Life in British Columbia

My life in Vancouver since moving to BC in Jan. 2014

Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail – Part II

As you may have gathered from my previous blog, we had a bit of a rough start to the Juan de Fuca trail. However, Day 1 was our longest day, so we were optimistic about Day 2. We aren’t the swiftest moving people in the morning, but we had everything packed up and ready to go by 10:30am the following morning and hit the trail. It wasn’t much improved over the day before and still had some pretty muddy sections, but we were well beyond caring and they didn’t slow us down too much.

We were excited to reach our first suspension bridge, which saved us from a long hike back across the river. There’s a few suspension bridges on the trail and they’re all quite large and impressive. We joked that the trail was so crappy and muddy because the park spends all the camping fees on really nice suspension bridges and boardwalks at the beaches for day users!

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First suspension bridge of the day!

After about 3km on the trail we finally hit the coast. We stayed pretty close to the coast on Day 1, but there were no long beach sections. Sometimes we’d pop out on the beach for a minute, but the trail would always head back into the trees. So we were very excited to finally reach our first real beach stretch. The rocks and cobble are still hard on the feet and aren’t that easy to walk on, but we were definitely happy to have a break from the mud.

It’s not too far from Little Kuitshe to Sombrio Beach, which is the second and final bail out point on the trail. We walked along the beach for about a km before reaching the main part of Sombrio Beach where there is a parking lot and a campsite. It is a little disappointing to hike 18 km to a beautiful beach and then see day users who drove there. It takes away from the wildness of the trail and the feeling that you’ve reached a reward after a long day of hiking. But I suppose it’s also nice that everyone gets to enjoy such a beautiful place.

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First beach section

We crossed our second suspension bridge over Sombrio River and then continued further up the beach to stop for lunch around the 5 km mark. We had 12 km to hike on Day 2 – we were hoping to make it halfway before lunch again – but it was so nice on Sombrio Beach that we figured it was a good stopping point.

We experimented with some dehydrated dips from MEC for our lunches. I had a spicy southwest hummus and a three cheese bean dip that we just had to mix with water. While not the lightest, we’d brought pita to eat it with. I was impressed with the dips considering they were just powder and water. The hummus dip was actually the consistency of hummus, which I had been dubious about, and the bean dip had a nice flavor. Unfortunately, I don’t do great with spices and both of these dips were pretty spicy, so I won’t be buying them again, but I would recommend if you’ve got a better spice tolerance than me (which most people do). Emily’s opinion was that without the spice they probably wouldn’t taste like much of anything.

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Sombrio Beach – we hiked that whole coast!

We hit the trail again around 2pm with 7 km left to do after lunch. It still wasn’t the best time, but we hoped we could keep up a 2km/hour pace for the rest of the day. Up until Sombio, the trail had been marked as “moderate” on our map. The 7 km section from Sombrio to our destination at Chin Beach was marked as “difficult”, so we weren’t really sure what to expect.

Unfortunately for us, this section did prove even more difficult than the previous day because it was not only muddy, but steep and muddy. We went back into the woods at the end of Sombrio Beach and were afforded some of the best views on the trail up to that point. We had a great view looking back up the beach and along the wooded coast. It was a bit surreal because we could see the entire way back to Port Renfrew and it was pretty impressive to realize we’d actually hiked the entire coastline. There’s a nice waterfall at the end of Sombrio Beach that we hiked completely around, including over the top of it, so it really added to the photos.

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Waterfall at the end of Sombrio

The first 2 km out of Sombrio Beach were killer though. It started off with a small climbing section to get back into the woods. It was very steep and we had to take our packs off and hoist them up in order to climb up. It was just as muddy as the rest of the trail, but much steeper. There were several old boardwalk and stair sections, but they were almost completely deteriorated from use and made the trail even more difficult to navigate. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining, but there were some pretty sheer uphill sections covered in slippery mud, as well as some deep watery mud sections. Needless to say, we were soon covered in mud again and huffing and puffing as we (literally) pulled ourselves up the slope using tree branches, roots, and rocks.

