Whistler is home to some of the best and most popular hikes in British Columbia and Canada. While most people will have heard of hikes such as Joffre Lakes and Garibaldi Lake, there are many other hikes to explore that have the same wow-factor, such as the Cirque Lake Hike – a hidden gem tucked away in the Callaghan Valley.
Many of these places have become overly popular thanks to social media and Instagram, especially in 2020. It’s hard to find an area outside that isn’t overloaded with people. But there are still a few hidden gems that have yet to experience over-tourism in the area.
I first explored Callaghan Lake one summer afternoon when we had no plans and just decided to take a drive somewhere. This small Provincial Park is incredibly beautiful and is home to many stunning lakes.
When I first read about this hike, it seemed so adventurous. Like, I’ve always wondered what was “over there” on the other side of Callaghan Lake. And there seems to be a whole world full of hidden gems and beautiful spots.
That is when we discovered Cirque Lake. Cirque Lake is a unique hike in Whistler as the only way you can access it is by crossing the Callaghan Lake.
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Where Is Cirque Lake?
Cirque Lake is located inside the Callaghan Lake Provincial Park in Whistler. This Provincial Park is a lesser-known and much quieter Provincial Park than that of neighbouring Garibaldi and Joffre Lakes.
How To Get There
From Vancouver it’s around a 2-hour drive. Callaghan Lake is accessible via a long dirt road located off of Callaghan Road on the way up to Whistler Olympic Park.
I would recommend 4WD at the very least for the drive up to this lake. High-clearance is a bonus. I would reconsider this hike if you don’t have the appropriate vehicle
On the drive back we did see see two girls driving down in a car that wasn’t suitable for this road who were having trouble. Earlier in the day they’d asked us if their tires looked okay – that was around an hour before we left and we passed them on the way down.
There is no fee to enter or camp at Callaghan Provincial Park, but please keep in mind the parking lot is small. That means, if it’s completely full you CANNOT park there. Just be mindful of where you’re parking and let’s remember to respect outdoor spaces such as this.
Cirque lake Hike Stats
The trail to Cirque Lake is considered moderate to difficult. The hardest part of this hike in my opinion was getting the boat across the lake. The hike itself I’d consider moderate and it does climb a fair bit but it’s a short hike and the incline is bearable.
Below are the stats for Cirque Lake:
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Elevation Gain: 300metres
Return Trip Time: 3 – 5 Hours
Season: Mid-June to September
Dog Friendly: Yes
What To Pack For The Cirque Lake Hike
The Cirque Lake trail has some technical uphill sections and a good pair of hiking boots is a must. I never leave for a day hike without my OspreyTempest 20L and always ensure I have a good water bottle that keeps water cold. I keep my 10 hiking essentials in my day pack so it’s ready to go for any spontaneous hikes. Check out my guide on what to bring on a day hike.
Getting To The Trailhead
As I’ve mentioned a few times already, Cirque Lake is only accessible by crossing Callaghan Lake so you’ll need some sort of boat or watercraft. Some people bring a canoe, some might choose to paddle board or others had inflatable kayaks.
We had just purchased a big inflatable boat and it was great taking it out for the first time. Our boat faired pretty well on the water. We nicknamed it the S.S. Princess – because my husband rowed my lazy ass across the water there and back while I got to enjoy the sunshine.
Once you are at the boat launch at Callaghan Lake, you’ll need to row directly to the other side. As long as you row in a fairly straight line you’ll reach the other side. You’ll see a tall waterfall come into view as you approach the shore, the trailhead is just off the the right of this with an inlet. If there were hikers who made it here before you, you’ll probably spot their boats making it easier to navigate the trailhead.
Once you’ve arrived at the trailhead, bring your boat ashore and tie it or leave it in one of the bushes. From here you can start your hike to Cirque Lake.
The Hike To Cirque Lake
The first half of the Cirque Lake trail is mostly shaded forest. You’ll cross several small streams before starting to gain elevation.
Around 30-minutes or so into the hike you’ll arrive at the boulder field. This boulder-field may look difficult to navigate but of all the boulder-fields I’ve hiked through, this one was my favourite. You could even say I enjoyed climbing this.
In comparison to the boulder fields/scrambles at Wedgemount, Rohr Lake and the third peak of the Stawamus Chief, this was actually nice. It was somewhat gradual and there was enough space for several parties to make their way up without being on top of each other. There were also several places to stop and take a breather.
This part of the lake was one of my favourites because it boasts some of the best and unique views in Whistler. Once you reach a certain point in the boulder field, views of Callaghan Lake start to emerge.
On a clear sunny day these views are unparalleled. This is a part of the hike where you may want to slow down and enjoy the panoramic views of the Callaghan Valley and snow-capped peak of Black Tusk in the background. I could not stop repeating the words “It’s amazing!” – it really is and something you need to see in person to believe.
Once you reach the top of the boulder field, it’s around another 15-minutes to the lake. There seemed to be several trails veering off at this point, so I guess there’s no one specific way to go. You can see the mountain peaks that sit above the lake at this point, so just head in that direction.
Eventually the lake will start to appear in small snippets, there are several worn-in trails on the way to the lake, just keep following them and eventually you will reach Cirque Lake.
Even in Mid July there was snow up at this elevation. This was the only snow that we encountered on the trail and since it was relatively packed down from hikers it was somewhat slippery.
Besides another couple who we’d encountered earlier in the day, there was no one else at the lake and it was incredibly calm and quiet. It was amazing – I loved it!
This lake is spectacular. The water is so incredibly clear and blue, it was like being on a beach in the caribbean (except cold AF) If you’re brave enough, take a swim in these crystal clear waters before your hike back to the parking lot.
Camping At Callaghan Lake Provincial Park
Camping at Callaghan Lake Provincial Park is free and operates on a first-come first-served basis. There are a total of 6 tent pads/campsites. There are other informal spots for camping but keep away from areas where wildflowers grow. If there is a sign that says “no camping” please don’t camp there.
I witnessed tons of people ignoring the signage and camper vans parking across walking paths this past summer. It was just really disappointing to see this.
When we packed up our site and left there were a total of 70 cars competing for 8 campsites in a tiny parking lot. For those who do want to spend a few nights camping here I’d recommend doing so mid-week to avoid the over-tourism and partiers. The experience is 100% better!
Leave No Trace & Bear Safety
Whenever you are camping or hiking always implement Leave No Trace principles. This means packing out what you pack in! This one’s pretty obvious in my opinion. I was always taught not to litter, whether that be outdoors or in the city. It’s a given that you should take your trash with you.
Don’t leave any attractants out for the wildlife and cook away from your tent if possible. Also be prepared any bring bear spray with you for safety.
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