Mountain Biker’s Guide to Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton

Sea-to-Sky Best MTB Trails

Foreword

Why Sea-to-Sky as a destination?

FUN FACTOR. There’s tons of trails and each one has it’s own personality, you’ll never have the impression of riding the same stuff twice. From groomed to technical trails, granite to fresh loam, you’ll see it all. Here, the trails are built specifically for mountain biking by creative and talented builders; they’re not your typical ISO-IMBA trails so get ready to be blown away. Trust us, it doesn’t get more fun than this!

Squamish-Whistler-Pemberton-Fun-MTB

How’s the technical level?

The rumors are true. From our experience, a trail rated “Intermediate” (Blue) in the Sea-to-Sky would be rated “Expert” (Black) elsewhere out of BC. The riding level is higher; be humble and work your way up!

So it’s not suited for beginners and Intermediates?

False! You’ll find a bunch of beginner trails through the area. In fact, the name of the game here is PROGRESSION. It means there is a huge choice of trails from very beginner up to pro level and EVERYTHING in between. They really got that right.

That being said, it’s expert wonderland here. The black and double-black are especially fun to ride. So if you come to BC as a beginner, make sure to come back when you stepped up your game!

Sea To Sky Beginner Trails

I’m a XC rider and it’s all DH trails.

Hang on. Whistler has full-on Downhill trails with chairlift access, true. The remaining zones (Squamish, Whistler “Valley Trails” and Pemberton) are NOT DH; but it’s correct to say it’s more gravity-oriented than most of other places generally speaking.

For example, we’ve seen trails with 10% grade average be described as “extremely steep” in California or Oregon; In Squamish a blue trail like “Meadow of the Grizzly” has 15% grade. A trail considered steep has like 30% grade (19th Hole in Squamish) or 35% grade (Cop Killer in Pemberton) with sections up to 100% grade (OK maybe not, but sometime that’s how it feels!).

So yeah, it’s steeper. It might be intimidating at first, but you’ll get used to it; then you’ll want more. And then you’ll get addicted to it. It’s different than your typical XC ride: it’s more upper body work, it’s physical, it requires braking skills and precise moves. It’ll make your a better all-around rider!

When is the best time to go?

Like the rest of the West Coast, the last few summers were VERY dry. It means that somewhere in July the trails turn into sand and very loose stuff; not ideal. Also, the area can get hit really bad with smoke from the wildfires; then you can’t see the awesomeness of the landscape.

We think May / June are good opportunities for hero dirt, mild and pleasant temperatures. However, keep in mind that the alpine (Top Of The World & Lord Of The Squirrels in Whistler) won’t be open at this period.

September / early October normally see some rain and cool temps again, so that might be a good choice too.

Trail Directory

Here in the Sea to Sky Trailforks.com rules, no doubt about that! So make sure to download the app NOW!

About this guide

In 2017 we sold our house, quit our careers, moved in a van and hit the road full-time. Since then we are traveling North America in search of the best mountain biking trails, so we sampled quite a lot of them. We’re not local to Squamish, Whistler or Pemberton, but we spent 5 months there and rode most of it. We don’t pretend we know it all: this is a guide made for visitors, by visitors!

Van-Travel

Squamish

You’ll find 3 main zones there: Alice Lake, Diamond Head (University) and Valleycliffe. Unless you have plenty of time, we recommend sticking with these two zones:

Alice Lake

No shuttle option here. We like to park at the end of Perth road, then climb via Mashiter, Tracks from Hell, then Of Mice and Men.
Here you will find world-class slabs, epic steep & highly technical runs. To check if you’re up to the task, we recommend starting with Rupert (super fun and not so difficult!), then Entrails (more technical and steeper), then Room with a View (practice riding slabs here).

Diamond Head

Home of the classic “Half Nelson” and “Angry Midget” trails, this zone can be pedaled up (with the access road or with the Legacy singletrack) or shuttled.

Antoine-Riding

Antoine’s Favorite Trails

What I like: technical, steep, roots, rocks

black diamond

1- Pleasure Trail

Type: Technical (steep, rocks, roots)
Zone: Alice Lake

A high quality, high fun factor trail! This trail is the testimony that Squamish has highly skilled and creative trail builders!

In this trail you will encounter: steep, loose, technical, rocks & roots. SIMULTANEOUSLY.

It’s #1 on my list, but work your way up; it’s a tough one with high consequences possible.


double black diamond

2- Boney Elbows + Hueso

Type: Technical (steep, slabs, SLABS and more SLABS!)
Zone: Alice Lake

Squamish slabs are totally unique, there’s no other place like it. Yes, we rode slabs in Moab or else, but here the grip/steep is unmatched. Do you trust your brakes and rubbers?

