Northair Mine - Whistler Driving Destinations
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 or Alexander Falls, both of which are 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. Today it is a bizarre little world in the mountains that has become an incredible place to escape the world and camp out under the stars.
Northair Mine is tricky to find and even when you near it, the turnoff is not obvious(see the map below for directions). The access road takes you high into the mountains and is only free of snow in May most years. In 2016 the snow melted enough for vehicle access during the first week in May. Driving to Northair Mine is along a bumpy, potholed, old logging road drivable by most vehicles, though some shallow washouts may give regular cars some difficulty.
Once Northair Mine comes into view it is quite a sight. The area that surrounds the old ruins is unexpectedly 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. Canadian Wilderness Adventures has been constructing ATV paths and features around the ruins, which hopefully won't overcome the serenity of the area with sounds of humanity. They have a reputation for being very considerate and conscientious, so if anyone can blend into the area in a positive way, Canadian can.
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.
Whistler's cherished Flank Trail passes right by Northair Mine near its terminus at Whistler Olympic Park. Although, the Flank Trail effectively ends far south of the Northair Mine, it piggybacks on the logging road that extends up and past the mine. With the massive construction that preceded the 2010 Olympics, the Callaghan Valley had a luxuriously wide, paved road built high up into the mountains here.
This road has become a destination in its own with its wide sweeping arcs revealing wonderful views, one after the other. Though Black Tusk can be seen from many vantage points, seeing it from the drive up the Callaghan Valley has got to be one of the best ways to view it from your car. From 25 kilometres away it looks shockingly close and its wonderful, pure black colour looks striking, framed by snowy mountains.
The Callaghan Valley has, and continues to experience dramatic transformations as varying interest groups vie for sections of this expansive wilderness. From the endless logging roads leading to decades old clear-cuts, to political wranglings over proposed ski resorts, to the creation of Whistler Olympic Park, this area is both wildly beautiful, and surprisingly developed. The area seems now to have settled into a modern balance of limitless recreation possibilities and sporadic and mostly hidden logging.
The Callaghan Valley is the wild and untamed cousin to the tidy and developed Garibaldi Park that exists across the valley and stretching down past Squamish. Where motorized vehicles are not permitted in Garibaldi Park, ATV's and snowmobiles frequent the trails around the Northair Mine.
The easily visible, though unmarked trail that begins just across from the turn in to Northair Mine, is mainly used for these, and once in a while by hikers. Due to the increased attention to the area however, the Flank Trail and branching trails like this one are gaining the attention of local hikers. These trails will almost certainly be flagged, better defined and even signed as early as next year.
The Sproatt Alpine Trail is a new addition to the area. Mount Sproatt is the massive mountain that dominates the skyline across the Valley from Whistler Mountain. If you continue driving past Northair Mine, the increasingly deteriorating logging road leads to one of the new, unmarked trailheads. Still a work in progress by the folks at WORCA, the new trail is designed and built by downhill bikers, however already enjoyed by hikers. The trail stretches over this spectacular, wild and mostly untouched wilderness. Dozens of lakes and tarns dot the hostile erratic and krummholz strewn valley. The new trail spans the mountain from the Northair Mine side and down Mount Sproatt, intersecting with the Flank Trail about halfway between the Rainbow Trail and Function Junction.
The only reasonable explanation for the lack of hiking trail development in the area is simply the abundance of amazing trails in and around Whistler and in Garibaldi Park overshadowing the Callaghan Valley. Certainly the beauty of the area is not in question and wonderful places like Northair Mine make for a unique and extraordinary starting point.
Northair Mine - Driving Directions
Printer, smartphone and tablet friendly. Designed to fit standard printers and copiers. To print: Right click on the map below, save image as, save to desktop, then open the image and print on standard size printer paper. Cell coverage is reliable in the vicinity of Northair Mine and the route from Whistler so you will be able to access the internet if you have a data plan, however saving this map to your smartphone or tablet may be a good idea. For maps and directions to the Sproatt Alpine Trail click here.