Garibaldi Park is hands down, one of the most beautiful provincial parks in the lower mainland. I’ve been to the lake on 3 separate occasions in the last 5 years and I really felt I experienced something new on every single trip. The first time I went to Garibaldi Lake was in 2015 as a day trip and it’s what inspired my desire to start backcountry camping. It was so beautiful at the lake that I really wanted the opportunity to stay there overnight. So the next year, I bought myself some backcountry gear and did a 3 day trip with Seth and Emily, who had just finished her bachelor’s degree and was visiting for the summer at the time.
Both times I’ve backpacked to the lake have been for 3 nights, which I think is a good length. I left work early on a Thursday and we drove out to the trailhead, aiming to be hiking by 5pm. I think we were a little bit behind, but we were certainly on the trail by 5:30pm and it took us about 3.5 hours to hike to the lake without any detours. 2016 was the first year that Garibaldi introduced the backcountry booking system, so we did have a campsite booked, but we decided to take Friday off to get ahead of the crowds and have one day with fewer people.
It’s a rough walk up to the lake for sure. It’s a pretty easy trail, but there is significant elevation gain (~800m) and the trail is pretty much constant switchbacks with no views for the first 6-7km. After that it gets a little more varied and less steep, before you finally reach the lake and hike in along the edge to the campsite. If you are hiking in a little later, like we were, be prepared to hike in the dark and have lights with you. Fortunately, we reached the campsite just around dusk and got to see the glacier at the back of the lake lit up pink with the alpen glow before night set in.
Hiking in Thursday night gave us two full days in the backcountry before we had to hike out again, so we planned to hit Garibaldi’s other two most popular attractions, Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. I was most excited for Panorama Ridge because I’d seen so many amazing pictures of the bright blue waters of Garibaldi Lake as seen from the ridge looking down on it. So we decided to day hike to Panorama on Friday. We had each purchased a small daypack from Mountain Warehouse that we had stuffed into our big packs, so we crammed them full of all our day items.
It’s a bit of a rough start to Panorama Ridge when you leave the lake and have to hike back up over the bank, but after that the trail levels out a lot and has beautiful views of the alpine meadows. Panorama Ridge is about a 15km round trip hike from the lake and definitely ranks as one of my top 5 hikes. At first you hike through alpine meadows until you reach the base of Black Tusk, and then the trails branch off and you loop right the edge of Black Tusk Mountain down towards helm creek. You can’t see Black Tusk from this part of the trail, or Garibaldi Lake, but you can see down into the Valley and up to your final destination at the top of the ridge. I went during the August long weekend, so there were lots of wildflowers in bloom along the trail.
The last 2 kilometres of the trail are more difficult as you start climbing up towards the top of the ridge. It’s a steep trail and it can get quite crowded. Even though it was a Friday, it was still pretty busy, but I was glad we did it first. The view from the top is unbelievable and you should absolutely time your trip to eat up at the top so that you can hang out for a while. The view of Garibaldi and the surrounding mountains and glaciers is incredible, but it’s really the view back towards Black Tusk that took my breath away. I don’t think that view is showcased quite as much. I was anticipating and expecting the beautiful view of the lake, so I was surprised by the equally beautiful view looking back at Black Tusk and could never quite decide which direction to face!
I definitely think a day hike is the way to go for Panorama though. I know some people do Panorama as a 30km round trip, but I can’t imagine doing this unless you were a trail runner. It must be at least a 12 hour day to do the whole thing and that doesn’t leave much time to enjoy the views or the lake. Panorama Ridge was a whole day affair for us.
The year we went, there was still a lot of snow going up the side of the ridge towards the top. On the way up we could see some butt marks in the snow coming down from the top and Seth was really keen to slide down the snow on the way back. I think whether or not this is possible probably depends on the conditions when you visit, but I would absolutely recommend AGAINST it either way. Me and Emily were swayed by Seth’s enthusiasm about sliding down and decided to give it a try. But it’s a lot steeper than it looks and a lot longer. Once you start sliding down it’s really hard to control your speed and you’re pretty much committed to going the whole way. It is so cold to slide down a snowbank in your shorts and because we started picking up to much speed, we were forced to try and slow ourselves down with our hands, causing both our hands and butts to go totally numb for hours (yes. hours, I am not exaggerating). So yes, we did slide down, but I would not repeat the experience.
