Winding alongside the picturesque Cheakamus River, the dense forest clears to reveal an eclectic outdoor art gallery. Mangled boxcars scattered among towering cedar trees make up a kind of twisted train graveyard; local artists have laid claim to these unique canvases, creating a vibrant art installation hidden away for curious hikers to discover in the middle of the lush Canadian forest.
The now notorious Whistler Train Wreck can be found by venturing along an easy 5 km hike through the trees. The hike itself is stunning; at several points along the trail the trees part, revealing close up views of the crashing white water of the Cheakamus River.
Just past the river, strewn between the trees, is the boxcar carnage that is the Whistler Train Wreck. Rumors of how the train cars got to be in their places among the trees abound, and the mystery was only recently uncovered. According to information newly gathered by the Whistler Museum, the event occurred in 1956, when train cars loaded up with lumber became stuck at a rock cut. Logging machinery was used to haul the cars off of the tracks. Since it was deemed too expensive to transport the cars further, the wreckage was left behind to rot among the trees.
What was once a scar on the surface of the otherwise untouched natural landscape, has slowly evolved into the centerpiece of one of Whistler’s best kept secrets. Over several decades, the crushed cars have sat quietly, slowly being overtaken by nature and artists. Local residents have taken something that was once seen as garbage, and transformed it into an ever evolving art piece; graffiti style drawings and vibrant colors have brought the rusty wreckage back to life. Here, natural beauty and human creativity collide; the juxtaposition of the broken cars and dynamic drawings create an awe inspiring spectacle.
Our little ones quite enjoyed climbing among the colorful boxcars. Each car in this wilderness art exhibit has something new and different to explore. The clearing itself is quite kid friendly, with lots of space to run around. There is a bit of a make shift bike park that has been built over the tops of a few of cars; you may want to be a bit cautious about what parts of this to let your little ones climb on, as they looked a bit precarious when we were there.
These bizarrely beautiful boxcars will appeal to hikers of all ages, and we strongly recommend it as a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon in Whistler, British Columbia.
How to get there:
While the trail itself is well maintained, it can be tricky to spot. To begin, locate the small “Flank Trail” sign that sits at the edge of Alpha Lake Road. This can be found just before Alpha Lake Road bends sharply right. Follow this trail for about 50 meters, going into the forest towards the river and away from Function Junction.
Soon, you will come to the large “Flank Trail” map board. The Flank Trail will continue straight. The unmarked Train Wreck Trail, however, heads off left along the right side of the creek.
After following this trail for about 5 minutes, you will come to a gravelly clearing. Across the clearing, you will see the trail marked by two large painted rocks. Follow this trail for about 100 meters – you should be able to see and hear the Sea to Sky Highway at this point. You will need to go under the overpass, and continue along the trail.
Soon, you will see the trail lead to the train tracks. Don’t cross the tracks here. Instead, follow the trail at the edge of the tracks into the trees again. Soon, the trail will come to the tracks again, and you will need to cross. This should be the only point in the hike where you need to cross the tracks. Avoid walking along the tracks when at all possible, as it is both illegal and potentially dangerous.
Pick up the trail again, and enjoy the beautiful views of the Cheakamus River. Soon, the trail will take you back to the train tracks. If you keep to the left, the trail will pick up again and take you back into the forest, where the train cars await you.
Best time to visit: March-November
Difficulty: Easy. While we have read that the hike to the trains only takes 30 minutes, it took us quite a bit longer that that. That being said, we did have two kids in tow, and we stopped at several points throughout the trail to explore and take in the awesome views.
For more information:
Be sure to check out Tourism Whistler.
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