5 Overnight Hikes for Beginners

Backpacking can be very intimidating when you first get started. Hiking with an overnight pack is a lot different than day hiking, so you don’t want to start with too challenging of a hike. Figuring out what gear and food to bring is enough work without also having to stress about a difficult trail or having access to facilities at the campsite. So keeping in mind that you want to focus on shorter distance, less elevation, and easy access to facilities, here are some of my hiking recommendations for beginners.

Cheakamus Lake

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In my opinion, this is the ultimate trail for beginners! It’s located in Garibaldi Park and is a short distance hike with very minimal elevation gain. It has outhouses and bear cache facilities, and you can book your site online in advance so that you don’t have to worry about fighting other hikers for a camping spot.

There are two campsites to choose from – the first one (Cheakamus Lake) is located right at the head of the lake and requires the least amount of hiking, approximately 4km. The campsites are located next to the water and have a decent amount of privacy. The second site (Singing Creek) is another 3.5km and is located at the midpoint of the lake. This site lends itself better to group camping as it’s a series of campsites right next to each other in the woods. That said, there is a really nice beach to hang out and cook from. If you’d like to visit both, you could always camp at the first campsite and then do a day hike out to visit the second! Both sites have an outhouse and bear cache. Reserve here for $10 per person, per night (listed under Garibaldi Park).

Buckhorn Campsite on the Heather Trail

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The Heather Trail is a 21km one-way trail in Manning Park. While I definitely don’t recommend doing the whole trail for beginners, the first campsite (Buckhorn) is only 4km in, which makes it the perfect spot for beginners! The Heather Trail is most popular in late July/early August for the colourful wildflowers that pop up all along the trail. What makes it so great for beginners is that you do most of the elevation gain on the drive up. You park at the top of Blackwall Road and from there is a steady incline down to Buckhorn Campsite. The views are beautiful right from the start of the trail.

Buckhorn has an outhouse, bear cache, tent pads, and even picnic tables! You do need a backcountry permit to stay overnight, but sites are first come, first serve, so you don’t need to pre-reserve. You can purchase here for a Manning Park backcountry permit for $5 per person, per night (you will need to create an account to see the system – entry and exit points are Blackwall Peak) . If you have the time, stay for two nights and make a day trip out to 3 Brothers Mountain for unreal views of the alpine meadows and surrounding mountains. Even if you can’t make it all the way to 3 Brothers, explore a little further beyond buckhorn to experience the alpine meadows. Be aware, in the early season this hike will still have snow until end of June.

Viewpoint Beach

Viewpoint Beach is very similar in difficulty to Cheakamus Lake. It’s a 4.5km hike in Golden Ears Park with minimal elevation gain. Similar to Buckhorn, the campsites are first come, first serve, and you can get a permit online for Golden Ears before you go for $5 per person, per night (entry and exit points are West Canyon). There aren’t any really obvious places to camp, but most people pitch their tents along the tree line on either side of the river since the beach itself is pretty rocky. Plan in advance which side you want to camp on – if you want to camp on the far side, make sure to cross the river at the bridge before you reach the campsite. Both are nice but there tend to be less people on the far side of the trail.

There is an outhouse at this site, but when I visited last year, there wasn’t a bear cache, so we did have to make our own, which you may prefer not to do as a beginner. BC Parks has been spending a lot of time re-vitalizing this trail, so I suspect they will probably install a bear cache soon, but either way, check before you go. If you’re not comfortable hanging your food, you can purchase a bear proof container at most outdoor stores. These don’t need to be hung, but can be a little pricey.

Lindeman Lake

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Lindeman Lake is located in Chilliwack Provincial Park. At 3.5km round trip, it’s the shortest hike on the list, but it has 300m in elevation gain in under 200m, so be prepared for a climb. If it’s your very first time carrying a pack, I’d recommend a flatter trail, but if you’re trying to increase your stamina, this is a great practice trail for beginners because it’s steep but short. Same as the previous sites, there’s no reservations for this campsite, but purchase a Chilliwack Lake permit online before you visit for $5 per person, per night.