We’d consulted our trail notes before heading into the woods and had been promised a flat logging road section in the middle. I’m pretty sure this was the only thing keeping us going because those first 2-2.5 km’s were just awful. I don’t think I’ve ever been as relieved as I was to finally see the logging road after hours of climbing. It was a little piece of heaven on the trail for us and it really did a lot to lift our spirits.

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Still technical…

The logging road was pretty cool. Since it was a road (and not a trail), it had decent drainage and we didn’t encounter any mud along it. The trees are of course all super tall around the road, so it had a bit of a romantic feel at times and a creepy feel at other times. But it was long; it extended for the better part of 2 hours in long, straight sections. Around every turn we’d be praying it would continue and then we’d be so relieved to turn the corner and see it stretching ahead of us for another several hundred metres. I can’t recall what kind of pace we kept on the uphill section, but I know it was pretty terrible and the 2 km on the logging road definitely did a lot to improve our time.

But all good things must come to an end, which eventually our logging road did. Unlike the previous day, or even that morning, it was totally empty on the trail. We hadn’t passed a single person since we’d left Sombrio Beach and by the end of the day we would only pass one group of 2 guys. The trail was kinder to us after the logging road though and had a lot of gentle ups and downs along a much less muddy trail. The only downside was that the trail makers that had been consistently located at every km disappeared along this section of the trail. We’d gotten used to the presence of the trail markers, so it was very discouraging not to see any and we had been worried we were making exceptionally poor time.

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Logging Road!

Eventually we reached our third suspension bridge of the day (which was on the map and finally gave us an indication of where we were). Around this point I consulted the tide maps and started getting a little concerned. There’s several “tide cut-off” points located along the trail that you need to monitor because once the tides reach a certain height, the beach becomes impassable and you have the wait for the tide to go back down.

I had consulted the tide tables prior to the trip, but I wasn’t too concerned because they would only be impassable in the evenings and I’d been sure we’d be to the campsites long before it became a problem. There was one tide cut-off point right before our destination at Chin Beach that would be impassable after 7:30pm. We hadn’t been making the best time, but we were hoping to make it to camp by 6:30pm. This would give us enough time, but I’m a notorious worrier about this kind of stuff and since my tide tables were for Port Renfrew, I was concerned it might be slightly different at Chin Beach and I was terrified we would get cut off from the campsite and be stuck there until midnight when the tides went down.

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Tide cut-off

Unlike me, Emily is not a worrier (or the biggest empathizer) and tried to tell me to get over myself, but I got quite the adrenaline boost in the last hour and pushed us along to our destination. At least it took my mind off my aching back and feet I guess.

We did make it to the cut off in time, but even Emily had to admit that it was pretty close. There’s sheer rock along the edge and we could see how far the tide was going to come up against the rock and it was getting pretty close to the rock when we arrived. But we had enough time and it was just a short 300 metre walk across the beach to the campsite.

Chin Beach was a much improved campsite over Little Kuitshe and had the benefit of being almost totally empty. We were the last (and only people) to enter the campsite from our direction, and there were 3 other groups up at the other end of the beach who were hiking the trail from the opposite direction. Since we were the only ones at our end, we found a truly amazing campsite and used 3 for ourselves. It had a beautiful beach view, a benched cooking area, firepit, and a nice sheltered area to pitch our tent.

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Campsite at Chin Beach

Thai sweet chili pasta was on the menu for supper and we enjoyed hot chocolate with a shot of fireball to warm us up as the sun went down (thanks Carolyn for this excellent idea!). We tried to get a fire going – actually we did succeed – but the wood was still too wet from rain the day before and we couldn’t get more than a smoke fire going. We enjoyed hanging out on the beach and watching the tide come up. We spotted several seals hanging out just off the shoreline and watched them for a while before hitting the sack to rest our weary feet!

