garibaldi provincial park

best day hikes and trails


 
Black Tusk Garibaldi Provincial Park
Climbing toward the Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park, with the Black Tusk in the background
 

A glimpse of the Coast Mountains

Hiking the trails in Garibaldi Provincial Park provides a taste of British Columbia's Coast Mountains, a vast and relatively unknown range that encompasses some of North America's most spectacular mountain scenery. Garibaldi is just a few hours drive north of Vancouver, and well-served by the outdoor adventure oriented towns of Squamish and Whistler. This page, based on a brief summer visit a few years back, highlights some great day hikes I found in Garibaldi.

 

The Panorama Ridge

Trailhead: The trail starts at the Rubble Creek parking lot, 33km north of Squamish (or 25km south of Whistler) on Highway 99. There's a fee for parking (cards are accepted), though at the weekend "parking" will likely amount to abandoning your vehicle a few hundred yards back down the road.

Distance: About 17.5 miles out and back by the most direct route, with 1500m (5000 feet) of elevation gain.

 
Wildflower meadows Garibaldi Provincial Park
Hiking through beautiful wildflower meadows en route to the Panorama Ridge
 

There is no shortage of panorama points, ridges and peaks out there (though there are even more sunset and sunrise points!), and not all of them are worth a visit. Garibaldi's Panorama Ridge, however, lives up to its name. The trail there - by most accounts the best long day hike or short backpack in the southern Coast Mountains - attains an astounding vantage that rivals any I've seen in North America. If you only do one hike in Garibaldi Provincial Park, this should surely be the one.

The hike to the Panorama Ridge begins at the Rubble Creek trail head. From here there are 5 miles and 890 meters (3000 feet) of climbing before the trail emerges from the trees at the Taylor Meadows campground. The grade is steady and the trail is in excellent shape, but even so this first section is undeniably tedious. Once past Taylor Meadows, however, the exertion starts to pay off as views of snowy peaks emerge and the trail traverses (in late July) some of the richest wildflower meadows I've ever seen.

 
Panorama ridge Garibaldi British Columbia
The incredible vista across Garibaldi Lake from atop the Panorama Ridge
 
 

Continuing onward, the trail remains fairly flat as you past, first, the fork leading to the Black Tusk (the odd looking formation seen in the right hand photo above) and then a small lake that lies on the back side of the Panorama Ridge. Turning right past the lake the route then turns upward once more, gaining about 1000 feet in a steep ascent past (or across) any lingering snow to reach the crest of the ridge. The view from here is magnificent: Mount Garibaldi, the Tantalus Range, and the Black Tusk frame the intense blue of Garibaldi Lake to form a 360 degree view of what looks like endless wilderness. From the top, it's possible to hike further along the ridge to the east (in principle as far as the Helm Glacier). Returning, you can either retrace your steps back through Taylor Meadows or detour via the shore of Garibaldi Lake.

We did this as a day hike, and as long as you're up for a long and strenuous day this is the option I'd recommend. Taylor Meadows looks like a nice campground, but to reach there backpacking would require hauling a pack up the first five miles of steep and boring trail! If you do camp, though, make sure to spend a second day hiking the Black Tusk, which also looks like a great hike.

 
Singing Pass Whistler
The view from Singing Pass, along the Musical Bumps trail above Whistler, British Columbia
 

Musical Bumps trail to Singing Pass

Trailhead: We started at the Whistler gondola's upper station (the ride up leaves from Whistler Village), and looped back to the Village via Fitzsimmons Creek. Old guidebooks suggest you can drive part-way along the creek but it ain't so - a landslide has rendered the old road impassable.

Distance: 16.5 miles (mostly but by no means entirely downhill) if done as the near-loop described below. Alternatively, it's 12 miles out and back to Singing Pass from the top of the gondola.

 

This hike is tailor-made for any environmentally conscious but borderline slothful hikers out there. It's green because the loop starts and ends in Whistler Village - no driving required - and great if you hate climbing since the Whistler gondola makes short work of what would otherwise be a gruelling 1100m ascent. Of course there is a price to be paid for this convenience: the lift ticket is expensive and the ease of access means that the trails are busy, especially near the drop-off point for the gondola.

