Whistler can be an expensive place to visit. For the most part that is justified. Skiing, Snowboarding, Biking, Golfing, ZipTrek, etc are all amazing in Whistler and well worth the cost. Sometimes it is good, however, to get in your car and have a wonderful day out and spend nothing. These places are all free, and because they are free, are not advertised, and generally overlooked. Three are north of Whistler Village and three are south and the Sea to Sky Trail is everywhere. Three can be done in a half day easily, though if you see all in one day, bring an extra battery for your camera!
It is hard to say enough about the Whistler Train Wreck. It is fantastic for so many reasons. First, its location. Just a short 10 minute drive gets you to the trailhead parking, just off of the Sea to Sky Highway on Alpha Lake Road in Function Junction. The hike begins on the Flank Trail then quickly branches off to the Train Wreck Trail through deep forest. The trail leads first to the Cheakamus River and some amazing viewpoints then continues through deep forest along this amazing river. Around a bend in the Cheakamus, the forest reveals the first of seven, fantastic train wrecks. Once again phenomenal views of the crashing river and then the amazing train wrecks come into view. Graffiti style paint brings the dingy wreckage to life with shockingly beautiful colours. The huge wrecks are enormous up close and mangled. Some on their sides, some upside down. Each one (there are several) is an interesting adventure to explore. A sort of wilderness art exhibit. The wreckage stretches for almost a kilometre and can bring out the kid in anyone. The area is very kid friendly as the trails are wide and generally flat. There are several extraordinarily surreal places to put up a tent or, as many often do, sleep on the edge of the incredible river or even in a wrecked car. There are indications in all the cars of thousands of past gatherings which gives the place a charm that seems characteristically Whistler. The Train Wreck is a spectacularly beautiful and interesting place, just like Whistler.
In the fall of 2014 a new suspension bridge will be built, linking the Whistler Train Wreck trail to Trash Trail on the opposite side of Cheakamus River. Pictured below is the location on the Trash Trail side where construction should begin in August.
Why should you go see the Whistler Train Wreck?
Beautiful, easy, relaxing, so much to see. Seven extraordinary train wreck cars and amazing views of Cheakamus River. Convenient, just off of the Sea to Sky Highway in Function Junction(8k south of Whistler Village). Whistler Train Wreck is one of the best places in Whistler for a picnic or glass of wine. A very easy, interesting and definitely a kid friendly hike.
Whistler has an absurd number of wonderful and free hiking trails and Parkhurst Ghost Town certainly ranks as one of the most unusual. Parkhurst was a little logging town perched on the edge of Green Lake way before Whistler was Whistler. Up on the ridge where Parkhurst sits, the views are sensational. Green lake far below, a solid unnatural looking mass of green. Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains out in the distance to the left and Rainbow Mountain across and beyond the lake. What makes Parkhurst Ghost Town such a great hiking trail and destination is where it is located and the trail to get to it. One route, one of several ways to get to it, runs along the scenic Green River and next to the still active train tracks that run through Whistler. There always seems to be something to see. From the beautiful meadow along the train tracks, to the suddenly deep forest where you have to play a game of finding the next, pink tree marker or risk wandering off the trail. The trail markers are numerous, and though getting lost is inevitable, you can only stray a few metres before, the river or steep terrain push you back onto the marked trail. Once up on the ridge above Green Lake where Parkhurst is located, the forest takes on a spooky feel. Trees are all far apart and with branches only high up give the forest a unnaturally lifeless look...
Why should you go see Parkhurst Ghost Town in Whistler?
Parkhurst Ghost Town is located next to the beautiful and new Sea to Sky Trail that runs high above the very scenic Green Lake just north of Whistler. This allows for including Parkhurst into a longer hike that can begin from Whistler Village, extend through the Lost Lake trails up to the Sea to Sky Trail, then descend to Parkhurst on the shore of Green Lake. Of all the routes to Parkhurst, none are boring and seeing a bit of pre-Whistler history is interesting and a bit surreal at times.
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is one of the must see sights on the way to or from Whistler. The falls drop from a 66 metre, unnaturally abrupt cliff to the valley below. It is such a popular and beautiful sight that it is a Provincial Park complete with a large and elaborate viewing platform directly opposite the falls. Located just 20 minutes south of Whistler, Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is just off of the Sea to Sky Highway. If driving from Vancouver, keep your eyes out for the Brandywine Falls sign on your right about 25 minutes north of Squamish. The parking lot is immediately off the highway and the short 1 kilometre trail takes you over then alongside the Cheakamus River to the viewing area. The only facilities in the park are pit toilets and picnic tables and there is no charge for hiking or for parking your vehicle in the park. The gate off of the highway is locked at night and in the winter so at these times you simply park at the edge of the highway and hike past the gate. In the winter you often see people strapping on snowshoes for the short trek to the falls in the snow. Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is attached to the wonderful Sea to Sky Trail which runs between and beyond Whistler and Squamish.
Why should you go see Brandywine Falls in Whistler?
Brandywine Falls is amazingly beautiful and very easy and quick to hike to. Just a 20 minute pit stop on the drive to or from Whistler allows you to see this amazing falls. Brandywine Falls and Shannon Falls, just south of Squamish are both convenient, quick and beautiful stops on the drive from Vancouver to Whistler.
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.
