Sproatt Mountain is one of the imposing peaks in Whistler. It towers far above Alta Lake, directly across from Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Though a hive of snowmobile and ski/riding activity in the winter and spring, Sproatt is rarely hiked in the summer. This is due to there being no well known trails leading to it. There are however, about four ways to hike to Sproatt Mountain and unfortunately none are very easy.
Possibly the most convenient route from Whistler is by hiking up along Sproatt Creek from the Flank Trail. This is an entirely unmarked, bushwhacking route, difficult and steep, though somewhat easy to follow. It is so steep at times and thick with trees that it is not very enjoyable, unless you are hoping for a challenge. And Sproatt from the Flank Trail is definitely a challenge.
To reach the Flank Trail an excellent place to start this hike is at the trailhead to Beaver Pass near Alta Lake in the neighbourhood of Stonebridge. Beaver pass is a well known and well marked bike trail in the area and connects to another bike route called Cheap Thrills which connects to the Flank Trail which leads to Sproatt Creek. It all sounds confusing, but the route is actually fairly easy to find. Beaver Pass is a cute trail with a monument-like sign at its entrance, Cheap Thrills is a steep and varied trail with amazing views and a great array of biking bridges and ramps along the route.
The Flank Trail is very scenic with tremendous views down and across the valley to Whistler. Then of course when you reach Sproatt Creek, the real challenge begins. The route is obviously very overgrown and at times very steep. You simply follow Sproatt Creek on its right side, keeping within 300 metres or so until you reach the alpine, at which point you can see where you are going.
At 1400 metres you will come to an amazingly lush, green valley. Unfortunately the foliage is chest deep at this point, but bear with it and bear left and you will pass through it in about 15 minutes and hit the alpine at 1600 metres. From this point you will see Sproatt directly to your right, though still at some distance.
Panorama Ridge is certainly one of the most amazing hikes in Garibaldi Park. The 15k trail (one way) takes you past the amazing Barrier viewpoint, the spectacularly surreal Garibaldi Lake, through the flowers of Taylor Meadows and finally the jaw dropping, Panorama Ridge itself.
The hike is not terribly difficult, though it is very long. To do Panorama Ridge in one day will take you 8-12 hours to cover the 30k, amazing roundtrip journey. If you try it in one day, start early. Not so much as to manage it in daylight, though that's a consideration. But to leave enough time to take in the constant array of amazing views. Much of the trail runs through the valley that begins at Taylor Meadows. If you are hiking in August or September you will get alternating mountain valleys of colour. Different colour flowers paint different valleys. So you will be amazed at the white flower valleys, then the blue, then yellow.. The colours are amazing among the bright, green valleys of Garibaldi Park.
The trail from Taylor Meadows takes you past the intensely beautiful, Black Tusk. The name fitting as the black of it contrasts with the snow near its base. To your left you will slowly pass Black Tusk, to your right Panorama Ridge will come into view. Hiking to the left of the valley in fields of flowers until you finally reach the trail sign, pointing you to your right, down around Black Tusk Lake. You still have 3k to go, but heading down into the valley around the lake changes the scenery from flowers and valleys, to glacier lakes and the snow packed Panorama Ridge.
Even in the intense heat of late summer, you will still find yourself hiking, and at times crawling up the hard packed, snowy final ascent to Panorama Ridge. Your great idea to hike Black Tusk as well, later in the day, long forgotten now. When you finally reach Panorama Ridge, the views are sensational. And you quickly see that the ridge runs for about 1.5k, then drops to an enormous meadow all the way down to Garibaldi Lake.
Kennedy Lake, the largest lake on Vancouver Island is enormous and surrounded by a fantastic tangle of rainforest. One positive legacy of the forestry that existed here is the spider web of logging roads and bridges that allow for access to the otherwise inaccessible parts of this wonderful lake. There are several access points to the lake, but 13k from the highway, at the enormous and disintegrating Kennedy Lake bridge is the most beautiful. A great way to escape the crowds in Tofino and Ucluelet over 45 minutes away.
