A First-Timer’s Guide to Whistler Trail Running
Updated January 2020
Adam Campbell in the Whistler Backcountry. BRIAN GOLDSTONE PHOTO
Adam Campbell is a West Coast-er who, among other things, writes and manages a fantastic trail running blog based out of Vancouver and Victoria. We asked him to chip in and give us the inside scoop on leaving the pavement and hitting the Whistler dirt.
By Adam Campbell
If you can hike a trail, you can run it and since Whistler has some of the best hiking and walking terrain in North America that means it’s also a trail runner’s dream come true. From the scenic Valley trail to incredibly beautiful and rugged alpine routes, Whistler has terrain suitable for runners of every fitness level.
BEGINNERS: Lace ’em up.
Whistler’s Valley Trail snakes through town connecting all the neighbourhoods together. It’s two lanes, paved, strictly for non-motorized traffic and offers some great views of the local mountains and lakes. The Valley Trail is a local treasure and perfect entry-level stuff but the real beauty of running in Whistler happens out on the dirt.
Lost Lake is a great place to start for anyone looking to get into trail running. The core area is a 5-kilometre loop around the lake with a wide, smooth gravel path. The loop acts as a main artery with an assortment of other trails branching off. These offer steeper pitches and narrower trails that weave through nice coastal forest. Trails are marked and rated for difficulty with maps available at Cross Country Connection located right at the main trail head or check out the online map. Everything is well maintained and you can run the Lost Lake trails in your road shoes if that’s all you have (watch out for the occasional rocky/rooted section).
INTERMEDIATE: Trails in the Whistler Valley
For the more seasoned runners the options are endless. It would take a lifetime to explore the varied and ever-growing array of trails spread out across the Whistler valley, the Callaghan area and Garibaldi Provincial Park. The lower elevation trails in Whistler are classic Coast Mountain singletrack – dense forest and twisting trails with amazingly constructed bridges crossing over raging rivers and flowing streams. The terrain is rocky with plenty of roots and can be muddy at times. This is real wilderness trail running.
One classic Whistler route is Comfortably Numb, a challenging 25-kilometere point-to-point trail that begins 10 kilometres north of Whistler at the Wedgemount parking lot and traverses in a non-linear way back to Lost Lake. Stay alert for mountain bikes though, Comfortably Numb is also a classic Whistler biking route.
ADVANCED: Trails in the Alpine
With elevations ranging from 3,000 to 7000 feet (2000 metres) Whistler’s alpine trails can be challenging with lots of vertical gain and thin rarified mountain air. Runners are more than compensated with epic glacier views, flowing creeks, wildlife sightings, meadows of alpine flowers and plenty of interesting technical terrain.
In recent years Whistler Blackcomb has also developed a nice alpine trail network for hiking and running. The best way to access them is with a sightseeing pass, which also gives you access to the excellent PEAK 2 PEAK gondola. Whistler’s High Note Trail is a nice 9.4 kilometer loop but my personal favourite is the Overlord Trail to the Decker Loop on Blackcomb. It’s more of a challenge but also more remote with incredible views of the Overlord Glacier.
While running is a relatively simple sport requiring little gear the Whistler area is wild mountain terrain so common sense applies. The weather can change quickly so be prepared with appropriate attire. While road shoes do work, trail shoes offer much better grip, stability and durability in rugged terrain. It’s also a good idea to run with a buddy and let someone know where you are going.
Part of running in the wilderness is the possibility of encountering wildlife, including bears. Nobody likes to be surprised so be bear aware and respect that you are in their habitat. (Many local runners wear bear bells.) Also, most of Whistler’s best trails are also heavily used by mountain bikers so stay alert and watch out for fast-moving bikers. You can also join WORCA or buy a trail pass if you want to support the people who build and maintain these great trails.
While it is possible to run year-round in Whistler (much of the Valley Trail is plowed in winter) the prime months for trail running are April to late October with the alpine terrain opening up from mid-late-June to the end of September depending on the previous winter’s snowpack. The folks at the Whistler Visitor Centre have up-to-date information on trail conditions and maps.
COMMUNITY & EVENTS
New to town? Or uncomfortable running alone? Fear not, there are a few local running groups and one of the best year-round resources is the We Run Whistler Facebook Group.
For runners with a competitive streak, Whistler has a host of fantastic races to choose from, take a look here for some ideas: Going the Distance: Running Events in Whistler
The beauty of trail running in Whistler is that you get to see a lot of terrain in an efficient way, while getting a great workout in one of the most scenic locations on the planet. So lace up those shoes and get a bit muddy. Happy trails.