Overall it was another challenging day, but it was also a much more rewarding day. The views were a lot better along the trail in this section and it was nice to camp on the beach and go to sleep to the sound of the waves against the rocks.

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Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail – Part 1

It’s a been awhile, so I figured it’s time to get back on the blog with a new post!

Emily was in town last week, which is a sure indication that we’re off on an adventure. I haven’t taken any extended holidays in BC since I’ve moved here (just the occasional long weekend), so I finally took a week off and we hit Vancouver Island to explore for the week.

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Visiting Canada’s “gnarliest” tree on the way to Port Renfrew

Hiking and camping have quickly become my favourite Vancouver pastimes. Our first summer here in 2014 we tried some car camping, loved it, and proceeded to do a ton of car camping in 2015. We also started doing some intense hiking in 2015, which quickly got me interested in the idea of backcountry camping so that I could visit areas beyond where I could hike to in a day. I’ve since discovered there’s nothing quite like waking up and poking your head out your tent to a beautiful lake or forest view.

So 2016 was the summer I took up backcountry camping, but I kept it pretty low key – mostly lugging my backpack into a campsite and then doing day hiking from there so that I didn’t have to keep carrying around all my gear. It was a good transition into backcountry, but my heart just kept screaming “more, more, more” at me, so this year I attempted my first multi-day trek.

If you know much about hiking in BC, then you’ve probably heard of the West Coast Trail, which has quite the reputation around here and a pretty cult-like following. I’m definitely not ready for a 75km trek in intense coastal wilderness, so I opted to set my sights on the 47km Juan de Fuca Trail instead.

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Starting the Juan de Fuca Trail

Both trails are located along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The West Coast Trail starts in Port Renfrew and heads north along the coast to Bamfield. It’s a national park and you have to register to hike the trail. There are only a limited number of people allowed on the trail at any given time and there are no exit points along the trail – so once you start, you’re committed to finishing. In contrast, the Juan de Fuca trail starts north of Sooke, at China Beach, and extends north to Port Renfrew, ending off near where the West Coast Trail begins. Juan de Fuca is a provincial park, so it doesn’t require any registration to do the trail, which can be a downside in the high season as campsites can get pretty full. However, it does have the benefit of having 2 exit points along the trail – so if you’re struggling, it is possible to bail out.

We thought the Juan de Fuca Trail sounded like a good intro to multi-day hiking and decided to attempt the trail in 4 days/3 nights. We thought this would be totally manageable and I was pretty optimistic about our abilities and thought we wouldn’t have too much trouble on the trail. Even though it was my first multi-day hike, I’ve done lots of hiking and I’ve always kept up a pretty good pace.

The Juan de Fuca definitely challenged us. I won’t say we were unprepared for it, we had good gear and realistic expectations about the trail, it was just a whole lot harder than we thought it would be!


Day 1 was a bit of a rough start for us. We stayed in Port Renfrew the night before and our plan was for me to drop the car off at one end at China Beach and then catch the bus back to Port Renfrew. Unfortunately, the bus only goes to Port Renfrew and not all the way to Botanical Beach (another 3km down the road), which is where the trail starts. Originally we planned to drop Emily at the beach with the bags and I would just walk the extra 3km to meet her, but it was raining when we got up and we didn’t want to make her wait for hours in the rain, so I met her in Port Renfrew instead.

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Rain, Yay!

The most common route to hike the trail is starting at China Beach and ending at Port Renfrew. The harder section of the trail is supposed to be located at the China Beach end of the trail, so it’s recommended to get the hard part out of the way first. However, based on our itinerary, the longest day of hiking would be the Port Renfrew section, and the shortest day the China Beach section, so we decided to do the trail backwards to get the longest day out of the way first. Now that it’s all said and done, I definitely don’t have any regrets about our decision as the first day turned out to be a pretty challenging one.