At this dead end in the logging road (as the bridge is barricaded by boulders as it's unsafe to drive on), there is a fantastic array of outdoor recreation possibilities. First off the Kennedy Lake bridge is the gateway to the amazing Clayoquot Arm Provincial Park. You can launch your boats here, park and/or camp to begin your paddling journey into this 12k paddling route into the wilderness of Clayoquot Sound.
Another canoeing/kayaking option is Kennedy Lake. Leaving from the same boat launch area at the Kennedy Lake bridge you can paddle in the opposite direction to Clayoquot Arm. That is paddling into the massive Kennedy Lake. Within five minutes you are in a serene wilderness setting with frequent small, sandy pocket beaches very suitable for a tent and campfire. Though the shore looks impenetrably thick with greenery most of the time, in fact there are gaps everywhere and natural clearings all along the shore that you can hike through for hours. Plenty of driftwood from this massive lake litter the shoreline everywhere you go as well making an interesting hike.
Another great reason why this area is amazing is the wonderful, sandy beach that stretches for quite a distance. The sandy beach next to the Kennedy Lake bridge is called Redneck Beach. That name derived from the often large gatherings that take place at this convenient, yet far from civilization beach. You can actually drive along the beach to where you want to camp despite the sand. There is room for over a dozen vehicles before this large campsite starts to look busy, it's that big.
This is an unmaintained, backcountry camping area and therefore free to use, but also has to facilities other than a couple pit toilets. Excellent fresh drinking water exists in Kennedy Lake.
Further along this beach through a large tree forest brings you to Rainbow Beach. There is a large and well designed boardwalk that winds through the old growth forest here that makes Cathedral Grove look trifling by comparison. The proper access to Rainbow Beach is not really from walking along the beach from Redneck Beach, but from its own trailhead. About 500 metres back from the Kennedy Lake bridge you will have passed a clearing on your left with an outhouse. If you park here and look in the opposite direction to the outhouse you will see a small trail and beautiful boardwalk. This boardwalk follows an impressive circle route through the forest and links up with Rainbow Beach.
Rainbow Beach is a sharp contrast to Redneck Beach in that it is a series of smaller beaches separated by lots of trees and rock outcroppings. Instead of pushing people together as does Redneck Beach, Rainbow Beach has several separate camping areas stretching out over several hundred metres. Very beautiful beaches and the positive and negative aspect of not having vehicle access.
You have to hike the 600 metres. About the only drawback to this beautiful beach is the lack of firewood. Redneck Beach has driftwood everywhere but the more sheltered Rainbow Beach does not. So if you want a fire keep that in mind and try to bring some with you.
To find Rainbow beach just look for an unmarked opening in the trees opposite the small parking area that is about 500 metres before the decaying Kennedy Lake bridge. The boardwalk begins just a few metres from the road.
This is another unmaintained backcountry camping area with not facilities other than the pit toilet near the small parking area. Drinking water can be obtained from Kennedy Lake.
At 53 metres, Virgin Falls is quite an impressive sight. You walk through the short, two minute forest trail to reach it and it fills your view. It is located in a beautiful oasis it has created. A large, ice cold and crystal clear pool with pebble rocks and waterfall battered logs that flows out in a large, meandering stream through the trees. The whole area is surrounded by huge trees and you feel a strange sense of comfort, like you are in protected place. And when you roll out your sleeping bag in the spectacular setting, you will never want to leave.
The small, but very inviting camping area is amazing. Huge trees to your back, phenomenal waterfall to your front. Room for two tents near the cozy and clean fire pit. Endless firewood litters the edge of the waterfalls pool beautifully. Though the loud waterfall makes conversation a bit tough. The wonderful area where the fire is is somewhat sheltered by a couple large trees deflecting some sound and making the camping area all the better.
