Garibaldi Lake via Panorama Ridge
Familiar to those in Vancouver, Garibaldi Provincial Park remains less widely known to many of us on the other side of the Canadian Rockies. Named after the park's goliath, Mount Garibaldi, the real gem of the park is Garibaldi Lake. On a recent trip to the West Coast we had the chance to spend a day exploring the park and hiked up to the lake. As with many things in life, perspective is everything so we decided to skip hiking to the lake itself and instead check out a viewpoint overlooking the lake on Panorama Ridge. With a complete 360 degree view of the lake and surrounding coastal peaks, standing up on Panorama Ridge felt like teetering on the edge of the world.
Garibaldi Provincial Park is situated the heart of the Coast Mountains along a high traffic corridor between western Canada's largest city, Vancouver, and the world-class resort town of Whistler. While one could expect the park to be extremely busy, its lack of infrastructure keeps the number of visitors in check. There are no roads through the park, merely an endless network of hiking trails with over 100 backcountry campsites to base your exploration from. While this keeps some visitors away, it rewards hikers that venture in with solitude while exploring the stunning scenery within the park.
If you are looking to complete this as a day hike, Panorama Ridge can be accessed via the popular Rubble Creek or Helm Creek trails. While the total distance for both trails is the same (30 km round trip), we opted to hike through Helm Creek because the trailhead is at a higher elevation than Rubble Creek (meaning less altitude to climb). This made the hike achievable as an 11-hour day hike as opposed to breaking it up over multiple days.
The hike began in an ancient cedar forest with a short but moderate elevation gain which gradually eased up and slowly winded along a creek. Arriving at the Helm Creek backcountry campground, the forest opened up to a beautiful valley blanketed in wildflowers with a postcard view of Whistler's iconic Black Tusk. The trail was incredibly peaceful due to the fact that most hikers take the Rubble Creek trail. We must have seen less than five hikers before arriving at the Rubble Creek junction where we joined the crowds heading up the last few kilometers to the viewpoint.
We completed the hike during the second week of August and were surprised to see snow still covering the last sections of the trail. This was an indication the higher elevations of the trail don't clear up until mid-summer and may not be recommended to hike without proper backcountry gear prior to July. Having spent more time than planned at the summit (how could you not with that view?), we decided an epic way to make up the lost time would be to slide down the mountain on the snow!
Trailhead access: Cheakamus Lake parking lot.
Round-trip Distance: 29.5km, 1302m total elevation gain.
From the Village Gate Blvd in Whistler Village drive south towards Vancouver on Hwy 99 for 7.7 km. At Function Junction turn left onto Cheakamus Lake Road towards Cheakamus Crossing. In 300m turn left onto a gravel road and continue for 8km ending at the Cheakamus Lake parking lot and trailhead. Note: the gravel road is very bumpy and potholed. Drive with extreme caution. Parking is free for day-use, but overnight parking requires payment of overnight camping fees which can be paid here (https://secure.camis.com/DiscoverCamping/Backcountry/Garibaldi?Map)
Out of courtesy to the resident animals of the park, dogs are not permitted on any of the trails in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
From the trailhead (905 m), slowly descend through a forest of gigantic ancient cedars leading to a fork at 1.3 km, turn right. Soon after reach a bridge and cross Cheakamus River (823 m). From here switchbacks begin up a moderate climb out of the canyon for 20 - 30 minutes then ease up and continue through a lush forest above Helm Creek. After two or more hours the trail levels out and the forest opens up eventually crossing several bridged tributaries.
At 7.7 km arrive at Helm Creek campground (1546 m) where the Black Tusk comes into view. Follow trail through flowered alpine meadows for about one hour eventually passing shallow lakelets. The trail slightly drops down to cinder flats where orange markers indicate the way when visibility is poor. Round the shoreline of Helm Lake at 12 km. Once past the lake, a mild ascent leads to a junction at 12.4 km, turn left for Panorama Ridge.
Begin the ascent up Panorama Ridge, eventually climbing above the treeline onto the chunky talus slopes of the ridgeline. At 14.5km crest the ridge for the most spectacular view of the coastal mountains you will find on the entire West Coast! You are now at 2043 m.
The trail is recommended July through October, but due to the elevation could have snow covered sections through July. We completed this trail in early August and came across well tracked snow covered sections on the final ascent up Panorama Ridge. The trail is well marked throughout, but due to trail reconstruction before Helm Creek campground, keep an eye out as you may need to jump from the old trail onto the new trail.
As always, be prepared for any changes in weather, bring extra water and food in case of emergency and be bear aware!
For more information on Garibaldi Provincial Park and backcountry camping in the click here: (http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/garibaldi/)
For a full trail report on conditions in the park click here: (http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/garibaldi/trail_report.pdf)