Snowshoeing to Rainbow Falls
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.
If winter camping is your thing, the Flank Trail, just up from Rainbow Falls is paradise. Most of the 40 kilometre length winds its way to one amazing clifftop clearing to the next. As you snowshoe or hike the trail you will notice dozens of easy-to-miss, buried in snow, side trails. Many of these take you just metres from the Flank Trail to wonderful clearings, perched on the edge of rocky outcrops. High above Alta Lake and Whistler Village beyond, the views are amazing. This is pretty close to effortless winter camping as once you get on the Flank Trail it is pretty relaxing as the elevation changes only moderately. The Rainbow Trail access to the Flank Trail, shown here is perfect for getting onto the Flank Trail and quickly finding a great place to put up a tent. Snowshoe or hike up the Rainbow Trail and turn left onto the Flank Trail(as the Rainbow Trail continues to Rainbow Lake). Within 5 minutes along the Flank Trail you will start seeing these side trails on your left and endless great tent spots overlooking Whistler. Hotels, B&B's and hostels are of course plentiful in Whistler.
There are no washroom facilities or outhouses at the Rainbow Trail trailhead show here. However, there is an outhouse where the Flank Trail branches off from the Rainbow Trail(see Flank Trail map). There are deluxe washrooms at Rainbow Park just a couple hundred metres down the road from the Rainbow Trail trailhead. While in the area you should stop by Rainbow Park. Any day of the year and in any weather, day or night, Rainbow Park is beautiful. Its great location, looking across Alta Lake to snow covered Wedgemount Lake, Blackcomb Mountain and Whistler Mountain is often spectacular. The long pier stretches out into the frozen lake and glows white with ice and snow all around. Few lights can be seen to take away from the dazzling star filled sky. The milky way is well defined and all winter the lights from the groomers on Whistler and Blackcomb zig-zag across the slopes.
Directions to trailhead(see the map below): Zero your odometer at Village Gate Boulevard(in Whistler Village), drive north on Highway 99. At 3.8km turn left onto Alpine Way, then at the next stop sign turn left onto Rainbow Drive. Continue straight until at 6.8km you will see the trailhead sign, "Rainbow Trail" on your right, half buried in snow most of the winter. There is room for several cars to park, but be careful as if the parking are is packed with snow, you may be able to get in, but not be able to get out easily. Keep that in mind and park in a way that allows you to get out easily. Hike up the Rainbow Trail and to reach Rainbow Falls, bear right at the two obvious forks in the trail.
The Flank Trail is almost entirely dog friendly, however, the small 500 metre section that piggybacks on the Rainbow Trail is not. Rainbow Lake and the Rainbow Trail are in the watershedand Blackcomb zig-zag across the slopes. that Whistler gets its water from. You will see big mapboards at various places along the Rainbow Trail showing you the boundaries of the Rainbow Lake watershed as well as no dogs allowed signs. There are plenty of dog friendly alternatives to the Rainbow Trail. For more dog friendly snowshoeing trails in Whistler try here..
More 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 routes 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. 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.