January Hiking & Snowshoeing in Whistler
With the massive variety of available snowshoeing trails in and around Whistler, there is a great range of and brutal trails to try. Just north of Whistler Village there is the Rainbow Trail to . It's easy, short and beautiful. The Blueberry Trail, another easy and relatively short snowshoeing trail, takes you high above Alta Lake for fantastic views. Train Wreck is another great snowshoeing trail, though a bit longer. About 4k roundtrip. 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!
Nairn Falls, located just 20 minutes north of Whistler Village is a nice, relaxing hiking/snowshoeing trail to a nicely constructed viewing area in the midst of Nairn Falls. The popular trail is actually hike-able year-round, so you most likely will not need your snowshoes unless there has been lots of snow just before you go. The nice trail runs along Green River for 1.2k. The trail is well marked and doesn't gain any significant elevation, making it a very easy, kid friendly trail. The viewing area is located within a bend in the falls/river and the churning waters rushes around where you stand, far below. The water crashes through deep cuts in the rock and rushes into deep, green pools. There is a wonderful sign depicting how the area was formed over thousands of years. A short side trail from the main viewing area takes you over to an abrupt edge, where you can look down on the Green River below. Railings have been constructed as a precaution to prevent people falling off the cliffs. Nairn Falls is one of several amazing waterfalls in the Whistler area that can be seen year-round. Other waterfalls in the area include, Rainbow Falls near Whistler Village, Alexander Falls and Brandywine Falls, both about 30-40 minutes south of Whistler.
Rainbow Lake is a tough and beautiful snowshoeing trail 8k, high up in the mountains across the valley from Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The trail is generally well marked and easy to follow, however some sections are tricky to follow as the heavy snow bends the bushes down obscuring the trail. The trail is a constant, fairly steep ascent and you may notice ski tracks along the route. A somewhat popular skiing attraction in Whistler is to get heli-dropped on Rainbow Mountain and skiing back to Whistler. Rainbow Falls is a nice detour near the beginning of the Rainbow Lake trail. When you come to the small water purification building you will see a distinct fork in the trail and a sign directing you to Rainbow Lake turn left. If you go right however, in just a few hundred metres you will come to the beautiful Rainbow Falls as well as a nice picturesque bridge over the river. You of course have to backtrack to get back to the Rainbow Lake trail. Though Rainbow Lake is only 8k from the trailhead, on snowshoes it will likely take nearly four hours to get there. You can snowshoe around up there for quite a while so you have to be careful with the time as in the winter the sun goes down before 5pm. The Rainbow Mountain trailhead is easy and close to Whistler Village. You just need to drive to Alta Lake Road on the far side of Alta Lake, just a 15 minute drive away. There is a big sign for the Rainbow Lake trailhead on your right if coming from the neighbourhood of Alpine. The trailhead is about 200-300 metres from the Rainbow Park parking lot.
If you would rather get out hiking on foot rather than snowshoes then you have to drive south 45 minutes to Squamish. The cluster of three breathtaking trails in the kand Shannon Falls Provincial Park are amazing, and astonishingly hike friendly year-round. (with the exception of very snowy weeks in the winter). The Upper Shannon Falls trail is a great trail to try in January and snowshoes are very rarely needed. Though a continuously steep trail, you gain 450 metres in 3.5k, it is so sheltered in deep forest as to remain possible to hike even in January. Shannon Falls (the lower falls) are spectacular and just a short walk from the parking lot/trailhead of Shannon Falls Provincial Park. The very famous and popular Stawamus Chief trail leads to that massive mountain of rock that towers over Squamish and is a rock climbing paradise as well as a beautiful hiking destination.
Another 45 minutes down the highway from Squamish towards Vancouver leads you to an amazing year-round hiking trail through an amazingly huge coastal forest to some breathtaking views of Vancouver. This is the magnificent Lighthouse Park. This gorgeous park is a convenient and easy pit stop on the way to or from Vancouver and Whistler. Take a look at the Best Sights Between Vancouver and Whistler for more great sights not to miss on the beautiful Sea to Sky Highway between Whistler and Vancouver. For something out-of-the-ordinary to do in January, taking a beautiful two hour drive north of Whistler to Skookumchuck Hot Springs is an amazing adventure. These rustic hot springs are located on the beautifully crashing Lillooet River at the far end of the beautiful Lillooet Lake. It is easily manageable to do as a wonderful day trip from Whistler, or if you have a tent or camper as an overnight trip at the nice, adjoining campsite.
Rainbow Falls Snowshoe Trail
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 is only one small, easy to miss sign to Rainbow Falls, but finding the falls is easy.
To find Rainbow Falls, begin at the trailhead parking for "Rainbow Trail" on Alta Lake Road. Follow the trail as it winds along the river. If you come to obvious forks in the trail, choose the right fork. In 0.8 kilometres from the trailhead parking you will arrive at Rainbow Falls.
The trail to Rainbow Falls is fairly popular in the winter so the snow is usually well packed down so you often don't need snowshoes. The route to the falls is never in a straight line. Zig-zagging left and right, up and down, some parts are steep, but at just 0.8 kilometres, the shortness of the trail makes it suitable for kids.
The topography and sheer volume of snow make this a very fun trail to snowshoe for everyone. Expect to take less than an hour, car to car, but much longer if you stop for a picnic or to play in the snow.
After Rainbow Falls, you can backtrack a few dozen metres and then head off to the right and uphill towards the Rainbow Lake trail. In just a couple minutes you will see the water treatment building and a nice mapboard.
If you take the wide path/service road on the immediate right of the building you will see, (in just a couple dozen metres) the cute, snow covered bridge over the river. This is a beautiful little area, and in the winter, very deep in snow. You can continue past this bridge, however, the bridge marks the end of the best sights to see.
Back on the main, Rainbow Trail, you will notice signs for the Flank Trail. In this section, the Rainbow Trail and the Flank Trail overlap for about 400 hundred metres. If you follow this overlapping trail as it bends around the water treatment building, quickly ascending in the direction of Rainbow Lake, you will come to the Flank Trail junction.
The Flank Trail quickly ascends through deep forest and after about 15 minutes opens up and begins to gradually flatten out. The views become beautiful and trail less tiring. Whistler, Blackcomb and Wedge mountains all come dramatically into view and Alta Lake appears far below. Just steps from the trail take you to pristine, snowy outcrops, perfect for taking in the view on a sunny day.. and with most of the Flank Trail south facing, sun will always be facing you over Whistler.
The Flank Trail is way more than a days hike on foot or snowshoes. It is best tackled in pieces. The great advantage of accessing it from the Rainbow Trail is that you are roughly in the middle of the trail. On snowshoes, it is especially good. The Rainbow Trail is steep here, but very scenic and even small kids won't complain. Every bend in the trail reveals another great view. Dramatic views of the crashing creek, beautiful snow weighed down trees, wilderness waterfall and a wonderful, snowy bridge crossing, all in the first 15 minutes on the trail. Fantastic.