Of all the natural features in the Lower Mainland, none have greater visual presence than The Lions (or The Two Sisters, as they are called by local Native peoples). Geologists believe that these two peaks – the West Lion stands at 5,401 feet (1646 m) and the East Lion at 5,245 feet (1599 m) – are the remnants of a volcanic cone. There are two main approaches to them, both of which require a strenuous hike. As the route from the Cypress Provincial Park trailhead begins at a 3,000-foot (980-m) elevation, it’s not as vertically challenging as the approach from sea level at Lions Bay. However, it is lengthier ( 6 miles/10 km one way from Cypress, 5 miles/8 km from Lions Bay).
When you put your body to a test like this, you’re thankful for every little energy-saving shortcut you can find. The optimum time to do this hike is in late summer or early fall. Not only will the weather favour you but also you’ll be blessed with better views as the broadleaf maples begin to shed their foliage. Budget four hours to climb from the trailhead in Lions Bay to the ridge below the West Lion.
Passing through Lions Bay, travellers get a glimpse of the West Lion from Hwy 99 as the highway crosses Harvey Creek. Finding your way to the trailhead is a challenge in itself. Take the Oceanview entrance to Lions Bay from Hwy 99. Follow the signs pointing left towards the convenience store. Turn right on Centre, left on Bayview, left on Mountain Drive, and finally left again on Sunset. As you climb through the neighbourhood you’ll pass the elementary school, next to which is a parking lot. If you arrive at the trailhead and find that all parking spaces there have been taken, you can park at this overflow lot, but before descending back to the school, check to see if there is any space on Sunset south of Mountain Drive. If there is (the parking restrictions are well marked), you will save yourself an extra 10 minutes each way.
Don’t let the overall challenge of reaching the Lions deter you. Perhaps all you’ll wish to experience are the viewpoints that appear at intervals for the first 2 miles (3 km). Several stone arrows point the way at important junctions as you follow first an old logging road, and then the orange and silver metal markers affixed to the sides of trees as you ascend a narrow hiking trail. Horseshoe Bay is surprisingly close, while modest-sized Bowyer Island lies offshore. Along the way are several sturdy old-growth Douglas fir trees on the steep slope bordering the trail. Rudimentary wooden steps assist hikers across a tricky section near Harvey Creek. The best time to cross the creek is in late summer, when it’s at its lowest point; during rainy spells, crossing the rushing waters can be perilous. The boulders in the creek are popular spots on which to sunbathe and catch your breath. Note: Harvey Creek provides water for the Lions Bay community, so please be extremely careful not to pollute it in any way.
Massive old-growth forest surrounds the trail as it climbs above Harvey Creek, and you head towards the best viewpoint yet of Howe Sound. Now all of Gambier Island is revealed, as is the nest of smaller islands between Bowen and the Sunshine Coast. Footing becomes trickier as you hop from boulder to boulder up the last incline to the ridge, where a better path establishes itself and you can walk at a more leisurely pace. In late summer the narrow gullies are filled with a low ground cover of heather turning a burnt red and blueberries.
The Howe Sound Crest Trail begins in Cypress Provincial Park in North Vancouver and runs almost 18 miles (30 km) across ridges and mountains – including the Lions – while skirting pocket lakes to reach the shores of Howe Sound near Porteau Cove. Phew!
Without a doubt this is the way to see as much of Howe Sound as any hiker could wish, but it comes with a price tag: a real grunt. Then again, so are most hikes on the slopes of Howe Sound.
There are few breaks in this demanding climb (and punishing descent), and often you can’t see the ocean for the trees. When you do get to sea the ocean, all else is momentarily put aside. The northern terminus of the Howe Sound Crest Trail is at Hwy 99, 6.7 miles (11 km) north of Lions Bay. There’s a pullout on the west side of the road where you can leave your vehicle. (Note: Be wary when crossing the highway to reach the trailhead.)
