December Snowshoeing Guide Whistler's Best Trails
Whistler in December has some amazing easy, moderately difficult, and challenging snowshoeing trails. Most are convenient, easy to access, and all of them are free. 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.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. 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 relatively unknown, though amazing trail that ascends up to a marvellous cliff viewpoint, high above Alta Lake. Geographically, the Blueberry 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, the easy and short Blueberry Trail is a great, fun, short workout to a beautiful vantage point. Dogs are allowed here as well. 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. 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. 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 mountain slopes, so people usually put their tents directly on the frozen lake. Extraordinary!
Blueberry Trail at Alta Lake December Snowshoeing
The Blueberry Trail is a relatively unknown, though amazing trail that ascends quickly up to a cliff viewpoint, high above Alta Lake. Geographically, the Blueberry Trail is across the lake from 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. See below(the 2nd map shows a 6 kilometre walking, running or biking route from Whistler Village. If it has not snowed heavily in the last couple days, you will likely not need snowshoes for the Blueberry Trail as the snow will have been packed down by others.
Blueberry Trail 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.
Blueberry Park is a very scenic park on Alta Lake that most Whistler locals don't even know about. If you have been to Rainbow Park you would have noticed three piers across Alta Lake surrounded by forest. These public piers sit at the edge of Blueberry Park, with the Blueberry Trail running from one side of the forest to the other. The park covers most of the hill beyond these piers and stretches between and connects the neighbourhoods of Whistler Cay and Alta Vista(see map below). The beautiful, deep forest trail runs from the shores of Alta Lake in Alta Vista, up and across Blueberry Hill and descends again to reach Whistler Cay. Along the trail there are several beautiful viewpoints of Alta Lake in the foreground and the enormous Mount Sproatt beyond.
Blueberry Park was upgraded in 2013, which previously had been just a simple dirt trail through the forest and a faint trail to the piers. A new pier, gravel trail section, trail widening and new trail signs have been added. For most of the trail, however, it is steep, rocky, wild and natural looking. The forest is deep and dark. Massive tree roots criss-cross the trail and fallen trees and boulders are strewn everywhere. It has a wonderful remote and natural feeling to the forest that make you forget that you are so close to civilization.
Blueberry Park can be reached from both ends of Blueberry Trail. The Whistler Cay end of the trail is a bit tricky to find although it is being improved. There is a Blueberry Trail sign at the trailhead but it is not visible from the end of Crabapple Drive. To find it run all the way to the dead end of Crabapple Drive and you will see an unmarked trail. About 10 metres in you will see the Blueberry Trail sign on your right.
If you are parking at one of the Blueberry Park trailheads always be careful where you park in Whistler in residential areas, especially in the winter months. Look for no parking signs. Often you will see one side of a residential street with no parking signs. This is to allow for snow clearing and you may get towed if you block snowplows. The dead end of Crabapple Drive is currently safe to park, however, take a look before you park in case this has changed.
Blueberry Park is best reached by the Alta Vista side at the end of St Anton Way. As noted above keep an eye out for no parking signs, but at the moment parking is OK at the end of St Anton Way at the trailhead. This side of Blueberry Park is home to the three piers on Alta Lake making it the more scenic way to start the trail.
The Blueberry Park trailhead sign is easy to spot from St Anton Way and the nice, new gravel trail leads to to the three piers just a few dozen metres in. These piers are a great way to escape the crowds that you find in other Whistler parks such as Lost Lake Park, Alpha Lake Park, Wayside Park, Lakeside Park, and Rainbow Park. Rainbow Park is directly across Alta Lake from the piers at Blueberry Park. Where these other parks are beautiful with their grassy fields, beaches, kids play-parks and other amenities, none of them match Blueberry Park's wonderful, wilderness feel.
From the piers you have to backtrack a bit and take the right fork on the trail that you pass just after entering the forest from St Anton Way. This narrow, rocky, winding and steep, uphill trail takes you into the deep forest of Blueberry Hill. From one end to the other, the Blueberry Trail is just 1.4 kilometres long and fairly steep at both ends. You wouldn't want to push a baby stroller up the narrow and rocky path, but you could easily do so along the nice, smooth gravel trail to the three piers at the start of the trail. The trail ascends quickly and arrives at a beautiful viewpoint, high above the lake. Mt Sproatt dominates the view with Alta Lake far below. Out to the right you can see the always snowy Rainbow Mountain.
