The Whistler Train Wreck Hike
Location: Just south of Function Junction, off Whistler Quarry Road (near the Olympic Village)
Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Time: Approximately an hour round trip, plus time to visit the site
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
Mileage: 1.25 miles, round trip
Overall impression: This was an easy family hike (I recommend this hike for kids 6 or older) that brought us out of the town and into the forest during our Whistler visit. There is a lot of beauty in this area of Canada!
If you’re looking for something completely different to see and do while in Whistler, this hike should make your list!
While most people hike for fresh air, tranquility, and appreciation for nature, how would you feel hiking to a site littered with metal box cars, paint, and public art?
Welcome to the Whistler Train Wreck Hike. At this site, graffiti-painted, mangled train cars lay tossed about in an old growth forest, a somewhat eerie sight to see.
This most unusual, yet interesting hike, has been around for decades, but only recently has become known for its colorful displays of graffiti from local artists (which is allowed and encouraged). The Train Wreck Hike site has even become a bike park to some, offering a unique location to perform and film courageous stunts. This bizarre contrast of scenery was even once a set for a horror film.
I’ll break down a few of the main facts about the Train Wreck Hike and give you some helpful information for when you visit.
On August 11, 1956, a Pacific Great Eastern train was heading south in Canada, from Lillooet towards Whistler, carrying more lumber than the train could handle. With cargo that was too heavy, the train was split since it was carrying four engines. This, however, took too much time and caused the train to fall behind schedule. With no concern for safety or the ongoing construction in some areas of track, the conductor drove the train must too fast, causing the train to derail. Three of the derailed train cars were still on the tracks, wedged in a narrow canyon-like section, blocking the tracks for days and closing down a vital route that transferred goods throughout the region.
After the Pacific Great Eastern Railway failed at being able to move the broken train cars, they hired a local logging family to free up the tracks. The train cars were eventually removed from the tracks and lifted away from the rails. The railway company salvaged the few box cars they could and the other seven cars were lifted off the tracks and dumped into the forest and abandoned. They still sit in those very same places today.
Many people believe the train cars are where they are today as a result of the derailment. This is incorrect. You can see at the wreck site that the old growth trees are still intact. The box cars are largely spread out over a vast area, a good distance away from each other and the railway that still is in use today. This is because they were lifted via crane and dropped into clear areas in the forest.
Directions and Parking
If you’re coming from Whistler, it will take about 10-15 minutes to get to the trail head. Start out heading south down Route 99. When you get to the Function Junction intersection, turn left on Cheakamus Lake Road. Stay on this main road, but know it changes names to Jane Lakes Road. There will be a small gravel area on the left side of the road after the trailhead. The road by the parking area forks off and the left side is blocked. That’s how you’ll know you’re in the right spot. (While it isn’t a long drive for those who live nearby, if you’re traveling long distances make sure that you have LED headlights, spare tires, and other essentials for your car in order to be safe!)
There are two trails in this area that start near the parking lot. One is the Trash Trail (named for being the area’s garbage dump site before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics) and the other is the Sea to Sky Trail; they both lead to the Train Wreck trail. The forest in this area is flecked in sunlight, lush, and tranquil. You can hear the sounds of the Cheakamus River, with its roaring rapids when snow melt is occurring. You’ll be amazed at the blue-green water of the river, caused from the glacier-ground rock flour. The rock flour stays suspended in the water and reflects a turquoise hue with the sunlight.
Getting to the Train Wreck Hike site is fairly easy. You’ll note that there are many mountain bikers that also use the trail as well. Step over to the side to let them pass. There are a few mild inclines and declines so as long as you’re somewhat active with no physical limitations, you should be fine. Wear good hiking shoes!
My family and I hiked the Trash Trail and once we encountered the suspension bridge to cross the Cheakamus River, we followed the signs to the wreck. You will see a placard describing the train wreck and the new beautiful bridge. Cross the bridge to find the Train Wreck Hike.
There has been a “proper” trail to get to the Train Wreck Hike site only since 2016. Curious hikers would walk along side the active train tracks to get here, but fortunately now there is a safer route due to the addition of the suspension bridge. Please note: those afraid of heights may not like this hike due to the suspension bridge that crosses the river.
The Train Wreck
Completely different from anything I’ve done, this hike leads you to mangled masses of metal, bent beams, and graffiti-laden vintage box cars. Over the years, the train wreck has become a colorful work of art, but also a bike park; ramps were visible in places where bikers must hop off and on the box cars.
Surprisingly, the train wreck hike site welcomes graffiti. Over the years, artists have created new murals, images, and designs, painting over the older art and creating layers upon layers of new art. Each season new images and colors are emblazoned on the mangled steel.
Because the cars still sit where they were first lifted and dumped, a few of the box cars are not upright. Keep an eye on your kids around these cars especially, as metal parts or sharp objects are often poking out.
I found it fascinating to see how much of these train cars are absolutely covered in paint. Very little has been left untouched. Even the insides of the box cars have been painted! Be sure to take the time to find all seven box cars that are scattered between the cedar and fir trees. One is even perilously perched near the ledge where the river cuts through.
Because some the metal ladders that are attached to the box cars are easily reached, many climb to the top of the box cars to take in the sight. Please use caution if you attempt to climb the box cars! Many of the ladders are missing wrungs, bolts, are slightly mangled, loose, or partially detached.
Such a unique paradox of art and nature can be found at Whistler’s Train Wreck Hike site. Some call it an unnatural and eerie place and others find it quite beautiful. The integration of colorful graffiti and battered train cars amongst old growth trees and a picturesque river can leave you puzzled, enamored, or perhaps even both!
Although the area is busiest in the summer, you can even plan your visit when some snow is on the ground, which likely dramatically changes the scene. Visit this site for more information on the Train Wreck Hike, including a map.
What are your favorite hikes in Whistler? Let me know in the comments!