The Deeks Lake Trail (strenuous; 8 mile/13 km return; 3-4 hours each way) leads hikers up a steep rock-and-roots trail that passes through lush evergreen forest. The occasional stream or waterfall provides cool encouragement to overheated brows (and other body parts). Deeks Lake is skin-tighteningly frigid, year-round. If you don’t exist on a daily regime of cold showers, you needn’t pack your bathing suit. What it lacks in heat, it makes up for in passion. This is a sublime location, far above the hum of traffic. You’ll want to linger as long as possible, as much to revel in the landscape as to put off the inevitable descent. There are two trailheads from which this hike can begin, both located along Hwy 99 north of Lions Bay. The more scenic route begins about 4 miles (6 m) north of Lions Bay, where Deeks Creek empties into Howe Sound. Watch for a pullout on the west side of the highway. If you miss it heading north, drive on and then double back when possible. The trail, indicated by orange metal markers, begins beside the creek. An alternative route is from the Howe Sound Crest Trail’s northern terminus located beside Hwy 99, about 3 miles (5 km) north of Deeks Creek. A large wooden kiosk marks this approach.
One of the reasons that there’s such a large parking lot at Murrin Provincial Park is that directly across Hwy 99 and a short distance north is the entrance to a favourite Howe Sound hiking trail to Petgill Lake (7 miles/11 km return). Everything you should know is posted on the little kiosk at the trailhead. What they don’t tell you (but we will) is that you don’t need to go the full distance in order to enjoy the scenic viewpoints from this well-marked trail. Just surmount the first steep, hand-over-fist pitch, and Howe Sound will be laid out before you. The higher you go (total elevation gain is only 1,968 feet/600 m), the better the views of the mountains to the east and north, including unmistakable Sky Pilot and Mount Garibaldi (Garibaldi Provincial Park). Sections of this trail can be boggy, so wear waterproof boots.
Stawamus Chief Mountain is a strenuous, 4- to 7-mile (7- to 11-km) return hike, depending on which of three summit routes you choose. There are several approaches to the base of this mass of granite. For the first, leave your car in the lot beside Shannon Falls Provincial Park‘s Logger’s Sports Area. Look for the orange and red markers affixed to a large cedar tree by the Federation of BC Mountain Clubs at the north end of the sports area, which point the way. Travel time to the base of the Chief is 15 minutes on this 0.6-mile (1-km), well-maintained trail, which features several good viewpoints and close encounters with the cool, smooth rock face where the trail runs beside it.
An alternative approach allows you to drive to the base of the Chief itself at the interpretive viewing area on Hwy 99 just north of Shannon Falls. Take the dirt road that leads up the embankment in the middle of the viewpoint (it’s not as badly eroded as the others). It links up with a section of the old highway that runs north and south as it hugs the base of the Chief. When you stand next to the Chief here, you look up and up at a wall of smooth granite. It’s awe-inspiring. You can see why this monolith has become internationally famous among climbers and has graced more than its share of magazine covers.
To reach the trailhead, turn south onto the old road above the viewpoint, continuing on to its end. Hiking from here to the Chief’s south summit is a 2-mile (3.5-km) ascent and takes about 90 minutes; add another hour if you choose the longer Centre and North summit route (3.5 miles/5.5 km one way). Both routes share a common beginning, then divide above Oleson Creek. (Note: The trail from Shannon Falls joins this approach at Oleson Creek, a short distance uphill.)
Altogether there is a 1,980-foot (600-m) elevation gain on this hike; you will be climbing almost constantly until the top. This trail is the most popular with hikers (upwards of 50,000 a year), but it is only one of several possible routes on the Chief. Even if you don’t plan to hike, be sure to stop at the Stawamus Chief Mountain viewpoint on Hwy 99 in Squamish, a short distance north of Shannon Falls Provincial Park. An interpretive display will acquaint you with the mountain and some of the history of the region. Get out your binoculars and scan for climbers high up on the sides of the Chief.
When you are on a tour of the outdoors, especially in the Sea to Sky corridor, downtownSquamish may seem like an odd place to begin. However, the walking trails around the Squamish Estuary will convince you of just how sensible an idea this is. In Squamish, turn north off Hwy 99 at the Cleveland Avenue stoplights. Drive along the town’s main drag to Vancouver Street, turn right, and drive three blocks to the trailhead. A wooden sign bears a detailed map of the estuary and the dike trail that rambles west from here. Plan on taking an hour to cover a 2.5-mile (4-km) round trip. Along the way, the grass-covered trail leads past channelled waterways, home to a resident population of raptors and a host of migratory birds; bring binoculars. Trumpeter swans overwinter here before flying north to their nesting grounds come spring, as do bald eagles.
