Whistler viewed from above brings the tremendously varied landscape into perspective. From the wasteland left from the Meager Slide to the majestically beautiful Wedge Glacier, a birds eye view is yet another way to appreciate these marvellous places. These are our top 10 favourites from the past few months.
Top 10 Whistler #1 - Cirque Lake
Our #1 favourite aerial video is also one of our favourite places to hike in Whistler. Cirque Lake sits high up in the Callaghan Valley, several kilometres west of Whistler. To reach it requires an 8 kilometre forest service road, then a 2 kilometre paddle across the length of Callaghan Lake, then a 2 kilometre hike up a very steep trail. Cirque Lake gets its name from the marvellous, glacier carved structure it formed in. A cirque is a glacier carved amphitheatre in the mountains and a cirque lake is usually the result. Cirque Lake is staggeringly beautiful. Hypnotically beautiful. Owing to the abruptly steep terrain around Cirque Lake, the contrasting colours alter constantly. Stark, grey cliffs on one side with sun just above lighting up the opposite side of the valley with a dazzling array of greens. Depending on the time of day, the sunny side of the valley can be a dark green, pale green or luminescent yellow. You will see patches of snow every month of the year there. In early to mid summer you will see patches of snow all around the valley and even late in the summer, snow can be seen in unexpectedly high quantities. High up, across the lake you will see a stunning wall of snow, which is in fact the top of the enormous glacier that fills the unseen valley beyond. The unmarked trailhead to Cirque Lake is best located by aiming toward the loud and steeply crashing waterfalls at the far end of Callaghan Lake. Believe it or not, the Cirque Lake trail snakes along the right side, though usually out of sight, of the falls. As you paddle near the end of the lake, you will spot the understated outflow from the falls. A fast moving stream emerges from the thick forest into Callaghan Lake. Just a dozen metres to the right you will see a gravel bar and a large, fallen tree extending out into the lake. This is a good spot to disembark. You can tie up to this tree or drag your boat up the shore. After dragging your canoe, paddleboard, or kayak ashore you find an impossibly tranquil clearing just metres from the water. Very concealed from the lake you see a small fire ring and sitting area that looks so perfectly natural that you instantly regret not making time to camp here as well. The trail then winds through the forest along the edge of the ominously loud waterfall/river on your left. If you are hiking in August, you will encounter blueberry bushes the entire length of the trail. You will quickly fill every available container in your pack and find yourself making very slow progress along the trail. The trail is easy to make out due to a combination of boots wearing a path as well as the occasional orange ribbon. The first 15 minutes along the trail takes you through a very scenic forest and over a cute creek crossing. Soon the trail begins ascending quickly. Several sections require pulling yourself up by grabbing tree roots and one section has a rope to pull yourself up with. If you bring your dog along on the trail, he shouldn't have much trouble on these parts, though may need help up one or two spots later on. Thirty minutes into the trail you will come to the massive boulder field down a steep valley. You will be ascending this boulder field to the narrow end several hundred metres up. This boulder field is marked with rock cairns and more orange ribbons, though the orange ribbons are few and the chances of losing the trail here are many. Your best bet here is to follow the markers as best you can and keep in mind the destination is the narrow top of this boulder field. Once you make it through the boulder field you briefly pass through a small section of forest before abruptly turning right for the final ascent to Cirque Lake. This leads to the top of the cliff you have been eyeing for the last few minutes as you negotiated the boulder field. On top of the boulder field you see a tremendous view of Callaghan Lake. Just a couple hundred metres takes you to the edge of Cirque Lake. Cirque Lake is number 1 on our Top 10 Whistler list of our favourite aerial videos.
The lake opens up before you as you arrive from above and then have to descend another short boulder field to get to one of only a couple obvious tent spots. There are three small plateaus that could accommodate tents. The one shown above is in the middle, and definitely the most spacious. It is also home to a tidy little fire ring with a million dollar view beyond. A bit unexpectedly there is an abundance of firewood as the disintegrating cliff on the right evidently dislodges trees quite regularly. If you follow along the right edge of Cirque Lake you soon pick up on a faint trail that leads to Sky Lake. Sky Lake is under 2 kilometres away. Easy to find as the faint trail leads to a fairly easy valley to hike up further along on the right. If you keep bearing right you will find Sky Lake near the top of this amazing valley. Beyond Sky Lake there are several more smaller lakes that descend down the valley.
