Semaphore Lakes – Whistler Hikes

Semaphore Lakes – Whistler Hikes

Semaphore Lakes is one of those rare gems that is a relatively easy hike that will take you to simply exquisite alpine scenery. I had to keep pinching myself that we managed to see these jewel-like glacial lakes and spectacular snow capped peaks! It is all so dreamy and beautiful. I was originally planning a longer, tougher hike when we visited Semaphore Lakes; But as I had a bit of an injury, we went with this hike to give my poorly leg a rest. Sometimes when you choose as an easy option, it turns out to be one of the most incredible hikes of the year!

Semaphore Lake trail map

I made a map that is pretty similar to our route. Click here for the shorter version, just to the lakes and back.

Semaphore Lakes trail – the basics

Distance: 5.8 km to the lakes, around 12km to the ridge below Locomotive Mountain
Elevation gain: 408m or 570m
High Points
: Upper Semaphore Lake is at 1660m The ridge is at 1870m
Time: 3-6 hours (depending how much time you spend at the top!)
What to bring:
Water, snacks and your camera!
The 10 essentials. This walk is high in the alpine so you need to stay safe!
Bring bear spray
Facilities: There are places to camp, but no facilities. If you want to camp, you need to be self-sufficient, leave no trace, and be ready to poop responsibly.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed on this trail, but it is a delicate alpine area, so it is best not to bring them (for the same reason dogs are banned in Garibaldi Provincial Park and Joffre Lakes.) You can read more about that here.
How hard is it? Easy to intermediate. The trail is steep, but not long.

Trainspotter’s paradise?

Have you ever heard of a Semaphore? It is an old fashioned fixed railway signal, with a coloured signal arm that sticks out when the train should stop, or hangs down then all is clear.

In addition to lakes named after railway signals, the area has a whole bunch of trainspotter peaks;  Railroad Mountain, Locomotive Mountain, Tender Mountain, Caboose Peak. Even the snow is involved with the Train Glacier clinging below the peaks as well as the Freight Glacier and Siding Glacier on the other side of the mountains. It seems that this area got its train-themed names after Railroad Creek was named in the field notes from a 1913 railway survey.

Semaphore Lakes trail – Getting started

The trailhead is from Railroad Pass on Hurley Forest Service Road, North of Pemberton. When you leave Pemberton, head out along Pemberton Meadows road. The drive is through pretty farmland, surrounded by huge peaks. After 23km, turn right onto Lillooet FSR. Then after 8.5km go right onto Hurley River FSR. There is a small parking area on the left after 14km. The roads are pretty bumpy, but in 2021 they were doable with a 2WD if you take it slowly.

The start of the trail is on the right side of the parking area. Go past a bear sign and down a hill to a small creek. Cross this and follow orange flagging tape uphill, alongside Railroad Creek.

Steep trail to Semaphore Lake

This hike is not particularly long, only 2km to the first lake; But it is pretty steep! You gain around 300m in elevation through pretty forest. Sometimes you’ll see waterfalls, but mostly you need to hike up the steep, muddy trail.

After 1.7km, you need to cross railroad creek. The trees become increasingly sparse so the amazing mountainous scenery opens up around you.

Despite it’s popularity, this area is not a park and there is no official trail. However the main path is easy to follow as it is pretty well trodden. The lakes are in the territory of the St’át’imc Nation, so tread lightly and leave absolutely no trace.

Semaphore Lake

The main Semaphore Lake is linked to a teeny bonus lake. This means our first views were of the lowest, mini lake.

We stopped for lunch, walked around the edge of both lakes and had a bit of a paddle. There are pretty camping spots every so often around the edge of each lake.

Gorgeous wildflowers

The alpine meadows around Semaphore Lakes are filled with so many beautiful flowers. I always like seeing the blue alpine lupine, and I don’t think I have ever seen the pretty pink western bog laurel blooming before. This is a fragile ecosystem which is why it is so important not to trample off the main paths.

The first Semaphore Lake is just the start! We waved goodbye to this pretty green jewel and started to climb higher to see the other lakes. There are three main lakes as well as several smaller pools.

Camping at Semaphore Lake

The best places to camp are up at the uppermost lake, where there are more areas that you can pitch a tent on rocks or bare ground, rather than in the meadows. There are no facilities up here, so you need to be self sufficient.

Please don’t make a campfire. Trees take a long time to grow at this elevation, plus any fire you make will kill off the delicate plants around it (and leave the ugly mess of burned ashes.) Carrying in firewood to burn isn’t a good idea either; As it can bring parasites bugs into these sensitive meadows.

Let’s talk about poop

If you are camping at Semaphore Lake and you need to poop, you’re going to want to dig a cathole as far from the lakes as you can (the LNT website recommends 60m from water) Don’t just drop your pants and make a mess right by the trail or the lakeshore! It’s not hard to bring an extra plastic bag to pack out your loo roll. No-one wants to see toilet paper flowers.

