Brandywine Falls Provincial Park
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 if there has been a lot of recent snow 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.
If you don't have snowshoes, take a look anyway on your drive by as it only takes a few people to hike/snowshoe to the falls before you to pack down the trail and make it easy to walk. You will be able to tell as soon as you climb to the top of the mound of snow, plowed from the highway next to where you will park. From there you will see a packed down trail of people before you.
You then follow the trail to the bridge over the beautiful Cheakamus River and then turn right and snowshoe less than a kilometre along the wide and easy to follow trail until you reach the impressive and hugely beautiful viewing platform across from this thundering waterfall.
Brandywine Falls is amazing to see in the summer, but in the winter it is even more extraordinary. The sounds are echoed louder as they echo off the frozen chasm the water falls into, yet the area is magically serene with rarely anyone to break the peacefulness of the park.
If you like the Brandywine Falls trail with or without snowshoes, and want to go further, you will notice the Sea to Sky Trail branches off on your left, just before the viewpoint(just after the train tracks crossing). If you follow this for two kilometres you will come to the impressive Brandywine Falls Bungee Bridge. High above the Cheakamus River, this amazing bridge spans at a dizzying height. For more information on snowshoeing there from Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, click here. And if you would rather drive directly to the Whistler Bungee Bridge, click here.
Trailhead Directions to Brandywine Falls
The parking lot to Brandywine Falls is blocked by snow in the winter and you must park outside the gate along the highway. There is plenty of room for several cars. Located about 20 minutes south of Whistler there are big and difficult to miss signs indicating, "Brandywine Falls Provincial Park". You will see the obvious area to park outside the gate (gate is usually buried in snow in the winter). If driving from Whistler Brandywine Provincial Park will be on your left. You will then have to put your snowshoes on immediately and scramble over the wall of snow to access the parking lot and trailhead. You will then be in a suddenly, serene setting of snow covered picnic tables and see the wonderful, covered bridge across the Cheakamus River leading to the amazing Brandywine Falls viewpoint. There are outhouses in the parking lot and they function year-round. Also, there are several information boards about the local first nation tribes and the Sea to Sky Trail that passes through the park.
More Whistler Area Snowshoe Trails
There are several more excellent snowshoe trails a few minutes up the Sea to Sky Highway towards Whistler. At the lights to Function Junction, the southern end of Whistler you have two of the best easy to moderate snowshoe trails Whistler has to offer. If you turn right at the lights, drive a couple hundred metres and look for the area on your left cleared of snow for parking you will see a street sign for Cheakamus Lake Road. During normal winter months you will find this road buried in snow from December to April. This is the place to park to snowshoe Cheakamus River along one side, then across a suspension bridge and back along the other side of this beautiful river. As will the other snowshoe trails in Whistler, if it hasn't snowed in the last few days, you will probably manage without snowshoes. Take a look here for more info, directions and a trail map for the Cheakamus River, 4 kilometre roundrip snowshoe trail. On the other side of the Sea to Sky Highway in Function Junction, look for Olives Community Market. This is a very nice, healthy and organic food market with unbelievably good pastries, decent coffee, and quite a lot more. Olives Market has a large parking lot that edges onto the Rainbow Sproatt Flank Trail which almost immediately branches off to the trail to the Whistler Train Wreck. This is definitely one of the most scenic, amazing and unusual snowshoe or hiking trails you will find in Whistler. The trail begins by running along a cute, snowy stream before exiting the forest into a barren remnant of the Sea to Sky Highway's construction of the Function Junction overpass. At this point you pick up the trail and veer left and pass under the overpass and along the creek once again. Again the trail enters a narrow, yet very scenic old forest, now with the highway on your right. The trail then reaches the creek and abruptly turns you left and you come to the only train track crossing and the trail then ascends into the snowy forest to the first of several spectacular, Cheakamus River viewpoints. As you follow the trail to the various viewpoints, always keep the Cheakamus River on your left, you will eventually come out the the train tracks again. If you hike/snowshoe parallel to them, about 8 metres from them as walking along train tracks in BC is against the law and you may get a hefty fine(yes it does happen). After about 250 metres you can once again descend into the forest on your left and this time not only come to more amazing river views, but the extraordinary Whistler Train Wreck. There are 7, surreal train wrecks painted in wonderful graffiti that stretch for about 2 kilometres here, and each one a beautiful little world to explore. More information, details, directions and maps for the Whistler Train Wreck hiking/snowshoeing trail click here.
