Snowshoeing in and around Whistler is amazing. Joffre Lakes, Elfin Lakes and Taylor Meadows are spectacular in the winter. Depending on the weather, they can be difficult or easy. On a sunny day these trails are beautiful and easy to navigate. On a snowy day these trails will be hard to follow and you can easily get lost. In a perfect world you will head out on a sunny day, when it snowed all night. Luckily that is a phenomenon that happens quite a lot in Whistler.
Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Park is an absolutely phenomenal, though long, snowshoeing trail that begins at the Diamond Head area in Squamish. From Whistler Village, the trailhead is just over an hours drive away, located near the south end of the massive Garibaldi Park. The Elfin Lakes Trail is very well marked and maintained and leads to the wonderful, Elfin Lakes Hut. This amazing hut sleeps 33 and is solar powered and propane heated. There is a charge of $15/person to stay the night there which is a small price to pay for the beautiful comfort after the long, 11 kilometre snowshoe hike to get there. This area is very popular with skiers as well as snowshoers in the winter and deep snow covers the trail usually from November to June. The trail to Elfin Lakes starts out ascending through deep forest, reaching the Red Heather Hut after 5k. This is a small warming hut equipped with a wood stove complete with a stack of wood free to use, though sleeping here is for emergencies only. The final 6k from this hut to Elfin Lakes takes you along a beautiful ridge with amazing views of snowy mountains all around. The sheer distance of this snowshoeing trail ranks it as difficult. Expect to take four hours to reach the Elfin Lakes Hut as you are almost constantly ascending a gradual, though consistently uphill trail. There are several jaw-dropping views along this final 6k stretch. This trail is so well marked with orange poles and tree markers that you can reliably find your way after dark or before sunrise with good lights to assist you. You often see, with some shock, skiers trudging up the trail, not far from the trailhead after the sun has set. Making their way to the Elfin Lakes Hut in the dead of night seems to be a pastime of quite a few local skiers and boarders. As this trail is within Garibaldi Park, dogs are not allowed. This is a courtesy to all the animals that inhabit the park and the potential disturbance that dogs my introduce to their environment. BC Parks staff can issue fines for dogs in the park. Though it is rare, it does happen as Elfin Lakes is regularly staffed with rangers and even has a separate ranger station near the Elfin Lakes Hut. Getting to the trailhead can be problematic during periods of heavy snow. The gravel road runs deep and high into the mountains to the trailhead parking lot. You should be prepared with tire chains and may have to walk from the lower parking lot below the main, usually deep with snow trailhead parking lot.
Why should you snowshoe to Elfin Lakes?
The views after the 5k mark are constantly beautiful. The trail is well marked and can be navigated under the stars with good lights and skill. The Elfin Lakes Trail is challenging and a great snowshoeing workout at 11k to the hut or 22k roundtrip in a day. The Hut, as huts go is magnificent. Busy on weekends and often deserted weekdays, you may have this house in the mountains to yourselves. It is a fantastic mountain experience complete with a cute, wood-fire heated hut at 5k that is ideal for a leisurely lunch, glass of wine or toasting marshmallows with the kids.
Joffre Lakes is yet another amazing snowshoeing trail near (kind of) to Whistler. About 1 hour and 20 minutes north of Whistler gets you to the Joffre Lakes trailhead. Located up on the Duffy Lake Road north of Pemberton, Joffre Lakes is well known for its incredibly surreal, turquoise water. In the winter of course all three of the Joffre Lakes are frozen over but the trail is popular with skier and snowshoers between the months of November and early June (depending on snowfall). Though the trail is fairly well marked and often snowshoe and ski tracked in the winter it is possible to lose the trail after dark or after or during heavy snowfall. So caution should be taken on this trail. Make sure you don't go snowshoeing to Joffre Lakes immediately after heavy snow. Pick a nice, sunny day and leave yourself lots of daylight and be prepared with headlights as the winters bring very early sunsets, especially in the mountains. The trail is sometimes steep as you gain 400 metres of altitude in just 5k trailhead to the third Joffre Lake. On snowshoes expect to reach the third lake in about two hours.
On a sunny day the frozen lake is beautiful and almost warm feeling. However, as soon as the sun goes behind the mountains the temperature gets bitter cold so be prepared with very warm clothing on any snowshoeing adventure there. You do occasionally see people camp overnight at Joffre Lakes in the winter. The usual campsite area is buried in snow as it lays at the base of the mountains so people usually put their tens directly on the frozen lake. Extraordinary!
Why should you snowshoe to Joffre Lakes?
The trail is challenging though very beautiful. The constantly winding trail takes you past and to the three beautiful lakes that all have spectacular, distant mountain views. The trail is relatively short at 5k one way to the third lake but the first lake is just metres away and makes for a worthy destination if you are just after a quick and easy snowshoe to an amazing mountain lake. The drive to Joffre Lakes is beautiful on its own. From Whistler you pass by Nairn Falls, a convenient and beautiful snowshoeing or hiking trail on the way to Pemberton. Pemberton is a cute farming town in a wonderful glacial valley. Past Pemberton you drive along the huge Lillooet Lake before ascending quickly into the mountains to the Joffre trailhead. A very nice drive from Whistler any time of the year.
Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake are amazing places to snowshoe in the winter in Whistler. Beautiful snowy meadows surrounded by mountains everywhere you look. Black Tusk towering in the distance so close and blanketed in wonderful, beautiful snow. Garibaldi Lake is accessible as well on this snowshoeing hike. The Taylor Meadows trail forks partway up, left goes to Taylor Meadows, right to Garibaldi Lake (the trail joins again at the far side of both campsites). Garibaldi Lake, so massive and dramatically beautiful in the winter, a huge frozen valley. The downside to this hike is the length of hiking to get to the beautiful parts. In the summer it's not so bad as the trailhead is a moderately difficult 9k from Garibaldi Lake. In the winter however, the trailhead parking lot is unplowed almost down to the highway. So just to get to the trailhead requires about a 2k uphill snowshoe slog. If you are not troubled by a lot of exertion then it's a wonderful snowshoe destination. Like Joffre Lakes it is frequented by skiers just enough to ensure an almost constant track throughout the winter so you can concentrate more on the scenery then keeping from getting lost. Another nice attribute of this hike is the fact that you can snowshoe through the beautiful Taylor Meadows on the way up then across to Garibaldi Lake on the way back, therefore doing a little snowshoe circle route before doubling back to your car.
Why should you snowshoe to Taylor Meadows?
It is a challenging, strenuous snowshoeing trail in the winter that is usually easy to follow due to its frequent use by skiers and snowshoers. If you enjoy winter camping, the Taylor Meadows Campground is a winter paradise for you. Amazing views all around and you have the option of snowshoeing a different route for part of the way back to the trailhead (via Garibaldi Lake).
Rainbow Lake is a tough and beautiful snowshoeing trail 8k, high up in the mountains across the valley from Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The trail is generally well marked and easy to follow, however some sections are tricky to follow as the heavy snow bends the bushes down obscuring the trail. The trail is a constant, fairly steep ascent and you may notice ski tracks along the route. A popular skiing attraction in Whistler is to get heli-dropped on Rainbow Mountain and skiing back to Whistler via the Rainbow Lake trail. Rainbow Falls is a nice detour near the beginning of the Rainbow Lake trail. When you come to the small water purification building you will see a distinct fork in the trail and a sign directing you to Rainbow Lake turn left. If you go right however, in just a few hundred metres you will come to the beautiful Rainbow Falls as well as a nice picturesque bridge over the river. You of course have to backtrack to get back to the Rainbow Lake trail. Though Rainbow Lake is only 8k from the trailhead, on snowshoes it will likely take nearly four hours to get there. You can snowshoe around up there for quite a while so you have to be careful with the time as in the winter the sun goes down before 5pm.
The Rainbow Mountain trailhead is easy and close to Whistler Village. You just need to drive to Alta Lake Road on the far side of Alta Lake, just a 15 minute drive away. There is a big sign for the Rainbow Lake trailhead on your right if coming from the neighbourhood of Alpine. The trailhead is about 200-300 metres from the Rainbow Park parking lot.
Why should you snowshoe/hike to Rainbow Lake?
Rainbow Lake is a tough but rewarding snowshoe hike through a thick and beautiful forest. There are several viewpoints looking across the valley to Wedge, Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains as well as Whistler Village. It certainly is a good idea to combine this snowshoeing hike with a look at Rainbow Park and Rainbow Falls as both are nearby.
Wedgemount Lake is a steep and difficult hike in the summer when there is no snow. It doesn't require technical skill, but it is just exhausting. You gain 1220 metres of elevation in just 7 kilometres and hiking with a backpack takes about 2.5 hours to reach the lake. In the winter, on snowshoes, the Wedgemount Lake trail is considerably harder. First, the obscured trail is hard to follow, despite the frequent trail markers. Second, on snowshoes, each step on steep ground is one step forward, half a step backward. You plod on slowly and with each step slipping back part way. If you can get past the difficulty of the exhausting winter trek to Wedgemount Lake you will reach an amazing paradise in the mountains. The Wedgemount Lake Hut is an extraordinary oasis of warmth in the middle of the beautiful Wedgemount Lake Valley. Anyone can use the hut, anytime. It can sleep up to 8 reasonably comfortably and consists of two large tables on the lower level and a small loft that can fit four people. Sporadically used by skiers in the winter, though rarely used by snowshoers due to the difficulty of the trail in the winter. If you do make it up to Wedgemount Lake you will be rewarded with a phenomenally beautiful, snow filled mountain paradise of a valley. The Wedgemount Lake trail is deep with snow from late December to late June most years. If you snowshoe it November to mid December or mid June to early July, you will only need your snowshoes partway up the trail. Depending on conditions and traffic on the trail, you may get lucky and be able to follow previous tracks in the snow, however this is not reliable. The final kilometre before Wedgemount Lake between the months of November and late June is almost always deep with snow. This part is very steep and even on snowshoes painfully difficult, so consider that if you plan to go.
Also, losing the trail is always a consideration worth worrying about and having a GPS with you is a very good idea. At a good pace, when the trail has snow top to bottom, expect to take over four hours from your car to the hut. Some take as long as 6 hours. You have to add an extra kilometre or two in the winter as well due to having to park far below the usual trailhead parking as it is inaccessible due to snow December to May.
Why should you snowshoe to Wedgemount Lake?
The sense of achievement in tackling such a strenuous and difficult trail is amazing. Having the whole Wedgemount Lake valley to yourself is an extraordinary experience. The Wedgemount Lake Hut in winter is a wonderful luxury in such a hostile place. Walking out to the middle of the frozen lake and looking up at the amazingly bright stars is wonderfully surreal.