Rainbow Lake 16k - Whistler Trail Running
The Rainbow Lake trail is an amazingly beautiful trail run. 8k from the trailhead to the lake, only the first 1.5k are painfully steep. The next 6.5k are wonderfully scenic and mercifully tame in ascent. Certainly difficult as 850m in 8k will attest. But reaching the lake is such a powerful relief that the run back to the trailhead is, by comparison, easy. A great challenge and a great trail run. The trailhead is conveniently close to Whistler Village on Alta Lake Road, across from the Rainbow Park parking area. The trail starts by ascending a beautiful, narrow, and winding trail in deep forest. After about five minutes you come out at a the small water treatment building and a sign and map board. It directs you to Rainbow Lake, first along a wide trail which leads, after a few minutes, to another trail sign and an area to lock bikes. This is the end of the consistently steep portion of the trail.
From here the trail begins again as a narrow, winding and beautiful forest trail. Ideal for trail running. Not too steep, lots of variation with streams, bridges, waterfalls and occasional, amazing view of the mountains across the valley. Wedge Mountain, Blackcomb Mountain and Whistler Mountain look huge, despite being kilometres away.
If you are running or hiking to Rainbow Lake in July expect snow. Fortunately, there will have been plenty of people before you and new snow wouldn't have fallen for several week and the trail should be tracked out. You may still get wet, but you should be able to avoid tracking the snow yourself.
Later in the summer, you may be looking for a swim when you reach the lake, but that is prohibited as this is Whistler's water supply. Camping, dogs and fishing are all not allowed. If you are motivated, however, there are two lakes beyond Rainbow Lake with trails running to each. At Rainbow Lake you will see a map board and notice that the trail continues past Rainbow Lake and turns left, around and beyond the lake. This trail continues to Hanging Lake where you will find decent camping and swimming.
If you are really motivated, you will have noticed back at Rainbow Lake that the trail that went left toward Hanging Lake, also had a trail going right. This trail ascends toward Rainbow Mountain. This is a difficult hike through a seldom marked boulder field, then up a steep glacier to its summit. Beverly Lake on the other hand is in the same direction as the Rainbow Mountain trail, however much easier to reach. To find Beverly Lake, you simply follow this trail toward Rainbow Mountain. After about 20-30 minutes you will arrive at the massive and ascending boulder field that rises toward Rainbow Mountain. The increasingly faint trail will have faded by now. Instead of bearing right up this boulder field, to continue straight along it, and eventually bear left. If you are trail running, you will find this reasonably easy as there is little elevation gain to the lake. Snow returns in earnest to Whistler in November making this trail only navigable on skis or snowshoes from November to June.
Trail Map & Trailhead Directions to Rainbow Lake
This trail map shows the Rainbow Trail at its beginning with Rainbow Falls and the overlapping Flank Trail.
This trail map shows the Rainbow Trail from Alta Lake Road to Rainbow Lake. To print: Right Click on the map, save image as, save to desktop, then open the image and print on standard size printer paper. Cell coverage is very reliable on the trail to Rainbow Lake. You will likely be able to access the internet and this map if you have a data plan, however saving this image may be a good idea especially if you are venturing out beyond Rainbow Lake toward Beverly Lake where the trail is hard to find and follow.
Trailhead Directions to Rainbow Lake
The trailhead is a short 15 minute drive from Whistler Village. There is a parking area at the edge of Alta Lake Road right at the trailhead. Look for the big "Rainbow Trail" sign. Directions to trailhead: 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 (Rainbow Drive becomes Alta Lake Rd after about 1 kilometre) until at 6.8km you will see the trailhead on your right and the big "Rainbow Trail" sign. At the start of the trail you will see a big mapboard showing the area.