More Whistler Area Waterfalls
is a very impressive 43 metre/141foot waterfall just 30 to 40 minutes south of Whistler in the Callaghan Valley. Open year-round and located just before Whistler Olympic Park where several of the 2010 Olympic events were held. There is a nice viewing platform on the edge of the cliff across from the falls which crash fantastically into the valley below. The parking area and viewing platform at is one big area just 40 metres from the main road (to Whistler Olympic Park). The adventurous can find the obscure trail that leads to both the top of the falls as well as, with great difficulty, to the base of the falls. The drive to Alexander Falls is fantastic and with lots to see. As soon as you turn off from the Sea to Sky Highway into the Callaghan Valley you ascend quickly into the mountains. Bears along the roadside are frequently seen as they seem to have a particular fondness for the fields of grass that grow in the sunny meadows that surround this recently constructed, paved road. The Alexander Falls viewing platform and picnic area was redesigned and reconstructed just before the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Some of the Nordic competitions took place just a five minute drive north of the falls. Nairn Falls: (20 minute drive north of Whistler): Easy, flat trail, 1.2k easy hike to falls. Nairn Falls is a wonderful, crashing and chaotic waterfall that surrounds you from the elaborate viewing platform that allows you to safely watch it from above. The beautiful, green water rushes through the deep and angular channels of rock. Nairn Falls Provincial Park is located just a short 20 minute drive north of Whistler. From the large parking lot the well marked trail runs along the Green River for 1.2k to Nairn Falls. The trail is very easy and is hike-able year-round. Though considerable snow falls in the winter months here, the trail remains passable. There is quite a large and beautiful campground at Nairn Falls as well. Located right next to the parking lot there are 94 vehicle accessed campsites that disappear into the forest adjacent to the Green River. Rainbow Falls: (20 minute drive north of Whistler): Steep but short trail, 0.5k hike to falls. The beautiful and easily accessible Rainbow Falls are located just a short, half kilometre from the Rainbow Lake trailhead. Most hikers don't notice or make the short detour to take a look at Rainbow Falls on their way to Rainbow Lake. Rainbow Falls is a crashing section of falls that runs for several metres and visible at several locations. If you hike to Rainbow Lake you will encounter a couple other falls that are also considered Rainbow Falls, however, this section is generally regarded as "Rainbow Falls". The trailhead is a short 20 minute drive from Whistler Village. There is parking at Rainbow Park at Alta Lake as well as lots of room at the Rainbow Trail trailhead. In the winter there is quite a lot of snow to deal with, however this is a popular trail and you will likely find the snowy trail padded down from snowshoes and walkable without snowshoes even in the depths of winter. Shannon Falls: (45 minute drive south of Whistler): Steep but short trail, 0.3k hike to falls. Shannon Falls towers above Howe Sound at 335 metres as the third tallest falls in BC. The wonderful, though very short trail winds through a beautiful old growth forest to get to the base of the falls. From your car to the viewpoint takes only about four minutes, however the trail continues a bit further to a higher viewpoint (five minutes higher). You can even continue along the trail and join with the Stawamus Chief Trail which goes to the three summits of the Chief or to the challenging trail to Upper Shannon Falls. The trail to the Stawamus Chief and Upper Shannon Falls are very steep and almost constant stairs to be prepared for quite a workout comparable to the Grouse Grind in Vancouver. Wedgemount Falls: (10 minute drive north of Whistler): Steep & difficult trail, 5k hike to viewpoint. can be seen along the hike to Wedgemount Lake. At almost 300 metres high, can be heard from a considerable distance. From the trailhead, just beyond Green Lake near Whistler Village the trail is challenging and very steep. Expect to take about 1.5 hours to reach the unmarked but obvious Wedgemount Falls viewpoint. Beyond this viewpoint in just 2 kilometres is the extraordinarily beautiful Wedgemount Lake, Wedgemount Glacier and Wedge Mountain beyond. Wedgemount Lake is a paradise for hiking and is the northern entry to the massive and spectacular Garibaldi Park in Whistler.