It’s definitely disappointing to start a hike in the rain, but fortunately it was pretty light rain and it was the only rain in the 5-day forecast. We had hoped to eliminate the extra 3km along the paved road, but sometimes you can’t always win, so our longest day of 14km on the trail became 17km right off the bat. We did try to hitchhike the road as we went, but we only saw two cars and sadly neither stopped for us.

It was still raining when we reached the trailhead, but we made it in pretty good time and we had a nice first km along the trail to reach the coast. The first few km’s follow pretty close to the coast through the woods and weren’t too difficult, but gradually the trail started getting more and more challenging. It became more technical, it was slippery because of the rain, and the mud started building up along the trail, so it was pretty slow going.

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An idea of what “technical” means

We were aiming to hike 14km of the trail on Day 1 to camp at Little Kuitshe Campsite, so we would be passing through another campsite, Payzant, at the halfway point. We’d hoped to make it to Payzant for lunch, but unfortunately it wasn’t in the cards and we found a rock looking out over the ocean at the 5km mark to have our lunch. Fortunately, it did stop raining around the same time though.

9km was a lot of hiking to do after lunch, so we didn’t rest too long before hitting the trail to make our way to Payzant. Similarly, we only stopped in Payzant long enough for a pee break before heading out again. The further we went, the more the trail started to deteriorate. And by deteriorate, I mean it got pretty muddy. I’m not sure quite what I was expecting the trail to be like, but it was definitely more technical than I had anticipated. Since it’s mostly through the woods along the coast, you’re always going up and down from one creek to the next. If there’s no suspension bridge (and they are limited), sometimes you have to go fairly far back into the woods to get around the creeks. So lots of climbing and lots of mud.

We passed quite a few people on the first day. I suspected the trail probably got pretty busy on the weekends, so we decided to start our hike on a Sunday to try and avoid the crowds. We passed a lot of people going the opposite direction who were finishing up the trail. We only encountered one group going the same direction as us and we kept passing back and forth on the trail.

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Our lunch view

Since you don’t see that many people on the trail, it’s pretty common to have a quick chat with the people you pass about how their hike is going and what you can expect to find ahead and behind you. The main news on the trail on Day 1 was that some people had been seeing a black bear along the beach. There were reports of a lone male bear and of a female bear with two cubs. I’d read it was pretty likely we might see a bear while on the trail, so it didn’t bother me too much and I had my bear horn and bear spray on me.

Fortunately, just before we reached the bear, we ran into a group who gave us a heads up that it was right ahead, otherwise I think it may have given us a bit of a fright when we first saw it. They told us it seemed friendly enough and was just minding its own business at the end of the beach. It was a bit of a weird area because we were going along the bluffs through the woods, but because the tide was out, a large section of bare rock was exposed below the cliff. We could see the male bear hanging out by the water at the end of the rock. Unfortunately, it’s right at this section that the trail slopes back down and you have to go out on the rock in order to cross back up on to the trail. I don’t think it would have been a problem if the bear hadn’t decided to head back to the woods at the exact moment that were we’re getting ready to exit them.

I’ve seen black bears before, but never as big as this guy. I would compare him to the size of a grizzly, so he was pretty scary. I didn’t want to cut him off, so we went back up the trail where we could watch him from above. But we were nervous that he would start to climb the trail up to where we were, so I decided to break out the bear horn to dissuade him from coming our way. It was a great time to discover that my crappy bear horn doesn’t work – it’s not like I was depending on it to potentially save my life or anything. So I’ve learned not to get a cheap air horn from Army Navy and I will be investing in a decent one.

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Mr. Bear

Since the air horn wasn’t going to be any help to us, we made noise by singing Ed Sheeran’s Castle on a Hill at the top of our lungs instead. This did the trick. We could tell the bear heard us and he didn’t seem too interested – instead he went the other way and popped back into the woods further up. We kept singing and waited him out for about 15 minutes before heading down the trail and back up into the woods on the other side. I was still worried he would be up on the trail ahead of us, so we continued singing girl guide songs for the better part of an hour until we finally ran into some people going the other way and reached the parked cars at Parkinson Creek, which is one of the 2 bail-out opportunities.

