Whistler has a dizzying array of things to do and places to see. Some are obvious and hard to miss, such as the often visible Black Tusk that dominates the backgrounds of millions of holiday photos. Other places around Whistler are less known, easy to miss, or simply buried in the endless wilderness everywhere you look. These places are not terribly hard to get to by car if you know where to aim. Here are some of them, if you have the time or inclination for a road trip, make Whistler even more amazing and definitely more interesting.
Rainbow Park is one of Whistler's most popular swimming, relaxing, soccer playing and socializing beaches and for good reason. The beach is south facing so every morning the sun rises from behind Wedge Mountain and the whole park seems to glow. From the dazzling reflecting from the snow off of Wedge, Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, to the amazing blue glow from Alta Lake. All this framed in the dazzling green of the forest all around. Though there are many great places to watch the sun rise in Whistler, Rainbow Park is one of the best. Rainbow Park gets its name from Rainbow Lodge, a popular stop along the train line from 1914 to 1974. Run by Myrtle and Alex Philip, the original lodge burned down in 1977. Some of the remaining log houses have been moved and now are gradually being restored as an outdoor museum. Interpretive panels with photos and descriptions of life in the area almost a century ago. These houses go mostly unnoticed as the main interpretive area is just off of the main beach across the Bridge of Sighs. Named by Alex Philip, the current bridge is a reconstruction of the original. There is a photo and description of the original that you can compare with the reconstruction. You will notice as you read the various panels how everything in Whistler now seems to be named after the people that once lived in and around the Rainbow Lodge community. Rainbow Park has a beautiful and very long pier that stretches far out on Alta Lake...
Why should you drive or walk to Rainbow Park?
Rainbow Park has stunningly beautiful views across to Wedge, Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains. Sunrise and sunsets are incredible and the swimming is fantastic on the huge pier and swimming platforms. There is a concession stand in the summer and the beach has a tremendously friendly, local feel to it that is wonderfully welcoming.
Alexander Falls is a very impressive 43 metre/141foot waterfall just 30 minutes south of Whistler in the Callaghan Valley. Open year-round and located just before Whistler Olympic Park where several of the 2010 Olympic events were held. There is a nice viewing platform on the edge of the cliff across from the falls which crash fantastically into the valley below. The parking area and viewing platform at Alexander Falls is one big area just 40 metres from the main road (to Whistler Olympic Park). The adventurous can find the obscure trail that leads to both the top of the falls as well as, with great difficulty, to the base of the falls. For a unique and breathtaking spot to share a beer on the outskirts of Whistler, Alexander Falls surely ranks quite high. Of impressive waterfalls in the Whistler area, Alexander Falls is one of several spectacular ones. Others in the area include the amazing Brandywine Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Nairn Falls. Along very difficult hike to Wedgemount Lake you will see the incredible Wedgemount Falls. Down in Squamish, 45 minutes south of Whistler, you will find Shannon Falls.
Why should you drive to Alexander Falls?
Alexander Falls is massive and beautiful. It's convenient and easy - you can drive right to it with no hiking involved. It's near the end of a beautiful drive up the Callaghan Valley. In the months without snow you will see multiple bears along the road in the last couple kilometres before Alexander Falls. There are bear watching companies that specifically drive to this area on their tours. Seeing Alexander Falls can be combined with other sights such as Whistler Olympic Park, Callaghan Lake (4x4 required in previous years, however partly graded in 2013), and Madeley Lake.
Northair Mine is a surreal little world of colourful murals on abandoned cement foundations, surrounded by an astoundingly tranquil little lake in a secluded forest. Just a short logging road off of the Callaghan Valley Road takes you to this unusual little abandoned mine. You would have driven by the turnoff if you have been to Whistler Olympic Park, which is just a couple kilometres away. Northair Mine gets its name from the Vancouver based mining company Northair Group. The mine was in production from 1976 and extracted 5 tons of gold before being abandoned in 1982. Northair Mine is tricky to find and even when you near it, the turnoff is not obvious. However, once you find it, it is quite a sight. The area that encompasses Northair Mine is huge. About 2 kilometres long, edged by a cliff on one side and a beautiful lake on the other. A nice, smooth gravel road runs through the area, along the edge of the lake toward Whistler Olympic Park. Another gravel road runs through the massive cement foundations of what must have been quite a large building. Beautiful graffiti art covers some of the cement pilings and scattered remnants indicate that this skeleton of a building has been home to its share of gatherings since being abandoned.
Why should you go see Northair Mine?
