Sunday Special – Whistler Train Wreck

In the last Sunday Special the focus was Pic Paradis Mountain in the Caribbean’s Saint Martin/Sint Maarten island. Today we’re heading closer to home, well my home of Vancouver that is, to Whistler, BC. This small yet popular municipality is home to Whistler – Blackcomb Ski Resort and is a haven for outdoor sport enthusiasts. Over the years it has grown into a year-round tourist hot spot. Located approximately 125 km / 78 mi north of Vancouver, it is accessible via the Sea-to-Sky Highway (roughly a 2 hour drive). Along with outdoor recreation, dining, spas, and shopping; Whistler has a unique place to visit that is a revolving installation of graffiti and was once illegal to visit.

The Whistler Train Wreck’s history goes back to 1956, when the ill-fated train went off the rails as it was travelling from Lillooet. A total of 12 rail cars were that derailed, with 5 of them salvageable. The remaining 7 were beyond hope as a number of them were wedged and crumpled into the landscape. A local family with a logging company was called in to use their equipment to move the 7 cars to where they are located today: just east of the surging and beautiful Cheakamus River. This left the only access to the the Train Wreck on the other side of the river and by way of a trail that required crossing the rail tracks without any safety measures. As a result, it was deemed illegal for safety reasons and for trespassing on rail line property. For the most part, this train car cemetery was left to nature yet the occasional graffiti artists did illegally traverse railway tracks to access the cars.

As the numbers of people making their way to the Train Wreck grew, Whistler’s municipal government decided to solve the issue by constructing a bridge over the river and allowing people to safely visit the cars (and for graffiti artist’s to continually share their work). Today the Train Wreck can be reached from the parking lot and walking a portion of the Sea-to-Sky Trail until it veers off toward the suspension bridge over the river. Beyond the bridge you will find the railcars where you can go inside them and walk about. The hike from the parking lot to the Train Wreck and back is roughly 2 km / 1.25 mi.

One of seven rail cars at Whistler’s Train Wreck, Canada

Back in mid-September my BFF (Beer Friend Forever) an I took a day trip to Whistler, BC. We rented a car-share vehicle and drove along the scenic and stunning Sea-to-Sky Highway for the 2 hours to this mountain tourist hot-spot. The plan was to spend a bit of time wandering about the Train Wreck and then hit up some local breweries for some beer tasting (well, for my BFF as I was driving). We had anticipated it would be an easy walk, a nice afternoon of hanging out. But of course it didn’t go quite as we had planned β€” we ended up with a little bit of an adventure.

We had a lovely drive to Whistler, enjoying the beauty of this scenic area. As we grew closer to our destination, BFF looked up where the trail began. Naturally, she used Google Maps and typed in “Train Wreck, Whistler” and clicked on directions. From there Google said we should park on the side of the road (a highway!) and proceed to the site. We noticed that there was an unmarked gravel parking area. It seemed a little odd but when we pulled in, the digital map showed that we were in the right spot. There was indeed a path entrance so we set off. The path was narrow, with trees and bushes surrounding us. As we proceeded along the decline we came upon open areas of large rocks with visible tree roots winding in and out of the earth. Quite a beautiful area. We continued on our walk…er…hike, following our directions. We noticed the path was visible at times and then open rock beneath our feet. One of us commented that there was nobody else around. Were we in the right place? The Train Wreck is quite popular so where were all the people? Onwards we went, me rather slowly as I was nursing a (mostly recovered) sprained knee and the ups and downs of the trail were uncomfortable at times. About 20 minutes in we saw a mountain bike ramp and everything clicked into place. We were on a mountain bike trail! We were not on the official path but on a path nonetheless. Shorty after we came upon the scene the crime, so to speak β€”the railway tracks. We speculated that it must of been along this stretch that the disastrous derailment occurred. Not long after crossing the tracks we came upon 2 of the trains and our first encounter with people. The couple told us that there were more cars a few minutes’ walk away. We finally found what we came looking for! BFF commented that it was another mini-adventure, much like the ones we’d had over the years. Some chuckles and giggles ensued. As we headed towards the remaining rail cars the number of people doing the same grew. We wandered in and out the cars, looking at the graffiti that changes regularly on these urban canvases; it was like happening upon a bright spot of modern expression.

After our exploration we realized that we had in fact travelled backwards to the wreck as the turquoise blue waters of the Cheakamus was next to the site. Which meant the trail and parking lot couldn’t be that far right? Our car would be nearby right? Not quite!! πŸ˜‚

Our tale, from from start to finish goes something like this:
  • We started off an unmarked highway parking lott
  • Traversed a mountain bike trail; took in the Train Wreck
  • Crossed the stunning river
  • Walked the path to the parking lot
  • Continued on along the road towards the main entrance that leads into Whistler
  • Found a much needed public bathroom
  • Continued along the shoulder of the Sea-to-Sky highway to our waiting car

An unexpected 5 – 6 km jaunt with full bladders, empty stomachs, and me with a sore knee. Thank goodness the highway had a shoulder and we were facing traffic! Not quite the day we expected but a fun little story nonetheless. So the moral of the story is – look up the parking lot of the Train Wreck on Google or use a trail app. 😁😁

Photos owned and taken by Eeva Valiharju / Wanders the World or used with permission.

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