Before You Go
The best time of year to hike to any of these places is between July and October due to the amount of snow that builds up over winter. You will need a decent pair of shoes and an extra layer for when you reach the top as it can be very cold in the wind. Take a swimsuit and a towel if you’re brave enough to swim in the lake! Bring plenty of food and water, but keep in mind that the water running in the faster streams is safe enough to drink should you run out. Day hikes are possible but it’s always worth setting up camp to make the most of your time here.
Hiking to Garibaldi Lake
The Rubble Creek trailhead is 30 minutes south of Whistler with a big car park to accommodate all the day-trippers, it’s easy enough to hitchhike there and back if you don’t have access to a car. This is where you pay the $10 camping fee between May 1st and November 15th, if you haven’t already paid online here. All trails are well marked with clear signs.
The 9km hike to the lake is a moderately easy, well-used trail that zigzags through the forest and seems like it will never end. After 6km the trail forks, left takes you to Taylor Meadows and right takes you past the Barrier and Lesser Garibaldi Lake before reaching the shores of Garibaldi Lake. It’s a 4-6 hour round trip, or 2-3 one way if you’re planning on camping.
The Garibaldi Lake campsite is the busiest, but it is spread out and hidden among the trees so it’s always peaceful around the lake, more so when the day-trippers leave, and on a cloudless night you can see every star. There is a ranger station by the lake with running water and benches inside and out, leave food here overnight to keep bears away from the campsite. There are also several outhouses, always leave the toilet lid down and latch the door closed when you’re done.
Alternatively, you can take the left fork and make your way further uphill to the beautiful Taylor Meadows campsite. There is another ranger station here with running water and several outhouses away from the campsite. From here Black Tusk looks so far away that you’ll swear you’re in the wrong mountain range. If you go this way you can still loop around to Garibaldi Lake.
Hiking to Black Tusk
It’s possible to hike here in a day if you set off early, it takes around 8-10 hours for the 27km round trip, but it’s definitely worth camping at one of the campsites and setting off early the next morning with a daypack, leaving everything else in your tent.
If you decide to camp at Garibaldi Lake campsite you can start your next day by taking the trail to the beautiful Taylor Meadows campsite, or take the trail that zigzags steeply up the mountain straight to the Black Tusk trailhead. Either way is easy enough, well marked with plenty of streams to collect fresh water for drinking.
Once you reach the Black Tusk trailhead the next 2km starts to get a little steeper, before flattening out and giving you your first view of Garibaldi Lake from above, the water bluer than the sky. The trail goes on like this for a while before cutting left over streams, rocks and probably some snow as you make your way closer to the daunting final ascent.
The last kilometre is hell as you scramble up loose volcanic rocks. Every step forward you slide half a step back and only gets steeper the closer you get. You finally reach a ridge, going right takes you away from Black Tusk so you can admire it in its entirety and actually fit the whole thing in a photo. Go left and you have one last scramble to the monstrous thing.
As it towers above you, it’s hard to believe you made it all the way to the base of such an iconic Whistler landmark. The view makes every step worth it and gives you such a great feeling of accomplishment. Snow-covered mountains, rolling hills, lakes and rivers as far as the eye can see. The journey back to the trailhead is easy as it’s all downhill, which means you can actually take in the scenery.
Hiking to Panorama Ridge
It’s also possible to do this hike in one day if you leave early enough, allow 8 – 10 hours for the 30km round trip, gaining 1520m elevation in 15km. It’s easy enough until you begin the final, rocky ascent to Panorama Ridge. Coming from Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake campsites, the trail passes an outhouse and forks. Left takes you to Black Tusk, right takes you the 4.5km to Panorama Ridge. It’s possible to do both on the same day as long as you leave your campsite early enough.
The trail starts out with the slightest incline as you walk parallel with the mountain keeping Black Tusk on your left and Garibaldi Lake on your right. You cross bubbling streams and pass through green meadows before reaching Helm Lake and the Helm Creek campsite, the smallest of the three. There is no ranger station or outhouse here, but you can get fresh water from the streams running along the entire trail.
As you leave Helm Lake and make your way towards Panorama Ridge the ascent gets steeper and rockier, eventually turning into a bit of a scramble as you struggle to spot the tiny Inukshuks (rock stacks) that mark the trail. Once you reach the grassy plain that leads up to the ridge you can turn around and really appreciate how far you have come.
It’s a short and steep climb to the top of Panorama Ridge but the views from here will blow you away. You get a full 360° view of Black Tusk, Helm Lake, Garibaldi Lake, Table Mountain and the surrounding snow-capped mountains and glaciers. If you have the stamina to carry all your equipment up here you can find yourself a sheltered spot to camp for the night, it will be one of the best views you could ever hope to wake up to.
The descent is a little slower from Panorama Ridge as the rocks are a lot more uneven than the descent from Black Tusk, but once you reach the meadows surrounding Helm Lake it’s all downhill, whether you’re going back to your campsite or even heading all the way home, dirty and aching but satisfied that you have conquered one of the greatest hikes in British Columbia.
Click here for the full album, photos from a day hike to Black Tusk and a three day, two-night camping trip to visit all three.