Breathtaking Waterfalls in and Around Whistler
The landscape around Whistler is phenomenally beautiful. If you’re driving to Whistler from Vancouver, you’ll be taking the Sea to Sky Highway along the Howe Sound- the southernmost fjord in North America. During the last ice age, a 2km thick glacier filled the Howe Sound. This eroded the land underneath it to below sea level.
Once sea levels rose again, the valley’s lowest points were submerged, and our beautiful Canadian fjord formed. Surrounding the fjord are steep forested mountains. These steep mountainsides have led to the formation of multiple cascading waterfalls around the Whistler area. The small valley dip where you find Shannon Falls, for example, was carved by a smaller tributary glacier present during the last ice age.
The Sea to Sky region is a go-to destination for waterfall chasers like yourself. We are literally dripping with them. As you drive the Sea to Sky highway, between Vancouver to Whistler and beyond, it’s all you can do to ignore them. Each highway outlook typically boasts a beautiful view of yet another cascade.
If you are passionate about waterfalls, or just want that perfect photo, here are a few of our favourite waterfalls found within a short drive from Whistler.
Shannon Falls is the third highest waterfall in BC, at 335m tall. Within local First Nation beliefs, a two-headed serpent named Say-noth-ka formed these falls. The story goes that the serpent created the cascades by slithering up the mountainside.
This is a convenient waterfall near Whistler to check out since it’s accessible from the Sea to Sky highway. If you’re driving from Vancouver to Whistler, you’ll find Shannon Falls just before you get into Squamish. It is well signed and has plenty of free parking on both sides of the highway.
There are a few different ways you can view it. You can either follow the signs to the Shannon Falls Provincial Park where you can park the car and then follow a short path (350m) to various viewing platforms from which to see the falls.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can head to the Sea to Summit Gondola. Park the car in there large parking lot (again for free!) and hike up the Sea to Summit hike. About halfway along the trip, the trail winds up close to the upper part of Shannon Falls. Stray from the trail and go check out these upper falls. Be careful not to swim in the pools or water- they may look calm and shallow but this doesn’t mean a strong current won’t pass through.
Most of the waterfalls near Whistler cascade down several steps. Brandywine Falls, which is 70m tall, is unique in that it is totally free falling. The geology of this area, about 40km north of Squamish, is featured with scattered columnar basalts, remnants of ancient lava flows. Brandywine Falls has been created by a stack of basalt flows from which the water tumbles off over the edge at the top.
To get to Brandywine Falls, continue driving north on the Sea to Sky highway from Squamish towards Whistler. You’ll eventually reach a signpost for Brandywine Provincial Park. After parking your car in the free parking area, you’ll find a well-signposted path, about a kilometre long, which will take you to the waterfall viewing platform.
There are also unofficial trails which have been marked into the ground by frequent hikers. These will take you down closer to the falls. Of course, always use precaution and good common sense when approaching big water features.
Alexander Falls consists of three cascading steps. These three drops add up to a height of 43 meters. It’s located in the Callaghan Valley, just a little south of Whistler itself. It’s a great drive just to get to the falls- in winter it’s spectacular, but make sure to own snow tires.
The parking area is next to the viewing platform, but there is also a less clear trail that leads to the base and the top of the falls (these trails aren’t easy though and won’t be suitable for everyone).
There are picnic tables set up in the forest next to the viewing platform, so this is a great option for a half day trip where you can view the falls and have a picnic. Keep in mind that the access road to this area- which is the Whistler Olympic Park- becomes blocked by a security gate during their closed hours. Check these before you go.
Nairn Falls is an easily accessible but stunning cascade a little north of Whistler, roughly a 20-30 minute drive towards Pemberton. It is formed from a series of cascading steps that add up to a height of 60 meters, but each drop is about 10m or 20m tall.
From the parking lot at the Nairn Falls Provincial Park, it’s only a 1.2km hike in over an easy and flat trail. Once there, there is a walkway and viewing area from which to view the falls.
Since the trail is so easy, it’s passable even in winter when covered in snow. There is also a large campground located in the park.
If you’re looking for an easily accessible waterfall within Whistler itself, Rainbow Falls is a great option. To get to the small falls it’s just a 1.4km roundtrip hike with only 68 meters of elevation gain.
To reach Rainbow Lake, head to Alta Lake. Walk around to the Rainbow Park side (north-west side of the lake) and follow the Rainbow Lake trailhead. When you see a sign for Rainbow Falls, take that, and be lead into a beautiful, serene spot where the falls flow into.
Take note that dogs aren’t allowed on this trail since it’s so close to Whistler’s water supply.
To see a truly spectacular set of falls that is only accessible by a challenging hike, hit up Wedgemount Falls. It sits within Garibaldi Provincial Park and can be found along the trail to Wedgemount Lake, about three-quarters of the way up. These falls are 300m high, which means you’ll hear them before you see them. The best spot to view the falls are actually at quite a distance from the falls itself- but it’s from this distance that you’re better able to get a sense of their magnitude.
It’s a steep hike of 7m (one way) to get there, with an elevation gain of 1200m. If you continue along the trail after viewing Wedgemount Falls, you’ll get to Wedgemount Lake where tent platforms have been constructed for campers.
What to Pack for a Day Trip to a Whistler Waterfall
If you’re heading on a day trip to view some waterfalls near Whistler, you’ll want to bring a few handy things.
Having a picnic near the falls in summer is a family-friendly activity for young and old. It also makes a great romantic mid-afternoon date. We recommend picking up some delicious savory and sweet baked goods from PureBread in Function Junction to bring with you. For those that aren’t driving, why not grab some cold beers from Whistler Brewery, also in Function Junction.
Even if you’re visiting in summer, it’s best to bring some additional layers. You’ll likely be under tree cover when viewing the falls, which means shade. It’s never a bad idea to bring extra layers when you’re going on a wander through the woods.
Also, although we generally only get a few bugs, mosquitos do love water. Bring bug spray- since you’ll be walking through forests and around mosquito breeding grounds, you may encounter some pesky biters.
It’s going to be tempting to go in for a dip, in which case you’ll want to bring your bathers. We highly advise you to do some research before you go- find out if there is a well-known swimming hole in the area, and if there is stick to that area rather than finding your own.
If you see locals swimming, chat with them and get their recommendations. What can look like a peaceful and shallow pool of water may turn into a turbulent flow if water levels suddenly rise. There have been recent deaths of people swimming around waterfalls, so don’t take safety lightly.
If there are railings around the waterfall, take these as a warning to not stray any closer to the edge. If there are no railings, use common sense and don’t try to peer over the edge for a look or a good photo. Unsurprisingly, the rocks above and around waterfalls can become incredibly slippery even if they don’t look it. Again, there have been deaths from people walking too close to the edge. Be safety smart and use caution.
If you’re planning on taking some epic selfies – again, be smart! Don’t teeter-tot close to the edge. Keep the edge a good distance from you and don’t become a statistic.
Waterfalls in Whistler – Abundance & adventure
There are a number of waterfalls around Whistler, and in Whistler itself, all waiting for you to explore them. Many are accessible with short and easy hikes, and some take more effort to view. Whichever one you make the effort to see, you’re bound to be awed by the spectacular geology that makes up this part of BC.