Russet Lake via Musical Bumps: Your guide to Whistlers Best Overnight Hike

Russet Lake is the often forgotten little brother of Garabaldi provincial park. Located between Panorama ridge and Joffre lakes, this hike gets overlooked in favour of its world famous big brothers. 

Do you want all the views, without the grinding climb through the trees with no view? With a gondola assisted approach, and the most incredible public backcountry hut in BC (in my opinion), Russet Lake is a MUST DO overnight hike in Whistler. 

Living at the base of Whistler mountain for the last 7 years, Russet Lake is one of the only hikes I have done multiple times – FIVE to be exact! An absolute gem of my own backyard.

If you “cheat” with a ski lift assist, you will be walking with alpine views from the start, taking in breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and peaks. The huge range of colours always blow my mind hiking out here. The greens of the trees, and grass, the broad colour pallet of the wild flowers (depending on what time of year you go), the browns and reds of Fissile mountain, the vibrant blue of Checkamus Lake and the stark white of the glacial ice. 

Russet lake overnight hiking and camping guide

This guide will cover everything you need to know to plan your trip to Russet lake, whether you are camping or staying at the Kees and Clair hut.

Whilst I try my best to keep this article as up to date as possible, as with any trip, always check the BC parks website for any last minute trail updates. 

Where is Russet Lake located?

Russet Lake is a few ridges over from Whistler mountain. It’s so close to Whistler, that if you hike out Singing pass on your way down, your hike will end right in the heart of Whistler village. Ready for a burger at the Dublin Gate Pub

Where is the Trail Head?

This depends a little on which route you choose to hike. But the two key trail heads you need to know about:

  • Whistler village gondola (an odd trail head, I know!)
  • Singing pass trail, which ends right at the base of Whistler Mountain 

Where do I park for the Russet Lake hike?

Normally, the main village parking lots in Whistler village do not allow any overnight parking. However, if you have a reservation for the Kees and Claire hut or the Russet Lake campground, you can park in specially designated spots in Whistler Village Lot 4. These parks are along the side of the parking lot closest to the village and are marked by green and brown signs. There are explanations on the signs as to how to pay for parking. 

If these dedicated sports are full, you can park elsewhere in the parking lots. Put a note with your reservation number in your window. 

I’ll be honest, Ive been cheeky and parked all the way in Lot 1 with a note in my window and not got in trouble yet, but its your risk! 

When is the best time to hike to Russet Lake?

The best time of year, depends a little on the snow level. If it was summer of 2022 when we got bucketloads of snow in April, the snow wasn’t clear from the alpine until into August! If we have low snowfall over the winter or an early and warm spring, we could see the alpine completely clear of snow as early as late June. 

If you want to guarantee a snow free hike, then plan for mid August to early October. 

The benefit of having a heated hut like Kees and Claire, means its easy to push this hike a little later into the fall. Youll have the luxury of drying your wet gear out in the boot room and a cozy dry sleep in the bunk rooms. 

What are the route options?

Now this is where you get to make some choices! 

The option that I would (strongly) recommend, is getting the gondola up and hiking the High Note and Musical Bumps trail to Russet Lake, and then hike out Singing pass. 

This is so that you start hiking on the summit of Whistler mountain, with stunning 360 degree mountain views.

Hiking out Singing pass trail (with much lighter backpacks after eating all your food!) is a mellow downhill, not too knee breaking, through the trees all the way back to the village. I’ll be honest, the last couple of kms of the hike out start to feel monotonous and long. But is that not the case with the last couple of kilometres of any hike?! 

Russet Lake via High Note and Musical Bumps Trail

9.4 km | 515 m of elevation gain | 2.5-4.5 hours

For this option you will need sightseeing pass from Whistler Blackcomb. They are $99 and can be purchased online ahead of time, or from the ticket booth. For the best bang for your buck, take the Blackcomb Gondola from the upper village, up Blackcomb mountain, and jump on the Peak 2 Peak across to Whistler. It’ll allow you to get the Peak to Peak experience before starting your hike! 

After getting off either the Peak 2 Peak or the Whistler Gondola, follow the signs down to the bottom of Peak chair (0.6 km (0.4 mi), 10mins, 63 m (207 ft)). Enjoy the ride up Peak chair and your first view of Black Tusk! Once at the top, this is where the hike really starts! 

From here you can opt to either do the more direct route: Matthews Traverse, to the Half Note trail. OR you can follow the High Note trail down from the suspension bridge and around the back of Whistler peak. 

If you’re short on time, Matthews traverse -> Half Note -> High Note still provides fantastic views and is a little more direct. 

Once on High Note trail you will follow this until passing Symphony chair where there will be a fork. The left keeps you on High Note and back around to the Roundhouse Lodge. And the right takes you onto Musical Bumps Trail and all the way to Russet Lake. 

You’ll hike up and over Flute and Oboe ridges, before meeting the end of the Singing pass trail in the valley between Oboe and Cowboy ridges. At this intersection, the left takes you down Singing pass and back to Whistler Village (my recommendation for your hike out). 