The Virgin Falls Road is pretty bad, though very beautiful. It is hardly maintained, though still used logging road that hugs the coast much of its 31k length from the Kennedy River bridge turnoff. The potholes are numerous, though expected. What isn't expected is the narrow, overgrown sections.
If you value your vehicles paint, you will find yourself gritting your teeth quite a bit. But then if you have a 4x4, you should likely be used to that and be fine barrelling through these narrow sections. If you are planning on driving up without a 4x4 you should be able to make it, though there are a couple of steep sections that you may have to make a couple runs at to get up.
The hilariously adorable little cabin near Virgin Falls that can be used by anyone and sits at the end of a short side road definitely requires a good 4x4 to reach. But as it is only about 400 metres from the Virgin Falls road, you can park and walk to it if needed. There are two excellent pullout/turn around points on this short road as well in case you chicken out and want to turn around part way in.
The little Virgin Falls cabin is quite amazing for such a remote place. First off, the setting is fantastic. It is located overlooking the beautiful Tofino Creek, and there is a wonderful campfire spot complete with log seats, just steps from the cabin. The cabin itself is equipped with a wood stove and bunk beds. You could easily have 8 people stay and sleep fairly comfortably as there are six bunks and floor room. There are several empty and partly empty booze bottles lining the shelves as well as quite a few odd curiosities in the little cabin. If you are brave enough to drive right to the cabin there is room for several vehicles to park and not obstruct anyone's exit.
The Virgin Falls cabin even has pots and pans for use with the stove and working lanterns and some fantastically kind people have generously equipped it with lots of cut firewood. There is a funny sign on the door declaring that the cabin is for everyone and despite its shabby appearance you get the impression that this cabin on Tofino Creek near Virgin Falls has been well used and well loved for decades.
Though you have to travel a network of logging roads to reach Virgin Falls it is surprisingly easy to find them. The start of the Virgin Falls Road is immediately after the famous Kennedy River bridge. The focal point of the hugely publicized logging protests in 1993 where hundreds were arrested for blockading logging vehicles. The Kennedy River bridge is worth a look. It spans the Kennedy River above the original and now crumbling, wooden bridge. The current one is a massive, solid steel bridge above the old one. You can still see some where protesters attempted to burn the bridge down. Several wooden pilings are severely burned under the bridge.
This bridge is also the gateway to Kennedy River Bog Provincial Park. There are no trails so access is via boat underneath the Kennedy River bridge. Visitors to this park generally park at the Kennedy Lake bridge just a couple kilometres past this bridge where there is an extensive camping area on the nice, sandy beach. Unfortunately that bridge is falling apart and therefore barricaded. So, at least on wheels, that is, it is the end of the road.
To get to the Kennedy River bridge from the highway is easy. From the T junction where you either go to Tofino or Ucluelet or Port Albernie, drive for a couple kilometres in the direction of Port Albernie. Keep your eyes out on your left for the very visible, West Main logging road. Follow it for about 11k until you cross the large Kennedy River bridge. About 50 metres past it you will see the road branch off to the left unmarked but called the Deer Bay Rd on Google maps, but locally known as the Virgin Falls road. (see Google Map below for this turnoff).
Set your odometer to zero and follow this road (bearing left at the Y junction a few minutes in) for 31k. At 31k you will see Virgin Falls from the road, and about 100 metres after seeing it on your left you will spot the very visible trailhead on your left and a slight widening of the road to possibly accomodate two or three vehicles. The trail to the falls is less than a minute long. The very visible but overgrown road you passed at around 28k on your left is the short road to the little cabin on the river.
This is yet another unmaintained and evidently free backcountry camping option. The water is safe for drinking but there are no pit toilets for several dozen kilometres.
Radar Beach is a beautiful set of three beaches at the end of a difficult hike from the Radar Hill parking lot. Because they are difficult to get to and not on the main tourism maps, they are rarely visited. Though the trail is just over one kilometre long, it will likely take you almost an hour to hike due to its steep and winding course. It is well worn and easy to follow, though after dark it would be almost impossible to follow without lights.
