December Snowshoeing Guide Whistler's Best Trails
There are some excellent, easy and short snowshoeing trails close to Whistler Village. 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. 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.
The Blueberry Trail is a well hidden, and amazing trail that ascends up to a marvellous cliff viewpoint, high above Alta Lake.
Though at times steep, the trail is short. The high point of the trail, about midway, is only 1.2k from either trailhead. There is a small clearing at the edge of quite a high cliff that is a great vantage point to the lake.
People skating, cross country skiing or walking appear as little black dots scattered across the frozen lake.
As snowshoeing trails go, the Blueberry Trail is a great, fun, short workout to a beautiful vantage point. Dogs are welcome here as well.
Whistler in December has some amazing, moderately difficult snowshoeing options. Most are convenient, free and easy to access. If you are looking for relaxing, easy to follow trails that lead to interesting viewpoints with amazing scenery then you have a lot of choices close to Whistler Village.
There is the wonderful and scenic snowshoeing trail that runs along Green Lake and leads to Parkhurst. A ghost town that once thrived as a logging town before Whistler was Whistler. This recently built, 8k roundtrip snowshoeing route is only moderately hilly and is part of the new Sea to Sky Trail that runs through Whistler.
The trailhead is less than a 10 minute drive from Whistler Village, near the Wedgemount Lake turnoff from the Sea to Sky Highway.
Cheakamus River leads to a beautiful suspension bridge and the snowshoeing trail is located through the intersection from Function Junction. Cross the Sea to Sky Highway and after about 300 metres you will see Cheakamus Lake Road on your left. In the winter it is not plowed so you will see a clearing at the start of the road with room for several cars to park. From this parking area you walk up the snowy Cheakamus Lake road and you will almost immediately see a road branch off to the right and cross a bridge.
Snowshoe across this bridge and you will find a trail running parallel to the beautiful and wildly crashing, Cheakamus River. The trails are unexpectedly well marked and easy to follow despite being (usually in winter), metres deep in snow. At each junction in the trail you will see either a map board or a direction sign with distances to each place shown. From the trailhead to the Cheakamus River suspension bridge is a beautiful 2 kilometres. Ascending and descending gradual slopes through the deep and snowy forest. At the beautiful suspension bridge you can look down beneath your feet through the metal grating that is the bridge and watch the massively rushing river below you.
Once across the bridge you can snowshoe left and follow the trails on the opposite side of the Cheakamus. There is also the Cheakamus Lake Westside Road here and if you are in a hurry you can take this quicker, parallel to the trails route back to your car. The Cheakamus River trail to the suspension bridge and back is 4k long and should take about two hours to complete.
Across the Sea to Sky Highway and further along the Cheakamus River you will find a beautiful and surreal world of extraordinary paintings and gigantic, mangled wreckage.
Decades ago several train cars derailed and crashed down the hillside just south of what eventually became Whistler. The wreckage was never cleaned up and has been transformed into a fantastic work of art that stretches through the forest for over a kilometre.
The Whistler Train Wreck is easily accessible in the winter and makes for a spectacular 5 kilometre (or less) snowshoeing route in the deep forest that runs along the Cheakamus River.
The Train Wreck itself is just part of the beauty of this great place. The serene, yet chaotic Cheakamus River is wonderfully viewed from various points along the riverside cliffs that skirt its edge.
Further south along the Sea to Sky Highway is the always impressive Brandywine Falls. This huge and crashing waterfall can be viewed from a purpose built viewing platform across the chasm that the falls crash into.
This is just a short snowshoeing trek of only a few hundred metres, but if you continue along the wide and scenic Sea to Sky Trail you will come to the Cheakamus Bungee Bridge.
This incredible bridge crosses 50 metres above the Cheakamus River and is just 2.6 kilometres from the Brandywine Falls viewpoint.
This trail has plenty of clear and visible signs and the trail is wide, meandering and leads to several nice viewpoints between the two incredible sights at both ends of the trail. This trail is just a small section of the massive Sea to Sky Trail that stretches from Squamish south of Whistler to D'Arcy, far north of Whistler.
Whistler of course has its share of amazing, more difficult and strenuous snowshoeing trails. The Diamond Head trailhead in Squamish is a wonderful snowshoeing area. The amazing 11k trail to the Elfin Lakes Hut is fantastic for so many reasons.
First, it is a well defined, easy to follow trail, even after dark that trail and trail markings can be seen with a good light. Second there are two huts on the Elfin Lakes trail. One, the Red Heather Hut is located 5k into the trail and is equipped with a wood burning stove and a ready supply of free wood. The second hut, the Elfin Lakes Hut is located at the end of the trail and is massive.
It can sleep 33, is two levels, solar panels power the lights and there is propane heating. The third reason the Elfin Lakes trail at Diamond Head is amazing is that the views from 5k onward are breathtaking as you snowshoe along the ridge into paradise. Expect to take three or even four hours to reach the Elfin Lakes Hut on snowshoes as snowshoeing is much slower than hiking and the route to Elfin Lakes is consistently uphill and at times exhaustingly steep.
Just 25 minutes south of Whistler is the Rubble Creek trailhead to Garibaldi Park. This is the most popular access route for Garibaldi Lake, Taylor Meadows and Black Tusk. In the winter you will find this trailhead used fairly consistently by skiers and snowshoers, though mainly on weekends. The almost constant use of the trails ensures that the trail to Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake are usually tracked out and therefore easy to follow in deep snow.