Take the right to the switch backs up Cowboy ridge. This is the steepest part of the hike, but it doesn’t last too long. If you’re grinding up this, know that you’re almost there!! 

Russet Lake via Singing Pass

14 km | 1450 m of elevation gain | 4-6 hours

To save more than 50% of the lift ticket price ($45 in stead of $99) by just having to purchase a download ticket, you CAN opt to hike up Singing pass from Whistler Village and out the Musical Bumps and High Note trail. This option involves significantly more elevation gain overall, as you will be hiking from the bottom of the valley instead of a lift accessed start. And in my opinion you will have the best views behind you on the hike out, instead of in front of you on the hike in.

And the cheapest option of all? You can hike in and out via Sining pass, making the hike an out-and-back. This is free, with no lift ticket needed. However, you will miss the majority of the stunning alpine views and the view over Checkamus lake.  

Where do I stay at Russet Lake?

If you want warm and dry, with the most well stocked kitchen (utensils etc no food is provided) I have ever seen in a backcountry hut, I cannot recommend Kees and Claire enough. 

If you want space and to not potentially share a bunk bed with a stranger, the Russet lake campground has epic views over the Overlord glacier and much easier access to water. And you don’t have to share you cooking space with anyone! 

Note: there are no garbage facilities at either the hut or the campground, so you MUST pack out what you pack in.

Kees and Claire Hut

Built by the Spearhead Hut Society, with 38 bunks, every kitchen utensil you could need, heating and mattresses provided, this hut is what I call LUXURY.

Bookings MUST be made in advance here. Cost pp is $50+GST.

On arrival, make sure to check in with the hut custodian and/or read all the signage explaining the various systems and procedure’s at the hut.

Camping at Russet Lake

Russet lake campground is just below the hut, on the opposite side of the lake. Bookings must be made through BC Parks. There is a pit toilet and food hangs.

Water is easily accessible from the campground. You can either collect it at the stream that runs out of the lake and through the camp ground, or go down the lakes edge and collect from there. Make sure to treat your water either by boiling it, using Aqua tabs, or filtering.

Essential Information for Hiking to Russet Lake

Accessing Whistler Mountain

If you want to start from the top of Peak Chair (my personal recommendation), you will need to purchase a sightseeing pass for Whistler mountain. You can purchase passes and check the operating hours here.

A couple of key things to note:

  • When lightening is in the area, Whistler Blackcomb sometimes has to close the gondola and the chair lifts. We mostly get thunderstorms in the afternoon, rather than the morning, so it could be worth planning to get up the mountain earlier in the day rather than later to avoid any disruptions due to lightening. This only happens a few times a season, but it could be a bit of a bummer for your trip. In saying that, do you want to be on top of a mountain during a lightening storm….? Im not sure.

  • Skybridge: if you’re not afraid of heights or have trust issues with modern engineering, there is a fantastic Sky Bridge at the top of Peak Chair spanning over Whistler bowl and onto an observation deck. Its worth allowing at little extra (20-30mins) in your trip plan, to give you time to have a little sticky beak around here! 
  • If you are very scared of heights, Peak chair might not be the best option for you. 
  • If Peak chair is closed or you’re paralysingly afraid of heights, you can hike from the top of Whistler Gondola, up Pikas traverse to the top of Harmony chair. From here you will join onto the High note trail and continue out the same route. This will add approximately 1km and 250m of elevation to your hike.
Russet Lake hike musical bumps trail with mum and dad

Can you swim at Russet Lake?

According the BC Parks website, swimming is allowed at Russet Lake. However, please be mindful that this the drinking water source for both the hut and campground. Don’t use any soap or detergents (as per always) and I would personally recommend swimming on the far side of the lake in the top corner as this is far away from the water collection points  

What to bring to Russet Lake

This is going to depend alot on whether you choose to camp or stay at the Kees and Claire hut. 

One of my favourite benefits of staying at the hut, is how light and small my pack can be! With all cooking implements provided, including cookers, stoves, and even coffee plungers (French and Italian press), mattresses to sleep on, and even hut crocks to wear, all you need to bring is your sleeping bag, pillow, and your food! 

If you are heading to the Russet Lake campground, you will need the usual overnight hiking gear. 

Singing pass trail on hike out from Russet Lake and Kees and Claire

Leave No Trace Principles

My favourite saying for this is: leave only footprints, take only photos. But make sure your footprints are only on the designated paths!

While the plants might look hardy (its because they have to be to survive up there!), it actually takes them YEARS to grow. So stay on the designated trails, to prevent squishing these little plants.

For more info on Leave No Trace Principles, visit their (incredible) website!

Final Thoughts

Russet lake is a stunning hike and one of the very few I have done multiple times. As an absolute gem of my own backyard, I think it is an epic bang for your buck hike in the Sea to Sky. Whilst often overlooked in favour of Joffre Lakes or Panorama Ridge, I would argue that Russet Lake should be just as high on your list of overnight hikes 

Russet lake hike down cowboy ridge from Kees and Claire hut

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