Mama bear and baby bear hike Garibaldi’s Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek

Mama Bear and her Baby Bear on Panorama Ridge

I’ve hiked in British Columbia’s Garibaldi Provincial Park many times, but this trip was extra special: I did it with my son Alex. My body is still recovering from trying to keep up with his blistering 23-year-old pace, but I’m thrilled that we got to share this short backpacking trip. Garibaldi Park, located only a couple of hours north of Vancouver, contains a treasure trove of hiking trails that provide access to high peaks, glaciers, and alpine lakes and meadows. Panorama Ridge has some of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen, and the peaceful route via Helm Creek is my favourite approach.

Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek (Cheakamus trailhead)

Distance: 31 km (19 mi) roundtrip.

Elevation Gain: 1573 m (5160 ft) from trailhead to Panorama Ridge

Trailhead: Cheakamus Lake trailhead, accessed via Highway 99 just south of Whistler: Directions and more information.

Campground: This hike can be done as a long day trip but I prefer a night at Helm Creek campground, 8.5 km (5.3 mi) from Cheakamus Lake trailhead.

Reservations: Both camping and day use reservations are mandatory at Garibaldi. Obtain them at discovercamping.ca. Select “backcountry reservations” from the menu for camping and “day use passes” for day hiking.


It’s a bit of a rocky start at the Cheakamus trailhead. Alex has forgotten his sunglasses and hat—what a surprise. Spare pair of sunglasses in the glove compartment to the rescue. Off we go, practically at running speed. Mama bear has made a special effort to bring lots of snacks, a big lunch and a hearty stew for dinner—baby bear has a voracious appetite. Our packs, for a simple overnight trip, look (and feel) like we’re going away for a week.

The first 2 km is flat and easy, and we whiz by the few other hikers. Beyond that, soon after the turnoff for the Helm Creek trail, the switchbacks up through the forest begin. From previous trips, I don’t remember them being terribly onerous. I soon discover that when you’re walking way faster than your normal pace these switchbacks are tough, really tough. Within 15 minutes I’m drenched and panting like a dog. I’m not sure why I feel compelled to keep up with Alex…probably to prove that my old body still has it.

We make it the 8.5 km and 920 m (gain) to Helm Creek campground in just over two hours. It’s a beautiful, spacious campground with a commanding view of the famous Black Tusk. I’m ready for a nap. But it’s only a pit stop to set up our tent, drop our gear and grab a bite before we continue on to Panorama Ridge.

Helm Creek campground, Garibaldi Provincial Park

It’s 7 km from Helm Creek camp to Panorama Ridge with big, open views almost the entire way. I’m relieved that the first 5 km are mostly a gentle uphill. Although the trail is not new to me, I’m transfixed by the ever changing profile of Black Tusk and the unique Cinder Flats shaped by glaciation and volcanic activity. The great scenery is slowing down Alex just a tad as he stops occasionally to take a photo. I prefer this peaceful approach to Panorama ridge versus the much busier Rubble Creek/Garibaldi Lake route (though the lake is incredible).

Helm Creek trail just beyond Helm Creek campground
Helm Creek trail with constantly changing views of Black Tusk
Volcanic landscape of the Cinder Flats
Pretty vegetation above Cinder Flats

Just like the switchbacks at the start of the hike, my recollection of the final push to Panorama Ridge is that it’s tough, but manageable. The really steep section thankfully lasts only about 1.5 km. Until now, I’d been keeping up with Alex, but the rocky terrain is challenging and I’m fatigued from our earlier sprint. It feels more difficult than on previous visits. I’m a little frustrated with myself as he scrambles ahead and the gap between us widens. But my self-absorbed competitiveness is upstaged by my delight that we’ve managed to squeak in this hike before Alex leaves for Ontario to do his final semester of university.

Alex scrambles ahead on the Panorama Ridge trail

When I need a breather, I turn around and look back at where we’ve come from. I love the view to Black Tusk and the three lakes at its base, all with different blue hues. It keeps on getting better the higher I go. Some consider this the co-star view, but for me it’s every bit as spectacular as the view over Garibaldi Lake, which is now just steps ahead.

Black Tusk and glacial lakes seen from Panorama Ridge trail
Amazing colour of Black Tusk Lake

Alex is waiting for me just below the crest. We take the final steps together as Garibaldi Lake and the surrounding high peaks and glaciers come into view. It remains one of the best nature panoramas I’ve seen. We hang out for awhile before heading back to Helm Creek camp for a well-deserved dinner.

