Russet Lake, Garibaldi Park Whistler Hiking Trails
Russet Lake is a fantastic alpine lake that lays at the base of the Fissile. The Fissile is the strikingly bronze coloured mountain so visible from Whistler Village. From the Village look into the distance at the Peak to Peak hanging between Whistler and Blackcomb and you will see the Fissile. Its pyramid shape in the distance perfectly separates the two mountains.
Though Russet Lake is not terribly impressive in terms of size or colour, the valley around it is remarkably beautiful. The colours change from moment to moment in and extraordinary way. The distinctive colour of the Fissile and the stark grey of the mountains around contrast amazingly with the blue of the lake and green grass in the valley. So many different factors fill the place with colour.
There are several ways to get to hike Russet Lake. The Singing Pass Trail from the base of Whistler Mountain near the Whistler Gondola. The Musical Bumps Trail that begins near the top of the Whistler Gondola. The High Note Trail that begins at the top of the Peak Chair on Whistler Mountain. There is an increasingly popular route that begins from Blackcomb Mountain. And finally, a very infrequently hiked route from Cheakamus Lake that runs along Singing Creek. The descriptions that follow are of 1. Musical Bumps (direct route and beautiful), 2. High Note Trail (a bit longer but even more beautiful), and the Singing Pass Trail (not as nice as the previous two and constantly uphill, but no expensive gondola charge).
All three routes are have signs and well established trails. None are very difficult with the exception of being long trails. Though each can be done in a day, 28 kilometres of hiking in one day is quite a long way. Russet Lake is a beautiful place to camp. It has a wonderful hut available to use by anyone. It is a basic wooden hut with no facilities, but surprisingly comfortable. It holds up to 12 crowded or 8 comfortable. There is also an outhouse and a beautiful stream that runs along the massive camping area. There are no tent platforms but over a dozen tent clearings.
There is a considerable amount of exploring available in the valley around Russet Lake. The fissile is a difficult but very feasible hike from Russet Lake. Below Russet Lake is a very accessible glacier as well as a bonanza of glacier formed landscape features, inviting hours of interesting exploration. Above Russet Lake there is a beautiful snow covered ridge that commands incredible views all around and if you have the energy makes for a spectacular tent site.
Route 1 to Russet Lake(28k) Whistler Gondola/Musical Bumps/Singing Pass
Musical Bumps Trail(12.5k)-Return to Whistler Village Via Singing Pass(15.5k)
This route is arguably the best route to Russet Lake. It is fairly direct and full of incredible views. Alpine forests, massive valleys, small alpine lakes, dramatic mountain views all around. The trail has considerable elevation gain and loss though. The trail is well marked with signs directing you along the Musical Bumps trail. You won't
see Russet Lake signs until you reach the trail junction at the Singing Pass Trail. This route is a very popular trail running route in Whistler. From the Roundhouse to the Village is 24k, and much of it downhill.
To find the Russet Lake trailhead take the Whistler Gondola up to the Roundhouse Lodge. Walk out of the Gondola and past the Peak to Peak building, up a gravel slope about 50 metres. On your left you will see a trailhead. Sometimes it is marked and sometimes not. It is marked on the Whistler hiking map they have in the Roundhouse and in the Gondola buildings. The trail is marked as #3 Harmony Lake Trail. At the trailhead you should be looking down to the big snowmaking reservoir in the distance (bottom left of the picture shown here) You want to follow the trail past it to the left. This trail then leads into the #5 High Note Trail to Flute Summit. At Flute Summit follow the signs to Singing Pass.
The signs on this route are poorly laid out and confusing so (when looking at trail signs) aim for Flute Summit and then Singing Pass, then Russet Lake.
2. Whistler Gondola to Whistler Roundhouse on Whistler Mountain - Hike to Peak Chair (.7k) - Peak Chair up to the Peak of Whistler - High Note Trail Joins with the Musical Bumps Trail which leads to Russet Lake (14.5k) - Return to Whistler Village Via Singing Pass (14.5k)
This route to Russet Lake is the most scenic, however two kilometres longer than the Musical Bumps Route. The 2k is well worth it though for the views from the High Note Trail as well as the Peak Chair.