We were in much better spirits once we reached Parkinson’s and had only 4 km to go to the campsite. Our trail notes informed us there was a nice flat section ahead, so even though we were really tired and it was later in the day (4pm), we were optimistic we could reach the camp by 6pm since we were averaging about 2 km an hour.

Along the trail we’d passed some pretty muddy people and they kept commenting to us that we were so clean. We didn’t think we looked very clean, but we figured it was just because we were only on our first day on the trail and some of the people we passed were on their 3rd or 4th day. We should have realized it meant that the worst was still ahead. Our flat km turned out to be the worst km of the day as “flat” translates into “super muddy” when it gets wet or has been wet for a while. It rained the whole week prior to our trek, so it’s not surprising that it was pretty muddy.

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Her face says it all

Km 10 was definitely the worst km of the entire trail. We’d still managed to stay somewhat clean (thank goodness for gaitors), but km 10 was another story entirely. The whole trail was totally covered in thick, wet mud, often mid to knee deep and impossible to go around. We tried our best to navigate it without getting our feet wet (it was the type of mud that’s about a foot deep with another foot of dirty water on top of it), but after km 10 took a whopping 50 minutes, we knew we had to just give into the mud and go straight through it or we’d never make it to the camp.

It was a pretty grueling last 4 km and we got entirely covered in mud. Emily somehow managed to get it all the way up to her crotch during one dark moment when she got stuck and I had to pull her out. Our feet were wet and our socks squished out mud every step we took, but at 6:30pm we finally strolled into the campsite. We hadn’t stopped or taken our packs off once during the last 2.5 hours, so when I finally took it off my spine actually bent me completely forward because it was so used to my 35lb pack and I had to hobble around for a minute before I could properly stand up straight.

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Little Kuitshe Campsite

Little Kuitshe was definitely my least favourite of the 3 campsites we stayed in because it’s a wooded campsite and you can’t see the beach, but we found a really nice spot to pitch our tent that was complete with a home-made benched cooking area and a clothesline. It wasn’t hard to find a camping spot, but it was reasonably busy and by the end of the evening I think every campsite had been taken. There were 2 or 3 other groups that wondered in after us – but everyone else was hiking the opposite way and was on the final leg of their journey.

Emily led us in a nice yoga/stretching exercise and then we pitched the tent and got supper on the go. But we were zonked after 17km and 9.5 hours straight of hiking, so we hit the sack pretty fast. I still didn’t really know what to make of the trail after Day 1, I just hoped it would get easier on Day 2!

Here’s a few more pictures from Day 1:

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Favourite Hikes in Southwestern BC

I feel like I haven’t been in BC long enough to be advising anyone on hiking, but it’s become a favourite pastime of mine and since I moved here I’ve done 42 hikes (I counted!), so I’m going to share some of my favourites. (all photos taken my me!)

 

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#10 Garibaldi Lake – I’m starting with Garibaldi Lake because it is easily one of the most popular day hikes and it was my first major hike (15+ km). I was totally blown away by the view at Garibaldi Lake, which both deepened my love of the outdoors and inspired me to take up backcountry camping this summer. The downside to this hike is that the trail to the lake is a bit of a slog. It starts with 6km of switchbacks, but the view at the end is phenomenal! (18km, 800m gain, 7 hours)

 

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#9 Joffre Lakes – Another super popular hike – the best part about Joffre Lakes for me is that, unlike Garibaldi Lake, the entire hike is incredibly gorgeous! The scenery is so amazing throughout the entire hike, it’s almost overwhelming. What’s definitely overwhelming though is the crowds. Everyone knows this a relatively easy hike for the payoff and it’s been heavily marketed to tourists. I think it’s great to see so many people out enjoying the beautiful landscapes, but it does take away from the backcountry feel. I’d recommend doing on a weekday if possible. (11km, 350m gain, 5 hours)

