We Run Whistler – Whistler’s Running Club
For Whistler locals like Louise (Lou) O’Brien spring is the time of year when the trails begin to call. 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 a trail runner’s dream come true. It’s also what hooked Lou, originally from Ireland, into calling Whistler home for the last 12 years.
“It’s about freedom for me,” says Lou, the founder of the running group, We Run Whistler. “When I trail run it’s like I’m in a different world. Bouncing off rocks and roots feels playful and fun. I can’t be in my head too much or focus soley on pace, it’s more about the sheer adventure of exploring in nature.”
Lou didn’t start out as a runner. She came to Whistler for what most of us now-local folks did, for the snow. And then, as the typical Whistler story goes, Lou loved the summer even more.
Back in the day, Lou worked for the local paper, The Whistler Question, which, at the time, sponsored the Whistler Half Marathon. Lou snagged a free entry and decided to sign up for the 10-kilometre distance for a bit of fun and was introduced to other runners, some of which would soon become close friends. This was her first taste of a running race and she quickly caught the bug. However, it wasn’t until she signed up for a trail running race in Pemberton that she knew she’d found her passion.
“It was a big eye-opener,” explains Lou. “I never went back to road running. It was so freeing to not have to worry about the traffic or if my pace was what it should be. I just had to focus on the next rock, the next root. For me, trail running is about freedom.”
And, as it turned out she wasn’t the only who felt that way about hitting the trails. Lou initially worked with Lululemon, to start a beginner running group and this led to the beginning of We Run Whistler (WRW), which she initially started with another local runner. Over the last six years, WRW has morphed into a group that caters to all kinds of runners including some more hard-core enthusiasts and those looking to get into trail running, and is now sponsored by Salomon.
We Run Whistler meets on Tuesdays at 5:55 PM every week, 52 weeks of the year (check their Facebook group on Mondays for that week’s location). It’s open to anyone who wants to run, visitors and locals alike. The group size is typically 12 to 20 people depending on the time of year, no pre-sign-up is required and it’s free, although they do encourage people to become a WORCA runner member in order to give back to the maintenance of the trails.
“In the winter, we typically get runners who are used to running in cold temperatures. So they’re usually Canadian,” laughs Lou. “And then in the summer, we get more runners from the US and the UK joining us. We’ve had several repeat visitors too. Its amazing when you make these connections.”
So, for those runners who like to have a group run to commit to, want to find like-minded souls or want a local’s take on the best trails check in with We Run Whistler the next time you’re here in the mountains.
What’s Unique About Trail Running in Whistler?
For Lou, it’s the unique mix of trail types in Whistler that make it a true runner’s paradise.
“Squamish has that lush, rainforest vibe whereas Pemberton is dry and rocky, and Whistler, sitting in the middle, has both of those qualities along with mountain views, glacially-fed lakes and thundering waterfalls thrown in on top. It’s simply an incredible place to trail run.”
From the scenic Valley Trail to incredibly beautiful and rugged alpine routes, Whistler has terrain suitable for runners of every fitness level. We asked Lou for some of her best Whistler trail suggestions.
Best Whistler Trail Running Trails
Whenever I have a visitor ask me where they should run I tell them the Riverside to Farside route in the Cheakamus neighbourhood. It’s beautiful. You’re running next to a river the entire time and you get to cross the suspension bridge, which is fun.
There’s still an element of challenge as there are some fun ups and downs along the trail, but it’s a doable six-kilometre loop. For intermediates to advanced runners, you can add High Line, High Side and Loggers Lake trails to your Cheakamus-based loop depending on how much distance you want to cover.
INSIDER TIP: From Whistler Village, it’s a nine-kilometre journey to Cheakamus, which can be done along the pedestrianized Valley Trail, on public transit and in the car. Parking is on the left as you enter Cheakamus where you’ll find washrooms and maps of the area.
Lost Lake Park
Lost Lake Park is another incredible area that’s right next to Whistler Village. You can easily connect the trails together to make your desired distance. Running through the forest with glimpses of the mountains and lake is stunning.
You could opt for the signature, five-kilometre loop around the lake with its wide, smooth gravel path or head up one of the trails which branch off this main area and are marked and rated for difficulty. Take a look at the Lost Lake Park trail map to plot your own route, or simply explore on the day.
I still get a bit turned around in here, so my number one tip is to download the Trailforks app before you head out. It’s obviously great for safety and navigation, but it’s also a great way to explore what Whistler has to offer.
Whistler’s Best Kept Trail Running Secret?
One of Whistler’s best-kept trail secrets hides in plain sight – Whistler Blackcomb. Lou has competed in the Valley to Peak race multiple times and loves the cooler temperatures, views out over ancient volcanoes and glaciers, as well as the technical steps it inevitably offers.
“My focus this running season is going to be exploring the high alpine,” said Lou. “I usually travel to race, but having had a baby this year I’m sticking closer to home and really digging into Whistler. You might find me on Singing Pass, High Note and Harmony Loop when those trails clear up.”
Whistler Trail Running Trails for Advanced Runners
Back in 2013, West Coast trail runner and blogger, Adam Campbell was asked for his thoughts on Whistler’s trail running scene and here’s what he said.
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-kilometre 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.
With elevations ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 feet (2,000 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.
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-kilometre 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.
Trail Running Safety
The weather can change quickly in the mountains so you have to be prepared with appropriate attire and gear. A note on footwear; 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.
For more on how to make sure you’re safe on the trails visit AdventureSmart BC’s dedicated page for trail runners.
Be prepared to share the trails, and this doesn’t just mean with bike riders and hikers. Whistler is bear country, so brush up on how to avoid encountering a bear on the trail and what to do if you do.
Running Groups & Running Events in Whistler
New to town, or uncomfortable running alone? Check in with Lou on 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.
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. Take a look at Trailforks for trail condition information and if you’re a fan of a hold-in-your-hand map talk to the folks at the Whistler Visitor Centre.
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.
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