Note: Boney Elbows is accessed via Entrails (black technical trail); then Hueso follows Boney Elbows.

double black diamond

3- 19th Hole

Type: Technical (steep, gnar, loose, fast)
Zone: Diamond Head

I wouldn’t call 19th Hole a masterpiece or a classic, but sometimes a good “point-and-shoot” fall-line run is sooooo good! No need to scout, there is no major features (except a few big gaps, but you’ll see them coming); so ride it blind, fast and loose!! Weeeeeee!

black diamond

4- Somewhere Over There

Type: Technical (slabs, roots, rocks)
Zone: Diamond Head

I would ride this trail much more often, but getting in (and out) of there is kind-of a mission… Getting there: Another Man’s Gold, Powerhouse Plunge Access (STP not recommended), Hoods Connector, Bonzai (North of South). Getting out: “Access 1”.

In this trail you will sample a little bit of everything Squamish has to offer: some slabs, roots, rocks, loam, loose dirt, flow… And there’s nothing major; intermediate riders might walk on 1 or 2 occasions but that’s all. It’s a fun, all around trail; go get it!

black diamond

5- Home Brew

Type: Jump Line (gaps, drop)
Zone: Diamond Head

Home Brew is a short, but fun jump line. Probably not a must-ride, but if you feel like getting some air time, go for it! I’ll let that guy from the video explain it…

Isa-Riding

Isabelle’s Favorite Trails

What I like: technical, steep, roots, rocks

black diamond

1- SOMEWHERE OVER THERE

Type: Technical (slabs, roots, rocks)
Zone: Diamond Head

This trail is SOMEWHERE OVER THERE! Pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but really worth the detour! It has a little bit of everything starting with a big slab :) Then for a while it goes fast with some roots/rocks. Near the end, there are a succession of slabs.

This trail is rated as difficult, but since the slabs are not mandatory, it could also be fun for an intermediate rider.

black diamond

2- Entrails + Boney Elbows

Type: Technical (bridges, slabs, roots, rocks)
Zone: Alice Lake

Entrails is mandatory to get to Boney Elbows (and Room with a View). It consists of two sections: technical bridges on flat terrain then climbs to technical steep slabs/roots/rocks that can be quite intimidating at first. I’ll be honest, it took me a couple of rides/tries before being able to clear everything! And, there is still a line a need to work on! Did we mention Squamish is a great place to progress? This trail is a good indicator of progress!

Not familiar with slabs? A good introduction would be Room with a view. It starts with a steep descent then brings you to moderately steep slabs. You MUST be able to maintain your speed (no acceleration) comfortably on the way down or you’ll hit a tree/ground at mach 3. If Room with a View is too easy of you, you’re ready for Boney Elbows!

Boney Elbows starts with steep technical descents followed by great slabs. A three section slab was particularly challenging for me, make sure you know how to modulate your brakes before committing! Last slab is beyond my skill level for the moment… fortunately, it is optional!

black diamond

3- Rigs in Zen

Type: Technical (steep, roots, rocks, slabs, tight switchbacks)
Zone: Alice Lake

This trail needs to be earned, the climb to access it is brutal. Once on the top, take a break and enjoy the view before dropping into the steep and loose descent. I really like the trail up to Pleasant trail, from there, it gets more difficult with tight technical switchbacks…

black diamond

4- Rupert or Leave of Absence ?!

Type: Features (slabs, rocks)
Zone: Alice Lake

So, here’s the thing. These two trails are really similar in the way they are. Both are super easy (could even be ridden by a newly intermediate rider) if the features are avoided (Tazer’s Alternate to be taken in Rupert).

In my opinion, Rupert is more fun, has a better flow since there is a climb at the beginning and then it just goes down from there. The features are easier, slabs are slick rocks. Leave of Absence has a XC feel as there are many little climbs. However, the features are more challenging, the slabs aren’t slick which can mess with your mind.

These two trails are perfect for an intermediate rider that want to get to next level without facing too much challenge in one trail!

black diamond

5- Cakewalk

Type: Technical (steep, rocks, roots)
Zone: Diamond Head

Trails in Diamond Head are either easy or super hard! I feel Cakewalk is just in the middle. There are challenges but the fun factor is still good for an intermediate rider trying to be an advanced rider!
Angry Midget or Ditch Pig is a good addition to the ride.

Suggested Rides

These trails may not be part of our Top 5, but they are classic trails and we rode them more than any of the other trails we liked better!