Northair Mine is a bizarre little world of crumbling foundations and idyllic lake buried in the middle of a forest. You can wander around for hours seeing one bizarre thing after another. It is up in the beautiful Callaghan Valley where road-side bear sightings are frequent and Whistler Olympic Park is nearby. Also, there are a few, relatively unknown lakes and hiking trails to visit in the area. Alexander Falls is very close. Madeley Lake and Callaghan Lake are nearby as well. The hiking trails to Ring, Conflict and Cirque Lake all start from Callaghan Lake Provincial Park.
The North Arm Farm in Pemberton, just a 40 minute drive north of Whistler is startlingly beautiful in a wonderfully charming and unexpected way. And even more unexpectedly... it's free. Free to wander through the fields of strikingly colourful and organized crops laying seemingly at the foot of the wildly spectacular Mount Currie. Along with the beautiful setting and views there is an area surrounded by animals. Chickens, pigs and geese crowd around you hoping for scraps from the farm shop. The Farm Shop and Cafe are fantastic as well. A surprising variety of bakery and lunch items crowd the counters. Along with shelves and bins of farm fresh produce. You suddenly realize that you just came through what could be called Pemberton Farm Experience. All for free, except of course for all the amazing food you are inevitably going buy before leaving. North Arm Farm stretches over 60 acres along the Lillooet River and boasts a wide array of organically grown produce. From asparagus in April, to beans, peas, corn, squash, carrots, beets and their celebrated pumpkins in October. They even have seasonal You Pick berries, flowers and pumpkins.
Why should you visit North Arm Farm?
Getting there involves a very scenic drive north of Whistler. The fields and farm animals are fun to see and looking at Mount Currie up close is amazing. Pemberton is a cute little town with plenty of places to stop for lunch or a coffee.
Porteau Cove is well known in the Scuba Diving community for amazing diving. In fact a ship was purposely sunk in the area to increase the already amazing diving appeal. Other underwater curiosities make this a well used and beautiful place to dive. On any given day, you will see groups of scuba divers in the distance or getting in or out of the water. Their entry area by the boat ramp has a nice description of what is under the water that makes it such a fascinating place to dive. One the pier you will find an interpretive tour of sorts as their are descriptions, every few metres along the railings of what you may see from the pier viewpoints. Much like Lighthouse Park, you can visit Porteau Cove during any type of weather and be glad you stopped. The views are sensational and the enormous pier takes you right out, far above the ocean. Porteau Cove is very easy to find. Just keep your eye out for the highway sign directing you to the turnoff. If driving from Vancouver the Porteau Cove turnoff is 41 kilometres from Vancouver if you zero your odometer on the Lions Gate Bridge. When you turn in from the highway you will see a parking lot on your left with the washrooms and another huge parking area next to the wonderful Porteau Cove Pier. This pier is quite large and has great views of the fjord. There is a nice beach and campground if you continue along the road just past the pier. Lots of picnic tables and a great place to stop for lunch on the way to or from Whistler.is a beautiful little stop on the way to or from Whistler. You will notice the lack of washroom stops on the way to or from Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway, and if nothing else, makes Porteau Cove a perfect rest stop. Aside from washrooms there is a wonderful pier with viewing platforms that hover high above the ocean of this majestic and enormous Canadian fjord - the most southerly fjord in North America. There is a nice campground that extends down the shore towards Vancouver.
Why should you stop at Porteau Cove on the Sea to Sky Highway?
is convenient and easy to stop, off of the Sea to Sky Highway. The pier is wonderful to see as it stretches far out and above the ocean. Washrooms and some some interesting things to read on various interpretive murals make this a must see stop on the way to or from Whistler or Vancouver.
Whistler is wonderfully positioned in the midst of a very geologically active area. This is shown by the fact that the access to nearby Meager Creek Hot Springs, gets dramatically obliterated by mudslides on an alarmingly regular basis. The last time was in 2010, where the slide was so massive as to raise a state of emergency in Pemberton, 20 kilometres away. As 3 million cubic metres of water pooled behind a dam that was formed so precariously, so immensely, in mere moments. Mount Meager itself last erupted in 400BC. Mount Meager's companion, alarmingly named Devastator Peak is violently active in an unexpected way. It is a massive, leaning tower of rock supported, incredibly, absurdly, unbelievably, by a glacier, that aptly shares its name. Devastator Glacier. It all seems too absurd to be true, but there's more. As Devastator Glacier retreats, as all glaciers seem to now, incomprehensibly huge pieces of Devastator Peak collapse into the valley below. This seems to happen often. Once fatally, in 1975 killing four geologists. When it does collapse, the scale is so huge that so much heat is created from the crushing force and an obsidian crust forms. This blocks Meager Creek, which must be noted the hot springs lie on the edge of, and a lake is formed. This recurring, nameless lake, certainly must be called Devastator Lake, but never stays long enough to make it on a map. This lake then threatens to burst and wash away Pemberton. Meager Hot Springs are lovely. Very nice. Beautifully constructed, natural looking pools connected by small creek-like channels of hot spring water, and perched next to the violently crashing, and absurdly understatedly named Meager Creek...