Out in the estuary, the already uncluttered view really opens up. The smooth granite walls of Stawamus Chief Mountain form the centrepiece. Equally arresting, should the skies be clear, is the dagger point of Atwell Peak, with its broad-shouldered companion, the Dalton Dome. Together, they dominate the skyline of Garibaldi Provincial Park to the north. A cool breeze often blows across the marshy sloughs of Howe Sound’s shoreline, so dress accordingly. In summer, the white stalks of pearly everlasting rival Shannon Falls’ snowy tress, visible as it cascades down the slopes to the south of the Chief. This portion of the estuary trail ends at a log-sorting yard. Another section follows a long finger of the estuary whose east side is diked by the Squamish Spit, but is too distant to reach on foot.
Lakeside and hillside trails await visitors in Alice Lake Provincial Park north of Squamish. In keeping with the park’s easygoing nature, you can make as much of them as you care. One trail blends into the other in a pleasing fashion, and you’re never far from a viewpoint and one of four lakes – Alice, Stump, Fawn, and Edith – found within the park. The Four Lakes Loop Trail (7.5 miles/12 km) is the longest and threads by them all. Lakeshore Walk is a short but pretty walking trail that leads along the north side of Alice Lake and links the campground with the lake’s two picnic beaches. The Stump Lantern Interpretive Trail offers another short walk through the forest at the north end of Alice Lake. After a visit here, you’ll have learned to identify creeping liverwort, lady fern, skunk cabbage, and devil’s club when you spy them carpeting the forest floor elsewhere in your travels. DeBeck’s Hill presents the steepest challenge in the park. An old logging road winds its way for about a mile up DeBeck’s Hill from the south end of Alice Lake. Follow it to the top and in less than an hour you’ll be treated to a great view of the Squamish region, including Howe Sound, the Tantalus glaciers, and the Cheakamus River boring its way through a steep-sided granite canyon.
Other hikes in the Squamish area include two very demanding ones in the Squamish Valley. In order to reach Lake Lovely Water Provincial Park, you’ll first have to arrange to cross the Squamish River to reach the trailhead, about 7 miles (11 km) north of Squamish. A rough and sometimes obscure trail leads upwards from the west bank of the Squamish River to Lake Lovely Water. This is a strenuous 8.5-mile (14-km) eight-hour round-trip hike with few views to reward the weary until you’ve reached the lake. Once there, the world’s your oyster! Lake Lovely Water lies cradled between the peaks of Alpha and Omega Mountains at a 4,000-foot (1310-m) elevation. After all the effort you expend reaching the lake, you may wish to camp. The Alpine Club of Canada maintains a locked cabin beside the lake. You can make arrangements to get the key if you call in advance; there is a modest fee for nonmembers. The best bet is to pack along a tent.
Farther along the Squamish Valley Road is the start of the High Falls Creek Trail (difficult; 4.5 miles/7 km return). The trade-off for making the demanding hike is the reward of seeing the Squamish River spread before you, surmounted by the Tantalus Range, one of the most inspiring vistas in the Coast Mountains. Until you’ve seen it yourself, a description will just be so many words on a page.
Be forewarned: This hike is not for the fainthearted. Strategically placed ropes help hikers up some of the steeper stretches, but in other sections you’ll have to call on all of your wits to clamber still higher. To find the trailhead, follow the signs to Squamish Valley from Hwy 99, directly across the road from the entrance to Alice Lake Provincial Park. A bridge crosses the Cheakamus River at Cheekye, and on its far side the road divides into the Squamish Valley Road to the left, and the Paradise Valley Road to the right. Bear left and follow this road for almost 15 miles (24 km). Just past a hydroelectric powerhouse, watch for High Falls Park on the right side of the road. The trail begins here.
There’s probably more ground to cover on foot than you can explore in one visit, which makes the Brohm Lake Interpretive Forest an ideal destination for repeat visits. Although the lake itself is the main magnet, particularly in summer, the more remote forest trails have a quiet charm of their own. A 2-mile (3-km) walk from the parking lot, starting on the Alder Trail and then branching to the Cheakamus Loop Trail, leads to two viewpoints that look across Paradise Valley to the glacier-clad peaks of the Tantalus Range – including Mount Tantalus itself as well as Alpha, Omega, Zenith, Pelion, and Serratus Mountains. A series of staircases assists visitors up the steepest stretches between the two viewpoints. A covered lookout shelter sits atop a rocky bluff and overlooks the Cheakamus River flowing past far below, with the Squamish waterfront visible in the distance. The entrance to the Brohm Lake Interpretive Forest is located 2.5 miles (4 km) north of Alice Lake Provincial Park on the west side of Hwy 99.