Top 10 Whistler #2 - Panorama Ridge
Panorama Ridge is arguably the most amazing hike in Garibaldi Park. It certainly is in the top 5 of the best hikes in Whistler. Usually accessed by the Rubble Creek (Garibaldi Lake) trailhead, just off the Sea to Sky Highway 30 minutes south of Whistler. The hike to Panorama Ridge is comparatively long at 15k trailhead to ridge, but there is plenty to marvel at along the way. In the summer this area is flower-filled and beautiful in every direction. The campsite stares up at the iconic Black Tusk. The right fork takes you first along the Barrier. An extraordinary buttress of rock that holds back a potentially devastating debris slide. You may have noticed the trailhead sign indicating that camping at the parking lot is prohibited as it is directly in the path of a potential debris flow. Past the Barrier viewpoint you can take a short side-trail to Garibaldi Lake or continue on and eventually the forked trail that led to Taylor Meadows meets with the Garibaldi Lake trail and the single trail continues to Black Tusk and then Panorama Ridge beyond. Panorama Ridge is number 2 on our Top 10 Whistler list of our favourite aerial videos.
The trail(s) from the fork until Panorama Ridge is a continuous marvel of alpine creeks, views of distant mountains, turquoise lake views and rarely boring. The final hike up Panorama Ridge is fairly steep. Some scrambling is required to get up the fairly steep, hard-packed, final snow trail. Challenging, long distance hike. Jaw dropping views from Panorama Ridge. Often cited as the best hike in Garibaldi Park. Panorama Ridge is often combined with other hikes in the area such as Black Tusk and Garibaldi Lake, over several days of amazing hiking.
Top 10 Whistler #3 - Overlord, Russet Lake & Adit Lakes
Russet Lake is a bit of a letdown in comparison to other alpine lakes around Whistler. It doesn't have that amazing turquoise colour you get in other lakes such asJoffre Lakes, Wedgemount Lake, Garibaldi Lake and Cheakamus Lake. Russet Lake does have something the rest lack. The relatively untouched areas around the lake are spectacular. Overlord Glacier sprawls down the valley below. The Fissile stretches to the sky like some giant arrowhead erupting from the earth. Just a short hike from the Russet Lake hut takes you to Adit Lakes. These extraordinary little lakes are crystal clear, shallow and surrounded by rocky slopes, gracefully stretching up to cliffs on one side and down the valley toward Overlord Glacier on the other. The water is bitterly cold even after soaking in the sun all summer, but the valley they sit in is somewhat sheltered from the fierce winds you often get on the Russet Lake side of the neighbouring ridge. Russet Lake is number 3 on our Top 10 Whistler list of our favourite aerial videos.
Sitting by Adit Lakes you get absolute silence and that wonderful feeling that humanity is far removed from this place. If you consider all these other features around Russet Lake, it compares to and even surpasses most other hiking area around Whistler.
Top 10 Whistler #4 - Madeley Lake
Madeley Lake is a well hidden, though easily drivable lake in the beautiful Callaghan Valley. Unlike the terrible gravel road (4x4 recommended) 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 Sproatt Mountain. 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 and there are a few old picnic tables and ancient outhouse and several good, metal fire pits. This is an amazing place to camp as the deep forest campsites open up to an incredible beach that always is sun facing. If looking for solitude at a paradise, mountain lake, Madeley Lake is hard to beat. Madeley Lake is a well hidden, easily accessible mountain lake. Though you will see about a dozen cars drive along the edge of the lake looking for bears, you will rarely see anyone at the lake. Madeley Lake is number 4 on our Top 10 Whistler list of our favourite aerial videos.
You can camp on the beautiful shores of the lake for free as this part of the world is well of the radar. Good fishing and wonderful scenery. The lake is very close to Alexander Falls and Whistler Olympic Park, making these part of the road trip. Keep in mind, however, that Whistler Olympic Park has an entry charge now just to get through the vehicle gate. Alexander Falls of course is still free to access.
Top 10 Whistler #5 - Wedgemount Lake
If you were to search your whole life for an absolutely amazing, astoundingly perfect, alpine hiking paradise, you'd have trouble finding a place as great as Wedgemount Lake in Garibaldi Park. To start with, the lake is breathtaking. Every angle you look at it and every hour of the day it alters its appearance dramatically. From its wonderful turquoise, marble-like appearance reflecting bronze mountains at sunrise and sunset. To its startlingly vivid appearance in the darkness of night. Reflecting stars are as clear looking down on the lake as they are looking up at the sky. The massive valley that contains Wedgemount Lake is ringed by impressive mountains and the ever-present Wedgemount Glacier that continuously pulls your attention to it. The trail that leads around the lake to the glacier takes only 20-30 minutes and is quite amazing to explore. Wedgemount Glacier, at its edge, has what is called a glacier window. A huge ice cave, created out of the melting underneath this huge, crushing mass of ice. You can get right up close to this impressive ice cave and have a drink of what was just moments before ice left thousands of years ago before Wedgemount Lake was called Wedgemount Lake. Wedgemount Lake is number 5 on our Top 10 Whistler list of our favourite aerial videos.
