Top 10 Whistler Driving - #1 Skookumchuck Hot Springs
Skookumchuck Hot Springs is an excellent driving destination from Whistler. Located two hours north of Whistler along the edge of the huge Lillooet River, driving there is half the fun. The name Skookumchuck means "strong water" in the language of the Chinook people of the Pacific Northwest. The name is associated with the hot springs because of the nearby First Nation community of Skatin, which was once called Skookumchuck.
The Skookumchuck Hot Springs were also once known as St. Agnes Well during the days of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, but that name has fallen into disuse. They are also known locally by the Skatin name as the T'sek Hot Springs, but this name is slow to catch on. See a short history of Skookumchuck Hot Springs here.
Just 20 minutes north of Whistler you pass Nairn Falls Provincial Park. This is a great pit-stop on your way to Skookumchuck. Whether you hike the short, 1.2 kilometre trail to Nairn Falls or just check out the river viewpoint near the parking lot. Back on the highway, Pemberton is just 5 minutes north of Nairn Falls. This little town is your last chance for gas, food, alcohol, ect, as you will shortly be leaving civilization and entering the wilderness around Lillooet Lake.
As you drive through Pemberton, just before Mount Currie you will see North Arm Farm on your right. Keep your eye out about 5 minutes past the McDonalds/Petrocan intersection and you will see it. This is a great place to see and wander around the beautiful farm grounds, visit the interesting farm animals and marvel at the amazing view of Mount Currie. The farm is free to visit and open weekends in the winter and everyday the rest of the year. They have a fantastic cafe with all sorts of baked goods and lunch items as well as various farm fresh produce for sale as well. Also, a great place for your last coffee before entering the wilderness.
Another 10 minutes on the highway further and you come to the turnoff to the In-Shuck-Ch Forest Service Road(see directions below) and begin the long and beautiful drive along Lillooet Lake. There are several excellent Lillooet Lake and Lillooet River viewpoints to stop and see along the way. From the obvious and frequent viewpoints along the road to the numerous and inviting campsites along the way.
These campsites are great places to stop and see Lillooet Lake, have a beer, swim, or all three. Depending on the season, Lillooet Lake can be emerald, though cloudy green or muddy brown. This is all dependent on the spring runoff and especially the silty brown, Lillooet River that flows into Lillooet Lake from Pemberton. Lillooet Lake flows into the rushing and crashing Lillooet River and Skookumchuck sits at the edge of this beautiful river. Once you see the end of the lake and start driving along the river you are getting close to the hot springs.
The Skookumchuck Hot Springs start in a pool which is far to hot to use so there are a network of tubes emanating from this pool to feed a ramshackle array of tubs. There are five tubs, which include one very large one under an A-frame which could hold 10 people and is beautifully comfortable. A smaller one under a half A-frame privacy screen which could hold 8 under the stars. And three more open tubs. Clothing, you will quickly discover, is optional. There are small change rooms and one outhouse a few metres away. Click here for a Short History of Skookumchuck Hot Springs.
Top 10 Whistler Driving - #2 Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is definitely one of the top 10 driving destinations near Whistler. The falls are easy to find, easy to hike to and just a short drive from(or to Whistler). Brandywine Falls is one of the must see sights on the way to or from Whistler. The falls drop from a 66 metre, spectacularly abrupt cliff to the valley below. Located just 20 minutes south of Whistler, Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is just off of the Sea to Sky Highway. If driving from Vancouver, keep your eyes out for the Brandywine Falls sign on your right about 25 minutes north of Squamish.
The start of the trail takes you across a small, covered bridge over the river. The trail then continues along the river and leads to the wonderful viewing area across from the falls. The trail then continues another hundred metres to another viewing area. This viewpoint overlooks Daisy Lake, the massive lake that Brandywine Falls empties into. On a sunny day, Black Tusk dominates the skyline here.
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is attached to the wonderful Sea to Sky Trail which runs between and beyond Whistler and Squamish. It is a wide, gravel biking and hiking trail that will eventually extend north to Pemberton. If you follow the Sea to Sky Trail from Brandywine Falls you will come to the amazing Whistler Bungee Bridge..
