Garibaldi Lake Backpacking Trip: The Remix

I’ve been to Garibaldi Lake 3 times. The first time was a day hike in 2015 and it was what inspired me to take up backpacking in the first place! So I followed up that hike with a 3 night trip the following year where I camped at the lake and day hiked to Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. In 2018, Carolyn convinced me to return on another backpacking trip over the Labour Day weekend because she still hadn’t been to the lake at all.

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Both trips took place over 3 nights and had identical starts, but the itinerary diverged after that. On both trips, I went to work on Thursday morning and then drove out to the Rubble Creek trailhead in the middle of the afternoon, starting the hike at around 5pm. The trail ascends 800m over 9km and is a bit of a slog, but it’s a very well maintained trail and isn’t that difficult, so it usually takes us about 3 hours to get to the lake, even with large backpacks. My first trip was with Seth and Emily, but on this occasion I went with Carolyn and Brandon.

It was September at this point, so we had less daylight than my previous trip, which had been in early August. We needed our headlamps for the last kilometre or so of the hike in the woods, but arrived at the campsite before it was completely dark. The 3 of us are a pretty well oiled machine at this point, so we quickly set up camp and hit the sack for the night.

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On both trips I left on Thursday and took Friday off. I really like this approach because the park is inundated with people on the weekend, so it allows you to beat the crowds on the way in and enjoy at least one day of hiking with less traffic. Fortunately, Garibaldi does have a reservation system, so you are guaranteed a campsite so long as you book far enough in advance to get one. Don’t even think about coming up and trying to camp without a reservation – Garibaldi Lake has a full time ranger and they won’t hesitate to send you packing.

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Since it was Carolyn’s first time at the Lake, she wanted to do both the Black Tusk and Panorama hikes. I love Panorama, but I vowed I was done with Black Tusk after the last time (it’s a scenic hike, but I’m not a fan of all the scree). We agreed in advance that we would split up on the first day. Carolyn would day hike up to Black Tusk and I wanted to try day hiking up to Mount Price. Brandon had already done Black Tusk as well, so he decided to join me. Since Black Tusk gets a lot of traffic and Mount Price doesn’t, it worked out pretty well safety wise, plus Carolyn ended up making some friends on her Black Tusk hike, so in the end we all had company!

The hike to Mount Price leaves in the opposite direction. Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge head back the way you came and then continue on the north side of the lake, but the Mount Price trail continues south around the lake. It’s not a well maintained trail as the crowds tend to gravitate towards the more popular trails, but wow, is Mount Price ever scenic!

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We followed the trail through the trees along the edge of the lake where it heads further back into the woods. The first part of the hike isn’t too challenging and we made good time to the foot of Mount Price. There are nice views looking back at the lake and towards Black Tusk and we didn’t see any people on the way in. The benefit of this was that I got my first real sighting of a pika! I’ve since seen them a few other times, but this was the first time I saw one and we were very close to it, so I got a great view of this cute little furry creature.

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We stopped at the base of the mountain for a snack and then continued on. From there, the trail get’s pretty difficult. It’s about 11km round trip from the lake (the same as Black Tusk), but I think this trail is more challenging. Once you start climbing up the mountain, it’s all a big boulder field and it is really easy to lose the trail (to be honest I’m not sure there’s even really a trail in this section). From the map, we could tell where we were headed – there’s Mount Price and Clinker Peak, with a smaller peak between the two. We more or less made our own path across the boulder field as we headed up towards the saddle between the peaks.

It is very steep and many sections have loose rock, so we took our time. Once you reach the saddle, it’s just one last push up the side of Mount Price. Mount Price is very definitive because it has a huge flat top. Once you reach the top, you can still easily spend an hour walking around the entire top of the peak taking photos, which is exactly what we did! Because the top is so large, you can’t really get a 360 degree view, so we made a wide loop.

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The back of the peak looks out towards the Elfin Lakes/Opal Cone area and there’s an awesome view of Garibaldi Mountain. then as you make your way towards the front, you get a view of the back end of Garibaldi Lake and all the glaciers. Finally, you can see Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk at the front of the mountain. The views from Mount Price are totally out of this world! Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk get all the glory, but honestly, I think Mount Price might be my favourite – the only view that might rival it is the view of Black Tusk from the top of Panorama. As far as lake views go, I think the view from Mount Price is just as good as from Panorama.