One of the best-preserved sections of the old Pemberton Trail passes between Brandywine Falls Provincial Park and the Cal-Cheak Forest Service Recreation Site. This is a gentle, well-worn pathway, and although there are several up-and-down sections, staircases assist walkers in the most difficult places. The distance between Brandywine and Cal-Cheak is 2.5 miles (4 km). The most entertaining section of the walk is crossing Callaghan Creek on a wooden suspension bridge. The bridge is located next to the Forest Service campsites and may be a bit difficult to locate when the campground is full. Look for the trail to the suspension bridge midway around the road that loops through the north campsite.
A short walking trail leads from the parking lot at Brandywine Falls Provincial Park to an observation platform at the top of the falls. Cross the bridge over Brandywine Creek and then follow the trail to the right, which in 10 minutes will bring you to a clearing beside the falls. Along the way the trail passes close to Brandywine Creek beneath some towering fir trees, crosses the BC Rail tracks, and then reaches the viewpoint. Daisy Lake spreads out below as the monolithic Black Tusk probes the skyline. Depending on the time of year, dammed Daisy Lake may be more or less at ‘full pool.’ Spray from the 218-foot (66-m) falls coats the sides of the gorge into which it plummets with ice in winter and nourishes lush growth in warmer months.
Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor recreation activities in the Sea to Sky corridor. You could easily fill up every weekend in summer with a different trail, beginning at lower elevations in spring and gradually heading higher as the snowpack melts. Although the distances seem great, most hikes are only moderately demanding. Some, such as Garibaldi Lake (moderate; 11 miles/18 km return) and Black Tusk (extreme; 8.7 miles/14 km return from Garibaldi Lake), are so popular that the route seems as congested as Hwy 99, particularly near the end of the day when everyone is making a hurried descent to be in the parking lot before dark.
Whistler’s wilderness offers a wonderful opportunity for hiking and walking. Learn about the ecology of diverse ecosystems from experienced naturalist guides and take in the incredible scenery.Trails are normally open July through September. The opening of trails is dependent on the snowpack – as the snow recedes, trails will open.
The spectacular High Note Trail traverses pristine alpine meadows filled with wildflowers and looks out onto the glacial peaks of Garibaldi Provincial Park and the crystal blue/green waters of Cheakamus Lake below.
The High Note Trail is eight kilometers or five miles long. The trail begins at the peak of Whistler Mountain, heads down west ridge, turns east and traverses along the mountain’s south aspect past Piccolo peak into the Piccolo/Flute saddle. It then loops back to the Roundhouse Lodge via a part of the Musical Bumps trail. Three to four hours should be allowed to experience the entire trail and the ultimate in coastal mountain views. The new trail is best suited for intermediate and above hikers with a good physical fitness level and has an elevation change of 345 meters or 1,132 feet.
Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains
The Peak Adventure: It isn’t just the top of the world up here… it’s another world. Take a scenic gondola ride to the Roundhouse Lodge where a short walk and an open air chairlift ride will bring you to the Peak of Whistler Mountain. Take in the 360 degree views, enjoy a casual picnic at the Peak, stroll the Peak Interpretive Walk or have an adventure by hiking the High Note Trail or one of 14 other trails. Whether you are looking for an epic adventure or a great view while having lunch, this is the place to find it. Pick up a Summer Trail Map for descriptions and directions or take a daily mountain tour. Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort.
PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola: Spanning the distance between Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain, the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola is a breathtaking, 4.4-kilometre journey to infinite possibilities. Redefining the Whistler summer experience by creating limitless new ways to get up close and personal with the mountains, this engineering marvel breaks three world records; Longest unsupported span of 3.024 kilometres; highest lift of its kind at 436 metres above the valley floor; and it completes the longest continuous lift system on the planet. Start your adventure with a ride up the Whistler Village Gondola, located at the base of Whistler Mountain in Whistler Village. From there you’ll have access to the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, and endless summer hiking opportunities.
