Cheakamus Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Cheakamus Lake is a wonderfully relaxing way to get in the wilderness easily and quickly from. The trail begins on the far side of Whistler Mountain, 8 kilometres from the Sea to Sky Highway at Cheakamus Crossing across from Function Junction. This 8 kilometre stretch of logging road is fairly bumpy and potholed, but does have the benefit of allowing you to drive the elevation gain instead of hiking it.
You can easily manage this road in a car, however carefully and slowly in parts. Once you reach the trailhead/parking the entire 7 kilometre trail to the end of the Cheakamus Lake trail has barely any elevation gain.
In fact, this makes it one of the few trails in Whistler and Garibaldi Park that can boast that. The nearby Garibaldi Lake trail and the Wedgemount Lake trail make you work for the views, however, the Cheakamus Lake trail hardly makes you work at all.
The trail to Cheakamus Lake takes you through an amazing forest of giant cedars that fill the forest with their amazing aroma. This forest is so packed with ancient giants that year to year the trail is adjusted by a monster of a tree fallen across the trail during some winter storm. Sometimes the trail bends around these behemoths, but more often they are laboriously chainsawed by BC Parks staff. The more enormous of these remain as fixtures of the trail. Either edging the trail or as a mighty obstacle to climb over.
One monster of a cedar remained sprawled across, actually along a section of the Cheakamus Lake trail for much of 2012. It surely surprised every hiker to come to an abrupt end of the trail with a tree across the trail too big to even see over. The bypass route was a hilarious, yet dangerous looking scramble underneath and along the edge of the trail for about 20 metres to get back on the trail at the other side. Look for it when you pass by. Though it has been mostly moved the tell-tale wreckage is hard to miss and captivatingly beautiful. What a sound it must have made, exhibited now by giant cedar spears still menacingly pointing from a break in the massive trunk.
The first three kilometres of the 7 kilometre long Cheakamus Lake trail takes you parallel to the beautiful Cheakamus River. This large, fast and always crashing river can be seen and heard occasionally through the massive forest and up close as you near Cheakamus Lake. There is a trail sign, 1.5 kilometres from the trailhead, indicating that the trail descending to the Cheakamus River eventually leads to the Helm Creek campground and much further to Panorama Ridge, Black Tusk, Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake. There is a beautiful bridge across the Cheakamus River that is just a two minute hike from this sign and well worth it. You can see below your feet through the floor of the bridge the swirling and fast moving river under you.
Back on the Cheakamus Lake trail, at 3 kilometres you arrive at Cheakamus Lake. The trail continues along the left side of the lake, passing some wonderfully located campsites, and very small beaches. There are 10 very nice and hidden tent areas in this area, excellent water sources from several creeks, a bear proof food hang as well as tidy outhouses here.
The next 4 kilometres of the Cheakamus Lake trail reveal viewpoints progressively more amazing. The trail hugs the edge of the lake, with frequent views of its amazing, turquoise colour, distant snow capped mountains and occasional bear sightings. With so much to see and such an enjoyable trail, Cheakamus Lake one of Whistler's best and most family friendly hikes around. The trail is never strenuous and constantly beautiful with the wonderful smells that come with an old growth cedar forest are incredible.
At 7 kilometres from the trailhead/parking you reach the end of the maintained trail and another 7 tent sites beautifully blended into the surroundings, another bear proof food hang and outhouse. Around these campsites are dozens of cute little beaches all along the trail which invite swimming in the crystal clear, though bitterly cold water.
Cheakamus Lake has always been known for its good fishing so bring your rod and sit back in the sun. Which you will see a lot of. The entire trail and mini beaches are south facing and capture the sun the entire day.
Singing Creek is where the BC Parks maintained trail ends, however, an unmaintained trail continues much further. Easy to follow and well worn, this trail leads to cute and secluded little beaches that are so numerous and unknown as to be well beyond the sometimes noisy campsites and main Cheakamus trail. Singing Creek originates high up towards Whistler Mountain and a long faded and unmarked trail connects to Russet Lake. The unmarked route begins on the far side of Singing Creek and ascends through the forest reaching the alpine after just over 1 kilometre and Russet Lake in 2.5k.
There is no charge to park at the parking lot/trailhead, though there is a charge for overnight camping. $10/adults, $5/kid. Take a look at the BC Parks site for info. The road to Cheakamus Lake is covered in snow until about mid May every year, but from May to October it is reliably clear enough to drive.
Cheakamus Lake Parking, Hiking & Camping Info
From Village Gate Boulevard, drive south, toward Vancouver for 8km. At the lights at Function Junction, turn left, about 300 metres ahead you will see a sign on your left for Cheakamus Lake. Follow the unpaved, potholed road for 8km to the Cheakamus trailhead. Parking is free and the parking lot has an outhouse as well as some picnic tables overlooking the Cheakamus River far below. There is also a nice, large mapboard at the trailhead as well as some BC Parks, Garibaldi Park information.
Cheakamus Lake has two BC Parks maintained campsites. The first campsite at 3 kilometres from the trailhead/parking has 10 areas for tents. Most with great views of the lake and all within steps of the shore. There are outhouses here as well as a system to hang your food high up in the trees beyond the reach of animals. The forest is wonderfully thick and huge at the campsites with enormous trees everywhere which allows for some privacy from other campers. Swimming and fishing are popular at the lake despite the cold water. The second camping area is at Singing Creek at the 7k mark of the trail. This campsite has 7 areas cleared for tents as well as good water sources and bear hangs. This campsite is much nicer, quieter and edges on Singing Creek, which is an idyllic mountain creek that originates high up toward Whistler Mountain.
There is an outhouse at the trailhead/parking to Cheakamus Lake as well as outhouses at the first set of campsites at 3 kilometres along the trail and the Singing Creek set of campsites 7k from the trailhead. The beautiful new neighbourhood, Cheakamus Crossing near the turnoff to Cheakamus Lake Road has restaurant and cafe's with washroom facilities. The large HI Hostel has a great little cafe with a great selection of food and drinks available in its beautiful lobby. Easy to find, just continue past the Cheakamus Lake Road turnoff and in about 1 minute you will see the HI Whistler on your right. Free parking out front or at the side. Cheakamus Crossing is well worth visiting as this neighbourhood was purpose built for the 2010 Olympics as the "Athletes Village".
Dogs are not permitted on the Cheakamus Lake trail or any other Garibaldi Provincial Park trails out of courtesy to the resident animals of the park. There are a large number of black bears in the park and encounters with dogs result in unpredictable and potentially dangerous conflicts. There are quite a few excellent hiking trails in Whistler that are dog friendly. The beautiful trails on either side of the Cheakamus River on the drive to the Cheakamus Lake trailhead are dog friendly. You can park at several places on either side of the river to access these trails and there are lots signs indicating where to go. Train Wreck is also dog friendly. The trailhead, marked Flank Trail is located in Function Junction, on the opposite side of the Sea to Sky Highway from the Cheakamus Lake Road. Whistler's Valley Trail and Lost Lake Trails are dog friendly and run throughout Whistler. The Sea to Sky Trail, which runs over 30 kilometres through Whistler is a paradise trail for dogs as it runs through numerous parks, beaches and forests.
Ancient Cedars is a nice, dog friendly hike that is 5k roundtrip and takes you into a thousand year old forest. Further south you will come to Brandywine Falls, which is a short, 2k (roundtrip) dog friendly hike to the amazing falls. About 25 minutes north of Whistler, Nairn Falls is another beautiful and dog friendly hiking trails. For a look at some of the best dog friendly hikes in Whistler try here.. And for some more challenging dog friendly hikes try here..