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We hung out on the top for ages and had our lunch looking down over the lake. It was pretty windy up there, so we found a nice sheltered viewpoint while we ate. We started to see some more people on our way back down the trail (some of which were day hiking 27km from Rubble Creek!), but we didn’t see anyone else while we were on top of the peak.

As usual, the hike down was worse than the hike up. I’d definitely recommend poles and take your time – it’s steep and there’s a lot of loose rocks. There was still a bit of snow up there and it was September, so you definitely want to be prepared for that earlier in the season as well. The best views of Black Tusk are actually from the saddle and we had a little photoshoot on the way down (one of our favourite activities).

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Unsurprisingly, Carolyn beat us back to the campsite and was taking a nap in the tent when we returned. Normally we’d be anxious to take a swim in the lake, but it was September and quite chilly by the time we got back, so we opted not to and instead hung out on the dock by the lake while we made dinner. The Ranger was fishing off the dock when we arrived, so we ended up having a big chat with him. Apparently there are tons of fish in the lake since it was stocked in the past and now, because of it’s alpine location, there’s nothing to prey on the fish. So while he has a big canned food cache in the ranger cabin, he likes trying to get fresh fish.

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We had a big chat with him about the reservation system as well, which is how I know you will get kicked out if you try and camp there without a permit. I accidentally ratted out a few backpackers we’d seen heading up towards Mount Price (you can get a wilderness permit for sections of the park, which I assumed they had, but apparently Price is not included in this permit). He indicated he’d already kicked 3 groups out of the campsite that day and that he wouldn’t be following the Mount Price campers, but if he saw them having a fire later, he would boot them out. Apparently you can see it all the way from the campsite and because he has a boat, he knows the secret quick trail up Mount Price that can only be accessed from the water. Anyways, trail reservations and camping restrictions exist for a reason people, please follow them.

After that we befriended a few Newfoundlanders that were also staying at the campsite! I was wearing a Newfoundland toque, so they asked me about it and then of course we discovered that Carolyn knew one of them and that we’d all studied engineering at MUN around the same time (classic occurrence TBH). So we had a fun night chatting as the sun went down over the lake while enjoying Brandon’s infamous thai chicken curry.

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On Saturday morning we got up early and had breakfast at the lake before taking down camp. Carolyn still wanted to visit Panorama Ridge, but because I wanted to try and do something different than my previous trip, I had no trouble convincing her that we should make it a through-hike and end at Cheakamus Lake. So we lugged our packs with us away from the lake and back up towards the Panorama Ridge trail. The trail between Garibaldi Lake and Panorama is still one of my all time favourite trails. What I love about it is that pretty much the entire trail is incredibly scenic. You pass through the alpine meadows towards Black Tusk and then branch off and continue across the open plains towards the ridge.

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The trail in this section is relatively flat, so it makes for a pretty easy hike until you hit the ridge. When we reached the branch that goes up towards Panorama, we ditched our packs in the woods and repacked our food and essentials into our day packs (if you’re caching your pack somewhere, take all your food so that bears won’t be attracted to it, and of course, always have the essentials). So we had lighter packs to climb up towards the ridge.

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It’s not a long trail to get up to the ridge (1-2km I believe), but it’s definitely steep. This is one of my favourite parts of the trail though because it has the most stellar view looking back at Black Tusk! I love the view looking down at the lake too, but it’s always so windy and crowded up there that I somehow enjoy it less. We had a nice stop at the top though where we layered up and ate our lunches looking out over the lake and surrounding glaciers before heading back down.

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On the way back, we had our second photoshoot with Black Tusk. Carolyn decided she wanted to get a picture that looked like her sitting on Black Tusk, so Brandon spent forever trying to manipulate the picture to make it look like Carolyn’s throne with mixed results (it’s a lot harder than it seems!) so we just resorted to taking pictures of us crushing it instead.

Once we retrieved our packs again, we were into new territory and I was very excited about it. At the start of the hike, we met at the Cheakamus Lake trailhead and left Carolyn’s car there, driving Brandon’s back to the Rubble Creek trailhead. So instead of looping back to Garibaldi Lake, we would be continuing on to Helm Creek.

