Description: Rainbow Lake is a gorgeous iridescent lake set in a beautiful alpine landscape, and the Rainbow Trail that leads to it offers plenty of beautiful forest scenery and open mountain views.
Most sources list this hike as 16 kilometers round trip, but our tracker recorded it as 19 kilometers. We did take a couple of very brief detours to look at waterfalls, but these should not have added more than 0.5 kilometers, so assume that the distance is a little longer than indicated.
The first bit of the trail, which is not particularly exciting, comprises a gravel path running uphill through the forest. However, this soon gives way to a more natural earthy (but well-maintained) trail with varied scenery.
Trail features include lush forest, wooden and metal suspension bridges, wooden platforms set at crazy angles for traversing marshy areas, waterfalls, alpine meadows, and panoramic mountain where the forest gives way to open areas.
Much of the trail is uphill, though it is not excessively steep (there is no scrambling required), and there are plenty of relatively flat stretches along the way.
Time: Allow 5 to 6 hours to complete the round trip at a comfortable pace (we did it in a little over 5, with stops for photos and short detours to look at waterfalls, but we were moving quite quickly).
Difficulty: The trail is in good condition and well-marked, and no sections require climbing or scrambling. However, the hike has a significant amount of elevation gain (850 meters/2789 feet), so reasonably good fitness is required to manage the uphill stretches. Other sources describe the difficulty level as moderate.
Required Equipment: Assuming that there is no snow on the ground, hiking shoes and clothing appropriate to the season should be fine. I recommend wearing clothing that wicks away sweat, given how much of the trail runs uphill. Also, clothing that is light and breathable but provides maximum protection against bugs is a good idea.
Some people find poles useful on the trail (about half the people we saw on the trail were using them), though we didn’t bother with them because none of the hills were exceptionally steep. Bring food and lots of water (you’ll be losing plenty of fluids to sweat). Headlamps are a good idea in case you get caught after dark, and a first aid kit is also recommended.
- This hike offers better views than most, and the scenery is quite varied and spectacular.
- The trail provides a decent workout because large chunks of it run uphill, but the terrain isn’t difficult or exceptionally steep, so extreme fitness is not required to manage it.
- The beautiful alpine area around the lake is a perfect picnic spot.
- This hike is only a couple of hours’ drive from Vancouver, so it can be done as a day trip from the city.
- There is parking near the trailhead.
- The trail doesn’t get too crowded, even on sunny weekends.
- There are a lot of bugs in the area, including mosquitoes and horseflies; if you stand still for just a few seconds, you’ll be surrounded by a cloud of flies (though they weren’t as numerous or annoying around the lake as they were on the trail).
- Although there are outhouses at the trailhead and the lake, they are the nastiest pit toilets I’ve ever seen.
- This hike is only recommended for July through October; the bridges are actually removed during the winter.
- Dogs, fishing, and camping are not allowed (camping is permitted at Beverley Lake, which is about an hour’s hike beyond Rainbow Lake, according to WhistlerHiatus.com; we haven’t been to Beverly, so I can’t comment on the terrain or time required).
- Swimming in Rainbow Lake is prohibited because it’s the source of Whistler’s drinking water.
For more photos, see the Rainbow Trail and Rainbow Lake Gallery page.
For more information and driving directions, see:
The Rainbow Trail is not an all-abilities hike; only those with moderate to high fitness levels should do this one given how much uphill slogging is involved. For those who want a less demanding hike, there are beautiful forest trails around Sasamat Lake and Buntzen Lake.
For more activity descriptions, visit the main Activities page.