In most cases, the viewpoints in the Whistler region are not easily reached by car. One of the exceptions is the short drive east of Hwy 99 to the Garibaldi Lake/Black Tusk trailhead parking lot. Head this way near sunset to view the rock formation called the Barrier. As the late light of day strikes the red volcanic rock face, many shades of colour are revealed. This is the site of a massive landslide that occurred in the mid-1850s, several years prior to the arrival of the first European explorers. Squamish Indian guides led two Hudson’s Bay Company employees past the site as they crossed the ancient trading route later known as the Pemberton Trail. Evidence of the slide can still be see in the boulder fields that line Rubble Creek and in the rock fields beside Hwy 99 near the turnoff. The Barrier holds back water in the Garibaldi Lakes system that would otherwise flash down into the valley. The possibility of such a drastic failure is the reason that much of the immediate region is posted as ‘No Stopping.’ For the sake of the view, take a chance!
Occasionally one trail will serve as a springboard to lengthier jaunts. For example, the Cheakamus Lake Trail (easy; 4 miles/7 km return) connects with Singing Creek (easy; 4 miles/7 km return from Cheakamus Lake) and Helm Creek (moderate; 15 miles/24 km return) Trails. In turn the Helm Creek Trail links with the Black Tusk Trail and provides an opportunity to make an overnight, point-to-point excursion. Such trips require advanced planning for return transportation.
Another such route is the Madley Lake to Rainbow Lake Trail (moderate; 11 miles/18 km return), which links at lakeside with the Rainbow Falls/Rainbow Lake Trail (moderate; 10 miles/16 km return). Madley Lake lies just north of Callaghan Lake. Follow Callaghan Lake Rd past Alexander Falls. The road to Madley Lake is on the right just beyond the bridge that spans Madley Creek. The trailhead for Rainbow Lake is on the west side of Alta Lake Rd in Whistler, a short distance north of Rainbow Park. It’s a short, moderately steep hike to the base of the falls, then a long half-day hike to the lake as the trail follows the creek to its source. The views on this trail are better coming out on this trail than going in, as you have many good views of the peaks between Whistler and Wedge Mountains.
For those with less time to explore, shorter excursions such as the Loggers Lake Trail (moderate; 3.7-mile/6-km loop) and the Whistler Interpretive Forest Trails (easy; 7.5 miles/12 km return) will give your body and soul a good workout. A large map of these trails is displayed at the entrance to the Cheakamus Lake Rd on the east side of Hwy 99 across from Whistler’s Function Junction industrial park.
If you walk the entire 9.3 miles (15 m) of the Valley Trail, you’ll not only come away with a comprehensive idea of the layout of the resort, but also you’ll have seen most of the important landmarks from a variety of perspectives. Because the mountains fold into each other in tight succession and rise so sharply from the valley floor, you’ll see varying profiles of them from different parts of the valley. For example, when you’re standing at the south end of the trail near Alpha Lake, none of the bare rock that forms Blackcomb Peak is revealed. Walk 2 miles (3 km) north along the Valley Trail and you can spy not only Blackcomb but also all its companion peaks in the Spearhead Range. (Note: Although Blackcomb is sometimes referred to as a mountain, the formation itself is, in fact, a peak. The terrain referred to as Blackcomb Mountain is in the western reaches of the Spearhead Range, where winter recreation trails have been cleared.)
This is just one of the advantages of taking several hours to walk as much of the trail as possible. You can begin exploring the Valley Trail from numerous points throughout Whistler. One of the most scenic stretches occurs between Meadow Park in the Alpine Meadows neighbourhood and Rainbow Park on Alta Lake. The trail follows the River of Golden Dreams for much of the time, and you’ll find park benches placed at various scenic viewpoints along the way. Also watch for the Lost Lake Nature Trails, which loop away from the Valley Trail for short distances near the south end of Lost Lake. The Valley Trail extends as far north as Emerald Estates at the north end of Green Lake; however, as this section of the trail runs along the shoulder of Hwy 99, it loses much of its pastoral charm.
