Russet Lake & Singing Pass in Garibaldi Provincial Park
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.
In short, the three ways to get to Russet Lake are 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.
Taking the Musical Bumps Trail that begins at the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain is arguably the best route to Russet Lake. It is fairly direct(12.5k to Russet Lake) 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. Trail names have been evolving over the recent years and keep in mind that you may not see any mention of Russet Lake, Singing Pass Trail, or even the Musical Bumps Trail until you get a couple kilometres into the trail. From the Roundhouse, look for the trail marked as Harmony Lake Trail and continue onto the High Note Trail. See the map below. At the bottom right corner, the Musical Bumps Trail continues to Russet Lake, where the High Note Trail bends to the right, towards Whistler Peak.
The Musical Bumps trail next takes you to Flute Summit. At Flute Summit follow the signs to Singing Pass. The signs on this route are sometimes confusing as some get destroyed during the winter. Just be sure to aim for Flute Summit, then Singing Pass, then Russet Lake. From Russet Lake, you can return to Whistler Village the way you came, or via the High Note Trail, or via the Singing Pass Trail, which brings you back to the Village.
Village to Russet Lake via the High Note Trail(14.5k)
The Peak Chair, High Note Trail 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).
Village to Russet Lake via Singing Pass(14.5k)
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. It is a relentless ascent, however, and fairly boring. 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.
Singing Pass Trailhead Directions
Parking for Russet Lake/Singing Pass is convenient and free, located in Whistler Village in Lot 4. Parking is very well organized and central in Whistler Village, so as you drive into Whistler Village by either Village Gate Boulevard or Lorimer Road, just look for the parking lot signs. From the highway, turn onto either Lorimer Rd or Village Gate, then in two blocks you will come to Blackcomb Way. From Village Gate turn left to see the entrance to the four huge, connected parking lots(Lot 1, Lot 2, Lot 3 and Lot 4). From Lorimer Rd, you can continue past Blackcomb Way and find a more direct, side entrance to Lot 4 (right off of Lorimer Rd). Make sure to pay close attention to where you can and can't park for free and long term and don't expect to see any signs for the Singing Pass Trail until you get to the trailhead(about 1.5k from Lot 4). 1.5k sounds like a lot, but it is through Whistler Village for much of the way, then up along the ski runs for .8k, so it is mostly enjoyable.
The Singing Pass trailhead is located about .8km up Whistler mountain. To find it from Whistler Village, 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.