Canadian Running

Canadian Trails

Rainbow Lake Trail, Whistler, B.C.

- Story and photos by Rich Wheater

These days, just about everyone recognizes B.C.’s Sea-to-Sky corridor as the outdoor recreation capital of Canada. Between Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton, trail runners will feel like blooddrunk mosquitos pouring through guidebooks and maps hunting for their next sweet adventure run.

Of these four legendary destinatio­ns, Whistler is complete paradise for the mountain runner of any calibre. From short valley circuits to rugged mountain traverses and brutal hill climbs, this famed resort municipali­ty is teeming with forest and alpine routes to challenge any level of runner. But despite the endless circuit potential and numerous trail networks within the area, nothing beats a destinatio­n run – a route that leads to an obvious, dramatic end point, that offers moderately technical terrain, killer views, and variety in surroundin­gs. In this respect, Whistler bleeds in abundance, and the Rainbow Lake Trail fits the bill perfectly.

Rainbow Lake sits quietly perched in a stunning alpine meadow between Mount Sproatt and Rainbow Mountain, high above Alta Lake on the west side of the Whistler valley. Challengin­g yet accessible, the trail offers a steady uphill grunt for eight kilometres, levelling off where it breaks out of the forest and approaches the glistening lake. Steep but never too heinous, the wellmainta­ined trail parallels the south banks of 21 Mile Creek, passing Rainbow Falls early on before creeping up into the alpine. Along the way the trail twists, turns, dips and dives through gorgeous old-growth forest, past several waterfalls and side creeks, and offers incredible views down to Whistler and east to Whistler, Blackcomb and Wedge Mountains (the highest peak in Garibaldi Park). The trail surface is well-travelled singletrac­k and leads across several artfully built suspension foot-bridges.

At the lake is a finely crafted map board and a nice boardwalk that snakes around the lakeshore. From here there are a number of options to extend your run. Just beyond is Hanging Lake, with amazing views down into the Callaghan Valley and across to Brandywine Mountain. Beverly Lake is also a short distance and ahead. If you’re feeling ultra-spry, tackle the talus and boulder fields of Rainbow Mountain to its tippy-top.

Of course, what goes up goes down and in this case you’ll return via the same trail, which thankfully isn’t long enough to induce a proper knee bashing. Still, a cool dip at the trailhead followed by a frosty brew in Whistler Village will ease your groaning quads and firmly etch this fine run into the forefront of your most memorable trail ramblings.

Trailhead Directions

The Rainbow Lake trailhead is located just over seven kilometres from Whistler Village on Alta Lake Road. There is a large parking area (free) and an awesome swimming hole nearby.


Rainbow Lake is situated in a community watershed that provides the drinking water for Whistler Municipali­ty. As such, there are no dogs, no camping and no swimming allowed in the lake. Despite the distance, budget a solid half-day to cruise around, take photos, and enjoy the scenery.


Rainbow Lake sits in the alpine at 1,600 m and is usually snow-free between mid-June through early November. If you can, try to run here when the summer wildf lowers are in full bloom, usually mid-late July.

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