December - Best Hiking & Snowshoeing Trails in Whistler and Garibaldi Park
Average low/high valley temps in Whistler in December range from -5c to -1c (23f/30f)
Joffre Lakes is an absolutely stunning place to snowshoe in December. You can drive to the partially snowplowed trailhead parking all year-round and Joffre Lakes is so popular with skiers that you can almost always rely on ski tracks in the snow to follow. The trail is fairly well marked with tree markings but having a track in the snow to follow makes the journey much easier. Joffre Lakes is a long, though beautiful 1.2 hour drive north of Whistler. From the trailhead to the first of the three Joffre Lakes is just a few dozen metres so you almost immediately get some stunning views across the lake to distant mountains. The trail then ascends a couple kilometres to the second Joffre Lake which reveals even more amazing views. The third Joffre Lake is at the 5 kilometre mark and you will have gained 400 metres of elevation to get there. The views at the third lake are, of course, more amazing still. Though the snowshoeing trail to Joffre Lakes is only moderately difficult a considerable amount of caution should be taken. For example, in snowy weather the trail may become obscured and wandering off the trail is a dangerous possibility. Also, the days are short and lingering at the lake too long could leave you out in the dark.Another risk is the cold temperatures. Minus 12c is not unusual and being unaccustomed or unprepared for the cold could kill you. Make sure you know what you are doing before snowshoeing the Joffre Lakes trail and if you are unsure of the weather or anything be prepared to turn around part way through the journey. If you have good weather Joffre Lakes is a magnificent place to snowshoe and hike and in November, depending on snowfall, you may end up doing a bit of both. If the weather is good you will likely find the Joffre Lakes Trail relaxing and almost easy. At just 5k to the third lake it can take as little as an hour in November, but with lots of snow expect 2.5 hours up and 2 hours back to your car.
Why should you snowshoe to Joffre Lakes in December?
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.
The extraordinary Parkhurst Ghost Town can be reached by snowshoeing the wonderful new section of the Sea to Sky Trail that runs along the far side of Green Lake. The trail starts at both ends of Green Lake. One end is near Whistler Village close to Lost Lake and the other is north of Green Lake at the turnoff to Wedgemount Lake from the Sea to Sky Highway. In the winter the Lost Lake area has a entry fee and the Sea to Sky Trail can only be accessed from that end by going through Lost Lake. The far end of the Green Lake section of the Sea to Sky Trail is free to enter and closer to Parkhurst Ghost Town. It is easy to find. Just north of Whistler, past Green Lake you will see the Wedgemount Lake sign on the highway. Turn right and park where you can. Just across the bridge over Green River you will see a Sea to Sky Trail sign. The trail goes both left and right here. Following the Sea to Sky Trail to the right takes you to Parkhurst. Keep your eyes out for the obvious Sea to Sky Trail signs and it would be a good idea to print out the map above as the trail that leads to Parkhurst from the Sea to Sky Trail is unmarked. It is however, quite well worn and if you are looking for it, you should spot it easily. Keep in mind that snowshoeing is slower than hiking so expect to reach the Parkhurst turnoff at about 2.7k in about an hour from where you started. The town was once a thriving logging community, but when logging stopped here in the 1950's so did life in the town. As recently as a decade ago there were several old houses still standing, however, heavy snow and the wet climate have flattened almost all of them now. Still, it is a wonderful glimpse of the past and remarkably untouched.
Why should you snowshoe to Parkhurst Ghost Town in December?
The snowshoeing route to Parkhurst takes you up to some great views over Green Lake. The trail is challenging, but not overly difficult and the 7 kilometre roundtrip can usually be done in 3.5 hours. Parkhurst itself is located in quite an amazing setting on Green Lake. Part of the ghost town is high up on a ridge above Green Lake, and another part of the town edges on Green Lake itself. If you get a taxi to the trailhead (less than $20), you can snowshoe back to Whistler Village via the amazing Sea to Sky trail (8 kilometres/5 miles) in about 3-4 hours.
Brandywine Falls, though extremely popular in the summer and fall months, hides behind a massive, snow plow formed, wall of snow from (usually) December to March. The gate to the parking lot is closed and buried. Attempting to hike to the falls on foot is tough as you find yourself thigh deep in snow right from the start. But if you have snowshoes this trail becomes a winter paradise. The snowplows intentionally clear a winter parking area for the park near the (buried) gate. You just have to scramble over the mountain of snow, cross the parking lot and follow the signs. The easy-to-follow trail begins just across the parking lot. You then follow the trail to the bridge over the beautiful Cheakamus River and then turn right and snowshoe less than a kilometre along the wide and easy to follow trail until you reach the impressive and hugely beautiful viewing platform across from this thundering waterfall. Brandywine Falls is amazing to see in the summer, but in the winter it is even more extraordinary. The sounds are echoed louder as the sounds bounce of the frozen chasm the water falls into, yet the area is magically serene with rarely anyone to break the peacefulness of the park.
Why should you snowshoe to Brandywine Falls in December?
It is very convenient when driving to or from Whistler, impressive and fun to see in the winter. An amazing stop on the Sea to Sky Highway that no one notices in the winter months. Brandywine Falls is a very kid friendly place to snowshoe as its easy and short, yet with lots to see.
Rainbow Falls is a fantastic way go get yourself into some deep snow quickly from Whistler Village. The trailhead is located just a couple hundred metres from Rainbow Park on Alta Lake which is another great place to snowshoe in Whistler. The Rainbow Falls trailhead is the same as the Rainbow Lake trailhead, located halfway along Alta Lake Road on the far side of Alta Lake. The Rainbow Falls Trail is short, varied and relatively easy. This well used trail never goes in a straight line and goes up and down through a beautiful and deep forest. There are no signs to Rainbow Falls and you will just see signs for Rainbow Lake and Madely Lake. To find Rainbow Falls you just follow the Rainbow Lake trail from the trailhead for about a half kilometre until you reach the water treatment building (Rainbow Lake is Whistler's water source). Just before the building the trail forks. Take the right fork which branches off of the Rainbow Lake trail. Within a couple minutes you will hear the falls. There is a bridge that goes over the river where you can see some of the falls. But further along, without crossing the bridge, you will come to the falls and end of the Rainbow Falls trail. This area is fairly popular even in Winter so the well marked trail is easy to follow and the snow on the trail usually well packed down. Some parts are steep, but the shortness of the trail makes it suitable as a family snowshoeing trail.
Why should you snowshoe/hike to Rainbow Falls in December?
Rainbow Falls is just 15 minutes from Whistler Village and is an easy trail through some very wild and deep forests. You can get close enough to touch the falls. Though they are not large, they stretch for some distance and can be viewed from various vantage points. Try to pick a sunny day as the trail reflects the light magnificently and you feel as if you are in a winter wonderland, which of course you are.
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 somewhat popular skiing attraction in Whistler is to get heli-dropped on Rainbow Mountain and skiing back to Whistler. 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 in December?
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.
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 in December?
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).
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 in December?
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.