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As far as hikes go, the trek up to Rainbow Lake is a Whistler classic. It’s not too long (but not too short either) and has a good sustained elevation gain to keep the heart pumping. Varied terrain and bio-zones keep the eyes and mind stimulated and it all culminates in one of Whistler’s most pristine lakes with stunning views for added payoff. Lace up those boots and get up there.

Rising about 850 metres (2789 feet) over 8 kilometres (one way) the Rainbow hike is not for the weak-kneed but the trail is maintained and marked well enough that nearly anyone can get there if they’re willing to put in the effort. Average hikers should allow 5-6 hours for the round trip and probably more as you’ll want to spend some time exploring the lake and enjoying the alpine solitude.

The trail is wide, well groomed and well maintained, and it is easy to follow as it weaves through diverse forests and subalpine meadows, following 21 Mile Creek up to its headwaters at Rainbow Lake. Here, the crystal clear water and idyllic scenery make it difficult to resist going for a dip, but swimming as well as camping, fishing, campfires, motorized recreation, and dogs are not permitted in the 21 Mile Creek watershed in order to protect Whistler’s drinking water. Note that all of these activities are permitted just over the ridge at Hanging Lake and on Mount Sproatt.

Most day hikers ascend from the Alta Lake Road Trailhead and then return the same way. However, if you have organized a ride back to town, the Rainbow-Madeley Trail is another good option that’s a little more challenging and interesting than heading back down to the original trailhead. Continuing on over the ridge directly west of Rainbow Lake is Hanging Lake, which has a small campsite with a pit toilet.

From here the trail becomes much rougher and more challenging as it descends and traverses steeply into the Callaghan Valley, through some very rugged terrain, across scree-fields, and through stands of massive cedar and Douglas fir. Eventually it emerges at a trailhead with a small parking area on a gravel road that is accessible for most cars. A junction with the Madeley Lake Loop leads around the east side of the lake to the campsites just prior to reaching the gravel road and near the end of the road at the north end of the lake. This is an absolute gem of a spot with free camping, sandy beaches, and great fishing. Consider putting some supplies in your shuttle vehicle, as it may be tempting to stick around for a while.

Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane

Tourism Whistler / Mike Crane


Read 1577 times Last modified on Friday, 06 July 2018 09:44