Squamish, BC Park Series: Garibaldi Provincial Park
With nearly 2,000 square kilometres to explore, Garibaldi is one of the most popular and largest parks around Squamish and Whistler. Locals and tourists stop here every year to marvel at the the glacier covered mountains or brave a climb up the 2,678-meter volcano, Mount Garibaldi, for which the park is named.
While not everyone has the urge to summit the park’s active volcanos, there are plenty of activities in the lower altitudes. The park is graced by several large, glassy lakes including Cheakamus and Garibaldi Lake, perfect for cooling off in the summer or fishing. Numerous hiking trails and mountain bike paths wind through thick forests and to breathtaking views of the mountain range and a fair share of granite rock climbing routes make Garibaldi Provincial Park perfect for every type of adventurer.
Garibaldi Provincial Park Camping
Given Garibaldi’s popularity and vastness, many campgrounds and facilities can be found throughout the park, but planning in advance is essential. There are a total of nine backcountry campsites, all of which require a permit. You may also need to make a reservation for some of the campgrounds, including Garibaldi Lake, Elfin Lake, and Taylor Meadows during peak season. You can camp all year, but be aware of potentially dangerous weather conditions in winter.
Camping Facilities and Services
All campsites have pits or flush toilets (bring your own toilet paper!), but in general, facilities are sparse. There are no garbage services so you have to pack out everything you bring in. There are several picnic areas in the park as well, but they’re not part of the camping areas, so you may have to walk a bit to get to them.
- Backcountry camping costs $10.00 per adult per night or $5.00 per child (up to age 15).
- You should also get a camping permit in advance. Visit: https://secure.camis.com/Discovercamping/Garibaldi/
- Also, keep in mind dogs are not allowed in any part of the park.
Garibaldi Provincial Park Cabins and Huts
While most people choose to bring their own tents and camping gear, there are a few cabins and huts throughout the park. Elfin Lakes Shelter has bunks for about 33 people and equipment for cooking, including propane burners, sinks, and a heater. This hut requires a reservation, and the shelter fee ($15 per adult, $10 per child) includes a camping permit.
The Elfin Lakes shelter ( pictured above) is the largest shelter and has the most amenities, but there are two more small huts in the park – one at Wedgemount Lake, and another at Russet Lake. You don’t need to make reservations for these smaller huts, but you do need a camping permit to use them.
Although these huts and shelters have toilets, none of them have garbage facilities, so make sure you pack out what you pack in.
The park is at its best in summer, especially July and August. Fall can be a bit wet and rainy, but you can still enjoy hiking and walking in the park, and the damp climate lends itself to a lush and quiet walk in early fall. Winter months see the trails turn to snowshoe or back country skiing. Some of the snow carries over into early spring, especially in areas with higher elevation. Generally, the hiking trails should be accessible from late May through October, while snowboes or backcountry skiis will be needed from November to April.
Click here to see the Squamish weather forecast
While there are dozens of hiking trails for both summer and winter that are of varying length and difficulty, we wanted to highlight the 6 main hiking trails in Garibaldi Provincial Park
This 11 km trail starts at the parking lot and passes through Read Heather Meadows. