Northair Mine is a surreal little world of colourful murals on abandoned cement foundations, surrounded by an astoundingly tranquil little lake in a secluded forest. Just a short logging road off of the Callaghan Valley Road takes you to this unusual little abandoned mine. You would have driven by the turnoff if you have been to Whistler Olympic Park, which is just a couple kilometres away. Northair Mine gets its name from the Vancouver based mining company the Northair Group. The mine was in production from 1976 and extracted 5 tons of gold before being abandoned in 1982. Northair Mine is tricky to find and even when you near it, the turnoff is not obvious(see the map here for directions). However, once you find it, it is quite a sight. The area that encompasses Northair Mine is huge. About 2 kilometres long, edged by a cliff on one side and a beautiful lake on the other. A nice, smooth gravel road runs through the area, along the edge of the lake toward Whistler Olympic Park. Another gravel road runs through the massive cement foundations of what must have been quite a large building. Beautiful graffiti art covers some of the cement pilings and scattered remnants indicate that this skeleton of a building has been home to its share of gatherings since being abandoned. Another aerial video showing more of the potential tent sites here.
Callaghan Lake Provincial Park has a main campsite area next to the lake that is pretty nice. But for a spectacular place to put up a tent, the lake has some little islands. If you do have a canoe or boat, cross the lake you will find several amazing, backcountry places to put your tent as well as an incredible little island. All with phenomenal view of crystal clear, green water, trees, and snowy mountains. If you are motivated and have a canoe you can paddle to the far end of the lake and take the difficult, though beautiful trail to Cirque Lake. Callaghan Lake is certainly one of the most convenient and beautiful places to camp before reaching Whistler, if for example, if you are driving in from out of town and want a great, free, convenient (except for the 8.5k logging road), place to spend the night. Callaghan Lake Provincial Park is a relatively untouched wilderness of rugged mountainous terrain. The valley walls were formed by relatively recent glaciation. Evidence of this can be seen in the considerable glacial till and slide materials visible across the lake. Around the lake you will see talus slopes, flat rock benches, cirques, hanging valleys, tarns, waterfalls and upland plateaus with bog
Mount Sproatt, or as it is known locally as simply "Sproatt", is one of the many towering mountains visible from Whistler Village. Above and beyond Alta Lake, directly across from Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain. Next time you walk through Whistler Village and cross the pedestrian bridge with Village Gate Boulevard below you, you will see Mount Sproatt from this excellent vantage point. It is the rocky giant, abruptly steep on one end and gently sloping on the other. What you can't see from Whistler Village is the extraordinarily beautiful alpine paradise that lays beyond it. Lakes and tarns everywhere you look. Fields of alpine flowers and wonderfully mangled, yet strikingly beautiful forests of krummholz. Hostile looking fields of boulders and absurdly placed erratics the size of RV's. Beyond, of course, endless stunning view of distant, snowy mountains. At the far end(Northair Mine) side of the trail you can 4x4 very close to some amazing alpine lakes(shown here) to camp beside. Less than an hours hike will then get you to paradise. Alternatively, you can hike the Alpine Sproatt Trail from the Whistler side and hike to the alpine in a couple hours(about 5k to the alpine). There is an alpine hut near the Callaghan Valley(Northair Mine) end of the trail. It is owned by Canadian Wilderness Adventures as their snowmobile hut. Canadian has a tenure in the area to run snowmobile tours here in the winter. There is a lock on the door, however it has an amazing view of the valley below and Sproatt Lake, and stopping there for lunch on their sundeck is very scenic. Out of courtesy to Canadian Wilderness Adventures, you should not disturb anything of theirs. There is a nice trail from the hut to Sproatt Lake that you will see from the hut's sundeck. It descends down the valley and only takes about 8 minutes to the lake. The hut is located just past a trail junction and large clearing where you will see a large mapboard and atv tracks through the mud and grass. The new Sproatt Alpine Trail branches off to the right just before this clearing and the hut is straight past the clearing and mapboard(see maps here).
For convenience and beauty as a great, free place to camp in Whistler, Train Wreck would be hard to beat. Decades ago a train derailed south of Whistler. The cost to clean up the mess was evidently 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, and a great place to hike. The Whistler Train Wreck. 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. The whole length of the train wreck and Cheakamus River hike is 3 kilometres (each way) and the trails go along the beautiful river as well as several, widely spaced train wrecks. The Whistler Train Wreck trailhead is best reached by starting at the easy to find, Flank Trail trailhead in Function Junction, just 8k south of Whistler Village. The first part of the Train Wreck is not train wreckage, but instead some amazing views of the Cheakamus River. This extraordinarily beautiful river crashes violently through here and various viewpoints can be found along the trail. After a few amazing viewpoints, the Cheakamus River forces you back towards the train tracks. Walk past this bend in the river by keeping well left of, off and away from the train tracks. The trail picks up again on the left and descends into the forest again. This is the stretch of forest that contains seven train wrecked cars strewn over one kilometre. Some perched at the edge of the Cheakamus River, others mangled against trees. It is amazing to see the impossibility of where they rest.. with huge trees all around. In the decades since they crashed and wrecked here, trees have grown all around.
Madeley Lake is an amazing place to camp. If looking for solitude at a paradise, mountain lake, Madeley Lake is hard to beat. Though somewhat popular with fishing, you are still likely to rarely see anyone at the lake in the summer and never in the fall. Once in a while you will see a car or two at the trailhead to Hanging Lake. If you have a canoe, Madeley is a great place to paddle around or just float in the sun. There is a long forgotten campsite around the far end of the lake that you can walk to in about 5 minutes. Some old picnic tables, fire rings, several tent clearings and a beautiful gravel, sun-facing beach. A wonderfully crashing creek runs along the trail and campsite making the area absurdly idyllic. If you are motivated the Madeley Lake trail runs around the back of the lake from the campsite and up to Hanging Lake, then on to Rainbow Lake. If you can manage it, get someone to drop you off at Madeley, then spend a weekend hiking through paradise and come out at Rainbow Park on Alta Lake! You can even do it in a day in about 8-9 hours at a somewhat relaxed pace. There are signs the entire way(except around the Madeley Lake campsite where there are none).
Green Lake's far side is all wilderness and unexpectedly beautiful and free wilderness camping can be found everywhere you look. More than a dozen spots can easily be found, are secluded and spectacular. In the ghost town Parkhurst there are dozens of places to put a tent. Some mediocre and some fantastic. There is a beautiful bluff far above Green Lake with tremendous views. There are some trees on this massive bluff, but they are far apart and a wonderful carpet-like field of moss to set a tent on. If you don't go up to Parkhurst, but instead follow the train tracks away from Whistler you will come to a beautiful little rocky hill on the edge of Green Lake (about 1k). And once again there are breathtaking places to put a tent. The places to put up a tent in and around Parkhurst are too numerous to list here. From the obvious camping among the crumbling houses at various places around the town to the less obvious areas down by the lake. If you go down to the shore of Green Lake to where the giant tractor is you will notice that if you head along the shore of Green Lake north for about 200 metres you will come to the old cement foundations of the mill and come clearings hidden in the spooky forest there. This area has some positives and negatives. The bad of course is the train goes by at 2am and again at 6am, just 40 metres from your tent. If you don't mind that then this area is great. Spooky, though cute little forest, steps from the lake and nice, clean, grassy areas to wander around. Back up the trail to Parkhurst, you have the beautiful ridge, high above the train tracks with mossy and grassy fields overlooking the lake. You still get the train going by, but its fun to watch it from above. This cliff has an amazing view of the setting sun over Rainbow Mountain every evening as well. Another great place is at Green River by the bridge next to the highway. Both sides of the bridge have several excellent places next to the river ideal for camping and with the added benefit of being steps from your vehicle.
The Sproatt Alpine Trail starts off the Flank Trail in Function Junction. Along the Trail there are several amazing cliff top areas perfect for a tent. The one shown here is just a couple kilometres from the Flank Trail/Alpine Trail junction. From the Flank Trail, trailhead to this cliff is just 1 hour by foot. Not far from this cliff is a nice stream as well. There are dozens of amazing places to put up a tent around the Sproatt Alpine Trail, though none are marked or maintained. This is the wonderfully, wild alpine of Whistler, so you simply spot an amazing cliff outcrop, serene tarn, or majestic alpine lake, and set up your tent. In 2014, the Sproatt Alpine Trail was flagged and construction began. The new trail begins 1.4 kilometres from the Rainbow Sproatt Flank Trail trailhead in Function Junction. The trail is already quite easy to follow, though it is constantly steep and winding. Though you are mostly in deep forest, occasionally you emerge to fantastic views of the valley below and Black Tusk beyond.
A River Runs Through It is a popular bike trail that runs through the forest between Alta Lake Road and the River of Golden Dreams. There are several access points to this trail. The closest access for the place pictured is off of Alta Lake Road, across and down from the Rainbow Trail trailhead to Rainbow Lake. The area pictured is just down from the beautiful suspension bridge crossing on the trail and is easy to find from there. There is also an old logging road that takes you right to it in just a couple hundred metres from Alta Lake Road. If heading along Alta Lake Road from Rainbow Park you will spot this old gravel road on your right(barriers prevent vehicle access), just before you see the Rainbow Trail, trailhead on your left. If you bike or walk down this road for a couple hundred metres you will hear Twnetyone Mile Creek and be able to spot the suspension bridge. If you cross it and immediately turn right, following the river, you will see this spot almost immediately. You can also get to it quite easily from Whistler Village by biking/walking down Lorimer Road(you can also park for free at the end of Lorimer Rd). At the end of Lorimer Rd, take the Valley Trail(follow the sign that indicated Meadow Park), cross the bridge, the train tracks, then immediately turn left along the gravel trail. This trail quickly widens into an old gravel road through the forest and takes you to Alta Lake Rd in about 2 kilometres. Just before you reach Alta Lake Rd, look for the trailhead for "A River Runs Through It" on your left. You will come to the long log/suspension bridge after about 2 kilometres and the site shown here is downriver on the left side.
Just after the highway turnoff to Wedgemount Lake there is a beautiful picnic area on Green River. Picnic tables, serenity and the hugely crashing Green River make this a great spot to relax before your hike. This is also a superb and free place to camp before and/or after hiking Wedgemount Lake. Beautiful freshwater river and lots of places to put up a tent near the Green River bridge make it an ideal setting. As this is also a picnic area, putting up a tent late in the day and taking it down early in the AM will ensure that you don't impede anyone in the daytime, picnicking. If you plan on staying a bit longer, then there are areas easy to find on the opposite shore that are a bit more hidden and serene. From Whistler Village at Village Gate Boulevard, zero your odometer proceed north on Highway 99. At 11.3km a sign will direct you to turn right to "Wedgemount(Garibaldi)".
The Sea to Sky Trail continues out the far side of Whistler Village, first past Lost Lake, via Lost Lake Park. As you continue past Lost Lake you will see a small Sea to Sky Trail sign pointing to the right and then immediately left to follow the Siwash Trail. The trail from here quickly ascends as you near the beautiful Green Lake Lookout just a few metres off of the Sea to Sky Trail. Back on the Sea to Sky Trail the wide gravel and somewhat steep switchbacks begin. Only a few zig-zags and you find yourself already quite high above Green Lake. This section of the trail is remarkably windy which makes it quite fun as your view constantly changes. Along this section you will spot several faint side trails on either side that lead to amazing and somewhat hidden places great for a tent. If you continue along another kilometre, more towards the summit(middle) of this section of trail, you will see several more amazing spots. The only obvious downside to this area is that it is mostly surrounded by power lines, which may discourage you from sleeping in the area. Still further, near the far end of Green Lake you will see the unmarked, Parkhurst Ghost Town trail on your left. This area(mentioned above) is well away from power lines and far from the noise of civilization.
Brandywine Meadows is a nice hike in a massive flower filled valley high up in the Callaghan Valley with lots of free alpine camping. Located 40 minutes south of Whistler, this tough and sometimes muddy trail gains a huge 550 metres of elevation in just 3k (trailhead to valley). The trailhead is tricky to find and involves a fairly long gravel road journey that is passable without a 4x4, but barely. Not that the road is potholed, which it is, but that it is at times very steep and strewn with loose boulders. Brandywine Meadows is used mainly for snowmobiling in the winter months and the bumpy ex-logging road to the trailhead is in poor condition in the summer. The hike is consistently very steep for the first two kilometres. It is at times scenic though, despite being in very deep forest. The trail runs parallel to Brandywine Creek, which is steeply flowing, very loud and quite beautiful at various vantage points. If you have a 4x4 you can drive much closer to Brandywine Meadows by parking at the Brandywine snowmobile hut. This hut is only used regularly in the winter and spring and is almost always vacant in the summer. See the map here for details. 4x4 is recommended, however, if you want to get there by car, you can easily drive as far as you feel comfortable, then park along one of many pullouts along the road. Often this only adds just a couple kilometres or less than 30 minutes to your hike.
If you have a tent and are arriving in Whistler by car, there are several great, free places to put up a tent. Near the turnoff to Alexander Falls, 30 minutes south of Whistler, turn left from the Sea to Sky Highway and head up the Callaghan Valley (follow signs for the Whistler Olympic Park). After about 10 minutes you will see a turnoff for Callaghan Lake. Follow this, very bumpy 8.5k logging road the the free campground on the shores of Callaghan Lake. The Callaghan Lake campground looks a bit like a parking lot, but it does have a few trails and is located right on the shores of this spectacular lake. If you hike about five minutes along the left side of the lake you will find an amazing little island with room for a tent or two. This breathtaking little island is amazing, trees all around and clear, deep green water all around. You could even dive into the water from most points on the island. To reach it you have to wade, waist deep in water, or if you bring a boat or even an inflatable dinghy you can get you and your gear there without getting wet. Most people camp at one of several, well organized sites, nestled around the main parking area. Though, on first look, these look a bit shabby. When you get yourself set up with a tent and campfire, the area takes on a wonderful, Canadian campsite feel. Trees all around, beautiful lake, and happy, smiling, friendly people, beer in hand, offering to share a drink or some campfire dinner. If you want to get a little more tranquility, then the campsites cover a pretty wide area, and you can get a little further from people if you want to. The campsites are convenient to outhouses and all have metal fire pits. And you will almost always be able, if you want to, place your tent close to your vehicle. The logging road is very bad with potholes and moderately deep washouts, however, cars of all sorts seem to make it there, and you even see the occasional RV.
The Callaghan Lake Provincial Park campsite is free but can get somewhat busy and chaotic on long weekends. The 8.5 kilometre logging road to get to the park/campsite is a long way to go to get turned around by an overcrowded place to sleep. Another option is just a short walk away. The unmarked trailhead to Ring and Conflict Lakes is just a few metres before the Callaghan Lake campsite/parking area. There is a wide area with room for several cars at this trailhead. Just a 2 minute walk from here gets you to the old log bridge across Callaghan Creek. And though it looks more like a road than a trail, the road has been blocked for years. Next to Callaghan Creek there is a nice clearing for a couple tents in an unexpectedly beautiful setting. The wonderful, crashing creek is just metres away so you have excellent access to fresh water and you will even find a small fire ring, though much of the summer there is a fire ban, so you shouldn't use it. This is the trailhead to the relatively unknown Ring and Conflict Lake trail. You will rarely see anyone pass by here as most hike to these lakes via Callaghan Country. They have a lodge that does tours, beginning at Conflict Lake. Ring Lake is a worthwhile hiking destination with free alpine camping(no amenities).