Fitzsimmons Creek carves a deep trench through the heart of Whistler Village. Looking into the mountains from the village, you can trace its channel to the flanks of Tremor Mountain and Overlord Glacier. Trails such as Singing Pass (moderate; 7.5 miles/12 km return) and Musical Bumps (moderate; 7 miles/11.5 km return) lead into the alpine area east of Whistler Mountain (easy; various distances). Across the valley to the north, trails through Blackcomb’s alpine (easy; various distances) give hikers a view of their compatriots on these extended routes.
The alpine flower display at Singing Pass is legendary. The timing of the height of the blooming season depends on the amount of snow remaining from the previous winter, but it usually occurs during the first two weeks in August. Singing Pass stands in the headwaters region of Fitzsimmons Creek, a 14-mile (23-km) round trip from Whistler Village. Mountain bikes are NOT permitted on this trail.
The well-groomed trail to the pass gains elevation at a gradual pace as ever-improving views of the Fitzsimmons and Spearhead Mountain ranges and Cheakamus Glacier that provide a riveting spectacle. You’ll know that you are close to Singing Pass when flowers begin to appear beside the trail. From June to August, the slopes are alive with colourful blossoms. Yellow glacier lilies begin blooming in June, followed by white Sitka valerian, yellow fan-leaved cinqefoil, orange Indian paintbrush, tall yellow western pasque flowers, and blue lupines.
To access Singing Pass from Whistler Village, park in the day lots at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, or in the area authorized for overnight parking in lot 4 if staying overnight in Singing Pass. The trailhead is located adjacent to the bus loop and passenger drop-off area.
Camping is permitted at the northwest end of Russet Lake. There is a small, basic hut that can sleep 6 people. Be prepared to camp in outdoor conditions if the hut is full. All camping areas, cabins and shelters in Garibaldi Provincial Park are operated on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no reservations accepted, and camping is only permitted in designated campgrounds. Camping fees are in effect year round and must be paid in full before entering the park – carry your proof of payment.
Whistler Village to Singing Pass (11.5 km): Approximately 4 hours one way; elevation change, 1,000 metres. The trail follows Fitzsimmons Creek and Melody Creek before it opens up at Singing Pass. The pass is also accessible from Whistler Mountain by a high, sustained alpine route crossing Piccolo, Flute and Oboe summits. This route is known as the Musical Bumps.
Singing Pass to Russet Lake (3 km): Approximately 1 hour one way; elevation change, 250 metres. There are good views of Overlord Glacier and surrounding peaks.
Whistler Mountain Gondola to Whistler Village via Musical Bumps (21 km): Approximately 6 to 8 hours; elevation change, 1,300 metres. From the top of the gondola, Singing Pass is accessible by an alpine route traversing Piccolo, Flute and Oboe peaks. From the pass, return to the village via the Singing Pass trail.
If you visit the Whistler Museum you’ll be astounded by some of the archival photographs. The shoreline around Alta Lake, for example, was almost completely clear-cut in the 1930s. Alta and nearby Green Lake were used as booming grounds, and throughout the summer the lakes’ surfaces were choked with logs. That was then; this is now. Vibrant second-growth has replaced much of the damaged landscape, but the impact of more recent logging is still visible above the Alpine Meadows neighbourhood and in many hidden places such as the Soo River Valley. Although much of the lower-elevation, old-growth forest has been removed around Whistler, a pocket of western red cedar remains near the summit of Cougar Mountain that will enchant you.
The Ancient Cedars Trail (easy; 2.5 miles/4 km return) loops through the forest and provides not only an introduction to the trees but also to an undisturbed cross section of growth clustered around a nourishing stream. As summer lengthens, so too does the astounding size of the leaves on prickly devil’s club (its Latin name, Oplopanax horridus, provides a clue as to its nasty side), which can grow here to widths of 14 inches (35 cm). Judging by the familiar shape of the leaves, you’d think it was a member of the maple family; in fact, devil’s club is related to ginseng.
The root of this pernicious shrub is prized by Native peoples throughout BC for its anaesthetic properties, and they esteem the plant as a whole as one of the most medicinal on the coast. Western red cedar, some as wide as 9 feet (3 m) in diameter, and devil’s club enjoy damp conditions as much as do the ferns and fungi that carpet the forest floor. There’s a wonderful ambience here, heightened by a small waterfall near the beginning of the trail.