These trails are by no means easy in the winter. Snowshoeing is always a workout and considerably more strenuous than hiking. To add to the difficulty, the Rubble Creek trailhead parking is inaccessible by car usually from December to April and you must add another kilometre or two just to reach the trailhead. Often you can park partway up the road depending on snowfall and time of year. Taylor Meadows is extraordinarily beautiful in the winter.
The constantly uphill 7.5k (+2k if parking below the snowed in road to the trailhead), from the trailhead to the campsite is relentless, but manageable. If you are in reasonably good shape you should have no problem snowshoeing to Taylor Meadows with an overnight pack in 3.5 hours. If you plan well and get there in sunshine you will be in a breathtakingly untouched winter wonderland. Black Tusk just across the meadow from the campsite (about 2k away), and beautiful, snowy mountains everywhere you look.
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!
The Rainbow Falls Trail Whistler Snowshoeing
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.
The Blueberry Trail at Alta Lake Whistler Snowshoeing
The Blueberry Trail is a relatively unknown, though amazing trail that ascends up to a marvellous cliff viewpoint, high above Alta Lake. Geographically, the Rainbow Trail is opposite of Rainbow Park and can be accessed by either the neighbourhoods of Whistler Cay (at the end of Crabapple Dr), or at the other end of the trail in Alta Vista (at the end of St Anton Way). Either trailhead is just a five minute drive from Whistler Village.
It gets its name from the hill that rises above it named Blueberry Hill. So well hidden that you won't find either trailhead unless you search for them despite being on all the maps in Whistler. The trailheads do have small trail signs and once you are on the trail it is easy to follow, even in deep snow. Though at times steep, the trail is short.
The high point of the trail, about midway, is only 1.2k from either trailhead. There is a small clearing at the edge of quite a high cliff that is a great vantage point to the lake. People skating, cross country skiing or walking appear as little black dots scattered across the frozen lake. As snowshoeing trails go, this one is a great, fun, short workout to a beautiful vantage point. Dogs are allowed here as well.
Parkhurst Ghost Town Whistler Snowshoeing
Parkhurst can be reached by hiking or 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.
The Cheakamus River Trail Whistler Snowshoeing
Cheakamus River is located just 8k south of Whistler Village just off of the Sea to Sky Highway. This well marked, though beautifully remote feeling snowshoeing trail takes you along both sides of the wildly crashing Cheakamus River. Snow begins to fall in earnest in the Whistler area in November so the best months for snowshoeing the Cheakamus River are from late November to early April.
The best route is to walk/snowshoe from your car for about 100 metres following the road to Cheakamus Lake. At about 100 metres you will see a branching road go to the right and a large, vehicle bridge cross the Cheakamus River. Cross the bridge and you will immediately see a trail on your left running along the river. This trail, with Cheakamus River on your left will descend and ascend through a beautiful forest. Sometimes close to the river, sometimes 100 metres away.
As these trails are popular in the summer for hiking and biking they are well marked with signs. Keep to the signs aiming for the Cheakamus River Suspension Bridge which is 2k from where you parked and should take about an hour to reach.
Once you reach the suspension bridge you can cross it and return to your car from the other side of the river. You will see a trail on the other side of the bridge on your left. You can also snowshoe back via the Cheakamus Lake Westside Road which is just a hundred metres or so from the bridge (after you cross it from the side you just snowshoed). As long as you keep within the bounds of the Cheakamus Lake Road and the Cheakamus River on your way back to your car you can pick your own route as the trails branch in and out in this confined area as it ascends back to your car and starting point.
There are no facilities on the trail however in Cheakamus Crossing just a one minute drive past the trailhead you will see the large Hostel, the HI Whistler which has an amazing coffee shop where you can get a great selection of food and drinks and even a beer or glass of wine.
The Whistler Train Wreck Whistler Snowshoeing
Decades ago a train derailed south of Whistler. The cost to clean up the mess was deemed too high, so seven train cars were left scattered next to the Cheakamus River. As it turns out, time and local effort has transformed this mess into a wonderful work of art, an extraordinary bike park in the summer, and a great place to snowshoe in the winter. The Cheakamus River winds its way, crashing and emerald green along the length of the Whistler Train Wreck, and there are several spectacular river vantage points that shouldn't be missed.
To wind your way in and out of the trails between the Cheakamus River and the train tracks runs for 2.7k, then you have to follow the same route back to your car or walk along the train tracks. So the whole Train Wreck snowshoeing trek should only take about 2 hours, and is mostly flat, so quite leisurely.
In the winter the parking for Train Wreck is buried in snow and inaccessible so you have to park in Function Junction somewhere close to the train tracks. The road adjacent to the Re-Use-It Centre (turn into Function Junction and the Re-Use-It Centre is the first right) is ideal for parking as you can freely park along the side of the road very close to the tracks.
You have to walk along the tracks (south) for about five minutes until you pass under the highway, than continue for a couple hundred metres until you see a gap in the trees on your left. The first two gaps in the trail on your left lead to some amazing views of Cheakamus River and the third, fourth and fifth gaps lead to various areas of the magnificent Whistler Trail Wreck. Be advised that walking along train tracks is potentially dangerous so take care to move as far from the tracks as possible if a train is heard or seen.
The Cheakamus Bungee Bridge Whistler Snowshoeing
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.
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. 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.
Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Park Whistler Snowshoeing
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 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
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 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.
Taylor Meadows in Garibaldi Park Whistler Snowshoeing
, in Garibaldi Park is an amazing place to snowshoe in the winter near 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 , 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 on the way up then across to Garibaldi Lake on the way back, therefore doing a little snowshoe circle route before heading back to your car at Rubble Creek.
Joffre Lakes Snowshoeing Whistler's Challenging Trails
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!