Whyte Lake Trail in West Vancouver is an easy and popular hiking route. Unlike what you’d expect, the highlight is not actually Whyte Lake, but the trail that leads there through spectacular old-growth temperate rainforest. It was one of the first trails we’ve done in Metro Vancouver, and we think it’s definitely a must-do for every local, but even visitors won’t regret dedicating a few hours to it, especially those who consider themselves nature lovers.
Read about more hikes in Metro Vancouver:
First of all: rainforest? In Vancouver?!
The British Columbia coast is an exciting place to learn about temperate rainforests from up close. They exist, let’s start with that. Even though we tend to take it straightforward that rainforests are tropical, not all of them are. But it’s true that you can’t find temperate rainforests just anywhere. A quarter of the world’s temperate rainforests can be found in British Columbia, mainly along the coast.
Temperate rainforests are lush green and full of life all year, like their tropical neighbors, but their flora and fauna are still very different. One thing is common though: if a forest receives 140 cm of rain yearly, it can be classified as a rainforest. Vancouver’s annual rainfall reaches this threshold, and North Vancouver, being even closer to the mountains, gets even more. No wonder that the best rainforests of Metro Vancouver can be found on the North Shore: in North and West Vancouver.
They are evergreen getaways any time of the year. The dense forest gives cover from rain and escape from summer heat (though honestly, I never felt the summer too hot here). It’s a beauty that changes very little with the seasons and a place where you’ll be filled with peace and quiet. Whyte Lake Trail is one of those rainforest trails which is not simply “a nice forest trail”, but an “out of a fairy tale” one, with thick, vibrant green moss carpets, lichen hanging from the centuries-old trees and cascading little streams. The rainforest in Whyte Lake Park is magic.
Hike to Whyte Lake via Nelson Creek
There are several trails that lead you to Whyte Lake, but that spectacular rainforest trail is the one that follows the Trans Canada Trail, along Nelson Creek and Whyte Creek.
Where to park?
The parking is just off of Westport Road, south of Highway 1. It’s not a large parking lot and fills up quickly on nice weather days. Unfortunately, there’s no street parking right there, but you can also access the Nelson Creek Trail from a different trailhead along Cranley Drive. Street parking is possible there, so it can be your backup option.
Finding the right trail
The gravel parking off of Westport Road ends with a metal gate. You start the trail from there, and there’s a gravel access road that takes you under the highway first. Then you arrive at an intersection, but follow the gravel road further. It suddenly becomes steep, but don’t worry, this is about the steepest section of this trail. At the top of the hill, you’ll see the sign for Whyte Lake Trail, that’s the one you need to follow.
You’ll soon find yourself in the heart of the rainforest. The creeks with the tiny cascades and occasional wooden bridges are enchanting, the large Western Cedar and Douglas Fir trees are intimidating, and a little bit of fog makes the atmosphere even more unreal. Sit on a bench, and enjoy. (Or jump into mud puddles if you’re an energetic two-year-old.)
Arriving to Whyte Lake
Whyte Lake at the end is a nice one, but honestly, you can find nicer, larger, clearer lakes in Greater Vancouver, and it didn’t feel like a highlight of this trail to us at all. There’s a small wooden dock with a bench which is a nice rest stop and picnic spot before you turn back. You can partly walk around the lake (but not all the way around), and there’s an outhouse further up from the lake. But Whyte Lake hike is certainly one where the route is more beautiful than the destination.
Whyte Lake via Nelson Creek hiking essentials:
- Trailhead & parking: Whyte Lake Trailhead, just off of Westport Road
- Length: 5.2 km return
- Elevation gain: ~230 meters
- Difficulty: easy
- Hiking season: all year
- Check out the Whyte Lake trail map here!
Make it a loop: return on the Old Helipad route
You can either return the same way, or make this hike a loop by returning on the Old Helipad route. It’s less impressive than the Nelson Creek Trail and Whyte Lake Trails, but a bit different. It’s higher and runs through a brighter pine forest. If you prefer a different route and don’t mind some steep sections, do it. Skip it in rainy weather though as there’s some rock scrambling on this route which gets very slippery in wet weather. You can see this loop on the trail map here.
The trails of Whyte Lake Park connect with both Baden Powell Trail and Trans Canada Trail, if you’d like to hike more. Baden Powell Trail past the lake will take you eventually to Eagle Bluffs, but it’s a very challenging hike.
How hard is Whyte Lake Trail?
It’s an easy trail for the average hiker, doable for families with small kids, too. The elevation gain is only about ~230 meters, the distance is 5.2 km there and back. It’s a forest trail, under the cover of trees, but large roots and rocks make it a bit rugged (and definitely unsuitable for strollers or wheelchairs). What can make the trail harder is the mud, as it can get extremely muddy after heavy rains (any time of the year, really).
If you choose to do the Old Helipad route on your way back, it makes the trail altogether harder. It has some very steep sections on rock surfaces that can get slippery in wet weather.
Who is Whyte Lake Trail for?
Anyone who’s on the search for a short, easy, pretty hiking trail near Vancouver. It’s also a great option for a rainy day, and it’s a year-round trail. Even if it gets some snow in winter, it’s still doable and usually no extra equipment is needed (not even microspikes).
Can you swim in Whyte Lake?
You can, but the water is very cold, and I’ve seen cleaner lakes, so I won’t. You decide.
Can you take dogs on this trail?
Yes, but they must remain on-leash as this is an ecologically sensitive area.