To reach the Ancient Cedars Trail, follow the Showh Lakes Forestry Road west of Hwy 99. The turnoff occurs north of Whistler’s Emerald Estates neighbourhood. Take the two-lane gravel road that rises uphill on west side of Hwy 99. A short way in you pass a brown Forest Service sign marking the beginning of the road along 16-Mile Creek. Just past the Forest Service sign is a widening on the right (north) side of the road where snowmobilers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers park in winter. Snow is not cleared past this point. If you wish to do the entire 12.4-mile (20-km) journey by bicycle or on foot in summer, you can leave your vehicle here, or you can drive halfway to Cougar Mountain (beyond the halfway point are ditches that may be too deep for most cars to negotiate). Nearby are several buildings on the north side of the road. Proceed past them, ignoring the road branching off to the left (it leads along the recently logged south side of 16-Mile Creek). For the first 1.2 miles (2 km) the road proceeds along a level part of this small valley with the creek on its right side. A log bridge spans 16-Mile Creek and the road begins to climb a ridge above the creek on the valley’s north side. Beside the bridge is another good place to leave your car; from here on the road is often rutted by runoff. (The ditches offer added excitement when you’re going downhill on a bike.) From the bridge to the Showh Lakes is about 2 miles (3 km), an easy hour’s walk.
Take something to drink when you set out on a warm day; there is no water until you reach the lakes. Just before the lakes the road divides. The road to Cougar Mountain heads uphill on the right. For the best access to the Showh Lakes, take this road. It continues uphill for 1.2 miles (2 km). The larger of the two lakes appears below you halfway along. Watch for the trail to its shoreline on your left, leading down through stumps and blueberry bushes. The road climbs to its end 0.6 mile (1 km) past the larger of the Showh Lakes. The Ancient Cedars Trail loop begins here.
When you feel that you’re in top shape, tackle the most northern entrance into Garibaldi Provincial Park along the trail to magical Wedgemount Lake (extreme; 8.6 miles/14 km return). This is one tough climb, with hardly a level spot to rest on. Total elevation gained is about 3,935 feet (1200 m). Once you’ve made the effort of climbing to the lake, where the tongue of Wedgemount Glacier is stuck in the turquoise-coloured water, it’s a shame to spend the day here only, especially as much more hiking beckons above. Mount Weart and Wedge Mountain (at 9,527 feet (2904 m) the highest point in Garibaldi Provincial Park) are close at hand, as is the Armchair Glacier surmounted by two scoured granite fans, part of a volcanic ridge called the Owls.
A small, stuffy cabin sleeps eight, but most visitors prefer to camp by the lake. (One bizarre feature here is a pit toilet in a metal-sheathed outhouse that’s shaped like a silver bullet.) To reach the trailhead, turn east off Hwy 99, 2.5 miles (4 km) north of Whistler’s northernmost neighbourhood, Emerald Estates, and cross the Green River Bridge, then turn left and head uphill about 2 miles (3 km) on a dirt road. There are signs at each divide pointing the way to the lake.
To explore all the area’s boundless hiking trails in a lifetime would be epic. From the formidable Lions above Lions Bay to the singular blue of the Joffrey Lakes, endless exploration awaits the hiker. The three peaks of The Stawamus Chief which offer a moderately steep challenge and spectacular views of Howe Sound is the most popular day hike in British Columbia. The massive Garibaldi Park, which stretches the east flank from Squamish to Whistler, boasts Elfin Lakes, Garibaldi Lake, Black Tusk and Cheakamus Lake hiking areas to name a few. Whether its the experience of overnight camping or a day spent outdoors, hiking is still the best way to explore Sea to Sky country.
One of the oldest hiking routes in the Pemberton Valley leads 7.5 miles (12 km) from the trailhead off the Hurley River Road to Tenquille Lake. During the first half of the 20th century, miners used pack-horse routes to reach the subalpine region surrounding Tenquille and Owl Lakes. More recently, some of these overgrown trails have been reopened for hiking and mountain biking. An alpine trail system that links Tenquille and Owl Creek, as well as the original horse trail from Tenquille to Barber’s Valley and Ogre Lake, has been constructed. The revitalizing of the trails around Tenquille, coupled with those around nearby Birkenhead and Blackwater Lakes, makes this region one of the best destinations for experienced hikers and mountain bikers.
