Trails run so abundant in Whistler that many go unnoticed, neglected or taken for granted. The Flank Trail is one of these. Most people in Whistler don't even know about it, but the ones that do, love it. Officially known as the Rainbow-Sproatt Flank Trail, it runs the length of Whistler Valley, opposite Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Flanking both these enormous mountains, the Flank Trail is the inspiration for an ever-growing number of trails that run to it, from it, and across it. From the Callaghan Valley, far south of Whistler, near Whistler Olympic Park it begins(or ends). It then stretches 40 kilometres along the flank of the massive and sprawling Mount Sproatt, then Rainbow Mountain, where it finally terminates near Ancient Cedars and Showh Lakes. The 40 kilometre trail takes you past some pretty amazing sights. From the beginning, Whistler Olympic Park is interesting and beautiful. Sitting high up in the Callaghan Valley and built for the 2010 Olympic Games, Whistler Olympic Park is an impressive, civilized oasis in an otherwise thick forest wilderness. A beautiful way to access the Flank Trail on snowshoes or on foot any time of the year is via the Rainbow Trail near Rainbow Park on the far side of Alta Lake. From the road-side parking at the trailhead you are immediately plunged into deep forest, deep snow, and the sound of crashing water nearby. The Rainbow Trail winds through the forest fairly steeply upward. In less than a kilometre you come to Rainbow Falls crashing down through huge pillows of snow. This little waterfall sits in a beautiful little snowy enclave that feels as though it belongs in some movie. Deep snow, crystal clear green water cascading down from a frozen cliff. A little, hidden paradise. One of many in Whistler. Further up the trail takes you to the first signs for the Flank Trail. The Flank Trail overlaps and crosses the Rainbow Trail for half a kilometre. Following the Flank Trail to the right takes you to a very scenic bridge over 21 Mile Creek. Following the Flank Trail to the left leads you to a steady ascent for 400 metres along the Rainbow Lake trail to the trail turnoff to the Flank Trail. The Flank Trail from here quickly ascends through more deep forest and finally after 15 minutes opens up and flattens out. The views become beautiful and trail less tiring. Whistler, Blackcomb and Wedge mountains all come dramatically into view and Alta Lake appears far below. Just steps from the trail take you to pristine, snowy outcrops, perfect for taking in the view on a sunny day.. and with most of the Flank Trail south facing, sun will always be facing you over Whistler. The Flank Trail is way more than a days hike on foot or snowshoes. It is best tackled in pieces. The great advantage of accessing it from the Rainbow Trail is that you are roughly in the middle of the trail. On snowshoes, it is especially good. The Rainbow Trail is steep here, but very scenic and even small kids won't complain. Every bend in the trail reveals another great view. Dramatic views of the crashing creek, beautiful snow weighed down trees, wilderness waterfall and a wonderful, snowy bridge crossing, all in the first 15 minutes on the trail. Fantastic.
Why should you snowshoe the Flank Trail in Whistler?
The Flank Trail runs along the edge of Mount Sproatt which lays across the valley from Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. This gives the Flank Trail an amazing and reverse perspective on Whistler than most are used to. Also, owing to the south facing aspect of the trail, you are almost constantly facing the sun, which can make or break a cold winter day out snowshoeing.
Rainbow Lake is a tough and beautiful snowshoeing trail 8k, high up in the mountains across the valley from Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The trail is generally well marked and easy to follow, however some sections are tricky to follow as the heavy snow bends the bushes down obscuring the trail. The trail is a constant, fairly steep ascent and you may notice ski tracks along the route. A somewhat popular skiing attraction in Whistler is to get heli-dropped on Rainbow Mountain and skiing back to Whistler. Rainbow Falls is a nice detour near the beginning of the Rainbow Lake trail. When you come to the small water purification building you will see a distinct fork in the trail and a sign directing you to Rainbow Lake turn left. If you go right however, in just a few hundred metres you will come to the beautiful Rainbow Falls as well as a nice picturesque bridge over the river. You of course have to backtrack to get back to the Rainbow Lake trail. Though Rainbow Lake is only 8k from the trailhead, on snowshoes it will likely take nearly four hours to get there. You can snowshoe around up there for quite a while so you have to be careful with the time as in the winter the sun goes down before 5pm. The Rainbow Mountain trailhead is easy and close to Whistler Village. You just need to drive to Alta Lake Road on the far side of Alta Lake, just a 15 minute drive away. There is a big sign for the Rainbow Lake trailhead on your right if coming from the neighbourhood of Alpine. The trailhead is about 200-300 metres from the Rainbow Park parking lot.
Why should you snowshoe to Rainbow Lake?
Rainbow Lake is a tough but rewarding snowshoe hike through a thick and beautiful forest. There are several viewpoints looking across the valley to Wedge, Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains as well as Whistler Village. It certainly is a good idea to combine this snowshoeing hike with a look at Rainbow Park and Rainbow Falls as both are nearby.