The trail continues through the forest and several more beautiful viewpoints just off the trail to your left. Finally the trail descends and ends at Crabapple Drive. If you are doing a circle route from Whistler Village you just have to follow Crabapple Dr for almost 1 kilometre and you will cross the Valley Trail just before Lorimer Rd.
Walking Map from Whistler Village, printer, smartphone & tablet friendly
Printer, smartphone and tablet friendly. Designed to fit standard printers and copiers. To print: Right click on the map below, save image as, save to desktop, then open the image and print on standard size printer paper. Cell coverage is reliable everywhere in Whistler so you will be able to access the internet if you have a data plan, however saving this map to your smartphone or tablet may be a good idea as Blueberry Park can be tricky to find as you have to find it at the end of St Anton Way.
"Start" indicated on the map is located in Whistler Village at the pedestrian and car underpass off of Whistler Way. If you walk between Buffalo Bills and the Conference Centre you will come to Whistler Way and see this underpass under the Sea to Sky Highway. This is where the Valley Trail in Whistler exits the Village heading south. Walking/biking/running under the underpass you will come to the Whistler Golf Course parking lot and clubhouse with the Valley Trail branching both left and right. On the map below this is where the walking route, shown in red starts and finishes. Here you will find a nice mapboard showing the Valley Trail and the Sea to Sky Trail(both trails follow the same route in this section of Whistler). The Valley Trail is wide, with two lanes divided by a yellow line and with frequent directional signs, so once you are on it it is easy to follow and it is reliably snow plowed in the winter.
The Wedgemount Lake Trail December Snowshoeing
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, sometimes as late as mid July. 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 3.5 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 1.5k below the usual trailhead parking as it is inaccessible due to snow December to May.
One of the defining features of Garibaldi Park, and Wedgemount Lake in particular, is the staggering number of branching hikes from the main destination of the lake itself. For many, Wedgemount Lake and the "Wedge" Hut is the base for hikes to Wedge Mountain, Mount Cook, Mount Weart, Mount Moe, Mount James Turner and Mount Currie in Pemberton, crossing glaciers such as Wedgemount Glacier, Weart Glacier, Armchair Glacier, Mystery Glacier and the Needles and Chaos Glacier to name a few. Dozens of unforgettable peaks can be reached from this quiet little hut overlooking this perfect, turquoise lake. In short, if you were to design a paradise in the mountains, Wedgemount Lake would be the standard to which all others would pale.
The sheltered valley, beautiful turquoise lake, wonderfully huge glacier across the valley and brutally jagged mountains all around all contribute to making Wedgemount Lake something special. It's challenging and exhausting to hike to and an absolute paradise to relax in. Down by the lakeside you can actually find two recliner chairs, built out of the rocks by the lake. Such a perfect way to enjoy the sun rising over the not-so-distant glacier across the lake.
The hut at Wedgemount Lake is a wonderful thing. Built by the BC Mountaineering Club in 1970, and since donated to Garibaldi Park, it is free to use by anyone. It's cozy with two large tables and a loft. Often, during busy times you will find the tables used as beds, a couple on the floor and four people up in the loft. The
Wedge Mountain Hut is positioned in a spectacular part of the world. High up overlooking Wedgemount Lake. In the massive shadow of Wedge Mountain, the highest mountain in the entire Garibaldi Range. It's a cozy and compact little house in the middle of the carnage of massive rocks, erratics left over the centuries by glaciers and rock slides. Back in the late 60's the British Columbia Mountaineering Club went forward with building five huts in the Coast Mountains of BC. Two of the five were built in Garibaldi Park, they were The Russet Lake Hut in 1968 and the Wedgemount Lake Hut in 1970. Because structures like these cannot be owned as they are in BC Parks, they are open for use by anyone. There are two large wooden tables along the left and right walls and a little window across from the door. On entering you notice a ladder going straight up to the loft. Everything is bare, weathered wood, but tidy and secure. It's simply a nice, solid, secure little house in a hostile wasteland of beauty. As you walk in you notice right away a feeling of warmth hits you. The Wedge Hut is as wonderful thing.
Parkhurst Ghost Town December Snowshoe Trails
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 an access trail fee. 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 from the Highway. If you have a 4x4 vehicle and are confident in driving in snow you may be able to park at the Whistler Paintball parking area about 1k further along. This will save you walking along the somewhat boring first part of the route.
