explore trails beneath soaring, snow-capped peaks, and take a journey through some of the most beautiful parks BC has to offer. In July and August, Whistler boasts a full colour palette with its wildflower meadows and emerald blue lakes. At this time of year it’s common to spot whistling marmots (large squirrel-like rodents), black-tailed deer and black bears.
In the valley, you can hike through old-growth forests and visit roaring waterfalls.
You’ll find a bounty of well-marked trails for every level of hiker – just one of the many reasons why Whistler is one of the best places in BC to hike for families, fitness fanatics, and curious adventurers alike.
Listed below are some of our favourite Whistler hiking trails – ranging from leisurely forest walks to serious mountain scrambles.
CHEAKAMUS LAKE HIKE
- Level: Easy
- Distance: 6km (3.7 miles) to the lake round trip; 14km to complete the trail round-trip
- Length: 2 hour hike to Cheakamus Lake round trip; 4-6 hours to complete the trail round-trip
- Elevation: Minimal
- Dogs are not permitted in Garibaldi Provincial Park
- This trail is also a beginner mountain bike route
- If you choose to do an overnight camp you must pay camping fees before your journey, which you can do here. However, no payment is required for day hikes or parking
Cheakamus Lake Trail is one of the rare hikes in Whistler that hardly makes you work for a reward of stunning views. Choose to do a day trip or camp overnight at the various campsites posted along the trail. While Cheakamus Lake is a relatively short walk, its astounding beauty makes you feel as if you’re in the remote wilderness, far away from home. Studies have shown that we are calmer and happier humans when we’re in nature, and Cheakamus certainly delivers in setting the scene.
With almost no elevation gain, this 3km hike to the lake is quick and easy – perfect for families with small children, or for those seeking a comfortable stroll. Along your walk, pause for a picnic while enjoying the view of the cobalt-blue, glacier-fed lake and the jaw-dropping mountains that embrace it. Once you reach the lake, the trail continues along the lake’s north shore for an extra 4km, where you’ll discover numerous quiet beaches. If you choose to stay overnight at the Cheakamus Lake Campground or the further placed Singing Creek Campground, you’ll find food-hanging facilities and pit toilets.
From Whistler Village, drive south for about 8km. Turn left at the Function Junction traffic lights. After 300m, turn left before the bridge. Follow the dirt road for about 8km to the end of the road. While it may be bumpy at times, you can still drive this road by car. There’s an outhouse at the trailhead. From Vancouver, it’s about a 2 hour and 15 minute drive.
RAINBOW LAKE TRAIL
- Level: Moderate
- Distance: 16 km (10 miles) round trip
- Length: 5-6 hours round trip
- Elevation gain: 850 metres (2,789 feet)
- Dogs are not permitted on this hike
- Camping and swimming at Rainbow Lake are not permitted, though available at other lakes in the area
Located about 15 minutes north of Whistler Village, the Rainbow Lake Trail offers a steady workout. Rainbow Lake Hike provides good exercise with great reward. Hike through a dense rainforest along a crashing creek before passing a beautiful waterfall and a serene mountain lake. Climbing about 850m (2,789 feet) over 8km, this trail is the perfect day hike, taking the average hiker 5 to 6 hours round trip. Winding its way through the forest, this well-maintained trail features bridges and boardwalks, leading you over a creek and marshlands.
If you’re keen to camp or hike further, walk the trail around Rainbow Lake for an extra 3km to Hanging Lake, where you’ll find camp spots. Located 9km past Rainbow Lake, you’ll find another mountain jewel called Madeley Lake. The trails to Hanging and Madeley Lakes are not as clearly marked – so be sure to grab a trail map at the Visitor Centre in Whistler Village!
Please note that Rainbow Lake and the creek along the trail are part of Whistler’s drinking water supply. As a result, dogs are not permitted on this hike. Swimming in Rainbow Lake and camping in the area are prohibited.
The trailhead for the Rainbow Lake hike is located on Westside Road, between Rainbow Park and Alpine Meadows. Find parking off the road or in the larger parking lot further down the road on the east side.
