Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
Distance from Vancouver: 2hrs
6-8hrs, 18.5km loop
Elevation gain: roughly 1100m, depending on starting point
I have been dreaming of hiking this trail for the last year or so, when my friend first told me about it. It has been created by tons of volunteers of the area and was meant to offer a great alpine experience to hikers in the Whistler area. The trail was opened very recently and was designed to link with other pre-existing trails, creating a network of trails that gives you tons of choices once in the mountain.
Because the trail is relatively new, there wasn’t a whole lot of information online about the different trail possibilities. For example, I found that most of the information would refer to Skywalk Trail, but really were indications of how to get to Iceberg Lake, without really being ‘on’ the Skywalk trail itself. The trailheads for the actual Skywalk North and South trails are located up in the meadows near Iceberg Lake on Rainbow Mountain.
We parked at the end of Alpine Way in Whistler (make sure you read the parking signs for restrictions) and started our hike from here. From here, we followed the larger trail (Flank Trail) up for about 1h15 (3.9km) until we reached the intersection for the Upper 19 Mile Creek trail (to your left after crossing the creek on the bridge).
The Upper 19 Mile Creek is 4.0km up to the meadows. The trail is mainly covered in the forest, and you will be following the creek on your right-hand side. There are a few nice view points with bigger waterfalls that make great spots for a little break. You will get most of your elevation gain on this part of the trail.
Eventually the trails opens up in the alpine meadows and you will directly see the mountain and the glacier. If you take a minute to turn around you will also start seeing the beautiful view on the other side of the valley – Wedge Mountain and Blackcomb slowly showing up as you gain altitude.
From the meadow you have 1km to go before getting to Iceberg Lake. Just follow the trail up through the rock boulders. There are a few campsites around the lake that would make a great spot for overnight, although it does get pretty windy up there. We stopped for a while to relax the nice day before heading down.
I chatted with a few other hikers to try to figure out which way they came up – it seems like most people started wither from Mountain View or Alpine Way and found their way through all the small trail portions on the way up. Most people seemed semi-confused about the way down, unsure if doing a round-trip was the best way or if it was worth trying some of the other trail systems. I was told that someone hiked the way up Skywalk North and around (which does add quite a bit of time and kilometers) but that the nicest views were really from the meadow area. Looking at the map, I was curious about the Skywalk South trail, as it seemed to be going up in the alpine before heading back down towards Rainbow Lake trailhead. We decided to explore that portion and hiked back down by Skywalk South.
As soon as we started heading on the trail (which in the alpine portion is really well marked with large orange squares) the views just got better and better. It is a bit technical at some places but I like these types of trail.
The Skywalk South basically took us up and over this side of the mountain until it reached a small lake – after this the trail becomes easy to follow but there are fewer actual markers. After this, the trail starts heading back down in the forest for a while – it is quite steep but easy to follow up to a certain point.
We knew we were supposed to join back on the Flank Trail at some point, which could then lead us back to Rainbow Lake trailhead. From this point, things got tricky. Turns out the Flank trail has not been marked in this area, therefore we had no idea when we got to the intersection with the Flank trail. The map we had showed that the Skywalk South reached directly with the Flank, however the indications on the map also states that Skywalk South starts at the end of Upper 19 Mile Creek, then extends to Jaws, and that Jaws ends on the Flank trail. From these indications, we thought we had to hike down Jaws to eventually reach the Flank trail. Turns out we were wrong.
From this area (where we saw the homemade signs for Jaws), we decided to keep heading down on Jaws. Looking back, I do believe this was the intersection with the Flank, and we should have turn right to head to Rainbow Lake trailhead (please if you have done this trail before and can confirm this, feel free to comment below. I was able to look up the biking trails afterwards. This intersection would correspond with the yellow arrow on the upper left on the map below)). I think the Whistler trail map would be more accurate to states that the Jaws trail STARTS at the junction with the Flank trail, that way it would be less confusing and clear that we don’t actually have to take the Jaws trail.
This map represents the biking trails in the area – once we started going down Jaws (which is not a fun hiking trail to go down as it is very steep), we started getting confused as some other intersections would show up unexpectedly. We kept following the signs for Jaws until we had to keep going on Billy Epic Lower. This took us down to another unmarked intersection a bit later. At that point we could hear the road and still somewhat see the valley in front of us (with Blackcomb and Whistler mountains), so we knew we were heading in the right direction. We finished our hike with our GPS on our phones, trying to take the best turns heading towards Alta Lake road. We ended up on the Bob’s bike trail and cut through the forest as soon as we saw the road. We then hitched-hike back to our car on Alpine Way.
Overall, the trail going up to Iceberg Lake was beautiful and I definitely recommend this hike. Because we got confused on the way back down, I would say that hiking to Skywalk South from the meadows is worth it, but for now I would go back after reaching the small lake on top and return by the Upper 19 Mile Creek back down. It could take a bit of time but it would still be faster and a nicer experience than getting confused on the way back down on the South loop. That said – if the intersection we got confused IS the Flank trail, it should be fine to go from there to head back to Rainbow Lake trailhead. From my understanding this portion of the Flank isn’t well marked and it also joins with another bike trail a bit further down, so I can’t tell you exactly how well this would go.
Long story short – beautiful new trail, would love to do an overnight in the area and have time to explore the peaks around!