Rainbow Lake - Whistler Area Trails
The Rainbow Trail is a convenient and popular trail near Whistler Village that takes you to Rainbow Lake as well as the Flank Trail, Rainbow Falls, Hanging Lake, Madeley Lake, Beverly Lake, Rainbow Mountain... and even Whistler Olympic Park if you are determined. It is a consistently uphill and very beautiful trail with several water (bridge) crossings and waterfalls on the way to the picture-perfect lake. There are a few views of the valley across to Whistler, Blackcomb, and . Few views, though fantastic. Rainbow Lake itself is in a gorgeous alpine valley with branching trails that extend further beyond the lake in at least three directions. Snow starts at 5 kilometres into the 8 kilometre trail. Hikeable without snowshoes, but expect to get wet and cold!
Along with the waterfalls, bridge crossings and valley views, the Rainbow Trail passes through deep forest with some impressively huge trees. Plenty of birds can be heard and seen along the trail and though black bears frequent the area, they are infrequently spotted due to their migration down into the valley. Cougars are also known to roam around this area, though also rarely spotted. As recently as 2014 signs of cougar activity were identified on the Flank Trail near where it branches off from the Rainbow Trail.
The Rainbow Trail has a small side trail that takes you to Rainbow Falls. Not far from the trailhead, the small Rainbow Falls sign is easily missed. It is located about five minutes into the Rainbow Trail and your best bet to find it is to keep bearing right along the first couple trail branches. Don't worry about getting lost here though as all the trails reconnect further along the trail when you briefly exit the forest at the water treatment building.
Unfortunately, Rainbow Lake is the water supply for Whistler, so you cannot swim, fish or camp near the lake. There is decent camping available nearby at Hanging Lake as well as Beverly Lake in the direction of Rainbow Mountain.
Hanging lake is a bit dark and swampy as compared to the spectacular camping at Beverly Lake which is a tough but rewarding hike beyond Rainbow Lake. See the trail maps below for the routes to each of these lakes.
Beverly Lake is reached by following the trail toward Rainbow Mountain. About 40 minutes into this trail the trail markers will stop as it ascends up into an extensive boulder field towards Rainbow Mountain. To reach Beverly, bear left of the route to Rainbow Mountain and follow the valley. Beverly Lake is about an hours hike from Rainbow Lake(see maps below).
Trail Map & Trailhead Directions to Rainbow Lake
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.
Parking, Hiking & Camping Info for Rainbow Lake
With the restrictions at Rainbow Lake for camping, swimming, etc, Madeley Lake, Hanging Lake and especially Beverly Lake are great options. Madeley Lake is a nice, easy to get to, and free place to camp and the logging road to get to it is usually free of snow June to November. Depending on the early and late season snow of course. The trail from Madeley to Hanging lake is nice, though not too much to see. Hanging Lake is nice, deep forest lake in the middle of nowhere. You feel a hundred miles from civilization so it is extraordinarily tranquil. You can see the milky way at night very clearly as you are shielded from man-made light from all possible directions.
To get even further from the world, hike the partly marked trail to Beverly Lake. The first kilometre is well worn and easy to follow as this is also a somewhat popular trail to reach the summit of Rainbow Mountain. The Rainbow Mountain trail veers right and quickly ascends through massive boulders. If you instead bear left and stay in the valley you will reach this fantastically remote lake.
You will be a bit disheartened, however, when you arrive at the lake and see a picnic table. It's very out of place, evidently put there by some helicopter tour company. Other than the weird picnic table there are no signs of humanity, and no restrictions on camping as you have at Rainbow Lake.
Unfortunately dogs are not allowed on the Rainbow Trail or around Rainbow Lake due to it being Whistler's main water source. There are plenty of other excellent, dog friendly hiking options around Whistler. The Madeley to Hanging Lake Trail shown on the map above is dog friendly. Also, all the hiking trails in the Callaghan Valley are dog friendly. Ring and Conflict Lake are dog friendly as well as Callaghan Lake and Cirque Lake. For a list of the best hiking trails in Whistler that welcome dogs, click here. For easier, dog friendly trails, click here.
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.