Less than two hours from downtown Vancouver, Garibaldi Provincial Park epitomizes the Super, Natural British Columbia tourism tagline. Its extraordinary alpine scenery and iconic hikes to Garibaldi Lake and Black Tusk make it extremely popular with day hikers and backpackers. Despite the knowledge that we would not be alone, a couple of my hiking pals and I were lured by the beauty and proximity of this park. Our three days of backpacking took us on and off the beaten hiking path—from busy but stunning Panorama Ridge, to the overlooked gems of Mount Price and Clinker Peak.
The majority of hikers visit the Garibaldi Lake area as an out and back from Rubble Creek trailhead. We decided on the less trodden option, starting at Cheakamus Lake trailhead and doing a traverse to Garibaldi Lake, and out at Rubble Creek—about 27 km, not including our roughly 14 km of side trips. This involves having cars at both ends, or other shuttling option, but the added logistics are totally worth the effort. We spent one night at Helm Creek camp and two night at Garibaldi Lake camp.
The trail from Cheakamus parking lot to our overnight stop at Helm Creek campground (8.2 km/600m gain) was a bit of a grunt, but I much preferred it to the busy Rubble Creek access with its groomed, monotonous switchbacks. The uphill trudge was quickly forgotten as we emerged from the forest onto the open alpine. Helm Creek campground is a beauty—bright and ultra peaceful with dramatic views of Black Tusk.
The next day, our destination was Garibaldi Lake campground with a side trip to Panorama Ridge (about 15.5 km total). Continuing on from Helm Creek campground the scenery keeps getting better with looming Black Tusk continuously in view. Much of the trail approaching Helm Lake is through a volcanic field. The contrast of the dark volcanic debris with the snow patches and wildflowers is breathtaking.
Just beyond Helm Lake is a junction with a turnoff to a short, steep trail up to Panorama Ridge. It’s busy on clear days and an absolute must-do. I have been to Panorama Ridge several times; it’s one of my all-time favourite “perches” and I could sit there all day looking down at shimmering Garibaldi Lake way below and the majestic snow-capped peaks and glaciers that surround it.
We took a shortcut down, running and sliding through the snow—very fun. If you decide to do this, take a good look at the route on your way up. We noticed a big icy patch and veered to the side. A group before us was not so lucky and got scraped up badly—nurse Morag to the rescue.
After coming down from Panorama Ridge, we were in for another treat. The meadows enroute to Garibaldi Lake were ablaze with wildflowers. Our very long, cold winter has pushed wildflower season much later into the summer.
Although we had made reservations for Garibaldi Lake campground, when we arrived there was not one available spot (unfortunately, some hikers pitch their tents without reservations.) With no ranger on site to remedy the situation, and it being late in the day, we decided to set up camp just beyond the campground boundary, on a small dock. We had the best real estate on the lake (almost all the official campsites are hidden in the forest with no lake views).
Thanks to my friend Eva, who is always up for exploring something new, we decided to set out the next day for Mount Price and Clinker Peak, part of the Garibaldi volcano belt. The trail, starting just beyond our “illegal” camp spot on Garibaldi Lake, is not shown on any of the park’s signs, hence it gets very little traffic. In fact, even with the 50 overflowing Garibaldi campsites we never came across any other hikers. They were all heading the other way, to Black Tusk (another must if you haven’t done it).
The start of the hike didn’t look too promising as we pushed through the brush on the overgrown trail. Luckily, that didn’t last long and the pink trail markers were easy to follow. It’s only about 4km to the peaks but it’s very slow going over several impressive lava rock flows and steep sections. The great views to Garibaldi Lake and Black Tusk provide nice breather stops. At the base of the peaks, the trail markers change to cairns, providing some guidance up the rocky, rubbly route. We ended up on Clinker Peak rather than Price as the snow covered and steep scree alternatives to the latter didn’t look appealing. Clinker, at only 60m lower than Price, was well worth the slog with “wow” views in every direction, and only the sound of the wind.
Our campsite on Garibaldi is on the far left side of the lake (photo above) by the tiny set of islands called the the Battlefield Islands.
If you go back to the photo of Morag and me on Panorama Ridge, you can see Table Mountain (above) across the lake.
Our trip to Garibaldi was likely my last backpacking trip of the summer. What a way to end the season… hiking favourite trails and discovering new ones in Garibaldi with wonderful friends, perfect weather, and plenty of chocolate in our packs.
Reservations and Tips
- Obtain backcountry permits and camping reservations at the BC Parks website. Reservations are required during high season: June 29-Oct.17, 2017.
- Don’t be put off if you can’t get reservations at Garibaldi Lake. Taylor Meadows, only 2km away is a great choice. Garibaldi is very busy, the campsites are in the forest with virtually no lake views, and if you’re going there to swim…well, most people chicken out. Taylor Meadows can be busy too, but it’s pretty, bright, and feels more peaceful. There’s also less elevation gain to get to Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk.
- Helm Creek campground is by far the smallest and quietest of them all. If you’re not doing a traverse, it can easily be used as a base for day trips to Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. I think a return trip to Mt.Price/Clinker would be too much for most people.
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