Whistler in the winter is well known for its powder-coated ski hills and bustling village life, but come summer, those not careening downhill in the mountain bike park, drinking beer on a patio or traversing the hiking trails, head for the lake.
There are several lakes located near Whistler Village, easily accessible on foot or by bike via the paved Whistler Valley Trail (bike rentals are available in the village). The water in these lakes can be surprisingly warm for spending most of the year surrounded by snow-covered ski hills.
My friends and I were lucky to have a weekend’s access to a wonderful old cabin set on the shores of Alta Lake, located 20 minutes from the Village by bicycle. It was quite special experiencing the lake from this particular place: the little cabin has been passed down through generations of one family and their summers spent on Alta Lake are documented in family photographs hanging on the walls. In one old black and white photo, a woman rides in a boat, Alta Lake behind her empty and wild, vividly illustrating how much the once remote community has changed since the rustic cabin was built.
Alta Lake is arguably the birthplace of tourism in Whistler, beginning with the construction of the Rainbow Lodge in 1914 by Myrtle and Alex Philip. With the construction of a railway to Alta Lake, Rainbow Lodge became a popular wilderness fishing resort, and Whistler got its start as a summer getaway destination.
Today, Alta Lake is for those looking for a change of pace from Village life. Its parks are filled with locals and tourists alike, sunbathing, grilling al fresco dinners or swimming near the sandy beach. Small white one-man sailboats race over the surface of the water, in contrast to the languid strokes of the canoers and stand up paddleboarders. Rainbow Park, with its open grassy fields, is actually on the original property of the Rainbow Lodge, which was sadly lost to a fire.
Our blissful weekend on Alta Lake was spent swimming, sipping coffee on the screened in porch and canoeing around the lake. In the morning a Great Blue Heron rested on our dock before spreading its massive wings and taking flight. The lake in the sunshine was vibrant with activity—we watched a yoga class done entirely on stand up paddleboards and chatted with friendly kayakers paddling by. While the sunset turned the mountains pink, we reclined on the dock as we ate a Japanese-style BBQ dinner with chicken skewers, sake and rice onigiri. By dusk, the air pulsed with darting bats, until the night sky filled with stars.
Alta Lake has three public parks: Rainbow Park, Lakeside Park (with canoe rentals) and Wayside Park (with kayak rentals). There are beaches, BBQs and swimming at all three—the perfect way to spend a sunny day in the mountains. For more detailed history on Alta Lake, and, in particular, the pioneering Philips and their Rainbow Lodge, check out the Whistler Museum blog.