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From Panorama Ridge, the trail to Helm Creek looks like a bit of a barren wasteland, but I found it so interesting to explore! It’s pretty open, so I could see it being really hot in the summer, but it was September, so not bad when we visited. The weather forecast had been a little bit mixed before we left and we’d been anticipating rain, but to date we’d fortunately been spared. We continued past Helm Lake and followed the creek down through the wilderness. Traffic reduced significantly as soon as we left the ridge and we were back to having the trail to ourselves. After that all we saw were a few trail runners who were doing the entire pass in a day!

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I had a lot of fun walking this section, we crossed the river several times and ended up having another photoshoot with Black Tusk as we continued around the back of it. Between this trip and some others I’ve done in the area, I think I’ve seen Black Tusk from every possible angle! Eventually though my feet started aching and the last few kilometres to the campsite were a bit rough. The vegetation increases as you head towards the Helm Creek campsite and the barren rocky outcrops turned back to meadows.

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The campsites at the lake are all nestled along the trees and have decent privacy, but the Helm Creek Campsite is pretty much just a big open field with some tent pads. Unlike the lake, these don’t always sell out and there were a lot of empty tent pads, so if you really want to visit the park and can’t get a site, you could consider hiking in from Cheakamus Lake and staying at Helm Creek. I don’t like tent pads and prefer to set up on the ground, but tent pads are often constructed to protect the native vegetation, so we made sure to use it and always stick to the trails instead of stomping through the meadows.

Helm Creek isn’t as scenic as the lake campsite, but you can see right up to the back of Black Tusk from the meadow, so it’s still a gorgeous site. Being out in the open though, it was definitely the coldest night in the tent. We had dinner and then decided to go to bed pretty early as we were exhausted from all the hiking. Tent pads create a bit of a draught under the pad so it took us a while to warm up and fall asleep – I’m not sure if poor Carolyn warmed up at all. It rained a little bit overnight, but that ended up being the only rain on the trip, so we consider ourselves pretty lucky.

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Sunday was our last day and the only order of business was to hike back towards the car. The trail goes back into the trees pretty much right after the campsite, so there’s not much to look at and we made good time on the trail. The trail length and elevation are pretty similar to the way in, but this trail has a long flat section along the Cheakamus River at the end, so overall it’s steeper. Once you get down the mountain, most of the elevation is done and you can either hike in towards Cheakamus Lake, or back towards the parking lot. Like most trips, we intended to go see the lake, but it was our 4th day and we were all pretty tired, so in the end we opted to skip it. We went back the following year and spent 3 days at Cheakamus Lake though, so no regrets!

And that concludes the trip! I haven’t been back to Garibaldi Lake since, but I have very fond memories from both of the trips I made there! I’ve explored most of the trails in this section of the park now, but it’s just so scenic I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again. I’m hoping my next trip there will be a snow camping trip as I’ve never seen the lake in the winter! I took an insane amount of photos on this trip, so here’s a few more to end the post.

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The Best ‘Long Weekend’ Backpacking Trips

With the Labour Day long weekend coming up, I want to share some of my favourite long weekend backpacking trips! There’s lot of single night hikes in Southwestern BC, but long weekends are the best for backcountry hiking because the extra day enables you to explore further and to really escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you’re a first timer or a seasoned hiker, here’s 5 of my favourite backpacking trips near Vancouver:

For the Beginner: Lindeman Lake

Trail profile: Day 1 (2km, 300m gain), Day 2 (8km, 200m gain), Day 3 (2km, 200m loss)

Lindeman Lake is the perfect backpacking trip for beginners and one of my personal favourites for long weekend trips. I’ve been to Lindeman Lake twice for the May 24th long weekend and what makes it so great for beginners is that the campsite is only 2km from the parking lot, so it’s a great way to test out carrying a heavy pack for the first time. Once you set up camp, there are all kinds of options for what to explore over the rest of the weekend.

I wrote a post summarizing the different trails, but my recommendation for newbies would be to hike up to the campsite on Day 1 and then do a day hike to Greendrop Lake on Day 2. Greendrop Lake is approximately 8km roundtrip from Lindeman Lake, so it makes for a good day hike. Then on Day 3 you can hike back down to the parking lot and drive home. Lindeman Lake is located in Chilliwack Provincial Park, so you will need a backcountry permit, but there’s no reservation system and it’s only $5 per night, per person. Please remember that no campfires are permitted in this park at any time of year.