Top 10 Whistler Driving - #3 Bungee Bridge
Whistler's Bungee Bridge is a very convenient and beautiful stop on the way to or from Whistler from Vancouver. Just 20 minutes south of the Village on the Sea to Sky Highway, then just a 3 kilometre logging road takes you right to the stairs up to this amazing bridge. Open year-round and surprisingly accessible, even in the snowy winter months, thousands of cars drive by every day and never take a look. With so many sights on the Sea to Sky Highway to see, the Whistler Bungee Bridge is one of the nicer and certainly one of the most convenient to see.
The Whistler Bungee Bridge is part of the fantastic Sea to Sky Trail. This 180 kilometre walking, hiking, biking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing trail, cuts right through Whistler. This non-motorized, multi-use trail extends from Squamish, through Whistler, north through Pemberton and all the way to D'Arcy. Pieced together over the years, the Sea to Sky Trail saw a frenzy of construction recently and is now complete throughout Whistler.
If you measure from Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, south of Whistler to WedgeWoods Estates north of Whistler, the trail runs 33 kilometres. And the wonderful, and almost unbelievable thing about this 33 kilometres, is that it has only one road crossing where you have to check for cars. The entire, rest of the route is dirt, gravel or paved trails that weave through the spectacular forest that surrounds Whistler.
Driving directly to the Bungee Bridge is, of course, one of several ways to get there. Another great way to see it is by foot or bike via Brandywine Falls Provincial Park. Roundtrip to the Whistler Bungee Bridge and back is just 6 kilometres and can take less than two hours.
Top 10 Whistler Driving - #4 Sloquet Hot Springs
Sloquet Hot Springs is a wonderfully wild set of shallow, man-made pools fed by a small, all natural, and very hot, waterfall. The pools stretch from the waterfall to the large and crashing Sloquet River. The large, spread out campsite for the hot springs lies a short 5 minute walk from the springs. You have to follow a dark and quickly descending trail toward the crashing river. As you near, you can smell the unusual, but kind of nice hot springs scent, and you see steam rising all around you, some steam rising, bizarrely, out of the grass clearing on the edge of the river. On your left a rising cliff, on your right the crashing river.
The path narrows and steepens, leading to a large fallen tree which the trail seems to run to. So huge though as to not worry you walking the length of. Then, there it is. The massive fallen tree flanks it. Nestled between the tree and a cliff, in a large triangular area, with the river forming the third side are the Sloquet Hot Springs.
Sloquet Hot Springs is 142 kilometres from Whistler, which translates to well over 3 hours of driving. Much of the driving is along the In-Shuck-Ch Forest Service Road, which runs the length of the very scenic Lillooet Lake and river. This gravel road takes you well into the wilderness, far from civilization and past quite a few nice sights along the way.
The beauty and wildness of Sloquet brings quite a few people to the area during some weekends and in the summer months. There is quite a lot of industrial activity in the area as well that brings in the occasional large groups of boisterous workers to the area.
Though you will often find the campsite a loud and chaotic place with music playing and two or three campsite parties, the hot springs, a couple hundred metres away, serene and tranquil. This is one of the accidental beauties of Sloquet.
The campsite and the hot springs are separated by this steep, short trail and deep forest keeps them apart from each other. The tailgate parties that sometimes erupt at the campsite are far removed from the hot springs oasis wedged between the river, cliff and forest. Sloquet is quite a contrast to its closest, well known neighbour, Skookumchuck Hot Springs. Skookumchuck is shabby, institutionalized and far from natural. Sloquet is beautiful, natural and serene. It consists of seven pools formed with rocks positioned to segment pools out of what must have been one huge pool. Recently, in late 2013, dozens of volunteers did a massive cleanup of the pools, forming them into a more natural and even more beautiful place to be.
It is the natural, cozy and hidden feeling you get at the Sloquet Hot Springs that makes it special. Every(natural) aspect of the springs seems fined tuned for comfort. The cold, dark cliff at your back, specked with candles. Natural little rock coves and multiple pools to separate your conversation from your neighbours. The majestic river so loud and so close. The scent of cedar from the huge, thick forest spread out in front of you. As if it could get any more perfect you can't help but smile at the little waterfall that feeds these beautiful pools. Cascading down the ancient looking cliff, alive with rainforest life growing out of every inch. What a wonderful place.
Top 10 Whistler Driving - #5 Alexander Falls
Alexander Falls 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 Alexander Falls 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.
