The High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain
The begins high up on Whistler Mountain at the top of the Peak Express chairlift. To get there you must buy a lift pass and ride the Whistler Gondola for 22 minutes up to the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain, then hike for about 8 minutes to the Peak Express. Ride this beautiful and alarmingly steep chairlift up to Whistler's Peak where the begins.
Of all the hiking choices on Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain, the High Note Trail is possibly the most amazing and scenic. It has several amazing attributes that make it a must-do hike on any summer visit to Whistler. First, the fact that it starts and finishes at the Roundhouse Lodge is fantastic. The Roundhouse has a very nice and reasonably priced restaurant with an outdoor seating area with million dollar views all around. They also have a great selection of pub style drinks so you can toast a beer or glass of wine on top of the world after(or before) your hike.
Second, after the Roundhouse there is a short hike to the carnival like, Peak Express chairlift, which takes you to the High Note trailhead. This ride alone will cause you to snap about 25 photos as you ride into the clouds to the summit of Whistler Mountain. And the third and most beautiful aspect of the High Note Trail is that half of it runs along the edge of Whistler Mountain with the hypnotically beautiful Cheakamus Lake always in view. This lake has that surreal and certainly bizarre looking colour that never quite looks real. With the sun shining off of it, producing such a vibrant blue that contrasts the green of everything else around you.
The High Note Trail begins with some narrow, rocky and fairly steep ups and downs as you hike out to the edge of a rock outcrop with your first trail views of the valley and Whistler below. Though there are two small chain-assist sections, most hikers should have no difficulty in this section. Even if you are bringing your kids along, you will have no problem or worry at these parts or any other along the trail. After this short up and down section at the beginning of the High Note Trail, the route evens out and runs along the edge of the ridge parallel to the amazing Cheakamus Lake far down the valley below.
There are signs at a couple spots along the way directing you very clearly. The High Note Trail is 9.5k roundtrip and should take about 3 hours. Partway along the trail you can take a short cut, the Half Note Trail and head back earlier and shorten the trail by a couple kilometres. The trail is by no means easy as it is narrow and has a few ups and downs, but aside from the fairly long distance (9.5k), the High Note Trail is family friendly.
It is open from July to October depending on when the Whistler Gondola and Peak Express are open of course. The cost can be prohibitive at around $70, however, there is so much to see and do up there, not least the Peak to Peak Gondola which shouldn't be missed on the same outing as hiking the High Note. One common misconception about paying to go up Whistler Mountain in the summer is that you will only be up there for an hour or so as there is little to do. The opposite is actually the case. If you hike the High Note Trail, stop in at the Roundhouse, cross over to Blackcomb Mountain on the Peak to Peak Gondola, and then ride back down to the Village, you may take well over 5 hours and have an amazing time.
Parking, Hiking and Camping Info
Parking in Whistler Village is in one of the four main day lots. Parking rules in Whistler changed to pay parking a couple years ago, and parking rules keep changing. However, it seems that Lot 4 will always allow free, long-term parking for the High Note Trail, Singing Pass and Russet Lake. . Lot 4 is easy to find. As you enter Whistler Village on Village Gate Boulevard, drive straight to the T junction stop sign at Blackcomb Way. Turn Left onto Blackcomb Way and you will see Lots 1 to 4 on your right. Lot 4 is the last one on your right, however you can enter the lots anywhere as they are all joined. Lots 1, 2, and 3 are all paid parking and you will see plenty of signs and instructions to pay.
Camping possibilities are endless and amazing on both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The High Note Trail exists on a fairly popular hiking route and though camping is not outright prohibited, doing so in the vicinity of the trail would be weird and certainly frowned upon. Most camping is centred around Russet Lake,in Garibaldi Provincial Park which sits in a beautiful setting near where Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain meet. The Russet Lake campground enjoys some nice amenities. There are outhouses, one at Russet Lake and another partway along the Singing Pass Trail. Russet Lake also has a nice, solid, hut that anyone is welcome to use for free. The numerous and very nice places to put up a tent around Russet Lake ensures that this hut remains vacant the majority of nights in the summer and fall. In the winter months, however, the Russet Lake hut is a hive of activity and cherished as a temporary winter home for Whistler's numerous, hard-core skiers/snowboarders/snowshoers. An amazing alternative to Russet Lake are the countless, unmarked places to bivouac along the Musical Bumps Trail. The Musical Bumps Trail skirts the edge of Whistler Mountain almost all the way to Russet Lake. As you hike you keep passing Whistler chairlifts on your left and to your right, endless wilderness descending to Cheakamus Lake. About 45 minutes beyond the High Note Trail you will start noticing some enticing areas on your right where you could disappear into the forest and set up camp next to an idyllic stream with an amazing view over Cheakamus Lake.
Located on Whistler Mountain, the High Note Trail has several washroom and outhouse facilities. The Whistler Gondola drops you off at the Roundhouse Lodge, which has washrooms, gift shops and two restaurants. From the Roundhouse you have a 5 minute hike down to the Peak Express Chair. There are a couple slight variations on the route you can take for the High Note Trail, however, the normal route returns you past washrooms at a small cabin about 7 kilometres into the 9.5k roundtrip journey. If you are continuing past the High Note Trail toward Russet Lake or the Singing Pass Trail, you will find outhouses at both Russet Lake and partway down the Singing Pass Trail.
Tragically dogs are not welcome on the High Note Trail, Whistler or Blackcomb mountains, or anywhere in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This is out of respect for the local wildlife as well as the inability of chairlifts to safely accommodate transporting pets. Unfortunately that rules out quite a few hiking trails in the Whistler area. There are an ever increasing number of dog friendly hiking alternatives in Whistler. Certainly the recently established section of the Sea to Sky Trail above Green Lake is an excellent dog friendly hiking trail to try. The Sea to Sky Trail runs for over 30 kilometres through Whistler and every inch of it is pretty amazing.
More Hiking Trails Near The High Note Trail
Blackcomb Mountain has come alive with beautiful hiking trails in recent years. With the 2008 addition of the Peak to Peak Gondola which connects Blackcomb to Whistler, the demand for mountain trails is higher than ever. A dozen years ago, you would just have had some rough hiking trails to follow, and not many hikers to follow them. Now you have mapboards, trail signs, viewpoint seating areas and six popular, named trails to hike. The trails are mostly easy and relaxing, however the Decker Loop Trail at the far end of Blackcomb is very challenging and spectacularly scenic. For the most part, you will find yourself winding through a nice alpine forest scattered with enormous fields of erratics leading to one great viewpoint after another. You can hike for as little as 15 minutes or more than 3 hours, depending on the trail or trails you choose to follow. Blackcomb Lake and Blackcomb Peak that looms far above it are the most popular destinations for hikers and getting there and back can be done in a couple hours. Russet Lake, in Garibaldi Provincial 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. Cheakamus Lake is an amazing trail to hike, run or bike in Whistler. A wonderfully relaxing way to get in the wilderness easily and quickly from Whistler Village. 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 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.