One of the most spectacular hikes in Garibaldi Park. Close to Whistler, the trailhead is only about 10-20 minutes away. Though the hike is hard and steep, it is short. A fit person can hike the trail in under 1.5 hours (one way). There are endless mountains, glaciers and hidden trails to explore. Wonderful and free hut to use with a million dollar view of the lake. The somewhat difficulty of the hike makes it less used than many other nearby trails.
Top 10 Whistler #6 - Russet Lake
Russet Lake, in Garibaldi Park is the wonderfully expansive hiking area located just a few spectacular steps from Whistler. Among the various ways to reach Russet Lake, possibly the most impressive are the approaches from either the Musical Bumps Trail or the High Note Trail. Both begin from high up on Whistler Mountain. Musical Bumps starts near the Roundhouse on Whistler and the High Note Trail begins at the top of Whistler near the Peak Chair. Though Russet Lake is not terribly impressive in terms of size or colour, the valley around it is remarkably beautiful. The colours change from moment to moment in and extraordinary way. The distinctive colour of the Fissile and the stark grey of the mountains around contrast amazingly with the blue of the lake and green grass in the valley. So many different factors fill the place with colour. There are, in fact, several ways to get to hike Russet Lake. The Singing Pass Trail from the base of Whistler Mountain near the Whistler Gondola. The Musical Bumps Trail that begins near the top of the Whistler Gondola. The High Note Trail that begins at the top of the Peak Chair on Whistler Mountain. There is an increasingly popular route that begins from Blackcomb Mountain. And finally, a very infrequently hiked route from Cheakamus Lake that runs along Singing Creek. Russet Lake is certainly one of the most amazing places in Whistler to hike. The various routes to reach it allow for not retracing your steps and instead doing an interesting circle route. Though you have to pay to ride the Whistler Gondola if hiking there via Musical Bumps or the High Note Trail. If you hike in reverse via Garibaldi Park's Singing Pass Trail and returning by the Musical Bumps Trail you can ride the Peak Chair and Whistler Gondola for free. Russet Lake is a bit of a letdown in comparison to other alpine lakes around Whistler. It doesn't have that amazing turquoise colour you get in other lakes such as Joffre Lakes, Wedgemount Lake, Garibaldi Lake and Cheakamus Lake. Russet Lake does have something the rest lack. The relatively untouched areas around the lake are spectacular. Overlord Glacier sprawls down the valley below. The Fissile stretches to the sky like some giant arrowhead erupting from the earth. Just a short hike from the Russet Lake hut takes you to Adit Lakes. Russet Lake is number 6 on our Top 10 Whistler list of our favourite aerial videos.
These extraordinary little lakes are crystal clear, shallow and surrounded by rocky slopes, gracefully stretching up to cliffs on one side and down the valley toward Overlord Glacier on the other. The water is bitterly cold even after soaking in the sun all summer, but the valley they sit in is somewhat sheltered from the fierce winds you often get on the Russet Lake side of the neighbouring ridge. Sitting by Adit Lakes you get absolute silence and that wonderful feeling that humanity is far removed from this place. If you consider all these other features around Russet Lake, it compares to and even surpasses most other hiking area around Whistler.
Top 10 Whistler #7 - Brandywine Falls Provincial Park
Brandywine Falls is one of the must see sights on the way to or from Whistler. The falls drop from a 66 metre, unnaturally abrupt cliff to the valley below. It is such a popular and beautiful sight that it is a Provincial Park, complete with a large and elaborate viewing platform directly opposite the falls. 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 parking lot is immediately off the highway and the short 1 kilometre trail takes you over then alongside the Cheakamus River to the viewing area. The only facilities in the park are pit toilets and picnic tables and there is no charge for hiking or for parking your vehicle in the park. The gate off of the highway is locked at night and in the winter so at these times you simply park at the edge of the highway and hike past the gate. Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is attached to the wonderful Sea to Sky Trail which runs between and beyond Whistler and Squamish. Brandywine Falls is number 7 on our Top 10 Whistler list of our favourite aerial videos.