We were not planning to camp on this occasion, so kept hiking up to see more of the lakes. Once you reach the second lake you can get a good look at the incredible scenery.

You can’t really get a sense of it from photos, but the Train Glacier Waterfall near the third Semaphore Lake was really impressive!

Third Semaphore Lake

The third lake is the most amazing in terms of colour. There are patches of yellow and orange (in shallow areas) as well as stripes of green and turquoise. It’s beeeautiful!

Basically whichever direction you look, you’ll be gazing at gorgeous Mountains reflected into multi-coloured lakes. I loved looking back at Face Mountain.

Keep going up?

We had planned to make this an easy hike (as my foot was still pretty painful). But the scenery was so gorgeous that we were drawn towards the next ridge, below Locomotive Mountain.

We found a pretty good trail to follow upwards.

There were a couple of places where we needed to scramble up steep rocks faces. But it was really fun to climb up to the ridge for some extra views.

This is looking back at Face Mountain and the gorgeous Train Glacier waterfall.

You can see, there is a pretty obvious path through the meadows; Then people have added cairns to the rocky sections to show you the way up.

Semaphore Lake from above

If you look carefully you can see all three of the larger lakes in the photo below, as well as Railroad Mountain, and layers upon layers of mountains beyond.

This is Locomotive Mountain looming above us where we stopped for an apple.

There is one more icy lake nestled below the ridgeline. We were pretty tired by this point though, so we admired it from afar.

Heading back

Once we finished taking in the incredible views, we headed back to the third lake (below). From there, you can take a loop around the meadows, rather than tracing the exact route you arrived on. The hike back to Railroad Pass was just as gorgeous as the hike up to the lakes.

How busy is Sempahore Lakes?

We did see other hikers and campers along the way, but it never seemed busy as there is so much space to spread out and see the views. We visited on a Sunday, so there may be more campers on Saturdays.

I’ll finish with a couple of Panoramas so you can get a better idea about how the peaks fit into the scenery around Semaphore Lake.

What do you think? Do you fancy this lovely little hike into the beautiful wilderness near Pemberton and Whistler? Click on the pins below to save them.

Semaphore Lakes - Jewel-like lakes named after trains Semaphore Lakes - Beautiful Alpine hike near Whistler and Pemberton Semaphore Lakes - Easy hike with incredible views

40 thoughts on “Semaphore Lakes – Whistler Hikes

  1. Funny it wasn’t busy when you were there – on our way to/from from the Chilcotins in July, we counted 24 cars at the trailhead on the way out and 43 on the way back! Plus we met at least a dozen more cars coming up the Hurley. Yikes! Anyway, glad you had some peace and quiet up there! The view from Locomotive is stunning – just putting that out there 🙂

    I’d forgotten just how beautiful it is up there though until we visited back in June when it was still very snowy – and it looks even more beautiful without the snow. I always like your panorama shots – that second one is gorgeous.

    1. That is so strange. We visited on such a beautiful day, I am not sure why it wasn’t more mad.

      There were a lot of cars (maybe 15) so we thought that was a lot. 43 cars is crazy! Now I understand why I’d read it gets busy.

      I am veeery tempted to go back, camp and head up Locomotive Mountain!

  2. Semaphore Lakes are outstandingly beautiful. I can’t believe this was the easier hike as it still looks challenging but oh so rewarding. Looks a great trail, thanks for sharing.

    1. This is a bit of a drive from Whistler (2 hours ish) but it’s close enough to make it easy to visit if you’re staying in Whistler…

  3. I love trails like this – short, a little bit challenging but with gorgeous views. I don’t think I could ever get tired of the reflection of the mountains in those lakes!

    1. That is how I felt too. I have to admit, I took waaay too many photos of those reflections (and a few others that didn’t make it into the post…)

  4. ABSOLUTELY incredible! These views and photos are just gorgeous – I’m impressed/amazed/worried that you did all this with your foot injury! I missed how/when that happened since I started an internship and haven’t had much time to read other’s posts, but I’ll have to go back. Hope it’s healing okay!

    Anyway, love the poop info and can’t wait to visit here one day. When I finally get to the area it’s going to be hard to narrow down which hikes to do from all the ones you share (I want to do them all!!).

    1. Thaaank you! I hope your internship is going well! My foot is all better now. I think I just twisted it on a flat pavement in Vancouver (doh!) but it was sore for a few weeks.

      I hope you if do come here you’ll let me know so we can choose/do a hike together. 🙂

  5. At this rate, I feel like I’m gonna have to spend a month or more around here to explore everywhere! You find the prettiest places! *-*

    (P.S. I hope you get better/your foot heals up soon!)

    1. Hehehe I feel the same way about the all the hikes you’ve shown me in the desert! We’ll have to swap scenery for a while.

    1. Thanks Caroline. It’s all better now!
      It’s funny in BC isn’t it. Our lists just get longer as the more you explore, the more you want to visit! This trip made me want to go back to see Tenquille Lake…

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