Whistler's staggering array of hiking trails sometimes lead to hiking centres that branch in several directions. Russet Lake branches to The Fissile, Overlord Mountain, Adit Lakes, Blackcomb Mountain and Cheakamus Lake as well as Whistler Mountain and the Singing Pass Trail. Rainbow Lake also branches. To Hanging Lake and Madeley Lake or to the Sproatt Alpine. Another route takes you up to the summit of Rainbow Mountain and back down to Beverley Lake.
Cirque Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes to visit in the Whistler area. The wild and hostile environment contained in a cirque valley create a staggeringly enchanting world high above Callaghan Lake. It is very remote feeling despite the short 2 kilometre hike to reach it. Getting to the trailhead requires paddling the length of Callaghan Lake to find the hardly visible beginning of the trail.
The unmarked trailhead to Cirque Lake is best located by aiming toward the loud and steeply crashing waterfalls at the far end of Callaghan Lake. Believe it or not, the Cirque Lake trail snakes along the right side, though usually out of sight, of the falls. As you paddle near the end of the lake, you will spot the understated outflow from the falls. A fast moving stream emerges from the thick forest into Callaghan Lake. Just a dozen metres to the right you will see a gravel bar and a large, fallen tree extending out into the lake. This is a good spot to disembark. You can tie up to this tree or drag your boat up the shore.
After dragging your canoe, paddleboard, kayak or boat ashore you find an impossibly tranquil clearing just metres from the water. Very concealed from the lake you see a small fire ring and sitting area that looks so perfectly natural that you instantly regret not making time to camp here as well. The trail then winds through the forest along the edge of the ominously loud waterfall/river on your left. If you are hiking in August, you will encounter blueberry bushes the entire length of the trail. You will quickly fill every available container in your pack and find yourself making very slow progress along the trail.
The trail is easy to make out due to a combination of boots wearing a path as well as the occasional orange ribbon. The first 15 minutes along the trail takes you through a very scenic forest and over a cute creek crossing. Soon the trail begins ascending quickly. Several sections require pulling yourself up by grabbing tree roots and one section has a rope to pull yourself up with. If you bring your dog along on the trail, he shouldn't have much trouble on these parts, though may need help up one or two spots later on.
Thirty minutes into the trail you will come to the massive boulder field down a steep valley. You will be ascending this boulder field to the narrow end several hundred metres up. This boulder field is marked with rock cairns and more orange ribbons, though the orange ribbons are few and the chances of losing the trail here are many. Your best bet here is to follow the markers as best you can and keep in mind the destination is the narrow top of this boulder field.
Once you make it through the boulder field you briefly pass through a small section of forest before abruptly turning right for the final ascent to Cirque Lake. This leads to the top of the cliff you have been eyeing for the last few minutes as you negotiated the boulder field. On top of the boulder field you see a tremendous view of Callaghan Lake. Just a couple hundred metres takes you to the edge of Cirque Lake.
The lake opens up before you as you arrive from above and then have to descend another short boulder field to get to one of only a couple obvious tent spots. There are three small plateaus that could accommodate tents. The one shown above is in the middle, and definitely the most spacious. It is also home to a tidy little fire ring with a million dollar view beyond. A bit unexpectedly there is an abundance of firewood as the disintegrating cliff on the right evidently dislodges trees quite regularly.
If you follow along the right edge of Cirque Lake you soon pick up on a faint trail that leads to Sky Lake. Sky Lake is under 2 kilometres away. Easy to find as the faint trail leads to a fairly easy valley to hike up further along on the right. If you keep bearing right you will find Sky Lake near the top of this amazing valley. Beyond Sky Lake there are several more smaller lakes that descend down the valley.
Russet Lake is a bit of a letdown in comparison to other alpine lakes around Whistler. It doesn't have that amazing turquoise colour you get in other lakes such as Joffre Lakes, Wedgemount Lake, Garibaldi Lake and Cheakamus Lake. Russet Lake does have something the rest lack. The relatively untouched areas around the lake are spectacular. Overlord Glacier sprawls down the valley below. The Fissile stretches to the sky like some giant arrowhead erupting from the earth. Just a short hike from the Russet Lake hut takes you to Adit Lakes.
These extraordinary little lakes are crystal clear, shallow and surrounded by rocky slopes, gracefully stretching up to cliffs on one side and down the valley toward Overlord Glacier on the other. The water is bitterly cold even after soaking in the sun all summer, but the valley they sit in is somewhat sheltered from the fierce winds you often get on the Russet Lake side of the neighbouring ridge. Sitting by Adit Lakes you get absolute silence and that wonderful feeling that humanity is far removed from this place. If you consider all these other features around Russet Lake, it compares to and even surpasses most other hiking area around Whistler.
The Rainbow Trail is a convenient and popular trail near Whistler Village that takes you to Rainbow Lake as well as the Flank Trail, Rainbow Falls, Hanging Lake, Madeley Lake, Beverly Lake, Rainbow Mountain... and even Whistler Olympic Park if you are determined. It is a consistently uphill and very beautiful trail with several water (bridge) crossings and waterfalls on the way to the picture-perfect lake. There are a few views of the valley across to Whistler, Blackcomb, and Wedge. Few views, though fantastic. Rainbow Lake itself is in a gorgeous alpine valley with branching trails that extend further beyond the lake in at least three directions.
To get even further from the world, hike the partly marked trail to Beverly Lake. The first kilometre is well worn and easy to follow as this is also a somewhat popular trail to reach the summit of Rainbow Mountain. The Rainbow Mountain trail veers right and quickly ascends through massive boulders. If you instead bear left and stay in the valley you will reach this fantastically remote lake.
You will be a bit disheartened, however, when you arrive at the lake and see a picnic table. It's very out of place, evidently put there by some helicopter tour company. Other than the weird picnic table there are no signs of humanity, and no restrictions on camping as you have at Rainbow Lake.