GARIBALDI LAKE & TAYLOR MEADOWS
- Level: Moderate
- Time: 5-7 hours round trip
- Distance: 18 km (11 miles) round trip
- Elevation gain: about 900 metres (2,952 feet)
- Dogs are prohibited in Garibaldi Provincial Park
- Purchasing a backcountry permit is a requirement before 1pm on the day of your hike if you are planning on camping overnight. Furthermore, during peak season campsites are required to be reserved in advance. Please click here to make a reservation, purchase backcountry permits or for reports on trail conditions
Few lakes in British Columbia are as magnetizing as Garibaldi Lake. Located in Garibaldi Provincial Park, this dazzling, aquamarine, glacial lake is cradled by magnificent Mount Garibaldi, Sphinx Glacier and ancient volcanoes. The Garibaldi Lake trail zigzags up the mountain through a rich forest packed with Douglas fir trees. Consisting of what may feel like never-ending switchbacks, this smooth and wide trail boasts a moderate incline. Along the way, several viewpoints reveal inspiring mountain vistas and waterfalls. However, the real reward for your effort is evident when you reach Garibaldi Lake. Located in the sub-alpine and circled by staggering mountains, Garibaldi Lake shimmers a stunning, blue-green. Thankfully, the incredible views make the repetitive switchbacks totally worth it!
After a steady climb, about 6km into the hike you will come to a fork. Choose to go left, and you can take a detour through Taylor Meadows where colourful alpine flowers are in full bloom during summer and early fall. Sit and take a break or continue on the trail to Garibaldi. Go right, and you will continue onward to Garibaldi Lake. For those looking to do an overnight trip, both the campsites at Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake are available.
You are required to make reservations for both Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake Campgrounds beforehand online. Please click here for more information regarding camping reservations, trail conditions and more.
Garibaldi Lake’s brilliant turquoise colour is the result of glacial flour in the meltwater from Sphinx Glacier and Sentinel Glacier, the lake’s two primary inflows. On a hot day, you might witness courageous hikers plunging into the icy cold water for a chilly swim.
Drive 25 minutes south of Whistler. Look for the big, blue parks sign reading “Garibaldi Lake” on the side of the highway. Turn off the highway and follow the road to parking.
BLACK TUSK HIKE
Arguably one of the most spectacular hikes in British Columbia, the scenery that greets you on the Black Tusk Hike is extraordinary.
- Level: Very Difficult
- Time: 8-10 hours round trip
- Distance: 29 km (18 miles) round trip
- Elevation gain: 1,740 metres (5,708 feet)
- The climb to the top of the Black Tusk is not recommended by BC Parks. It is a steep and dangerous scramble up loose rocks
- Dogs are prohibited in Garibaldi Provincial Park
- If you wish to do an overnight camp, purchasing a backcountry permit is a requirement before 1pm on the day of your hike. Furthermore, during peak season campsites are required to be reserved in advance. Please click here to make a reservation, purchase backcountry permits or for reports on trail conditions
Approximately 170,000 years ago, volcanic activity produced a lava dome inside a volcanic cone. The exterior cinder cone (which is more than one million years old), was more susceptible to erosion than the internal lava dome. While the inner lava dome hardened, the outer cinder cone crumbled. This exposed, ancient lava dome still stands today, and is what we call Black Tusk.
Starting from the Rubble Creek parking lot, take the wooden stairs and start your long and rewarding adventure. The beginning of the journey is along the same path that you would take if hiking to Garibaldi Lake or Taylor Meadows. Climb the zig-zag for about 6km until you hit the fork, left being the trail to Taylor Meadows and right being to Garibaldi Lake. Go left and continue for another 1.5km or so, until you reach the campground. Enjoy the flat ground and make sure not to take it for granted as you continue the trail through the campground, admiring the meadow and greeting the other campers. Eventually you will reach a junction, where you will find a map and bench. Continue straight and keep hiking before following the signs directing you to Black Tusk.
You’ll eventually hit a point where BC Parks does not maintain the path, but due to the many year-round hikers, the route is still visible. You’ll notice the lush green trees thinning out, and eventually disappearing while your feet start to hit the black shale rock. Be careful once you start to climb the peak, as the shale will slip under your feet and make it possible to lose your footing. Keep climbing, and soon enough you will reach the peak and be met with the contradictory sensation of overwhelming excitement and stillness all at once.
The Black Tusk Trail is a 29km (18 mile) round trip hike, which demands exceptional physical (and mental) stamina and strength. Thankfully, hiking in this cool volcanic landscape amidst unbelievable views is worth the effort! With a total elevation gain of 1,740m (5,708 feet), this hike also offers an unbeatable, bird’s eye view of Garibaldi Lake, a turquoise jewel in the sub-alpine.
While it is possible to complete the Black Tusk Hike in a day, it requires about 11 hour round trip. Many people prefer to break the hike into two days, camping at Garibaldi Lake or Taylor Meadows. If you wish to do an overnight camp, remember you must make a reservation during peak seasons. Even if it is outside of peak season you still must buy a backcountry permit online.
