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BC Coast :: Squamish to Whistler :: Rainbow Lake

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Rainbow Lake from bridge over outlet on east side

Trip Summary

February 28, 2015

Popular outing up 21 Mile creek valley on west side of Whistler Townsite that can be done as summer day trip, backpack or winter snowshoe. Pretty lake at base of Rainbow Mountain in situated in very scenic surroundings. Attractive option is circumventing the lake on north side, then hiking up to the ridge on Whistler / Callaghan divide for great views of Hanging lake (campground) and many distant snow-caped peaks.   Standard scrambling route up Rainbow mountain, described in BC Scrambles guidebook, can also be studied from there.  Many options for further exploration exist; equally attractive is just to spend few hours snoozing in the meadows by lake shoreline.  Return is the same way, but with 2 vehicles 1-way crossover to Callaghan valley can also be done.

Trailhead is at Alta Lake road, few minutes past Whistler cemetery. Follow markers and signs at initial couple of junctions, then settle for steady slog up old forest road.  Past wooden fence some 40 mins into the hike road reverts to trail and starts steady ascent up 21 Mile creek valley. First bridge is crossed just past an hour mark, followed by swamped meadows. Wooden planks help here, but expect muddy boots .  Gin and Tonic bridge, removed in winter, is reached near 2 hour mark. Final ascent to the lake is more steep, but not long;  trail continues along the north side of the lake. Whistler / Callaghan divide can be reached in about 30-40 minutes from bridge at Rainbow Lake outlet.


Rainbow / Madely Map at Alta Lake Road Trailhead
Whistler and Wedge group ~20 min from trailhead
Crossing of 21 Mile creek in upper meadows
Rainbow LakeRainbow LakeEast end of Rainbow Lake in winter Rainbow Lake in winter. Whistler/Callaghan divide across
Looking east from bridged outlet of Rainbow Lake
Cool snow canyons at west side of Rainbow lake
Snow and Ice formations in Rainbow Basin
Wide panoramic view at west side; Wedge far on the horizon
Hanging LakeHanging LakeViews from ridge west of Rainbow Lake on Whistler / Callaghan divide, Hanging Lake from ridge on Whistler/Callaghan divide
Rainbow Lake basin from Whistler/Callaghan divide
Rainbow Peak from meadows near Gin and Tonic bridge
Gin and Tonic bridge with deck removed for winter season



Overall Difficulty D3/4 Well defined and used trail with moderately steep sections. Some swampy and rough parts. Much off-trail meandering in upper basin.  Deck over bridge over Gin and Tonic creek removed in winter and requires crossing downstream
Snow Factor S3 Low avalanche risk snowshoe trail.  Possibility of hard crust and/or ice
Scenery Pretty alpine lake and meadows. Far reaching views from Whistler / Callaghan divide
Trail/Marking Excellent Well-marked and maintained trail with bridged creek crossings
Suggested Time 5-6 hr To lake only; allow several hours more for exploration of Rainbow Basin
Elevation Start: 680m    Max: 1460m (Rainbow Lake)   Total: ~800m Round Trip: 18km (Rainbow Lake)
Gear Light hikers (summer) or full hiking boots. Gaiters helpful for swampy meadows. Snowshoes or micro-spikes in winter
Water 21 mile creek; Gin and Tonic creek. Several side streams. Carry 1-2 L
Dog Friendly Yes No on-leash restrictions. Terrain should pose no problems