Whenever we had friends over, these are the rides we would start with!

blue square

Meadow of the Grizzly, Half Nelson, Angry Midget, Pseudo-Tsuga (Part I and II), Your Mom, Pseudo-Tsuga (Part III).

Zone: Diamond Head
Type: Flow trails, except Angry Midget and Your Mom are technical trails.

Complete Loop
We recommend this as a shuttle. Park one car here and get to the top with a second car here.

The ride starts in Meadow of the Grizzly with epic views of the Chief and Squamish valley. Then you’ll ride the classic Half Nelson; it’s a popular trail so it’s well maintained and super flowy. Angry Midget is an easy technical black, there’s no mandatory features here. Ride it your own pace, then ride it again faster… and faster! This trail is FUN! Pseudo-Tsuga is an easy flowy trail; it gets dry in late summer, don’t wash out! Finish the ride in Your Mom; it’s an intermediate technical trail followed by the end of Pseudo-Tsuga with moooore berms and flow as you approach the parking lot.

No Shuttle Variation
Park here. Pedal up via the Access Road or the Legacy climb. Delete “Meadow of the Grizzly” unless you’re a machine!

No Technical (easier) Variation
Delete Angry Midget. You can also ride Pseudo-Tsuga all the way down and delete Your Mom.

black diamond

Rupert, Leave of Absence, Entrails, Room with a view

Zone: Alice Lake
Type: Technical (some flow, rocks, roots, slabs)

This ride is a good introduction to Alice Lake trails. Rupert and Leave of absence are easy with some optional fun features; enjoy! Climb back up to ride Entrails; shitz is getting real here. You will encounter steep terrain with a lot of roots & rocks to make things more complicated (and more fun!). That’s how technical riding should be! About half way through Entrails, go ride Room With A View as it’s a good introduction to slabs riding. Mind blown? Wait, there’s more. Go ride In-And-Out-Burger after Room With A View; there’s an INCREDIBLE slab in there. You might want to walk it if you get dizzy :)

black diamond

Credit Line and Crouching Squirrel Hidden Monkey

Zone: Alice Lake
Type: Technical (flow, rocks, roots, slabs)

Credit Line is probably the trail with the most flow in Alice Lake sector! It starts as a XC trail with some punchy climbs; then from the rock section (choose your line!), you’ll find your flow through the easy technical features.

We like to combine it with Crouching Squirrel Hidden Monkey. Another trail that starts XCish but goes down fast through roots and rocks. Many lines available, the more you ride this trail, the more confident you feel. To make it easier, Kiki is a good alternative to consider to avoid the most difficult part of Crouching Squirrel Hidden Monkey.

This ride is perfect when we feel relax and we don’t want to push ourselves too much.

Good to know

Beer

Backcountry Brewing

Backcountry Brewing is THE place to get a good beer after a ride. Their Widowmaker IPA is soooooo good! They have the best pizza in town too, try them!

Campground

It’s illegal to overnight in the streets in Squamish, but we got away with it during the off season (we tried during summer and got a warning from the police). Otherwise, there are a few spots listed on iOverlander.com.

Swimming Holes

Alice Lake

Alice Lake beach is popular with families as it’s close to Squamish and easily accessed (less than 1 minute walk); it gets REALLY crowded on the weekends. It’s a good spot if you don’t mind the geese.

Cat Lake

Cat Lake is about 15-20 minutes drive from Squamish on the way to Whistler. It’s a 5 minute walk from the parking lot. It feels more “out-there” than Alice Lake, but it gets pretty crowded too. Water is very clean and we haven’t spotted geese there!

Whistler

If you’re not into huge crowds, international tourism and shopping, then you’ll HATE Whistler. Here’s a tip: get out of the village and go hide in the trails, then you’ll LOVE Whistler!

Bike Park

World-Class. Make sure to hit the bike park at least one day. That being said, Whistler bike park gets enough media coverage so we’ll focus on the Valley Trails here.

Valley Trails

If we say Whistler you say BIKE PARK, right? The thing is, the trails in the valley (no lift-assist) are SUPER fun; it’s actually our highlight.

Antoine-Riding

Antoine’s Favorite Trails

black diamond

1- Green Monster

Type: Technical (steep, slabs, rocks, roots)
Zone: Westside – Rainbow

Rock face after rock face after rock face. Not as grippy as the Squamish’s slabs, so it’s better ridden when dry!

double black diamond

2- A Rockwork Orange + Korova Milk Bar + Wizard Burial Ground

Type: Technical (steep, slabs, rocks, roots)
Zone: Westside – Sproatt

I can’t exactly point out what’s so fun about these trails… The awesome view? Awesome rock features? The steep sections? The weird ride-out moves? Not sure exactly, but these are super fun and unique trails!