We finished the day with one of my favourite activities, a swim in the lake! If you don’t walk far enough in around the lake, you might never know that there’s a dock, but if you want to swim, this is absolutely where I’d recommend you go because then you can save yourself the torture of having to wade into the freezing, glacial water, and just jump in. I think I swam in the lake every time I’ve been up there and while it is freezing, it is one thing I would recommend! The cold water is so nice on your aching muscles and it makes for a great photo!
On Saturday we hit up Black Tusk. We would have preferred to stay at Garibaldi Lake all weekend, but unfortunately the campsite had been full for Saturday night by the time we booked, so we packed up everything and moved to Taylor Meadows on Saturday morning. Taylor Meadows is about 1.5km away from the lake and has traditionally been used for group and overflow camping back before the reservations were introduced. Now you can book all the campsites online and while it’s frustrating if you’re not fast enough to nab one, it does remove the stress of wondering whether you’ll find somewhere to pitch your tent for the night.
It was the BC Day weekend and as expected, it was a lot busier on Saturday. Taylor Meadows is nice, but it definitely can’t compare with the lake. The campsites have much less privacy and are all crammed together in the meadow. We decided to eat lunch in the hut and then started on the Black Tusk hike after lunch. Black tusk is a bit shorter than Panorama Ridge, but it has more elevation gain. The weather was cooler on the day we did Black Tusk as well. You hike in to the same junction, but instead of hiking around the mountain, this time, you hike up it. I wasn’t expecting to see the Lake from Black Tusk since you can’t see it from Panorama at all until the very top, but you can actually see the lake from a lot of the Black Tusk hike, which was really nice. There was still quite a bit of snow on Black Tusk though, even in August, so we did have to cross several snowy sections on the way up.
What I didn’t realize until the way down, was that the official Black Tusk hike actually ends about halfway up to the ridge (there’s a sign that marks the end of the hike – which I did see, but thought it was just an info board about the hike). So we kept going to the top of the ridge at the base of the tusk. It is definitely rough going in that last section. It is all scree going up to the ridge and every step you take you feel as if you’re sliding half a step back. Emily and Seth hated it and I didn’t particularly like it either. We pushed to the top of the ridge so that we could see the views on either side of the mountain, but Emily and Seth refused to go on from there. There is one last section that goes right to the base of the tusk and I really wanted to see it, so I braved the last 10-15 minutes up the slope on my own.
But that’s where I quit. I know there are people that climb Black Tusk, some of which bring actually safety and climbing gear, and others that just free hand it. I’m not one of those people. I’ve heard stories of how dangerous it is, so I opted to give it a pass. But, I did get beautiful views of the tusk and looking out around the surrounding area on both sides of the tusk.
I have been back to Panorama Ridge since then, but that will probably be my one and only time up Black Tusk. It was a cool hike, but I’m not a huge fan of all the scree, so it’s one I’m happy to tick off my bucket list and move on from. But never say never I guess, I could probably be convinced to return on snowshoes.
And that was really it for our Garibaldi trip. We returned to Taylor Meadows and hiked out the next morning. It was Sunday when we hiked out, so there were still an insane number of people hiking in, and it’s kind of fun to watch all the day hikers sweating it on their way in while you hike all downhill with your pack and your sweater still on.
Overall, I do have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Garibaldi though. I definitely love it in that it is incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring, but it’s also mistreated by a lot of its visitors and that is really frustrating. I’ve had more than one “leave no trace” rant on this blog, but Garibaldi and Joffre are particularly bad for garbage. Please please please, respect the beautiful nature that we all share and pack out all your garbage! Do not leave garbage in outhouses as that attracts bears. If you can pack it in (uphill) full, then you can definitely pack it out empty.