If you you don't have a 4x4 and park near the highway turnoff the route is easy to follow. At the first Sea to Sky Trail sign under the Wedgemount sign, follow the snowy road to the right. This road runs parallel to the train tracks, Green River and Highway which will be to your right. After 1 kilometre you will come to the Whistler Paintball parking area, bear right and continue along the snow buried road. After a couple hundred metres you will see the Sea to Sky Trail branch off of the road to your left past a yellow gate. This route is fairly difficult and at times hard to follow as the deep snow obscures the trail. The better, easier and shorter route is to continue straight (don't go left at the Sea to Sky Trail sign and don't cross the yellow gate). You will now be walking along the wide, snow buried logging road that runs parallel to the Green River and after a few minutes you will cross the Green River and have the train tracks to your right. This is when the trail finally becomes very scenic as you will be snowshoeing through a huge meadow with some nice views. Keep walking with the train tracks on your right and in a few minutes the meadow will narrow and keep your eyes out for the "Green Lake Loop/Parkhurst" trail sign. This trail is very easy to follow as there are frequent yellow trail ribbons in the trees. This trail takes you into the deep forest and gently ascends up to Parkhurst. Once at Parkhurst the yellow ribbons stop and you will run into various ghost town sights spread over about a 4 kilometre square area.
It is possible to connect to the Sea to Sky Trail from Parkhurst and continue snowshoeing to Whistler. It can be tricky to find however as the summer trails are unmarked and hard to follow when buried in snow. You can however, quite easily walk in the direction of the Sea to Sky Trail and when you reach the power lines and the clear cut forest underneath, look for the wide path that connects to the Sea to Sky Trail. The blue dotted trail on the map above is one of many possible unmarked routes in the snow you can take.
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.
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.
As you sit back in one of the several ramshackle tubs that fill from the , below you a mystifying process takes place. For every kilometre below you, the temperature rises an astonishing 30c. And under you there are a bewildering array of water channels snaking through this massively heated ground. Fissures and cracks in the rock below you. These pockets and channels of water are extremely hot, and if the geological circumstances are just right, as they are at Skookumchuck, they will be forced to the surface to become a surreal, natural phenomenon. A hot spring.
In British Columbia, hot springs appear quite predictably along fissures amongst the mountain ranges. Skookumchuck is of course in one of these fissures. An astonishing one at that.
Take a look at a map of BC. The Lillooet River cuts a remarkable swath through BC. It runs from Whistler, north, then east, then south, eventually ending in Vancouver. You could, as many have done, canoe from Whistler to Vancouver. And all the while follow the current. It’s quite incredible.
The Coast Mountain Range, in which engulfs you in Skookumchuck, is of course very geologically active. Geologically recent that is. Some mountains are old, some young. These ones are young. The Pacific Ring of Fire, which runs from New Zealand, through Indonesia, up along Asia through Japan, and across to Alaska, then down the coast of North America, through the notorious California, ending at the southern tip of South America. Where this Pacific Ring of Fire is, frightening geological activity is. And the Coast Mountain Range lies within this. It produces a ring of volcanoes that created, and creates some of BC highest mountains. The Coast Mountain Range is magnificent. And under it all, rumblings continue, both producing these wonderful hot springs and spectacular events such as the Meager Creek slide in 2010, which effectively closed the reigning, premier hot springs title of best hot springs near Whistler, now held by Skookumchuck.
In short, if you gouge deep into the Ring of Fire as the Lillooet River does, you create, really facilitate, an artesian to reach the surface. An artesian is simply where pressure far below pushes water up to the surface. Hot water. And this is the wonderful source of Skookumchuck Hot Springs. Really quite incredible. The Pacific Ring of Fire, which recently burst forth near Japan and Christchurch, New Zealand, found a shallow spot, a crack in the earth, in which to push hot water to the surface. More incredible still, this impossibly remote place in Canada was found thousands of years ago, and certainly cherished. Of course it was. Hot water flowing out of the ground. Wow.
The people that likely came across these springs first, are known today as the I. This is remarkable for several reasons. Let’s trade places for a few minutes. You sink back into this wonderful water of the Skookumchuck Hot Springs, and I’ll tell you a story.
These springs were taken into ownership in 1859 by a wealthy businessman from nowhere near here, William E. Stein after he applied for a pre-emption. This is a wonderfully spectacular phenomenon of mankind’s history. He saw it, wanted it, applied, and then owned it, legally. Take a moment to get your head around that. And after you shake your head it confusion, think of what the In-SHUCK-ch people thought of that. Anyone in fact. There was a time in our history where you could look at the ground, say, “ I want that”. Apply for it, and get it. A piece of the world, the ground, the trees, the hot springs. It’s yours. More accurately, William E. Stein’s. He owns the ground? The hot springs. It’s hard to fathom now, but imagine explaining it to an In-SHUCK-ch person back then.