Wizard Burial Ground is even more steep and more loose, try to ride it if you felt confident in the previous trails :)

double black diamond

3- Cheap Thrills

Type: Technical (steep, slabs, rocks, roots)
Zone: Westside – Sproatt

Rock faces and some bridges.

It’s rated double-black, but a technical-capable rider will walk one or two section then have a blast! Super fun!

double black diamond

4- AC/DC

Type: Technical (steep, slabs)
Zone: Westside – Sproatt

AC/DC is a very short, but very sweet trails. There are super nice slabs to ride in there. Not a destination in itself, but make sure to include it when riding the trails above (High-Society, Working Class, etc.)

black diamond

5- Duncan’s

Type: Technical
Zone: Cheakamus

Not sure this one will stay in my Top 5 when I get to ride more trails, but still, it’s a nice run. Nothing major here: it’s a mix of semi-steep technical with rock faces. There are mini-climbs all along the descent…

Isa-Riding

Isabelle’s Favorite Trails

What I like: technical, steep, rocks, slabs, flow

blue square

1- Lord of the Squirrels

Type: Epic ride
Zone: Westside – Sproatt

Such a unique ride! The trail itself is fun, but really, its location is the main reason why you should be doing this trail. You may think Top Of The World in the bike park would give a similar feeling, but in my opinion, it does not. You are earning your way up and spending more time in the (remote) alpine, and the views are way more majestic!

This is a loonnngggg ride! Be prepare and bring a lot of water (especially during hot summer days). The descent is not particularly difficult, but if the fatigue kicks in, it could be tougher…

black diamond

2- Micro Climate

Type: Technical (steep, rocks, roots, slabs)
Zone: Blackcomb

In my opinion, one of the best trail in Whistler! I love trails that contain a little bit of everything and this one is just that! Steep, rocks, roots. This is an easy black in Whistler, just so fun to ride!

black diamond

3- Kashmir + Kush

Type: Technical (steep, rocks, roots, slabs)
Zone: Whistler South

Best way to access Kashmir and Kush is from Top Of The World, Khyber Pass and Middle of Nowhere. Kashmir and Kush is the most difficult and challenging part of the descent. An intermediate rider will walk a lot of sections, advanced rider will just enjoy the steep and technical. Don’t go with your Downhill bike, there are some pedaling sections…

black diamond

4- Howler

Type: Technical (steep, tight switchbacks, flowy)
Zone: Westside – Rainbow

Again, long climb for a long descent! In my opinion, this is the easiest black trail in Whistler. If you feel comfortable in this trail, it’s time for you to push yourself in other difficult (black) Whistler valley trails! Don’t expect berms, jumps, drops in this trail; I mean it to be flowy because it just keeps going down steeply (with some tight switchbacks).
Plus, from Howler, you get a astonishing view of Whistler :)

black diamond

5- Comfortably Numb (Foreplay Descent)

Type: Technical XC (rocks, roots, slabs, bridges)
Zone: Whistler North

I believe most of us started riding XC trails. Well, if you’re one of “us” and you’re not used to full enduro trails, this trail is the trail to start with! This could definitely be considered as a blue (intermediate) trail in Whistler.

Even the climb is XC oriented. Yummy Numby makes a great way up to the beginning of Comfortably Numb (Foreplay Descent) and it makes a appreciable change to access roads…

Good to know

Beer

There’s two breweries in town: Whistler Brewing and Coast Mountain Brewing. They’re OK for the tourist crowd, but we wish they offered something more interesting for the beer geek. When we go to Whistler, we always carry Backcountry’s Widowmaker for a good IPA…

Campground

There’s no free dispersed camping option in town (that we know of), so we use the spot down by the river just north of Whistler. It’s a popular place and gets pretty crowded…

Swimming Holes

Alta Lake

It’s an obvious spot if you rode the West Side. Rainbow Park is a popular place, but there’s lot’s of parking and there’s room for everyone at the beach.

Lost Lake

A classic swimming spot, but parking is kind of a problem so it’s a good idea to go with your bike from the village.

Pemberton

Don’t overlook Pemby, it has awesome riding too! Be aware that it dries very early in the season and trails get super loose. When we were there in 2018, it started to get dry & loose in … May!

Mackenzie / Mosquito Lake

This is where the good stuff is. Most trails can be shuttled via Mackenzie FSR with a high-clearance vehicle (to Mackenzie) or with a “normal” but capable vehicle (to Mosquito Lake; we made it with the van). Climbing Mackenzie FSR is brutal but doable, but consider Nimby climb (singletrack) as an alternate.
Be aware that while the trails south of Mackenzie FSR start to be loose in May, north trails are still full of snow…

One Mile Lake

It seems Mackenzie get all the attention, but there are some sweet trails here! Bring your swimming suit for a happy ending!