Alexander Falls is certainly one of the nicest spots for a picnic in Whistler. The picnic areas are numerous, the surrounding forest is gorgeous and wild and Alexander Falls crashes loud and beautiful in the background. Several picnic tables are located in forested clearings that were once used as campsites, so if you have a big group, you will have lots of room to spread out and enjoy the surroundings.
There is a nice information board with as short history of the areas surrounding Alexander Falls, complete with museum-like pictures of the regions logging history. One depicts, "A Land of Giants" and describes, with photos, how incredibly huge trees were cut down and moved. One picture from 1910, shows 10 men sitting on an enormous, felled tree and looking tiny by comparison. The depiction goes on to show how First Nations people felled trees as long as 8000 years ago.
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 Alexander Falls. The facilities are still in operation and open to visitors year-round. There is a cafe and visitor centre well worth visiting. Of impressive waterfalls in the Whistler area, Alexander Falls is one of several spectacular ones. Others in the area include the amazing Brandywine Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Nairn Falls. Along very difficult hike to Wedgemount Lake you will see the incredible Wedgemount Falls. Down in Squamish, 45 minutes south of Whistler, you will find Shannon Falls.
Top 10 Whistler Driving - #6 Keyhole Hot Springs
Yet another hot springs near Whistler makes this top 10 list, Keyhole Hot Springs. Keyhole Hot Springs(sometimes called Pebble Creek Hot Springs) is located 100 kilometres from Whistler(Village Gate Blvd). Though most of the 100k is on logging roads, it is drivable by most cars without any trouble. The massive Innergex hydroelectric project is well underway in the area, turning a once quiet wilderness into a war-zone. On the plus side, the old logging roads near Keyhole Hot Springs are now well maintained and smooth. 2014 saw the permanent closing of the old hot springs trail and a new trail built.
The new Lillooet River Trail to Keyhole Hot Springs was built in 2014, and though longer than the old trail, is very scenic and only moderately challenging. The old trail was short, however, very steep. The trail is 2 kilometres from the trailhead to the springs or about 1.5 kilometres to the huge Keyhole Hot Springs camping area.
The beautiful new trail begins in quite an unexpectedly wonderful way. From the dusty old logging road parking area, you enter the forest and immediately find yourself in a large forest clearing with massive cedars all around. You feel as though you have instantly left civilisation. A large, well loved fire ring sits in the middle of this clearing and you notice that you could fit several tents here if you had to. The area is very flat and inviting. A trailhead sign and small map indicate the where you will be hiking next, and the trail descends through the forest and comes out to the river and a small seating area.
The trail then bends back to the forest and climbs up and away from the river, where it continues, for the most part, away from the river. There are a couple of viewpoints along the way indicated by nice, new signs. Well worth seeing. The viewpoint by the river is an excellent place to camp if you like a beautiful and serene riverside setting.
The trail then continues through deep forest and along a frighteningly chaotic boulder field with house sized boulders filling a chasm between cliffs. There is also an amazing little waterfall that tumbles over the cliff about 15 metres up and looks like a giant shower. Further along the trail you come to the nicely constructed bridge over the one rushing river along the trail.
If you ever parked at the old trailhead, this is the river you drove through just before parking. The aptly named(when you had to drive through it back in the day), "Truckwash Creek" is a massive torrent of water plowing through the valley. About 5 minutes past this bridge you come to the Keyhole Hot Springs campsite. The area is entirely unmaintained and aside from an elaborate bear hang area to keep your food, there are no amenities such as outhouses, signs, etc.
If you continue through the camping area and walk along the trail keeping the river on your left, you will come to a fallen tree that has been expertly chainsawed into a staircase leading down to the springs. First you come to the sandy area that at first looks unimpressive until you have a good look around.
The water pooling in the sandy pools is amazingly hot and suddenly you realize you are in nirvana. A small wooden bench and indiscreet fire-pit sits next to the pool and someone has left a shovel to dig out the pool. The pool is surrounded by a cliff at your back, and huge boulders and the Lillooet River just a few metres away.
Continuing along the path through the huge boulders you come to the two fantastic, cemented in pools on the cliff-side dipping into the river. Some weeks the lower pool floods and is too cold, but if you catch it at the right level it is paradise. Once again, you have a short scramble down a tree trunk to get to these pools. But once you are there, you will never want to get out. The Keyhole Hot Springs are pretty amazing.