Drive 25 minutes south of Whistler. Look for the big, blue parks sign reading “Garibaldi Lake”on the side of the highway. Turn off the highway and follow the road to the parking. This is the most popular route. Alternatively, there is also a trailhead at the start of the Cheakamus Lake Hike (See Cheakamus Lake Hike information above).
ALPINE HIKING: WHISTLER AND BLACKCOMB MOUNTAINS
Hiking far up a mountain in the alpine gives you a big picture view and an enhanced perspective. With several trails to choose from, there’s something for everyone. Often, the higher up you go, the bigger, more inspiring the view becomes. A sightseeing ticket at Whistler Blackcomb grants you access to awesome alpine hiking, and the Peak 2 Peak gondola connects Whistler Mountain and Whistler Blackcomb. Whistler Blackcomb boasts more than 50km of hiking on 19 trails. Panoramic views of towering mountains, ancient glaciers, hidden lakes and wildflower blanketed mountainsides await you. From easy to challenging, there are hiking trails here for everyone. Below are a few of the best alpine hikes at Whistler Blackcomb.
- Surrounded by rugged mountains, the Whistler Summit Interpretive Walk (1 hour) features two loops, leading you around the top of Whistler Mountain. Learn about the history of Whistler from informative story boards found along this walk.
- The Paleface Trail, which starts at the Roundhouse Lodge, offers extinct volcano views. Depending on the season, this enjoyable 30-minute stroll reveals meadows filled with bright wildflowers.
- The Harmony Lake Trail Loop (1-1.5 hours return) leads to a small, postcard-perfect mountain lake. Harmony Lake is a great spot to enjoy a picnic and savour some quiet and tranquility.
- Overlord Trail to Lakeside Loop (2-3 hours return) offers incredible views of Fitzsimmons Valley and Blackcomb Lake. The initial portion of the trail is an easy walk, known to the maps as Alpine Walk. Shortly, you will be graced with views of the Fitzsimmons Valley. Continue following the signs for the Overlord Trail, making sure not to accidentally veer off onto a different route. Eventually, you will come across a 5-way junction. Follow the trail signs for Lakeside Loop Trail on the left. After a short distance, you will notice the alpine-trees starting to clear and the peaceful Blackcomb Lake ahead. Once it comes time to part with the beautiful lake, just follow the loop back to where you started!
- The High Note Trail is a 9.4km (5.8 miles) loop that offers amazing views of the Black Tusk, Cheakamus Lake and Overlord Glacier. Ride the Village Gondola to the summit of Whistler Mountain. From the top of the Peak Express chairlift, the High Note Trail leads you to Piccolo Ridge and around Symphony Bowl and Harmony Ridge. After 3 to 4 hours, the High Note Trail brings you back to the Roundhouse Lodge. For avid hikers, you can extend your hike by following the Musical Bumps Trail into Garibaldi Park to Oboe and Flute summits, then return along the High Note Trail.
- Overlord Trail to Decker Loop is an 8km (3-4 hours) loop that is nothing short of scenic. Passing Fitzsimmons Valley, Blackcomb Lake, and eventually leading up to a ridge that overlooks the grand Overlord Glacier. The hike is a continuation of the Overlord Trail to Lakeside Loop, but instead of looping back around after Blackcomb Lake, you continue down the Lakeside Trail to connect with the Overlord Trail. The trail gains slight elevation, that continues on to meet with the Decker Loop. This is where the elevation gain gets real. But follow the ridge, and you’ll be glad you did as you’ll be met with the rewarding sights of the Overlord Glacier.
- Never hike alone! Make sure someone (your emergency contact, family member) knows where you’re planning to go.
- Always pack water and light snacks for the duration of your hike.
- Read about trail and weather conditions in advanced before leaving for your hike, especially when you’re planning on reaching high elevations.
- Ensure you have standard emergency gear such as: matches, rope, emergency water and food, a map or compass for navigation, a light-weight light and a first-aid kit.
- As a precaution, every now and then be sure to make loud noises or bring a bell when you are hiking. This is to avoid surprising any wildlife by accident. If you happen to stumble upon a bear or other animals, remember to give them their space and to back away slowly. For more wildlife safety tips, please click here.
Please note that it’s common to encounter snow in May and June when hiking in the Whistler area. Visit the Whistler Visitor Information Centre for current information on local trail conditions. Remember to pack sunscreen, water, snacks, extra layers of clothing and a camera. Be prepared for anything and everything by carrying emergency supplies and rain gear.
Come and Explore Whistler!
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