 

For the Bucket List Hiker: Garibaldi Lake

Trail profile: Garibaldi Lake Trail (18km, 820m gain), Panorama Ridge (15km, 610m gain), Black Tusk (11km, 820m gain), Mt. Price (11km, 620m gain)

I know, this hike is insanely popular and busy, but it’s popular for a reason! Garibaldi Park is only an hour and a half drive out of Vancouver and it boasts some of the most amazing views of the backcountry. I’ve only been in BC for 5 years and I’ve already done this iconic hike 3 times! There’s a lot to love about Garibaldi Lake, from the beautiful blue hues of the lake, to the breathtaking views of the glaciers and surrounding mountains, to swimming in the ice-cold lake and watching the sunset paint the mountains pink. But my favourite part of Garibaldi Lake is using it as a base from which to explore some of the surrounding trails. While Garibaldi Lake is gorgeous, the trail to the lake itself is a snooze-fest. It’s 9km of forested switchbacks, but has a huge payoff at the end. But from there, the rest of the trails in the park are breath-taking from start to finish!

There’s a few different ways to hike Garibaldi Park as a long weekend trip. I’ve done two long weekend trips to Garibaldi Lake and both times I left work a little early on Friday afternoon and hiked the 9km up to the lake on Friday night. From there, I stayed two nights at the lake and did day hikes on Saturday and Sunday, before hiking back out on Monday. However, if you’re a beginner I would recommend hiking up on Saturday morning instead and just doing one day hike on Sunday. Both times I hiked in Friday night, I started hiking around 5:30pm and got to the lake around dusk. If you’re a new hiker or not comfortable hiking or setting up in the dark, start your hike on Saturday morning instead.

Once you get to Garibaldi Lake though, there’s lots of options for day hikes. Panorama Ridge is my personal favourite and Black Tusk is also very popular. There’s also the lesser known Mount Price, which leaves the lake in the opposite direction of the other two hikes. Panorama and Black Tusk are both very popular and well marked trails, Mount Price is a bit more of a bush wack at times and isn’t well marked. So stick to the well marked trails if you aren’t familiar with way-finding.

However, if you’re making Garibaldi your destination for the long weekend, you’ll have to plan in advance. You must book a backcountry permit in advance for $10 per person, per night. The campsites release 4 months in advance of the date you book and they do book up fast. There is overflow camping at Taylor Meadows campsite, but it’s 1.5km away from the lake and definitely not as nice as the Garibaldi campsite. And as a final reminder, Garibaldi has been having problems with littering, so If you visit Garibaldi, make sure to pack out all of your garbage and leave no trace that you were there.

 

For the Through Hiker: Heather Trail

Trail profile: Day 1 (13.5km, 300m gain), Day 2 (9km, no gain), Day 3 (17.5km, 1000m loss)

Personally, I’m a big fan of through hiking. It’s great when you only have to set up camp once and don’t have to carry your heavy pack with you every day, but there’s something really fulfilling about through hiking and ending at a different location from where you started. It requires a bit more coordination as you’ll often need 2 vehicles, but it’s fun not to have to retrace your steps at any point.

Through hikes often require more time than just a long weekend, but one hike that can be done over 2 nights that I absolutely loved was the Heather Trail in Manning Park (it can also be done as a return hike, but I think it works best as a through hike). Manning Park is my favourite provincial park in southwestern BC and has some of the most scenic hikes. The Heather Trail is particularly well known for its wildflowers as the trail is mostly comprised of alpine meadows that burst into bloom in late July. The other highlights of the trail include walking the ridge along first brother mountain and camping at Nicomen Lake.

On Day 1, drive out to Manning Park and hike 13km to Kicking Horse Campsite. There is another camp called Buckthorn Campsite located at 5km, but it’s an easy walk to Buckthorn and not a scenic camp, so I’d recommend pushing all the way to Kicking Horse on the first day. Along the way, do the 1km summit up First Brother Mountain. On Day 2, it’s a more relaxing 9km hike to Nicomen Lake through meadow after meadow. Nicomen Lake is great for fishing if you’re so inclined, but bring your bug net because there’s a lot of flies. Nicomen Lake technically marks the end of the Heather Trail, but instead of turning around and hiking back 21km, I’d recommend hiking the Nicomen Lake Trail 17km back to the highway. 17km sounds like a lot, but the entire trail is downhill and we did it in just 5 hours. The benefit of hiking the trail this way is that there’s limited elevation gain. The hike starts at Blackwell Road, which is located 1000 metres up from the highway, so you do most of the elevation on the drive up. There’s no reservation system for this hike, but you do need a backcountry permit, which costs $5 per person, per night.