Brandywine Falls is amazingly beautiful and very easy and quick to hike to. Just a 20 minute pit stop on the drive to or from Whistler allows you to see this amazing falls. Brandywine Falls and Shannon Falls, just south of Squamish are both convenient, quick and beautiful stops on the drive from Vancouver to Whistler.
Top 10 Whistler #8 - Parkhurst
Whistler has an absurd number of wonderful and free hiking trails and Parkhurst Ghost Town certainly ranks as one of the most unusual. Parkhurst was a little logging town perched on the edge of Green Lake way before Whistler was Whistler. Up on the ridge where Parkhurst sits, the views are sensational. Green lake far below, a solid unnatural looking mass of green. Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains out in the distance to the left and Rainbow Mountain across and beyond the lake. What makes Parkhurst such a great hiking trail and destination is where it is located and the wonderful journey to get to it. One route, one of several ways to get to it, runs along the scenic Green River and next to the still active train tracks that run through Whistler. There always seems to be something to see. From the beautiful meadow along the train tracks, to the suddenly deep forest where you have to play a game of finding the next, pink tree marker or risk wandering off the trail. The trail markers are numerous, and though getting lost is inevitable, you can only stray a few metres before, the river or steep terrain push you back onto the marked trail. Once up on the ridge above Green Lake where Parkhurst is located, the forest takes on a spooky feel. Trees are all far apart and with branches only high up give the forest a unnaturally lifeless look. Parkhurst Ghost Town is number 8 on our Top 10 Whistler list of our favourite aerial videos.
Parkhurst Ghost Town is located next to the beautiful and new Sea to Sky Trail that runs high above the very scenic Green Lake just north of Whistler. This allows for including Parkhurst into a longer hike that can begin from Whistler Village, extend through the Lost Lake trails up to the Sea to Sky Trail, then descend to Parkhurst on the shore of Green Lake. Of all the routes to Parkhurst, none are boring and seeing a bit of pre-Whistler history is interesting and a bit surreal at times.
Top 10 Whistler #9 - Sproatt from Tonic Peak
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. From the towering elevation of much of the Sproatt Alpine Trail you often look across or even down on distant mountains. Rainbow Mountain looks incredible from much of the trail. Jagged grey peaks in a row(pictured left) face you from Rainbow Mountain, just 5 kilometres away. A couple kilometres closer you spot Hanging Lake and the Lord of the Rings style valley that stretches 2 kilometres from its shores to the abrupt cliffs at your feet. Click the image below for an aerial video of the Sproatt Alpine Trail from Tonic Peak. One of many easily climbable mountain peaks in the massive alpine around Mount Sproatt. Several times along the trail you see the clearly defined ski runs on Whistler and Blackcomb and once in a while you can spot Alta Lake and Whistler Village. Sproatt is number 9 on our Top 10 Whistler list of our favourite aerial videos.
Though the Sproatt Alpine Trail can be done in a day, it is better to take two or three days as the terrain is seemingly endless and spectacular. Keep in mind, however, that camping is not allowed on the Rainbow side of the ridge that runs from Mount Sproatt to Tonic Peak, then north to Gin Peak as this is Whistler watershed. Mount Sproatt is well off the radar for most hikers and you will rarely see anyone on the trail or in the enormous valley. The endless lakes, creeks, valleys, mountain peaks and meadows make this an alpine paradise. More difficult to access than Garibaldi Provincial Park make it virtually unknown, even for locals. You will have trouble finding a better place to put your tent anywhere else in the world.
Top 10 Whistler #10 - Callaghan Lake
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 6 spots to put up a tent. 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. The hiking trails are minimal here due to the steepness and deep forest surrounding the lake. At the far end of the lake the rustic and steep Cirque Lake trail runs along the side of the crashing waterfall all the way to the breathtaking Cirque Lake. If you are motivated and have a canoe this is an amazing area to hike in mostly untouched wilderness where the alpine allows for hiking in several directions to countless lakes and glaciers beyond. Callaghan Lake is number 10 on our Top 10 Whistler list of our favourite aerial videos.
The Callaghan Lake campsite is free to use and is notorious for being a bit rowdy during summer weekends, which does make it a friendly and fun place. Convenient, you can drive right to the lake(4x4 is recommended due to the massive and frequent potholes as well as frequent, deep waterbars. Cars and motorhomes can make it, though slow and carefully). If you have a boat or canoe you can explore many beautiful areas of the lake and take several short hikes.