Updated September 2017 with a link to our new Skywalk Hiking Guide.
Autumn is one of the best times of year for hiking in Whistler: the leaves are starting to change colours, the mushrooms begin rising from the forest floor and the mountain air begins to feel crisp, even as the warm afternoon sun beams down. Add in some mist on the lakes, the occasional dusting of fresh snow on the peaks and the knowledge that there are only so many good hiking weekends left this year and well, it’s time to lace up the boots.
The Skywalk Trail
There is a new hike on the Whistler map as well. “Skywalk” is a valley-to-alpine trail completed in 2014 by a group of volunteers from the Whistler chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada and local hiking enthusiast Janice Tedstone made the trek earlier this year.
“Done as a loop this trail passes through old-growth rainforest and up into the alpine past Iceberg Lake and on to other smaller lakes,” Janice explains. “It is long and steep and best for experienced hikers but it is possible to do shorter sections as well. I think it is one of the prettiest hikes in the area.”
It’s the perfect early autumn hike but, due to its newness, the Skywalk trail is not as well marked as most Whistler hikes. One incredible thing is you can access the trailhead via public transit. The best way to get a map and route beta is to swing by the Whistler Visitor Centre and let Janice or one of her coworkers give you the inside scoop.
Whistler Skywalk Trail: Map and Info
Janice recommends allowing 7-9 hours for the entire hike. Distance travelled ranges: it’s a 14 km loop to Iceberg Lake and back and the entire Skywalk loop is up over 21 km. You can expect about 1000 metres of elevation gain so take it slow, have fun and pack a lunch. You can download the map (PDF) here.
For more on hiking the Skywalk Trail and the Rainbow Mountain hiking network, visit our guide to Hiking the Skywalk Trail and Rainbow Mountain Network.
More Whistler Autumn Hiking Tips
Autumn Hiking Weather
On any hike the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” is a wise path to follow but Whistler treks like Skywalk, Wedge and Rainbow Lake all travel through the high alpine where temperatures and weather conditions can change in minutes. In the autumn, alpine temperatures can get down around freezing level in storms or once the sun drops so be sure to have some warm layers on hand.
Daylight and Timing
Don’t be fooled by a warm autumn afternoon, those long summer days where it stays light until 9 PM are over. Hikers heading out on big treks like Skywalk should be sure to leave early enough to make it home before dark. It doesn’t hurt to have a headlamp in your pack either. For up to the day info check out this chart of Whistler sunset times.
Bears and Hiking
Serious problems with Whistler’s resident black bears are pretty rare (unless you are a blueberry) but it’s always important to be bear aware, especially this year. The beautiful, hot, dry summer of 2015 was not ideal for the local berry crops. Many of the mountain huckleberries and blueberries that Whistler bears would normally eat this time of year ripened early and it’s literally slim pickings up there now. Bears still need to fatten up for winter hibernation though, so they are moving down from the mountains to find food. It’s a good idea for hikers to travel in groups and make lots of noise, take a dog, or have some bear spray on your belt. No Whistler hiker has ever been attacked by a bear but it makes sense to play it bear smart so we can keep it that way. Check out these Bear Smart tips.
This is common hiking sense but be sure to tell a friend exactly where you are going and when you expect to be back. Then check in once you return safe. Hiking is awesome but anything can happen in the wilderness and this simple step is the single most important safety measure you can take.
The Sooner the Better
Janice points out that as autumn rolls along there is always the chance of snowfall at the higher elevations on trails like Skywalk, Wedge or Rainbow Lake. With a sunny weekend in the forecast the best time to hike in Whistler is right now but if you are planning an October foray into the hills be sure to have appropriate footwear and clothing to deal with potential snow.
One of the best things about hiking is how it slows our world down so we have time to notice the little things that make nature so complex and amazing. Combine that with some incredible views and the sense of achievement you get from making it to your destination (and back again) and there really is no better autumn activity. Plus, with ski season coming up fast your legs will appreciate the exercise. Get out there, take some nice food and have picnic in the alpine while you still can. Snow is coming soon!