There are a limited number of tent pads, but there’s lot of ground space to set up your tent. There’s a bear cache right next to the water and a pit toilet up in the woods. As a heads up, the toilet doesn’t have walls, but the trees provide natural privacy and it’s personally never been a problem for me. After setting up camp, I recommend hiking the 1km to the back of the lake for even more amazing views, or if you have time to stay 2 nights, make a day trip up to Greendrop Lake on the second day.

Elfin Lakes

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Elfin Lakes is a popular campsite located in Garibaldi Provincial Park. It is the longest trail on the list and definitely the most strenuous. However, I include it because even though it’s a bit longer, 11km one way to the campsite, it is a very forgiving trail and has lots of facilities along the way. The most challenging part of the trail is the first 5km, which is a steady incline up an old forestry road. The road ends at Red Heather hut, which is only meant for emergency overnight use, but has an outhouse and is a great place to stop for lunch.

From there, the trail meanders up and down through some truly beautiful scenery as you wind your way along the ridge to the Elfin Lakes hut. There are two options for camping – both require reservations – but you can either camp on the tent pads, or sleep on one of the bunks in the hut. The hut is the main reason I include it as a beginner trail because if you’re just starting out and want to try with a bit of a lighter pack, you can leave your tent at home and sleep in the hut instead. But if you’re willing to carry your tent up, the panoramic views from the tent pads are truly unreal! Elfin has a big outhouse facility with 3-4 toilets and there is a ranger living in the ranger’s hut. Campsites sell out fast, so book early. Purchase here for Garibaldi Park for $10 per person, per night. Don’t even think about coming up without a permit because the ranger will send you packing. Be aware, this trail usually has snow on it until end of June or even early July.

3 Brothers Mountain Day Hike

I haven’t written about many of my day hikes on this blog. I’ve gone on tons of them over the years, but I tend to write more about my backpacking trips since sometimes it seems like there’s not a whole lot to say about day hikes. But I’m excited to write about 3 Brothers Mountain and have decided to make it the first post in a mini-series about E.C. Manning Provincial Park. My first time visiting Manning Park was in 2016. Since then I’ve hiked and camped all over the park and it has become my favourite Provincial Park in BC to date. The first time I travelled there was with Emily when she was visiting from Newfoundland after finishing her Engineering degree. She stayed with me for about a month and we decided to spend one weekend car camping in the park. It was just the two of us and though it was the middle of July, it was a pretty cold weekend. I’ve had both hot and cold trips to Manning Park since then, but Emily seems to always be there for the cold ones, so I’m starting to think she might just be bad luck.

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Anyways, after a cold night in the tent, we decided to hit the trail to try and burn some calories and warm up. It wasn’t very warm when we woke up, but as we started driving up Blackwell Road to get to the trailhead, the car thermometer kept dropping. By the time we reached the top, it was only 6 degrees. We hadn’t anticipated it would be so cold, so we grabbed all the sweaters and coats we had in the car and set off. It was a rough start when I realized I’d brought a camera with a empty SD slot, so I was forced to use my cell phone for photos. Probably not a big deal for most people, but I love my little mirrorless camera, so I was pretty bummed about it. You’ll have to excuse my photos for not quite being up to standard.

If you’ve never been up Blackwell Road, it’s worth going up there just for the view. You don’t even need to be a hiker. There’s an amazing viewpoint about halfway up and then another great view of the surrounding wilderness from the parking lot. If you have enough time for a short hike, follow the paintbrush trail, which does a short little loop near the parking lot and is covered with wildflowers (hence the name) around late July/early August. We had set our sights a little higher though and were aiming for 3 Brothers Mountain, a 21km out and back trip. The actual name of the trail is the Heather Trail and it continues on past 3 Brothers to Kicking Horse Camp and Nicomen Lake. I have also hiked that trail, but it’s a story for another time.

