Hiking Half Note Loop from PEAK 2 PEAK – the best hike in Whistler
Last Updated on October 3, 2022
Hiking the Half Note Loop from the Top of the World Summit in Whistler is one of the best hikes in the the Pacific Northwest, and definitely the best hike in Whistler!
Save it for a clear, sunny day in the peak of summer and expand your Whistler PEAK 2 PEAK experience with this epic hike. I recommend the Half Note Loop hike instead of the High Note hike, as you get many of the same views but it’s a shorter distance. Since you can only access this trail by gondola and the overall experience is so incredible, you don’t want to rush it! For most people I think the Half Note loop is the better choice. The stats on this hike make it look much easier than it is, there are some VERY steep and slippery sections of this hike so do not underestimate it.
If you’re in a group with some hikers and some non hikers, the PEAK 2 PEAK Experience is a fantastic big view option even for those who do not hike. There’s plenty of adventure to be had here for a group of mixed experience or interest in hiking.
The Whistler area is the land of the Squamish Lil’wat First Nations. You can learn more about the people of Whistler on the interpretive trail at the Top of the World Summit as well as at the excellent Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler Village. Make sure to visit the Cultural Centre and come hungry as the food in the Thunderbird Cafe is amazing and affordable.
- Hike Overview
- How to decide if the Half Note Loop hike is right for you
- How to get to the Half Note Loop hike from the Whistler PEAK 2 PEAK Experience
- When is the best time of year for the Half Note Loop?
- Trail Description
- Where to go for food and drink after your hike
Half Note Loop Hike Overview
Length: 4 miles/6.5 kilometers for the Half Note Loop described below (doing the High Note Loop is 2.5 miles/4 kilometers longer).
Elevation Gain: 800 feet/250 meters of elevation gain, 1900 feet/800 meters of elevation LOSS (do not underestimate the challenge of these very steep and slippery downhill sections)
Parking Pass: Paid parking in the day lots at Whistler Blackcomb
Dog Friendly: Dogs are not allowed on this trail or on the gondolas.
Cell phone coverage: Good
Restrooms: At the Roundhouse Lodge at the top of the Whistler Gondola and at the top of the Blackcomb Gondola. An additional restroom may be open at a trail junction near the end of the hike.
Accessibility and Mobility: The gondola circuit of the Blackcomb Gondola, PEAK 2 PEAK and Whistler Gondola are fully wheelchair accessible. To access this hike, you will need to walk about a quarter mile downhill (with a few stairs) to the Peak Express Chairlift which is an open chairlift and is not wheelchair accessible. The hike itself has some extremely steep sections that require using hands to get through. There are also some steep drop offs and roots and rocks in places.
How to decide if the Half Note Loop hike is right for you?
This is a wonderful hike for strong hikers with a sense of adventure who are not afraid of heights. Do not try to convince a person afraid of heights to do this hike! Not only is the trail extremely steep in places, the Peak Express chairlift to get there can be a little intense!
If you enjoy hiking and have shoes with good tread and love epic views, then you will love this hike! Do not underestimate its relatively short distance, this is a challenging hike, particularly with the steep downhill sections.
The High Note hike gets a lot more attention, but given the steepness in places and the limitations of the hours the gondolas are operating, this hike is an excellent alternative unless you’re a fairly fast and experienced hiker.
Keep in mind that you are starting your hike at significant elevation (0ver 7000 feet, 2200 meters) which is awesome because the gondola and chair lift do a lot of the lifting for you! However, if you live at sea level like I do you will definitely notice the elevation and feel a bit more tired and be a bit slower than you would be at sea level. This is normal so just give yourself a bit more time than you might otherwise need.
If you’re doing this hike, you will need footwear with good tread, plenty of food, water and sun protection and definitely consider hiking poles.
How to get to the Half Note Loop with the PEAK 2 PEAK Experience
There are several steps to get to the Half Note Loop, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time just to get to the start of the hike. I recommend allowing at least two hours in addition to hiking time so that you aren’t rushed and are able to take in all the views from all the gondolas and won’t be stressed if you have to wait in line a bit for one of them.
Whistler is a totally doable day trip from Vancouver, although if you’re visiting you might want to give yourself more time in Whistler for all the other summer fun and the amazing views and stops on the drive from Vancouver to Whistler.
Once you arrive in Whistler, I recommend starting this adventure with the Blackcomb Gondola. There is usually a wait to get on the Whistler Gondola but not at Blackcomb! Another reason to do this is that you’ll just have one gondola to complete the loop after you’re done with your hike. Most people go the other way (starting on the Whistler gondola) but I recommend doing it starting with Blackcomb.
Buy your ticket at the ticket booths at the base of the Blackcomb Gondola and then head over to boarding. Once you’re on the gondola, make sure to look behind you for better and better view of Whistler Village as well as the lake and mountains behind you. This gondola ride is about 20 minutes long.
When you get to the top, you can head straight over to the PEAK 2 PEAK gondola, but I recommend spending a few minutes enjoying this view or possibly doing a short hike on the trails here. There are also bathrooms in the lodge.
When you’re ready, head to the PEAK 2 PEAK and decide whether or not you want to ride in a glass bottomed car! Join the line and get ready to ride the longest unsupported gondola span in the world!
This ride takes about 15 minutes and takes you from Blackcomb across a VERY high valley to Whistler Mountain.
Once at Whistler Mountain, you can take a break at the Roundhouse Lodge or head directly to the Peak Express Chairlift. To get there, head down the hill a bit from the Roundhouse lodge to the start of the chairlift. This ride is short (less than 10 minutes) and takes you up the steep rocks and lingering snow to the Top of the World Summit!