Why should you drive to Meager Hot Springs?
It is quite and adventure and a bit dangerous. The drive from Whistler is beautiful, especially as you drive along Pemberton Meadows Road. Only the last 4 kilometres of logging road are very bad and a 4x4 is necessary. The new Harrison Hut Trail which leads you to Meager Creek Hot Springs is beautiful, though fairly difficult. Six kilometres of this trail are along a steep and winding route through a deep forest. Then you have a relatively easy 3.5 kilometre hike down an old logging road to the springs. If you don't mind a 5 hour journey from Whistler(driving and hiking one way), then you will be in paradise.. and almost surely have the place to yourself.
Keyhole Hot Springs, just a few kilometres up from the turnoff to Meager, are in an amazingly beautiful setting. There are two cemented tubs into the rock perched on the edge of Lillooet River. These are the most beautiful, however there are several more possible springs to be had close by. There is a fabulous sandy area between the cliff and the river where hot spring water bubbles from the sand. There is a shovel here to dig yourself a beautiful pool and channel river water in as needed to moderate the temperature. There is also a small fire pit as well as several log seats. Keyhole Hot Springs are very popular which can be seen by the elaborate hot springs layout as well as the huge campground area in the deep forest, high above the hot springs about a 10 minute walk away. Signs of semi-permanent dwellings can be seen in stages of ruin, but overall the campsite area is amazing. With the exception of being dark due to the thick forest and fresh water a steep, 5 minute walk away, it is perched on a wonderful cliff with great views of the river below and cliff and mountains and waterfalls across. If the campsite had a dozen tents within it you could space them out enough to not see or hear each other fairly easily...
Why should you drive to Keyhole Hot Springs?
Keyhole is an unusual world at the edge of a swirling and crashing river. You can walk along the edge of this freezing river and see steam rise from the ground around you. The steep trail is so steep as to keep most people away and, especially on mid-week days, you will have the place to yourselves.
Skookumchuck Hot Springs, open year-round and located two hours north of Whistler along the edge of the huge Lillooet River.The name Skookumchuck means "strong water" in the language of the Chinook people of the Pacific Northwest. The name is associated with the hot springs because of the nearby First Nation community of Skatin, which was once called Skookumchuck. The Skookumchuck Hot Springs were also once known as St. Agnes Well during the days of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, but that name has fallen into disuse. They are also known locally by the Skatin name as the T'sek Hot Springs. See a short history of Skookumchuck Hot Springs here. The hot springs start in a pool which is far to hot to use so there are a network of tubes emanating from this pool to feed a ramshackle array of tubs. There are five tubs, which include one very large one under an A-frame which could hold 10 people and is beautifully comfortable...
Why should you drive to Skookumchuck Hot Springs?
Skookumchuck is the easiest and most convenient hot springs from Whistler. You can easily visit in just a day trip or stay in the very nice campground at the edge of the beautiful Lillooet River.
Sloquet Hot Springs is a wonderfully wild set of shallow, man-made pools fed by a small, all natural, and very hot, waterfall. The pools stretch from the waterfall to the large and crashing Sloquet River. The large, spread out campsite for the hot springs lies a short 5 minute walk from the springs. You have to follow a dark and quickly descending trail toward the crashing river. As you near, you can smell the unusual, but kind of nice hot springs scent, and you see steam rising all around you, some steam rising, bizarrely, out of the grass clearing on the edge of the river. On your left a rising cliff, on your right the crashing river. The path narrows and steepens, leading to a large fallen tree which the trail seems to run to. So huge though as to not worry you walking the length of. Then, there it is. The massive fallen tree flanks it. Nestled between the tree and a cliff, in a large triangular area, with the river forming the third side are the Sloquet Hot Springs. Sloquet Hot Springs is 142 kilometres from Whistler, which translates to well over 3 hours of driving. Much of the driving is along the In-Shuck-Ch Forest Service Road, which runs the length of the very scenic Lillooet Lake and river. This gravel road takes you well into the wilderness, far from civilization and past quite a few nice sights along the way.
Why should you drive to Sloquet Hot Springs?
Sloquet Hot Springs is about as natural as you can get. The hot water pours down a waterfall from the rock face that the pools sit at the base of. The fairly long drive is part of the adventure with plenty of possible stops along the way. The campground is often lively, fun, and beautifully separated, well out of earshot of the pools.