Any time of year the Peak Chair is like a carnival ride, exhilarating, and wonderful, but in the summer, it’s surreal as well. Great walls of snow pass under you far below, as you glide upward at times at a shocking degree.
The incline of the ride is extreme, so steep as the breathtaking scenery cannot even distract fully from the nervousness you will surely feel as you glance down, 20 metres to the boulder field below. Then you arrive, the peak of Whistler, what a magnificent way to start a hike. You are still four hours from Russet Lake, but the adventure is well underway.
From the top of the Peak chair, follow the signs for the High Note Trail and Singing Pass. The trail is 14.5k with several ascents and descents on the way. The High Note Trail eventually joins with the Musical Bumps Trail part way along and continues to the junction of the Singing Pass Trail. Left goes to Whistler Village and right goes to Russet Lake (3k).
3. Singing Pass Trail that Begins in Whistler Village to Russet Lake (14.5k) - Return to Whistler Village Via Singing Pass (14.5k) OR Via Musical Bumps and/or the High Note Trail (12.5k or 14.5k) - Take the Whistler Gondola Back to Whistler Village for Free (check opening hours)
The Singing Pass Trail has the great benefit of being free. The other two routes require purchasing a lift ticket for the Whistler Gondola. The Singing Pass Trail is 14.5k to Russet Lake and constantly uphill, though by no means difficult. **Note that the Garibaldi Park kilometre signs are misleading on the Singing Pass trail. They still indicate distance to "Parking Whistler Village". This "Parking" they refer to is the old/original Singing Pass parking area that you will pass along the trail quite far from Whistler Village. With the development of Whistler over the years, this vehicle access has been closed.
The trail is fairly uneventful as is runs through deep forest for much of the first 10k. The trail has a couple of washouts. One, about 40 minutes into the trail is quite bad. Looks like a large avalanche across the trail, trees, loose dirt. It is passable though with a little scrambling, but be prepared for this inconvenience. This area has
caused some confusion in recent years as for a time the Whistler Info Centre mistakenly called the Singing Pass trail closed because of this section. Also, in recent years there have been cases of bridge damage along the trail,
however, parks staff quickly repair the bridges. Keep this in mind when hiking this trail, certainly in June, you will find extensive damage to the trail left over from the winter. Usually just fallen trees criss-crossing the trail, but don't be surprised if you come to a washed out bridge that has to be scrambled across with some difficulty.
After this the trail is well maintained with small bridges over cute creeks. At 10.5k it finally opens up to the alpine. The views immediately become magnificent. The junction at 11.5k splits the trail. Left goes to Russet Lake (3k), and right goes to Whistler Mountain via the Musical Bumps Trail. If you are confident in making the Whistler Gondola during open hours, returning to Whistler by this route is a beautiful option.
Directions to Russet Lake/Singing Pass Trailhead:
Parking for Russet Lake/Singing Pass is in the Village at Lot 4. Parking in Whistler has recently changed to pay parking, and parking rules keep changing. However, it seems that Lot 4 will always allow free, long-term parking for this hike. Be sure to read the parking signs to ensure this is still so.
The Singing Pass trailhead is located about .8km up Whistler mountain. To find it walk up the broad stairs, past the Dubh Lihn Gate Pub, towards the main bus stop.
At the top of the stairs turn right just before the bus stop you will see a big yellow gate blocking a gravel road winding up Whistler Mountain, running parallel to the chiarlift.
Walk up this road for about five minutes, when you see the large water tower on your left, you should see the Singing Pass trailhead sign just past that on your left.
Directions to Russet Lake via the Whistler Gondola
The easier and more scenic route is to take the Whistler Gondola up to the Roundhouse, then either take the beautiful Musical Bumps trail which begins after you exit the gondola and Roundhouse Lodge. Walk past the Peak to Peak Gondola building and about 50 metres up the gravel trail, just past the Peak to Peak Gondola building. Walk to the Peak Chair and take it up to the start of the High Note Trail which leads into the Singing Pass trail and then the Musical Bumps Trail which takes you to Russet Lake.