From here, follow the trail description below for your hike. You’ll return to the Roundhouse Lodge, so if you do the loop I describe you’ll only ride the Peak Express Chairlift one way. If you decide to do a short walk or just the skybridge instead, you will also ride down on the chairlift to the Roundhouse Lodge.
When is the best time of year for the Half Note Loop?
The season for this hike is fairly short, since you’ll need to go when:
- The PEAK 2 PEAK is running on its summer schedule (generally late May through early September, plus weekends through mid October, check their website for specifics)
- The trail is free of snow – generally mid to late July through early October (though is can vary a lot from year to year)
- On a clear day – this is an epic view hike, so in my opinion there’s no point in doing it when you can’t see the view! I would also not recommend doing this hike in the rain because even in dry weather sections of the trail get quite slippery.
In general, the best time of year for this hike is late July through mid September, on a sunny or partly cloudy day.
Related: What to wear for a hike in the Pacific Northwest, What to pack for a hike in the Pacific Northwest
Before doing the Half Note Loop hike myself, I had a hard time figuring out exactly how far it was and how much elevation gain and loss was involved, which is why I wrote this article!
The trail map from Whistler Blackcomb is good to have, however it lists each trail separately instead of putting them together the way you would actually hike it. This description describes a 4 mile/6.5 kilometer loop from the top of the Peak Express Chairlift across the Cloudraker Skybridge, along the gorgeous Half Note Trail and then down to the Roundhouse Lodge. In this hike as I describe it, you only go UP the Peak Express Chair and walk down to the Roundhouse Lodge as part of the hike.
To start the hike, you need to go to the Peak Express Chairlift. To get there, from the Roundhouse Lodge walk slightly downhill for a short distance to get on the Peak Express chair. It’s an open chairlift, but has a bar that you pull down to make it feel quite secure. You’ll go up a short and steep chair over lingering snowfields (even in late summer!) and steep rocks and cliffs to the top of the chair.
Once you get off the chairlift, follow the signs to the right for the Cloudraker Skybridge. Starting your hike on the Skybridge is totally worth it!
By the way, if at this point time looks like a factor or you have had enough of heights for the day, you can absolutely do a much shorter walk around the Top of the World Summit and see some incredible views. There is a one mile/1.6 kilometer nature trail that takes you to even more views and lots of information about the First Nations people of the area.
To continue the Half Note Loop hike, follow the sign for the High Note Trail (you’re still doing the Half Note, it shares the same trail until later) when you leave the Cloudraker Skybridge and the Raven’s Eye viewing platform. Note the sign letting you know the trail is steep and challenging and that you need to be prepared for this hike with plenty of food, water, sturdy footwear and sun protection.
Once on the High Note Trail, it begins a VERY steep descent for just under a mile/just over a kilometer. This section took me forever to get down, and I saw many other hikers struggling. I’d recommend turning around here if anyone in your group is struggling with this section. There are lots of rocks and dust and you will definitely be using your hands at times to help you down. In places there are chains secured to the rocks to use as a handhold.
After you get to the bottom of this section, you’ll come to a mountain bike trail that crosses your path. Continue across it and pick up the High Note Trail on the other side (there’s a sign). For the next mile/1.6 kilometers, you’ll be on an absolutely beautiful stretch of trail that is mostly flat and a traverse with incredible views into Garibaldi Provincial Park, which you have just entered on the trail.
You’ll be surrounded by wildflowers here, and there are a few trees here and there but mostly you’re above the treeline.
Towards the end of this section, you’ll begin to climb again and now you’ll have a stunning view of Cheakamus Lake below and ahead of you.
About two miles/3.25 kilometers from the start of your hike you’ll come to the junction between the Half Note Trail and the High Note Trail. The junction is clearly marked with yellow signs. If you have the energy and time before the last gondola at this point you can choose to extend your hike for an additional 2.5 miles/4 kilometers and more climbing. To continue with the route I recommend, you’ll go to the left on the Half Note Trail.
The next half mile or so is very rocky and very steep, this time going uphill. You’ll round a ridge and see even more views in the other direction towards Blackcomb Mountain, with even more mountains and glaciers changing the view.
When you reach the top of this ridge (Harmony Hill) you’re done with climbing but you have a lot of downhill to go, which can be really hard on your feet and knees at this point in the day! Having hiking poles and making sure your boots or shoes are tightly laced will really help with this last downhill section.
The last mile and a half is all downhill, much of it on a closed road that is a ski run in winter. This section is dusty and slippery so stay alert to where you are putting your feet, which can be hard as you continue to have stunning mountain views all around you!
At the bottom of this section, you’ll come out at the Roundhouse Lodge, where you can take a break or head straight for the Whistler Gondola to return to the Village.
Where to go for food and drink after your hike
When you finish your hike, you’ll be at the Roundhouse Lodge and if you fancy a drink before you head back down, this is a great place to enjoy your drink while taking in the epic views a bit longer! The Umbrella bar has indoor and outdoor seating with amazing views.
If you’re ready to head back down, when you get to the bottom, you’ll be in the heart of Whistler Village with its many dining options. My personal favorite after hike spot is El Furniture Warehouse, with it’s affordable and delicious pub food and affordable drinks (a rarity in Whistler!). You’ll also have a great view of the action with people coming and going through the village from the large, covered and heated outdoor seating area.
The Thunderbird Cafe in the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre has amazing food (get the salmon chowder which is accompanied by an amazing Bannock (like fry bread)!
If you want to get out of the village entirely, head over to Function Junction just a short distance away and grab a pizza and Functional Pie, or beer and bar food at Whistler Brewing.