Farther north, a rough trail follows the Lillooet River into the Upper Lillooet Headwaters, a sublime wilderness region that has recently become a provincial park. Plan on a 2.5-mile (4-km) hike from the trailhead at Salal Creek to reach broad sandbars that stand revealed in late summer on more open sections of the Lillooet River. To reach the trailhead, follow the Pemberton Valley and Lillooet River Roads 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Pemberton. Turn left immediately after the road crosses Salal Creek and drive about 0.6 mile (1 km) to the trailhead at the end of a rough but passable range road.
Lizzie Lake marks the western trailhead of an extended 40-mile (60-km) hiking route that transects Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park. Allow a week or more to cover the entire length to the park’s eastern boundary near Lytton. For those without much time but who still wish to get a look at the Stein, try the day hike from Lizzie Lake to the Lizzie Creek Cabin in the subalpine zone (4 miles/6 km return). Note: Extensive damage was done to parts of the Stein’s landscape by a forest fire in 1996, making some hiking routes difficult to distinguish, particularly west of Scudamore Creek to the midpoint in the upper canyon.
The Gold Rush Heritage Trail is a slice of British Columbia’s colonial history, a remnant of the Cariboo gold rush in the late 1850s. Short sections of the trail – actually an old road built by Royal Engineers – can still be discerned in places along the east side of Lillooet Lake. The biggest challenge is simply finding traces of the trail. One of the best places to begin is from Skookumchuck Hot Springs (St. Agnes Well Hot Spring), located 30 miles (50 km) south of Hwy 99 on the Lillooet Lake Road. The turnoff to the springs and the heritage trail is directly across from hydro tower marker ‘68.2.’ To find the Gold Rush Heritage Trail, begin walking north beside the swift-flowing Lillooet River from the hot springs. Another section of the trail can be seen on the hillside above Rogers Creek, about 2 miles (3 km) north of the turnoff to St. Agnes Well. You can easily hike up to it from the bridge over the creek.
At present, one of the most complete sections of the Sea to Sky Trail runs between Gramsons, 10.5 miles (17 km) north of Mount Currie on the D’Arcy-Anderson Lake Road, and the trail’s northern terminus (and the road’s) in D’Arcy. The jewel in this well-marked, picturesque 25-mile (40-km) one-way stretch is Birkenhead Lake. If you’d like to get right to the heart of this hike, a good place to begin is Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park. Pick up the trail next to the boat launch and follow it south as it climbs above the shoreline for about 4.5 miles (7 km) towards Gramsons. Note: The section of the Sea to Sky Trail described here is part of the 31-mile/50-km loop route described in Mountain Biking. What has been omitted for hikers is the 6-mile/10-km portion on the D’Arcy-Anderson Lake Road.
Perhaps the toughest but most rewarding hike in the region is to Upper Joffre Lake in the Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. The three lakes in this subalpine chain are strung like a turquoise necklace on the mountainside below the massive Joffre Glacier Group. It’s a short walk from the parking lot beside Hwy 99 to Lower Joffre, but a stiff 5-mile (8-km) hike to Middle Joffre and another 2.5 miles (4 km) to Upper Joffre, a total distance of 15 miles (24 km) return. Expect wet trail conditions throughout the year, particularly as you approach Middle Joffre. You’ll have to scramble in places where loose soil conditions make for treacherous footing. The reward of reaching Upper Joffre cannot be overstated: an amphitheatre of crevassed, blue-hued ice rises directly above the lake’s south end and embraces most of the mountainside in a sweep from Mount Taylor to Joffre Peak and Mount Chief Pascall. Cool winds blow down from the icefield; you’ll begin looking for shelter from the breeze almost as soon as you arrive at Upper Joffre.
Blowdown Pass is one of the approaches used when hiking into Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park. Hikers are assisted by a logging and mining road that leads 9 miles (15 km) to the pass from Hwy 99 and then descends towards Cottonwood Creek. Plan on taking five to seven days to complete the 32-mile (52-km) moderately difficult hike from Blowdown Pass to the Stein trailhead near Lytton. For those with their sights set a little lower, there’s good alpine hiking around Blowdown Pass itself. Gott Peak (elevation 8,350 feet/2545 m) is an easy 2.5-mile (4-km) round-trip scramble from the pass. However, watch the loose footing and also the weather, which is prone to change quickly. Great views of surrounding peaks and wildlife are guaranteed on clear summer days.