Alex and me on Panorama Ridge overlooking Garibaldi Lake

Hiking with my son in this magnificent setting is about the best gift this mama bear could ever hope for.

I took some satisfaction in learning that Alex was a bit sore the next day. Our time back down from camp to the car was slower than our time up. Don’t be put off, I’d classify this as a moderate hike if you take your time.

More posts on hiking in Garibaldi Provincial Park:

Cheakamus-Garibaldi Lake Traverse (thru-hike starting at Cheakamus trailhead and ending at Rubble Creek trailhead)

Elfin Lakes/The Gargoyles

Elfin Lakes/Opal Cone

Winter hike at Elfin Lakes

Categories: British Columbia, Canada, Hiking | Tags: , , , | 48 Comments

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48 thoughts on “Mama bear and baby bear hike Garibaldi’s Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek

  1. Gorgeous pictures! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. josypheen

    What a fantastic hike for you to do together! I have never tried the approach via Helm Creek, but I think this looks even nicer than the normal route via Garibaldi Lake. I LOVE all those views of Black Tusk – and I totally agree with you – the view back to Black Tusk is just as gorgeous as the lake view. (I also really love looking over to the glaciers…)

    Good work mama bear!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Josy! You should definitely try the Helm Creek approach and perhaps even do it as a traverse ending at Rubble Creek trailhead (you just need two cars or someone to pick you up). We did this a few years ago and it was really great; plus we got in a side trip to Mt Price. I did a post on it if you’re ever interested.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. AndyG

    What a great little trip that was. I know what you mean about trying to keep up… As one of the other commenters wrote, I’ve tried staying ahead of younger groups but I’m learning to manage my energy levels better. Slowly, but I’m getting there!

    That view of Black Tusk as you climb up to Panorama is one of my favourite anywhere. I see there’s a bridge over the creek now – I remember watching a bunch of trail runners fan out to try and find a place to cross, and I don’t think a single one of them got across with dry feet. I couldn’t help feel a little smug at finding a line of rocks across to keep my boots dry 🙂 We’re wondering about trying to fit in a trip to Helm (agreed, it’s the better approach) before the snow and rain settle in… We’ll see!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is indeed a great, easy, little trip. It looks like we might have a few more short weather windows. I hope you manage to fit it in. The bridge is not the most direct route but the area is so scenic that it doesn’t bother me at all, plus it protects the delicate vegetation. We saw others taking shortcuts across the creek at various places—not a huge problem as the water level was quite low. Enjoy the sun while it lasts!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The views are just stunning, Caroline – how fortunate you are to live a couple hours’ drive from a place like this. Garibaldi has the kind of mountain scenery I’d travel halfway around the world to see! And reading this reminded me of childhood hikes with my own mom. At one point she was so into trekking she bought books on New Zealand’s Milford Track and even considered going to Everest Base Camp. I must have mentioned this somewhere before, but mom is expecting me to walk the Camino de Santiago with her in the next couple of years. Not the entire trail, of course – just the final 100 kilometers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment warms my heart, James. Sounds like your mother and I are kindred spirits when it comes to hiking. I was actually researching Everest Base Camp treks just the other day in the hope that my son might be interested in joining me for an upcoming milestone birthday. Don’t disappoint your mother…make sure you two walk the Camino de Santiago (also on my list). Of course let’s get through this pandemic. I’m indeed lucky to have some great hikes so close by, and that they are open.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I give you a like and like your effort for your posts. but there is too much text for me. I have poor eyesight despite reading glasses. i need a magnifying glass for this text. sorry, but an interesting blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, what a breathtaking place to hike in, Caroline. And a double blessing to have done that with your son!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Such a lovely story 🙂 I’d planned to hike this same trail when I visited BC in Oct. ‘18 but the weather got in the way and we ended up going for the St. Mark’s Summit trail in Vancouver instead. Definitely don’t want to miss it when I visit again ❤ BC is absolutely gorgeous, I had the most wonderful time. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for your nice comments Llore! It’s a shame you didn’t get to do this hike, but at least the views from St. Mark’s are pretty awesome. I’m glad you had fun in BC and hope you can return to do the Panorama Ridge hike and many more!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My goodness, what a beautiful hike!! And even better to experience it with your baby bear!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Good for you to keep up with bear cub Alex. I was huffing and puffing on your behalf! Spectacular views and what treasured memories of your time together. Wishing him a great semester ahead.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. How lovely that you were able to squeeze in this hike before your son goes back to university. I’m sure he’ll be missing those mountains when he’s here in Ontario.

