“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is much we can learn from a walk in the woods around Whistler, but there are also generations of knowledge and wisdom we’ll never tap into alone. Indigenous peoples have been living in these mountains and utilizing local rainforest plants and trees for millennia.

The Whistler Medicine Trail

Canadian Wilderness Adventures guide Melanie Tardiff is happy to share some secrets of the local flora as she leads us along The Medicine Trail in Whistler’s Callaghan Valley.

“Lichens are my favourite organism,” Mel says with enthusiasm. “They are a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an algae. The algae can photosynthesize sugars and the fungus makes protein and builds structure to provide it all with a home. There are hundreds of lichens in here from those super delicate rock lichens to this witch’s hair, which local First Nations used for everything from digestive tea to firestarter to insulation.”

Mel has a degree in applied ecology, so is well versed on both traditional and contemporary uses for a host of local plants, trees, lichen and fungi. Who knew scientists are now using oils from the Western yew tree to inhibit cell growth in cancerous tumours? Mel does, and walking the 1.5 KM Medicine Trail with her is like taking a really fun science class in the most peaceful classroom imaginable. But it’s not all hard facts and data.

Soaking in Nature

“Take a moment to sit still and appreciate the sounds of nature,” Mel says at our first stop along the Medicine Trail. “As a society so many of us are starting to lose that connection to nature but out here, listening to the water and the forest, I hope you can feel that sense of being at home, or at ease. Don’t be afraid to get a bit hippie out here, no one will judge you.”

And it is pretty easy to “get a bit hippie” as the sun filters through a canopy of hemlock, fir, and cedar trees, some of which have stood in this forest for upwards of 1000 years. Originally designed as a snowshoe tour, the Medicine Trail winds through a beautiful old growth riparian zone alongside Callaghan Creek. While the elevation gain is minimal hikers need to be aware of the occasional root system or soft mossy patch along the path. It’s definitely a bit more “off-road” than other interpretive walks but Mel stops numerous times to point out all the incredible details of the forest that we may otherwise pass over without a second thought.

Eventually, we break for some traditional medicinal tea alongside a massive 1000 year-old cedar that fell to the forest floor sometime last year. “I might be one of the last people who saw this tree standing,” Mel says wistfully. “The idea of this tour is to get people to think differently about the energy and properties of the forest and nature. Fresh water, clean air, food and medicine…the forest sustains us.”

Medicine Trail hiking tours typically last 3 hours from Village pick-up to drop off. Get more info and book your tour at Whistler.com and be sure to check out The Insider’s collection of awesome Whistler Hiking stories.


Feet Banks moved to Whistler at age 12 so his parents could live the dream and ski as much as possible. He ended up living it too. After leaving home Feet did a few good stints in warmer climates and 4 years of writing school before returning to the mountains to make ski movies, hammer out a journalism career and avoid the 9-5 lifestyle as long as possible. He’s been a hay farmer, a hole digger, a magazine editor and has a jump named after him on Blackcomb Mountain, Feet’s Air. It’s tiny.