Top 10 Whistler Driving - #7 Northair Mine
Northair Mine makes this top 10 list because it is just so bizarre and surreal. Northair Mine is a remarkable 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 below 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.
Whistler's cherished Flank Trail passes right by Northair Mine near its terminus at Whistler Olympic Park. Although, the Flank Trail effectively ends far south of the Northair Mine, it piggybacks on the logging road that extends up and past the mine. With the massive construction that preceded the 2010 Olympics, the Callaghan Valley had a luxuriously wide, paved road built high up into the mountains here.
Top 10 Whistler Driving - #8 Callaghan Lake
Callaghan Lake Provincial Park is #8 on our top 10 list due to its wild remoteness and surprisingly easy access. Once you brave the long and bumpy forest service road, you come to a bit of paradise. 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 bogs. The wildlife that reside in the area include bobcats, cougars, coyotes, minks, wolverines, wolves, bears, deer, mountain goats and occasionally moose and grizzly bears.
Callaghan Lake is not really a hiking destination but more of a drive to campsite on a beautiful lake, and gateway to some beautiful intermediate hikes. The campsite is small and looks a bit like a parking lot with about a dozen spots to put up a tent near your vehicle. There is a proper boat launch at the campsite and the lake is large and beautiful to paddle.
Surrounded by snowy mountains and nice rock outcrops the lake is good for fishing. If you have a canoe or boat of some kind you can find numerous, breathtaking places to camp. There is even a small island a short five minute paddle away that has a beautiful clearing for a tent, a fire ring and crystal clear water all around, deep enough to dive into.
The hiking trails are minimal here due to the steepness and deep forest surrounding the lake. From the main parking area some short trails extend in either direction. The trails to the left go for just a few dozen metres before ending at the lake and river outflow.
The trail in the other direction(right if facing the lake from the parking area), takes you around the bottom of the lake and quickly fades into a bit of a bushwhacking route. You can, if you are determined, follow this route around the right side of the lake to its top end and connect to the Cirque Lake trail. The bushwhacking is not that bad and you can stay within sight of the lake the entire time.
Top 10 Whistler Driving - #9 Nairn Falls
Nairn Falls is #9 on our top 10 list as it is just a 20 minute drive north of Whistler and the falls are quite amazing. Nairn Falls is a wonderful, crashing and chaotic waterfall that surrounds you from the deluxe viewing platform that allows you to safely watch it from above. The beautiful, green water rushes through the deep and angular channels of rock. The falls crash through various narrow and wide areas, and though the cumulative drop is 60 metres, what you see is a series of 10 to 20 metre falls.
There are a nicely constructed railing, fence and viewing area and walkway that guides you to the best views. With such abruptly steep rock all around, the area would be potentially dangerous. Evidently there have been deaths here before. A cross, reverently placed across the chasm from the viewing platform, indicates of some tragic event.
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. The other months the entry gate is locked to the park and a small, highway-side parking area is used to access the park.
The charge for camping is $18 per party, per night, during the months the campground is open. Outside of that window there is obviously no charge and you won't be prohibited from camping during the off season. From the parking lot, a hiking trail also goes along the Green River in the opposite direction to Nairn Falls. This 2k trail takes you to One Mile Lake excellent for swimming.
Top 10 Whistler Driving - #10 Madeley Lake
Madeley Lake is a well hidden, though easily drivable lake in the beautiful Callaghan Valley. Unlike the terrible gravel road to Callaghan Lake, the relatively smooth gravel road to Madeley Lake is drivable by car (relatively easily and safely). Just a 10 minute drive from the main, paved road to Whistler Olympic Park, Madeley makes a great side-trip on the way to or from the very popular 2010 Olympic attraction.
Just metres past the turnoff to Alexander Falls, turn left at the sign for Callaghan Lake Provincial Park. Cross the bridge and follow the terrible logging road for about three minutes, turn right at the first logging road that branches off to the right. Follow this logging road for about 10 minutes until Madeley Lake appears on your right.
There is a large map board at the trailhead to Hanging Lake, Rainbow Lake and Mount Sproatt. You can park here or continue past this and drive to the end of the lake and small campsite area. This is an unmaintained area camping area and for the most park you will feel very far from civilization despite being just a couple kilometres from Whistler Olympic Park.
This 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.