Trails run so abundant in Whistler that many go unnoticed, neglected or taken for granted. The Flank Trail is one of these. Most people in Whistler don't even know about it, but the ones that do, love it. Officially known as the Rainbow-Sproatt Flank Trail, it runs the length of Whistler Valley, opposite Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Flanking both these enormous mountains, the Flank Trail is the inspiration for an ever-growing number of trails that run to it, from it, and across it. From the Callaghan Valley, far south of Whistler, near Whistler Olympic Park it begins(or ends). It then stretches 40 kilometres along the flank of the massive and sprawling Mount Sproatt, then Rainbow Mountain, where it finally terminates near Ancient Cedars and Showh Lakes. The Flank Trail cuts across the valley and you will find dozens of amazing, free places to put up a tent along the section between Function Junction and the Rainbow Trail near Rainbow Park. The one shown here is just a 10 minute hike from the Rainbow Trail junction. The tricky part is finding a place to put your tent close to a creek. There are several creeks in the area, but most are a hundred or two hundred metres from the good, tent-friendly rock outcrops/cliffs.
Showh Lakes are located just past the well known, Ancient Cedars trail. The obvious draw of Ancient Cedars trail tends to make hikers overlook the connecting trail to Showh Lakes. After hiking to Ancient Cedars, halfway along the trail take the connecting trail to Showh Lakes(sometimes known as Showh Lake and Cougar Lake). The trail runs along the left side of the larger lake on your right and then veers left, crosses a creek and circles around the smaller lake on your left where it connects with the logging road and Showh Lakes parking area. You can either follow the road back to your car at the Ancient Cedars trailhead or continue rounding this smaller Showh Lake and rejoin the main trail you came in on and hike back to your car. Showh Lakes are very remote and wild feeling lakes which certainly ads to their draw as fishing lakes. They are sometimes stocked with trout and you will occasionally find a couple fly fishermen out on the water floating inside those funny little one-man rubber float tubes having a great time catching lots of fish. Swimming is not the best at Showh Lakes, however, the wonderful remote setting more than makes up for the lack of inviting beach. The lakes have a nice trail that connects them and along this you will find a nice clearing in the trees good for a tent or two. If this is too buried in trees for you then tenting along the 4x4 access road at the shores of the lake is another option. You can drive any car to the Ancient Cedars trailhead, however the short road to Showh Lakes is 4x4 only, but short enough to walk in about 20 minutes. Showh Lakes is of course free to camp.
Brew Lake is beautiful mountain lake just a short drive south of Whistler and is relatively unknown and seldom hiked. Wild, alpine camping is of course free here. The lake lays in a massive alpine valley of enormous erratics scattered around and in the lake. On first seeing Brew Lake it looks serene, yet wild and hostile. The lake is surrounded on one side by idyllic tree covered hills and lakeside cliffs and on the other side a brutal looking wasteland of huge boulders sloping up from the lake to the skyline. Hiking into this wasteland of erratics reveals an amazing paradise of small, island forests, cute streams and endless worlds within worlds to explore. You find yourself wandering along like a kid mesmerized at what you will find next. There are lots of places to put up a tent along the erratic strewn shores of Brew Lake and further up the slope toward Mount Brew there are several amazing meadows, grass clearings and beautiful streams to camp near. Keep in mind that snow persists in this area well into the summer. Sometimes patches of snow will be seen well into August despite the daytime temperatures in the mid 20's (80-90 Fahrenheit)! As Brew Lake is not part of any park it doesn't have campsite facilities like you would find in Garibaldi Park, but you quickly see that this is a good thing. Not that Garibaldi Park campsite facilities are bad, but having a few untouched places within hiking distance are great to find and have a serenity about them that tent pads and signs take away from.
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