This is obviously ridiculous. But common sense has somehow won in the end. Kind of. These hot springs should obviously be owned by no person or people. Of course common sense doesn’t prevail, even in the face of such obvious facts. Certainly this ownership by William E. Stein is ridiculous, but oddly it still holds. In fact it was still “owned” by his heirs, then sold on to other “owners” until 2007 when it was purchased by the Canadian Government. Finally, freed, though at quite an expense, to ownership by no one. But of course that’s not true. The childish, “me first” ownership mentality will eventually win out in the end. The Government of Canada bought Skookumchuck as a “Treaty Related Measure” for the In-SHUCK-ch treaty negotiations.
Though it’s true, at least in recorded history that people now known as the In-SHUCK-ch saw it first. It’s also, more so, a fact that the world of the In-SHUCK-ch people that first came across these wonderful hot springs, didn’t have a concept of ownership of the ground. You couldn’t own the ground, a tree, a river, a hot spring, any more than you could own the ocean. The ancestors of these people surely have been plunged into a world of petty land ownership quarrels, and they surely will enter into it with the same pettiness and fundamental absurdity as William E. Stein did. You almost can’t blame them.
But for my part, they are beautiful. The hot springs that is, next to the Lillooet River, that no one seems to own. Water bodies have escaped this absurd human creation of drawing lines on a map and claiming ownership. How do they own it? By having enough other people agree that they do. Does someone own Lillooet Lake? Someone must have spotted it first. Why not? Because enough of us agreed that water cannot be owned. We don’t collectively think this through to the ground under us. Not really. We accede to what is established in the past is true. It must be. If someone today said that they own a star that they just “discovered” through a telescope. Despite the ridiculous irrelevance of their statement, we would not even accept a possibility of their claim being true. It’s absurd. “I saw it first, it’s mine.” This ridiculous thinking, though far beneath us, is still with us. Our past, our present. If Bill Gates bought Greenland, as theoretically he may have enough money to do. Wouldn’t I have a say? You wouldn’t? Who did he pay, to “own” it? How did the people that sold it to him own it?
What if, like the original In-CHUCK-ch people, we don’t perceive that the world could be “owned” or any part of it. Then how can it be “owned”?
It can’t. It simply can’t. Because the world lives in a different set of rules now. An evolution of humanity. A person with 500 billion dollars is just a person to me. They can’t “buy” our world. They can’t “own” a part of it. So on principle, in defense of what is right, Skookumchuck cannot be owned, traded, or used as a bargaining tool to placate the descendants of the ones that saw it first. If Bill Gates wanted to buy Skookumchuck for 500 billion dollars. Some privileged people would take the money. But I would say. Sorry. You can’t buy what can’t be sold. If the original claim to ownership is that someone saw it first and talked about it in legend. Then another person saw it and petitioned to own it, was granted ownership. You will certainly agree from a body that didn’t own it. Then it was passed down the generations, sold and then resold to the Canadian government. The fact that any ownership at all is confidently proclaimed is astonishing. Really astonishing.
But there we are.
As I lay back in the wonderful, steamy heat of the Skookumchuck Hot Springs. In the midst of the mighty Coast Mountain Range, part of the unfathomable Pacific Ring of Fire. I stop caring. The place is deserted. I sink into the water. I don’t own this little bit of Skookumchuck right now. Whoever thinks they own it. Whoever will ever own it. Fight over the inevitable, inevitability of having to “own” everything. At this moment I’m here. I don’t own it. I don’t want to. I wouldn’t want to. Somehow I can see that owning this is wrong, immoral, pathetic. The Canadian Government got it partly right. They bought it back from ownership. Now it belongs to us all, or more accurately, no one. I just hope that this moment. Right now. Sinking into the Skookumchuck Hot Springs, surging from part of the Ring of Fire far below, can be had again and again. There is something about this place. Something I can own forever. This moment.
Skookumchuck Hot Springs is one of four accessible hot springs near Whistler, BC. Though it's a bit shabby and institutionalized, it has an unmistakable charm and beauty. It lies within a very beautiful campground, which runs along the crashing Lillooet River deep in the Canadian wilderness, 96.5 kilometres from Whistler Village.