 

For the Long Distance Hiker: Elfin Lakes

Trail profile: Day 1 (11km, 600m gain), Day 2 (13-22km, 350-600m gain), Day 3 (11km, 600m loss)

I’m sensing a theme with this list because Elfin Lakes is another trail I’ve done 3 times! But my favourite was a 3 day trip that I did over the Labour Day long weekend in early September. Elfin Lakes is also located in Garibaldi Park and while it also gets a lot of visitors, it feels a lot less overwhelming than Garibaldi Lake. There’s a hut and tent pads at Elfin Lakes and you will have a similar problem as Garibaldi Lake in that you will need to book your reservation early if you want to be assured a site. The hut books up really fast in the winter and the tent pads book up really fast in the summer.

I say Elfin Lakes feels less overwhelming though because the campsite is much more wide open than Garibaldi and there’s a lot more area for people to disburse during the day, so it doesn’t feel quite as busy. You can swim in both lakes, but the Elfin Lakes are WAY smaller than Garibaldi Lake and therefore, much warmer and enjoyable for swimming. If it’s clear, you can also get an amazing view of the stars at night. My suggestion for Elfin Lakes would be to hike the 11km to the Lake on Day 1, then do a day hike to either Opal Cone or Mamquam Lake on Day 2, and hike out again on Day 3.

I call it the long distance hike because the options for your Day 2 hike are definitely nothing to scoff at. Opal Cone is a 13km round trip from the lakes, with about 350m in elevation gain and Mamquam Lake is a 22km round trip with 600m in elevation gain. I did the trip with my friend Brandon and we tried to get to Mamquam Lake on Day 2, but it was insanely hot and there’s a lot of elevation variation, so we never made it the whole way to Mamquam. We ended up turning back around 8km in, making for 16km in total. But the good news is, Opal Cone and Mamquam are the same trail, so even though we didn’t make it to Mamquam, we still got to do Opal Cone. There’s a lot of ground to cover on this hike, but with the exception of the first 5km from the parking lot, the entire hike is incredibly scenic!

 

For the Photographer: Skyline II Trail

Trail profile: Day 1 (12.5km, 610m gain), Day 2 (14km, minimal gain), Day 3 (12.5km, 610m loss)

Finally, the last hike on the list is not only my favourite hike on the list, but my favourite hike of all time! Like I said, I love Manning Park and for me, the Skyline Trail is the highlight of the park. It’s the most scenic hike I’ve ever done and it’s not even that crowded. Granted I didn’t do it on a long weekend, I took a Friday off to make it my own long weekend, so it might be busier on an actual long weekend. But that said, I did the same thing for the Heather Trail and it was definitely a lot busier.

I also hiked Skyline in peak wildflower season, which may have contributed to my love of the trail, but either way, I think I would have loved this trail because it has so many incredible views. The entire Skyline II Trail is 25km long and can be hiked with as a through hike or a return hike. The trail runs from Manning Park to Skagit Park, with Mowich camp smack-dab in the middle at 12.5km. I did the trail as a return hike from the Manning Side because the 2 trailheads are a 2 hour drive apart, so it’s logistically challenging (but not impossible) to coordinate. My recommendation is to start on the Manning side and hike to Mowich Camp on Day 1. From there, you can day hike along the Hozameen Ridge trail on Day 2, which branches off the main trail and continues towards Hozameen Mountain and the border.

Hozameen mountain is a very distinctive mountain and you’ll be staring at it all of Day 1, so it felt great to hike to the base of it. The trail continues on for a long time and actually ends on the American side of Skagit Valley. A good target for your day hike is to hike 7km to the Border monument. There’s a distinctive peak at the end of the ridge where you could end (because it is a steep downhill to the border monument), but I really wanted to see the monument, so we pushed through the last 500m to reach the monument – but the peak at the end of the ridge is a great place for lunch! We returned to Mowich Camp to sleep and then hiked back out the way we came on Day 3. But since the distance is the same on both sides of the Skyline Trail, you could hike out to the Skagit side instead if you wanted to make it a through hike. I’ve heard the Skagit side isn’t as scenic though and is mostly in the trees, so I didn’t mind hiking back along the same trail. The backcountry permit for this trail is the same as Heather Trail – no advance booking required, but the permit is $5 per day, per person.