What makes Parkhurst Ghost Town such a great snowshoe trail is where it is located and the trail to get to it. One route, one of several ways to get to it, runs along the scenic Green River and next to the still active train tracks that run through Whistler. There always seems to be something to see. From the beautiful snow-filled meadow along the train tracks, to the suddenly deep forest where you have to play a game of finding the next, pink tree marker or risk wandering off the trail. The trail markers are numerous, and though getting lost is inevitable, you can only stray a few metres before, the river or steep terrain push you back onto the marked trail. Once up on the ridge above Green Lake where Parkhurst is located, the forest takes on a spooky feel. Trees are all far apart and with branches only high up give the forest a unnaturally lifeless look. As recent as the late 90's a few houses remained standing, but the merciless winters with crushing snow has collapsed all but one house. There are a couple half collapsed relics, but for the most part the town has disintegrated. Unexpectedly, even in the deep snow of winter, stumbling on remnants of the old town are frequent. Countless half collapsed houses lay in the picturesque forest that has grown since the town was abandoned. Finding the abandoned vehicles in the town is like a game as you wander around the maze of trails. The old rusty car, the even older truck, and an ancient and enormous logging tractor perched as it was decades ago, on the edge of Green Lake. Quite a marvel to see. Like a giant museum exhibit that looks like it could still be there in a thousand years from now.
Why should you snowshoe to Parkhurst in Whistler?
The snowshoeing route to Parkhurst takes you up to some great views over Green Lake. The trail is challenging, but not overly difficult. Depending where you park and the route you take, the trail may be as short as 4 kilometres or as long as 7 kilometres roundtrip. Parkhurst itself is located in quite an amazing setting on Green Lake.
Wedgemount Lake is a steep and difficult hike in the summer when there is no snow. It doesn't require technical skill, but it is just exhausting. You gain 1220 metres of elevation in just 7 kilometres and hiking with a backpack takes about 2.5 hours to reach the lake. In the winter, on snowshoes, the Wedgemount Lake trail is considerably harder. First, the obscured trail is hard to follow, despite the frequent trail markers. Second, on snowshoes, each step on steep ground is one step forward, half a step backward. You plod on slowly and with each step slipping back part way. If you can get past the difficulty of the exhausting winter trek to Wedgemount Lake you will reach an amazing paradise in the mountains. The Wedgemount Lake Hut is an extraordinary oasis of warmth in the middle of the beautiful Wedgemount Lake Valley. Anyone can use the hut, anytime. It can sleep up to 8 reasonably comfortably and consists of two large tables on the lower level and a small loft that can fit four people. Sporadically used by skiers in the winter, though rarely used by snowshoers due to the difficulty of the trail in the winter. If you do make it up to Wedgemount Lake you will be rewarded with a phenomenally beautiful, snow filled mountain paradise of a valley. The Wedgemount Lake trail is deep with snow from late December to late June most years. If you snowshoe it November to mid December or mid June to early July, you will only need your snowshoes partway up the trail. Depending on conditions and traffic on the trail, you may get lucky and be able to follow previous tracks in the snow, however this is not reliable. The final kilometre before Wedgemount Lake between the months of November and late June is almost always deep with snow. This part is very steep and even on snowshoes painfully difficult, so consider that if you plan to go. Also, losing the trail is always a consideration worth worrying about and having a GPS with you is a very good idea. At a good pace, when the trail has snow top to bottom, expect to take over four hours from your car to the hut. Some take as long as 6 hours. You have to add an extra kilometre or two in the winter as well due to having to park far below the usual trailhead parking as it is inaccessible due to snow December to May.
Why should you snowshoe to Wedgemount Lake?
The sense of achievement in tackling such a strenuous and difficult trail is amazing. Having the whole Wedgemount Lake valley to yourself is an extraordinary experience. The Wedgemount Lake Hut in winter is a wonderful luxury in such a hostile place. Walking out to the middle of the frozen lake and looking up at the amazingly bright stars is wonderfully surreal.
Joffre Lakes is yet another amazing snowshoeing trail near (kind of) to Whistler. About 1 hour and 20 minutes north of Whistler gets you to the Joffre Lakes trailhead. Located up on the Duffy Lake Road north of Pemberton, Joffre Lakes is well known for its incredibly surreal, turquoise water. In the winter of course all three of the Joffre Lakes are frozen over but the trail is popular with skier and snowshoers between the months of November and early June (depending on snowfall). Though the trail is fairly well marked and often snowshoe and ski tracked in the winter it is possible to lose the trail after dark or after or during heavy snowfall. So caution should be taken on this trail. Make sure you don't go snowshoeing to Joffre Lakes immediately after heavy snow. Pick a nice, sunny day and leave yourself lots of daylight and be prepared with headlights as the winters bring very early sunsets, especially in the mountains. The trail is sometimes steep as you gain 400 metres of altitude in just 5k trailhead to the third Joffre Lake. On snowshoes expect to reach the third lake in about two hours. On a sunny day the frozen lake is beautiful and almost warm feeling. However, as soon as the sun goes behind the mountains the temperature gets bitter cold so be prepared with very warm clothing on any snowshoeing adventure there. You do occasionally see people camp overnight at Joffre Lakes in the winter. The usual campsite area is buried in snow as it lays at the base of the mountains so people usually put their tens directly on the frozen lake. Extraordinary!
Why should you snowshoe Joffre Lakes Provincial Park?
The trail is challenging though very beautiful. The constantly winding trail takes you past and to the three beautiful lakes that all have spectacular, distant mountain views. The trail is relatively short at 5k one way to the third lake but the first lake is just metres away and makes for a worthy destination if you are just after a quick and easy snowshoe to an amazing mountain lake. The drive to Joffre Lakes is beautiful on its own. From Whistler you pass by Nairn Falls, a convenient and beautiful snowshoeing or hiking trail on the way to Pemberton. Pemberton is a cute farming town in a wonderful glacial valley. Past Pemberton you drive along the huge Lillooet Lake before ascending quickly into the mountains to the Joffre trailhead. A very nice drive from Whistler any time of the year.