July is a great time to start hitting intermediate hikes, like Rainbow Lake. It has some challenging bits but also offers suspension bridges, alpine meadows, and spectacular views.
Rainbow Lake Hike
The hike to Rainbow Lake is 16 kilometers (10 miles) round trip and sees an elevation gain of 850 meters (2700 feet). It took us 3 hours to hike up and 2.5 hours on the way down, including lots of photo stops.
Don’t forget your hiking essentials. You can get my free checklist HERE.
The first hour of the hike is straight climbing. There has been a newer hiking trail created over the first few hundred meters (previously you’d walk up a road).
You’ll come to a junction that directs you right to Rainbow Falls but you’ll want to stay left. A few meters away, you’ll then see signage for Flank Trail and Rainbow Lake. Stay right to take the latter. You’ll be on a wide gravel path which runs adjacent to 21 Mile Creek down below, and within a few minutes, you’ll catch your first scenic view looking back towards Whistler and its lakes. I knew whatever views awaited us at the top were going to be spectacular.
In order to protect Whistler’s water supply, there are three outhouses along the way. YES! You’ll come across the first one just as the trail narrows and heads into the forest. This is where the climbing really begins.
One of my favourite parts of the Rainbow Lake Hike is all the bridges along the way. There are several small wooden bridges, a very cool cable bridge, and a small suspension bridge all overlooking waterfalls of various sizes. They’re so beautiful!
The final stretch leading up to the lake was a beautiful path through a meadow. The views were amazing; you could see Rainbow, Blackcomb, and the majestic Wedge Mountain. Much to my surprise, there was still snow up at Rainbow Lake and a lot of ice covering it. It was melting rapidly and it was quite cool to see the ice cruising towards the bridge we were standing on then breaking up and going down the waterfall. It really doesn’t get much fresher than that!
There’s a boardwalk that takes you around the lake and you can go all the way to the back and look out over the lake with Wedge in the background. The mountains look enormous. There are benches around the lake and also looking out above it. Be sure to take your time and enjoy the lake. It’s the perfect spot to rest and refuel – we spent two hours here(!) – before heading back down.
Your Rainbow Lake Whistler questions, answered:
Can you swim at Rainbow Lake?
Due to Rainbow Lake being a Whistler water source, swimming is not allowed.
Can you bring your dog on the Rainbow Lake Hike?
No pets are allowed on the Rainbow Lake Hike due to protecting Whistler’s water source.
Can you camp on Rainbow Lake Trail?
No, but you can camp at various points along Flank Trail.
When To Go
Rainbow Lake is the ideal high-intermediate hike to do in July once most of the snow has disappeared and your hiking legs are ready. There’s limited parking, and because the few spots are shared for those simply going to see Rainbow Falls, be mindful that it will seem busy quickly. It’s definitely best to go up first thing in the morning to make the most of the day.
What to Wear
I pulled out my Salomon hiking boots for the first time this season and I’m so glad I did. I have a tendency to sprain my ankle a lot and given the abundance of rocks and roots on this hike, I was glad to have the extra support. Also, the grip made the descent significantly easier. I wore these boots on my Bhutan trek through the Himalayas and cannot recommend them enough. As always, make sure you’re dressed for the mountain climate. It was sunny and hot when we went however the weather can change quickly on the mountain and it’s often much cooler than you’d expect. I highly recommend layers like the Arc’teryx Atom LT jacket and Alpha SL Jacket; they’re basically bulletproof and I never leave on a hike without these two items in my bag.
Rainbow Lake Hike Details
The Rainbow Lake trailhead is on Alta Lake Road and is a short 10 minute drive from the village near the Rainbow Park entrance. The lake provides the water supply for Whistler so there is no camping, swimming, or bathing allowed, and absolutely no pets.
I loved this hike for the challenge but mostly for the scenery. Make sure to check out my friend Meaghan’s blog for training tips for this hike over on Peak Training. Don’t forget to read about our first and second hikes, Cheakamus Lake Hike and Crater Rim Trail Hike respectively, if you missed them.
Photography by Bryn Peaker + Lynn Henderson
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