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The Heather Trail and 3 Brothers Mountain are really top notch though. Because you’ve driven all the way up Blackwell Road, most of the elevation gain is done by car. That means the trail is already starting in the alpine, which makes the entire trip incredibly scenic. There is still almost 500m of elevation gain on the trail, but a lot of that is at the very end when you summit the First Brother Mountain, so spread over the rest of the 10km, the elevation gain is not bad at all. You start out on the ridge from the parking lot and descend about 5km to Buckhorn Camp. It’s a very quick 5km and we did it in about an hour. It’s a good place to stop for a pee break and a snack because there are several picnic tables and camping pads. I’ve never seen anyone camping there, but I could see it being a great campsite if you wanted to drive out after work on a Friday and get an early start on the Heather Trail in the morning.

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After Buckhorn Camp, the trail starts to climb again and that’s when things get truly scenic. The remainder of the trail is through alpine meadows and since we were visiting in mid July, the wildflowers were starting to come out. They weren’t quite at their full glory, but definitely picturesque. The only downside of course is that the Heather Trail is known for it’s wildflowers, so it attracts a lot of people at that time of year. Overall there’s a lot of trail to spread out over, but we were still regularly passing large groups of people that seemed to be doing Meetups at the trailhead. We were making a pretty brisk pace to try and stay warm, so we ended up passing a lot of people. But the trail is really beautiful as you look out over the green meadows and wildflowers out towards the North Cascades, so you can kill a lot of time taking photos!

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About 9km in you reach a junction – you can either continue on along the Heather Trail for another 11km to Nicomen Lake and beyond, or you can take the branch that leads up First Brother Mountain to the viewpoint and our final destination. The name 3 Brothers Mountain is somewhat confusing. I couldn’t find a whole lot of information about it, but from the Park website I learned that the alpine meadows used to be used for sheep grazing until 1931, when they created the 3 Brothers Mountain reserve, which included the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Brother mountain peaks. It later became part of Manning Park in 1941. There’s the trail branch to go up the First Brother and the Heather Trail passes by the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Brothers along the way. But don’t ask me what the deal is with the Fourth Brother and why he was excluded from the trail and park name because I really have no idea why.

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We were just aiming for the First Brother on our trip though. It was a pretty overcast day, so while we’d been able to enjoy the views on the way up, some of the higher mountains were still shrouded in fog – this included the First Brother. We branched off the trail and started climbing into the clouds, lamenting that it was both getting colder as we climbed and the view worse. We made it all the way to the signpost at the top of the mountain, but we couldn’t see anything from there and it was very cold and windy. We sheltered behind some rocks to eat our lunch, but while we were eating, the wind finally moved the fog out and the view started to clear for us! From the top you have an incredible 360 degree view in all directions. The climb up is not for the faint of heart – it is pretty steep, with lots of rocks to climb over as you make your way along the ridgeline with a drop on either side of you. It made for an incredible walk back down though! Everything we couldn’t see on the way up came into view on the way down and it took us a while to get back as we were constantly stopping for photos.

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Even though this is a 21km hike, which I would normally expect to take a minimum of 7 hours, but more likely 8 or 9, somehow me and Emily did the whole thing in just 6 hours, including lunch break. This is a bad pace by which to measure other hikes because that is a super intense pace for us, but it does serve to highlight that the topography is definitely easier on this hike than others I’ve done (and that is was COLD). Please don’t use this as a reference for how long this hike takes though because another group of friends that I often hike with did the same hike in 10 hours. We ended up running into one of my friends on the way out. He’d spent the night at Kicking Horse and was heading back to the parking lot, so we did the last 6-7km together. He’d been planning to stay a second night, but he said it was just too cold up there to stay any longer. So we made good time on the way out and before we knew it we were back at our campsite again, building a campfire to warm ourselves up properly!

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So my first visit to Manning Park was a little rough around the edges, but it was the start of a long and beautiful love story! That first visit inspired me to hike the Skyline II Trail a year later and the entire Heather Trail the year after that. We continue to car camp in the park annually and it’s become one of my favourite places to snowshoe in the winter. It’s a beautiful park, but it attracts less visitors than Garibaldi (I don’t actually know if this is true, but it definitely feels like it), so even though I love both parks, Manning makes for a more enjoyable experience. Plus the night sky in Manning is to die for! Tune back soon (hopefully), for more stories from my many adventures in Manning Park.

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.