Garibaldi Lake Hike
Garibaldi Lake is a glacier-fed alpine lake, boasting postcard-worthy turquoise waters. Adding to the beauty of the area are glacier capped mountains surrounding the lake. The lake is situated in the Provincial Park of the same name.
Length: 18 km (11 miles) roundtrip
Elevation: 810 m gain with highest elevation of 1,450 m
Time: 5-6 hours
Type: Out and back
Camping: Yes, by reservation only during peak season
The trail head is at Rubble Creek parking lot, located 19 km south of Whistler or 37 north of Squamish, about a 90 min drive from Vancouver via the Sea-to-Sky highway.
The first 6 km are consistent switchbacks, with a steady incline of 10-15 degrees. During these 6 km, you are hiking through the forest, on a well marked and maintained path, with little visual interest, aside of the forest. Time seems to go on forever – I certainly lost track. You can see snips of surrounding mountain peaks through the trees, referencing elevation gain; otherwise trail markers indicate your progress. Do not be disheartened – I constantly thought I’d hiked farther than I really had; the end result is 100% worth the effort.
A few minutes past the 5 km marker you will get a nice view of The Barrier, which is a lava dam that contains the Garibaldi Lake system and is 300 m thick on the containing wall. The sheer cliff was formed during a massive landslide in 1885. We stopped at this view point on the way back from the Lake. It is only 100 m from the trail.
Phew made it! I have rarely been happier to see a sign post telling me that I’ve just walked 6 km uphill; fortunately, this means that the majority of elevation gain is complete. Around the bend from the 6 km marker is a little rest area, junction for the trail toward Taylor Meadows and an information board for the surrounding area.
The next 3 km is a nice stroll, with mostly flat trails. The first two lakes, Barrier Lake and Lesser Garibaldi Lake act as a teaser for what is to come. Both of these lakes are fed by Garibaldi Lake via stream. You can hear the rushing water before you can see it. These smaller lakes are more green in colour and more still. At Barrier Lake we could see the fish jumping out of the lake to catch the bugs and the many rings of ripples left behind.
Arrival at the Lake
Your first glimpse of the lake is through the trees. The shade of blue is unreal – photos do not capture the true colour. There is a steep path down to the lake, and a bridge to cross. Follow the path towards the camping area. Once you’ve passed the section in which the lake starts to run into the stream, the view becomes breath-taking. Expansive turquoise-blue lake, encompassed by mountains, each with snow stubbornly clinging onto the peaks. Across the lake, directly in front of you is Sphinx Glacier, the watershed for the lake. In the winter, you can actually skate or ski across the lake and walk on the glacier.
There are a few little rocky islands on the lake – I dare you to swim out to one. Jumping into glacier water kind of knocks the wind out of you, but everyone must do it once. My once was at Joffre Lakes. If the water is starting to feel okay – check to make sure your toes aren’t just numb!
There are benches scattered along the path that goes around the lake. If you continue to walk past the camping area, specifically the food prep hut, there is a dock jutting out into the lake. There are often fewer people here making it a great place to stretch out in the sun, have a nap (we almost did!), jump in the lake, refuel, marvel at the view surrounding you.
Once you are ready to go (as if you could ever get enough of the view) prepare yourself for the hike back. I was already starting to get achey and sore, so the hike back took us more time.
However, if you have the time and are wanting more, there are a few options:
If you planned ahead and reserved a spot, lucky you! Camping is permitted only in designated areas. Reservations are required during peak seasons (July-Oct) and made on the Discover Camping website. There are 50 sites at Garibaldi Lake and Taylor Meadows has 40.
Additional hikes from Garibaldi Lake
Perhaps not a destination in itself, Taylor Meadows has a campground and is also a good jumping off point for the below two hikes. Reservations are also required for this campsite and are made via the same website.
At the 6 km mark, instead of continuing on the path to Garibaldi Lake, take the trail to Taylor Meadows. The area can be quite beautiful, especially when the alpine flowers are in bloom.
From the Garibaldi campground, Black Tusk is another 14 km (roundtrip), with 850 m of elevation gain, taking approximately 4-5 hours via the Black Tusk/ Cinder Flats connector trail. The connector trail starts when you first see glimpses of Garibaldi Lake. From the campground, walk back toward the bridge across the stream, up the steep path, to the junction. The path to the right is the connector trail to Black Tusk/Cinder Flats/Panorama Ridge, the left trail is the return to Rubble Creek parking lot/Taylor Meadows.
From the Garibaldi campground, Panorama Ridge is another 12 km (roundtrip), with 630 m of elevation gain, taking approximately 4-5 hours via the Black Tusk/ Cinder Flats connector trail. Follow the same directions as described above, then keep eyes on the signage at the junctions for the trail to Panorama Ridge.
Cheakamus Lake is another beautiful glacier lake in the Garibaldi Provincial Park. You would have to be an ambitious hiker with plenty of time as Cheakamus Lake is an additional 17.5 km (one way) along the Black Tusk/Cinder Flats connector. If possible, it would be great to start at Rubble Creek parking lot, then be picked up at Cheakamus parking lot to save the 26.5 km trek back to Rubble Creek. Ideally situated, Helm campground is part way to Cheakamus, and can break up the long journey. There are campsites available at Cheakamus Lake also. Both of these campgrounds are also reserved via Discover Camping website.
Have you ever been to Garibaldi Lake? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!
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