Antoine-Riding

Antoine’s Favorite Trails

black diamond

1- Bob Gnarly (Upper and Lower)

Type: Technical (steep, fast, rocks, roots)
Zone: Mackenzie

So much fun. It’s a fast all-around trail with some moderately steep sections, optional jumps, berms, technical, etc. Awesome trail!

double black diamond

2- PHD (Upper + Lower)

Type: Technical (steep, slabs, rocks, roots)
Zone: South Rutherford

A series of steep rock faces linked by technical singletrack. Beautiful trail!

*It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere; it’s probably better to ride it in a group in case something goes wrong.

black diamond

3- Rusty Trombone

Type: Technical
Zone: Mackenzie

An all-around trail. Balanced mix of technical singletrack, moderate slabs and fast sections. There’s no unique features that will blow your mind; but that’s the kind of trail you want to lap because it’s just FUN!

black diamond

4- Meat Grinder

Type: Technical (steep, slabs, loose)
Zone: Mackenzie

Nice slabs and sharp rock faces. Steep & loose at times. Fast and “flowy” singletrack. A Pemby’s classic!

double black diamond

5- Upper Mackenzie Cruise

Type: Technical (steep, loose)
Zone: Mackenzie

Point-and-shoot kind of trail. Steep and loose. Check your brake pads!

Isa-Riding

Isabelle’s Favorite Trails

What I like: technical, steep, roots, rocks

black diamond

1- Cream Puff

Type: Technical (slabs)
Zone: Mosquito Lake

Slabs, slabs, slabs and more slabs! Nothing really difficult, but if you love slabs like a do, you should love this trail. These slabs are not steep, so intermediate rider should be able to do most of them. It is just an easy way down with plenty of views on Mt Currie. It is one of the first trail to melt in March, being there surrounded by the mountain full of snow is just fabulous :)

blue square

2- Max Pains/Back Pains

Type: Flow
Zone: Mackenzie

To get to Max Pains/Back Pains, the best option is to climb Nimby as the Mackenkie FSR is kind of meh… And for the intermediate riders that want to climb Nimby but aren’t skilled to ride Pemberton (double) black trails, this is your only option! The good news is those trails are super fun! Well built, nice berms, it’s really goes fast and flowy!

black diamond

3- Hawaii (upper and lower)

Type: Technical (rocks, roots, berms, fast)
Zone: Mackenzie

Very similar to Bob Gnarly, but just easier! Moderately steep, berms, fast! Just fun!

black diamond

4- Power of Tower

Type: Technical (slabs, rocks, steep)
Zone: One Mile Lake

MORE SLABS! MORE ROCKS!
And add some steep to this! I would consider some parts of this trail as double back… Pretty unique, this trail goes under towers of power, no shade here!

blue square

5- Cross Town Trafic

Type: Flow (berms, drops, jumps)
Zone: Mosquito Lake

This trail is fast and flowy! There are optional drops and jumps which keeps it accessible and fun for all kind of riders! Start with Radio Tower for a longer ride.

Good to know

Beer / Food

After your ride, you shall go to Mile One Eating House for a burger, a mac & cheese (the “Tatlayoko” is insane!) and a beer. Cheers!

Campground

Overnight camping is illegal in Pemberton (yeah we got a warning here too…). Some people stay at Mosquito Lake, but there’s a “no-camping” sign. This spot is not especially epic, but it gets the job done:

Swimming Holes

One mile lake is a good spot and the park is a nice place to relax and BBQ.

Happy Trails!

 
 
 

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ABOUT US

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017 we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers and moved into our self built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

 
 
 

3 comments

  1. Comment by Allen Light

    Allen Light Reply December 30, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    Great guide! Looking forward to a MTB trip there now. Sounds like the dispersed camping options were pretty limited though. Bummer there..

  2. Comment by Santo Cominos

    Santo Cominos Reply December 30, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    This has nothing to do with mountain biking (mine has an electric motor) but I’ve heard you comment a couple of times about how hot your van gets because of the dark color. I have the exact same van and live in a hot climate, southern Oregon, and I finally painted the upper couple of feet and the roof white. It made a dramatic difference You might try that. It was cheap and well worth it. Good luck in your travels.

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply December 30, 2018 at 2:19 pm

      Good info, thanks. I was thinking we could add vynil wrap so we can remove it for winter (dark is great in winter!). Have a good one!

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