 

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#8 Hollyburn Mountain – I’ve only gone snowshoeing on Hollyburn Mountain, but it was so much fun! It’s a pretty steep walk up to the top, but it’s not a long distance. The steep ascent is worth it though because then you can participate in the fun tradition of sliding back down the whole thing on your bum, So make sure to bring a garbage bag with you! The view from the top looking out into the watershed is beautiful! (10km, 400m gain, 4 hours)

 

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#7 Wedgemount Lake – Located just past Whistler, this is tough, steep hike. I did this as an overnighter and was totally pooped by the time we made it to the lake. There’s a breathtaking view of the valley as you make your way up to Wedgemount and a beautiful view of the lake from the top. It’s a scramble up to the top though, so expect to spend the better part of an hour climbing up loose rock. The highlight of Wedgemount for me though is the glacier, which is another 20-30 minute walk from the lake. (14km, 1200m gain, 7 hours)

 

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#6 Elfin Lakes – The second most popular hike after Garibaldi Lake, which I just completed this past weekend. It’s a long trail at 22km, but it’s one of the easier hikes on the list. The trail is extremely well maintained and fairly easy along the entire length. It was pretty foggy on the day I visited, so I didn’t get the best view of the surrounding mountains, but there’s a beautiful walk along the ridge on the way there and a hut you can stay in overnight, which is super popular during the winter. (22km, 600m gain, 6 hours)

 

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#5 Tenquille Lake – This is a tough one to get to without 4WD, which significantly shortens the hike along the service road, but has a beautiful view during the last few kilometers of the hike. This was my first foray into backcountry hiking and we camped overnight at the lake, which I would highly recommend! The views around the lake are incredible and I’d love to go back and explore more around the area. I was too early for most of the alpine flowers, but still got to see a few in the meadow! (14km, 6 hours)

 

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#4 Semaphore Lakes – A short drive from Tenquille Lake, but the trailhead is much more easily accessible. It’s a short hike (which is nice if you’re trying backcountry for the first time), but it’s pretty steep, so don’t be deceived by the 3km length. The view at the top is amazing though and this is one place where it’s easy to escape the crowds (maybe I shouldn’t be boasting about it?). There’s several lakes to explore and you’ll be surrounded by beautiful snow-capped peaks and glaciers! (5km, 300m gain, 3 hours)

 

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#3 Three Brothers Mountain– This hike is located in Manning Park and is part of the Heather Trail. We hiked the first 10 kilometres of the trail to climb up Three Brothers Mountain. What I loved about this hike is that it’s scenic the entire way, made even more amazing during late July/early August, when the meadows are covered in thousands of wildflowers. You do most of the elevation gain on the way up to the trailhead, so it’s not a difficult hike, just long. My favourite part was hiking along the ridge of Three Brothers Mountain with a 360 degree view all around! (21km, 500m gain, 6 hours)

 

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#2 Brandywine Meadows/Mountain – Another hike that is made much easier with a 4WD, this was one of my favourites due to the incredibly low volume of people. I think we saw about 5 people the entire day, which is in stark contrast to most of the trails. The hike to the meadows is very short if you take 4WD the whole way up, so we decided to extend our hike up Brandywine Mountain where I stood on my first glacier! The view of the valley from the top is breathtaking. (12km, 1200m gain, 5 hours)

 

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#1 Panorama Ridge – Definitely tops my list as one of the all-around best hikes. If you’re super intense, you can do Panorama as a 30km round-trip day hike, but we opted instead to camp at Garibaldi Lake overnight. Like I said, the hike to Garibaldi Lake is kind of boring until you reach the lake, but Panorama Ridge is scenic the whole way. You spend the first half of the hike looking out at the ridge, then you have an excellent view of Black Tusk until you reach the top where you are rewarded with the most amazing view of Garibaldi Lake and the surrounding mountains. (15km, 600m gain, 6 hours)

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