Nairn Falls is a wonderful, crashing and chaotic waterfall that surrounds you from the deluxe viewing platform that allows you to safely watch it from above. The beautiful, green water rushes through the deep and angular channels of rock. Though the BC Parks website describes Nairn Falls as 60 metres high, the description is misleading. The falls crash through various narrow and wide areas, and though the cumulative drop is 60 metres, what you see is a series of 10 to 20 metre falls. There are a nicely constructed railing, fence and viewing area and walkway that guides you to the best views. With such abruptly steep rock all around, the area would be potentially dangerous. Evidently there have been deaths here before. A cross, reverently placed across the chasm from the viewing platform, indicates of some tragic event. Nairn Falls Provincial Park is located just a short 20 minute drive north of Whistler. From the large parking lot the well marked trail runs along the Green River for 1.2k to Nairn Falls. The trail is very easy and is hike-able year-round.
Why should you go to Nairn Falls Provincial Park?
Nairn Falls is a short and easy, family friendly hike to a very impressive waterfall. Perfect for an afternoon drive/hike/picnic from Whistler.
The North Arm Farm in Pemberton, just a 30 minute drive north of Whistler is one of these great secret spots that most locals don't even know about. The farm is located in the shadow of the jagged peaks of Mt Currie and is startlingly beautiful in a wonderfully charming and unexpected way. And even more unexpectedly... it's free to visit. Free to wander through the fields of strikingly colourful and organized crops stretching into the distance towards Lillooet River and Mt Currie. Along with the beautiful setting and views there is a great little area with lots of farm animals. Chickens, pigs and geese crowd around you hoping for scraps from the farm shop. The Farm Shop and Cafe are great to visit as well. A surprising huge 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. It is open year-round. Everyday during the growing seasons and weekends only during the winter and spring.
Why should you go to North Arm Farm?
North Arm Farm has great views of Mount Currie and the farm animals are fun to see and you can sometimes feed them. The store that sells produce, baked goods and coffee is very nice and everything has a healthy, organic and high quality look to it. They are amazingly welcoming at the farm and invite you to wander around and see what a farm is all about.
Sea to Sky Trail in Whistler is an amazing collection of interconnected hiking, biking, snowshoeing and running trails that stretch for almost 33 kilometres through Whistler. The Sea to Sky Trail actually stretches to the north of Whistler to D'Arcy and south of Whistler to Squamish in one amazing 180k trail. The incredible Whistler area of this trail stretches north of the Village from Lost Lake Park where it ascends up past and above Green Lake. The trail joins with the Sea to Sky Highway near the Wedgemount Lake turnoff from the Sea to Sky Highway. South of Whistler Village the Sea to Sky Trail follows Whistler's Valley Trail down to Cheakamus Crossing and then disappears into the forest where it runs along the Cheakamus River to Brandywine Falls. At Brandywine the trail once again joins with the Sea to Sky Highway. This 33k, Whistler stretch of the Sea to Sky Trail is an incredible trail with beautifully clear signs, excellent mapboards and frequent views and highlights. Along the trail you will see the always impressive Brandywine Falls, the amazing Bungee Bridge over the Cheakamus River, and several great views. The Cheakamus River is a large, loud and dramatic river with several great places to see it. The trail passes by several lakes in and around Whistler including, Daisy Lake, Alpha Lake, Nita Lake, Alta Lake, Lost Lake and Green Lake. Each one has either a nice park or great vantage points...
Why should you hike the Sea to Sky Trail in Whistler?
Whistler's Sea to Sky Trail is easy, convenient, well signed and takes you to countless amazing viewpoints, parks, lakes, and interesting places. It is so wide and well signed that it can be easily navigated in the winter with deep snow with the help of snowshoes or skis. There are several great access points to the Sea to Sky Trail. The Bungee Bridge, Brandywine Falls, Nairn Falls, Parkhurst Ghost Town, Cheakamus Crossing and Cal-Cheak all have entry/exit points.
The Brandywine Falls to the Whistler Bungee Bridge is a beautiful 6 kilometre, roundtrip snowshoeing adventure that takes you to two amazing Whistler area sights. Brandywine Falls, though extremely popular in the summer and fall months, hides behind a massive, snowplow 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. There are plenty of Sea to Sky Trail signs and even a beautiful mapboard in the parking lot. Just across the bridge at the parking lot you will see the first sign for the Sea to Sky Trail. Turn right here and in five minutes you will see the amazing Brandywine Falls from the viewing platform. From the viewing platform you have to return from where you came and turn right at the Sea to Sky Trail sign indicating the Cheakamus Bungee Bridge in 2.6km.
The snowshoeing trail is wide and easy to follow. After a few hundred metres you come to your first viewpoint of the valley and distant mountains. The trail ascends fairly quickly and then opens up to some more views before reaching the amazing Bungee Bridge high above Cheakamus River.
Why should you snowshoe to the Bungee Bridge?
The Bungee Bridge and Sea to Sky Trail is an amazing recent addition to the massive Whistler snowshoeing and hiking trail network. The trail is wide, scenic and takes you to two amazing viewpoints. The Brandywine Falls viewpoint is near the start of this trail and the Bungee Bridge is 3k from the trailhead making this an enjoyable distance to snowshoe. Most make the roundtrip journey in two hours.