    Liked by 2 people

    • He does love the mountains, but he’s also been discovering the charms of Ontario parks. He went to Killarney over the Labour Day weekend and was super impressed. We’re lucky to have great parks all across the country.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Awesome pictures n lovely post

    Liked by 2 people

  12. What a great hike with your son, Caroline! I know I’ve said this, but I’ll say it again: it’s so nice to have all these great outdoors not too far from where you live, so when you want to go, you just go. When we happen to hike together, you shouldn’t need to worry. I like to to keep my pace steady — not too fast, and not too slow.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Bama, I think this all the time. I’m indeed very lucky. It would be great if one day we could get out for a hike together. I’m happy to know about your pace, and I’ll bring good snacks😊

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Oh my goodness! Your photos of the Canadian Rockies never cease to amaze!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Diana; it’s a pretty special place. Garibaldi is technically part of the Coast Mountain Range, bordering the Rockies. There are so many mountain ranges in B.C., I can never keep track.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow to all of it – the spectacular scenery, hiking with your son, and your competitiveness. You go girl! It sounds like a really special trip. In a really special place. Stunning photos too.
    Alison

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Alison! I’ll say it again: we’re so lucky to have this beauty around us. I’m hoping to get out in the woods sometime this weekend now that the smoke has eased a bit. Hope it’s improving where you are!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m still here in (also smoky 😦 ) Colorado, getting in a few short hikes with my son, also named Alex! Not a great overnight like you guys since he has a 4-month old, but isn’t it a special treat to share nature and outdoor recreation with our kids? Your scenery is stunning, and I am laughing at your competitive nature, another thing we seem to have in common. 🙂 It’s often my husband who has us on a death march up the mountain, but no matter who it is, that “I’ve still got it” feeling usually forces me to go way faster than I prefer!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Like I said, I paid painfully for several days for going overboard on the “I’ve still got it” feeling. Lexie, when we finally get the chance to do a hike together, we’ll have to try and put that competitive streak aside (I’m already convinced you still have it).
      Yes, it is a totally wonderful to share nature/hiking with our kids. I haven’t had the chance to do it too much because Alex has been in Ontario almost full time for the last four years and when he came home for short visits, hiking with mom wasn’t his first priority. A pandemic silver lining was having him home almost six months. I’m glad you’re getting in some hikes with your Alex. Let’s hope the air quality improves!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. The bond with your son adds to the story of the hike, which would be entertaining in itself. Thanks for sharing this very personal moment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for this feedback. I’m glad our bond came through in my writing. I don’t usually share too much personal stuff so it can feel a bit awkward writing a more personal post.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Breathtakingly spectacular scenery and your photos are simply stunning. What a fabulous time you had with Alex, something that you will both remember with affection, for ever. Lyn

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Lyn! I don’t think I’d ever get tired of heading out into this scenery. It’s definitely one of my top local hikes and I’m so happy that I was able to introduce Alex to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Magnificent, rugged territory. And with lakes, no less. You might think about this trek now and then for years to come.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. NICOLE BEISSNER

    That’s so awesome! Lucky you and Alex too!!Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yup, as you know, it’s a real treat when our kids want to hike with us once in awhile. Truth be told, I kind of talked him into this, but I think he had fun.

      Like

  20. Monika MacNeill

    Mama bear and baby bear – what a great trip!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I laughed at you being mad at yourself for not being able to keep up with a 23 year old! We are strangely competitive with other hiking groups sometimes too, not wanting to let the ‘kids’ pass us! But what a great view. I love both the view from Panorama Ridge and the one of Black Tusk with the alpine lake. Even the campground looks pretty!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know, it’s strange isn’t it! I’m glad I’m not the only one! Garibaldi is a great park, if a bit over-loved. I’m glad we were able to get to Panorama Ridge on a weekday. It’s a perfect place to get into the alpine close to home.
      I’m going a bit stir crazy with the lingering smoke. They keep saying it is supposed to improve but today is really bad again. Hope you’ve seen some improvement.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Brian Foster

    Great that you were able to do this ‘bonding’ hike with him. Pretty territory.

    Liked by 2 people

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