 
Musical Bumps trail, Whistler
Peaks above Whistler, seen from the Musical Bumps trail
 
 

The Musical Bumps trail - so-called because the minor summits along the crest of the ridge are named after orchestral instruments - provides the easiest access to open alpine scenery in Garibaldi Provincial Park. From the top station of the gondala miles of moderate hiking traverse a succession of small meadows and peaks en route (ultimately) to Singing Pass and Russet Lake. The mountains here are beautiful, and it would be possible to fashion a good out-and-back hike of whatever length you liked by taking the gondola both up and down the mountain. We opted instead to hike as far as Singing Pass, and then made a partial loop by backtracking along the Fitzsimmons Creek trail down to Whistler Village. This option is only partially recommended - the trail along the valley of Fitzsimmons Creek passes through an attractive but seemingly interminable forest - but overall this was still a good day hike amid excellent scenery.

 

Wedgemount Lake

Trailhead: Wedgemount Lake trailhead at the end of Wedge Creek FS road. The signed turnoff is about 12km north of Whistler Village. The road is unpaved but readily passable (as of summer 2009) in a regular car.

Distance: 9 miles round trip to the lake, with 1160m (3800 feet) of elevation gain.

 
Wedgemount Lake British Columbia
The panorama from above Wedgemount Lake, in the Coast Mountains
 
 

This hike is all about the destination. Wedgemount Lake is stunning: a bright turquoise lake set high above the valley among stark glaciated mountains. The Wedgemount glacier, alas, no longer reaches down to the lakeshore - yet another victim of glacial retreat - but even in its current diminished state the setting here rivals the famous Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies for beauty. Best of all (and unlike at Peyto Lake, where you'll need to share the vista with tour buses of tourists) here you might well have this world-class attraction virtually to yourself.

As you'll gather from the above, I highly recommend the hike to Wedgemount Lake. There is, however, no mystery as to why you might find yourself alone in the cirque. The trail is steep. And dull. And root-infested. Most frustrating of all, the outlet stream from the lake thunders toward the valley via a spectacular waterfall, which the trail takes pains to conceal from hikers. All in all, it's hard to avoid the impression that BC Parks assigned their B team to the construction work here. But the destination is worth the effort. Consider it an aerobic workout, leave plenty of time to savor the awesome scenery at the lake, and you won't be disappointed.

 

Hiking the Coast Mountains

The Coast Range stretches for the better part of a thousand miles, from the US border all the way up to the Yukon, and although the southern portion near Vancouver isn't all that well protected (there's a lot of logging) there is still an abundance of wilderness hikes. In planning our trip I made use of Kathy and Craig Copeland's guidebook Don't Waste your time in the BC Coast Mountains, which is recommended but currently out of print. The hiking guide you'll find in local shops is 103 Hikes in Southwestern British Columbia, which is dry but otherwise serviceable. Together, these guides cover much of the area near Vancouver, which includes not just Garibaldi but also Golden Ears, Stein Valley and Skagit Valley parks.

More alluring still are the peaks that lie further to the north of the Coast Range. These include Mount Waddington, which at 13,186 feet is actually higher than any of the peaks in the Canadian Rockies. You can't drive (or hike, unless you're up for a month-long expedition) to anywhere that's remotely close to the base of Waddington and the mighty glaciers that surround it, but there are trails in the general vicinity that are most easily accessed out of the town of Bella Coola on the Pacific Coast. Some trails lie within Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, but there are many more sparsely documented but probably spectacular hikes in the region. I'm hoping to make it up there to check them out myself sometime, but it hasn't happened yet.

[As an aside, Mount Waddington is so remote that it's quite a challenge to find a hike that affords even a distant view of the peak. Your best bet is probably to hike to the top of Perkins Peak in the Pantheon Range, from where there is said to be a clear view of Waddington. But needless to say I haven't actually done this!]

Bears and bugs

If your wildlife worries in the Coast Mountains start and end with bears, you're making a mistake. Although there are both grizzly and black bears in these mountains, and normal care is certainly sensible, bugs will almost surely be your most pressing problem. In the peak hiking season dense swarms of black flies, which will envelope you the moment you pause to rest or eat lunch, are almost everywhere. Don't rely on insect repellant - take long sleeved shirts and pants and a net for the head to be on the safe side for days when they're particularly bad.

Accommodation

My brother and I stayed in Whistler while hiking Garibaldi, and this is probably the most convenient base for the hikes described on this page. Whistler is primarily a ski resort, but it's still a pleasantly lively town during the summer with an excellent range of restaurants, bars and breakfast places. If you prefer a slightly less "urban" base - then Squamish might be a better place to stay. Book early though, as there are fewer rooms to be had in Squamish as compared to Whistler.