Callaghan Lake Provincial Park
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.
If you don't have access to a boat you should pick up one of those hilarious, $20 inflatable boats that you find for sale everywhere and bring it along. You could easily use one to ferry your gear/tent across to this above mentioned island as a trail leads to the island with just a 8 metre gap of 1 metre deep water. Either that or walk with your pack above your head. Either way camping at this little island is an absolute paradise when compared to the parking lot of a campsite 300 metres away.
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.
At the far end of the lake the rustic and very 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 Provincial Park is also the start of another little known though beautiful hike deep into the Callaghan Valley, Ring Lake and Conflict Lake. Conflict lake is 5 kilometres from the trailhead and is fun, easy and beautiful as the trail takes your through lush forests, meadows and creeks. From Conflict lake to Ring Lake is a more difficult and at time hard to follow trail. The snow persists very lake on this trail (often until late July), but the lake is magnificent and worth the trek. The Callaghan Valley is dog friendly unlike Garibaldi Provincial Park, but extreme caution is needed due to this being grizzly territory. If you see a bear here, it will probably be a grizzly. There are no camping facilities at Ring and Conflict Lakes and expect to only find a flat place to put your tent, possibly on snow.
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, but if you are looking for quiet and peace you may find it bothersome and should seek out one of the many, extraordinarily beautiful, boat accessed, backcountry tent sites. If you don't bring a boat you can make your way with some effort around the bottom(right) of the lake and up the right side of the lake to more serene places to put up a tent.
Callaghan Lake Parking, Hiking & Camping Details
The Callaghan Lake turnoff is 20km south of Whistler Village. From Whistler drive 20km towards Vancouver, then turn right at the sign for Whistler Olympic Park. Drive up the beautiful, winding road for about 8 minutes. The sign for Callaghan Lake will be just before Whistler Olympic Park, you will turn left, cross a bridge and drive a very bad and horrendously potholed logging road for 8.5 kilometres. Most vehicles can make it to the lake but with extreme caution and care at several waterbars and the frequent and very deep potholes.
You often see full size motorhomes at the campsite so as long as you drive slow, all vehicles should make it. Some of the more severe waterbars were smoothed over in July (2013). This logging road is usually deep with snow until mid June (mid July in 2012). If you attempt to drive this road before mid July, be sure to bring a shovel and rope in case you find yourself stuck in the snow. You will have spotty cell reception all the way to the Callaghan campsite, however you may have to walk along the road until you catch a usable signal.
Other Sights & Trails in the Callaghan Valley...
The Callaghan Valley lays quietly across from Whistler despite being home to some incredible hikes. Ring & Conflict Lake and Cirque Lake are two phenomenal hiking destinations in the valley that few people have even heard of. Cirque Lake resides high above Callaghan Lake at the end of a very steep, though very short hike that runs startlingly close to the almost vertical falls that empty Cirque Lake. Ring and Conflict Lakes sit high up in the mountains 10k west of . You will never, or at least comparatively rarely see anyone on the trails to Cirque Lake, Conflict Lake or Ring Lake for several reasons.First is location. Despite the Callaghan Valley being tremendously beautiful geographically. The distant mountains are snow covered, even in September. The lakes are emerald coloured and crystal clear. The forests are an untouched blanket of beautiful green. The creeks, rivers and waterfalls are everywhere in your view or if not in view, heard as distant sounds of running water. Despite this beauty, it seems that the biggest reason for the Callaghan Valley's lack of use as a hiking destination is its location next to Garibaldi Park. The beautiful and well known park focuses all the throngs of hikers in the justifiably popular areas of Garibaldi Lake, Black Tusk, Taylor Meadows, Wedgemount Lake and Elfin Lakes. Laying outside this monstrously famous Provincial Park exists the relatively untouched and unknown Callaghan Valley. The second big reason of course is that the hikes in the Callaghan Valley are unmaintained or at least rarely maintained. The campsite at is maintained to a very high standard, however the trail to Cirque Lake evidently doesn't fall into any park jurisdiction and finding the unmarked trailhead is a challenge. There are flagging tapes along the trail after the trailhead. The third reason, at least for Cirque Lake, for being hardly hiked is the fact that the unmarked trailhead starts at the far end of . So you need to canoe or otherwise, boat there. This added impediment surely contributes to this wonderful trail, continuing to be infrequently hiked. The fourth, more practical, yet inexplicable reason is that the road to is horribly unmaintained. Obviously grading this poor logging road is expensive, however it is beyond neglected. Boulders, waterbars and potholes exist on this road to such a high degree that the neglect seems malicious.
In fact, the moment you leave the deluxe road to the Olympic Nordic Centre the monstrous potholes begin, presumably scaring away any 4x4 lacking tourists Callaghan Lake Provincial Park bound. The Callaghan Valley gets a lot of drive in traffic since the recent paving of the road and installation of the fabulous Whistler Olympic Park for the 2010 Olympics. This road is open year-round and in the summer is frequented by bear watchers. The grass along the road is a favourite for bears and in the summer months consistently ensures at least a couple bears along the route to the Callaghan Valley. Whistler has quite a few beautiful waterfalls to see. From Squamish there is Shannon Falls, then Brandywine Falls closer to Whistler. Rainbow Falls in Whistler and Nairn Falls twenty minutes north. Out of these, Alexander Falls in the Callaghan Valley is both impressively huge and convenient to see. It is located just before the turnoff to . You can drive to the viewing platform and actually see the falls without leaving your car.
Alexander Falls are similar to Brandywine Falls. That is crashing from an abrupt cliff, plunging into the valley below. Loud and beautiful, well worth the 10 minute drive from the Sea to Sky Highway and a must see on the way to hike in the Callaghan Valley.