Once you reach the sand you come to a massive, beautiful beach arching in both directions to rocky outcrops. To the left you will find two smaller beaches and steep headlands. Depending on the tide you may be unable to get past the headlands blocking the further beaches. But if you don't mind some scrambling over steep terrain and thick foliage you will find some breathtaking and even more secluded pocket beaches to put up your prohibited tent for an unforgettable night in paradise.
If you plan on staying past dusk, remember not to bring your car as the gates shut after dark. Hitchhike or take a short taxi ride from Tofino. The unmarked trailhead is very easy to find. Turn off of the highway at the Sign for Radar Hill and follow the road straight to the end (do not turn right into the parking lot closest to the Radar Hill Lookout trail). At the parking area, you will see a washroom a few dozen metres to your right, but looking instead to your left you will see a trail disappear into the trees. Follow this and after 15 metres you will see the sign saying that it is a dangerous, unmaintained trail and camping is prohibited. The hike to the beach takes 30 minutes to an hour depending on your speed. You can avoid the muddy sections with some agility, so no hiking shoes necessary. Try to avoid hiking this trail after dark if you can.
Lone Cone is the wonderful cone shaped mountain that dominates the skyline in Tofino. It is just 6k from Tofino on the north-western end of Meares Island. Lone Cone is an incredible hike to do while in Tofino. There are several attributes that make it fantastic. First, its location. Very close to Tofino. Just a short and very scenic boat taxi takes you to the trialhead.
In the 15 minute, fast taxi, you will see a quick look at the spectacular scenery that has made Tofino famous. Small and large islands crammed almost solid with beautifully huge trees. Sandy beaches that make you think more that you are in Hawaii than in Canada. Abrupt, rocky outcrops with chaotic, swirling, clear and green water that the boat taxi/tour guide continuously points to unexpectedly beautiful creatures lurking in. Then you look up in the trees and spot a resident eagle staring menacingly down from a tree branch next to its nest full of offspring. And that's just the first five minutes from the pier.
15 minutes from the pier you arrive at the grungy, though at the same time, beautiful pier at the now abandoned Kakawis. There are still a few dozen houses that line the gravel road you will see as you make your way to the trailhead. A resident caretaker still has a boat at the dock, though you will probably not encounter him. You may read in current Tofino guidebooks that you must call ahead to gain permission to cross this private land to access the trailhead is well out of date and obsolete. If you encounter an emergency on the Lone Cone hike there is excellent cell phone reception from almost anywhere on the trail except a few spotty areas. In an absolute emergency the caretaker may assist you, if you can locate him in the Kakawis village.
From the pier you follow the gravel road which seems to take you further from Lone Cone. About five minutes down this road you will see the houses of Kakawis on your right, and keeping on the gravel road you will soon see the large "Lone Cone" sign pointing you left to the very well marked trail into the deep forest and muddy first section of the trail.
Though there has been a fair amount of mud avoiding constructions you still might get a bit muddy here. Though you can hop from one tree root to another fairly effectively, a couple slips and stumbles may get you wet and dirty.
1.2k into the hike (from the pier), you finally begin ascending. Slowly at first then at 1.8k steeper and steeper. From this point until the end of the trail the hike averages about 45 degrees! Lone Cone is, near and at the top, quite massive. And though the marked trail ends and the amazing views the exploring has just begun. You could wander for hours through the forest at the top, however, the viewpoints on the marked trail are hard to beat.
At the main viewpoint the is a small and evidently well used place for a fire right at the edge of the cliff. This area also, if you were inclined, have room for a tent or two, though you read at the trailhead that camping is prohibited. There are several suitable places to put your tent if you are keen further into the bush past this viewpoint.
There are obviously no facilities or charge for the Lone Cone hike, except for the cost of the water taxi to and from the hike ($40-$55 return).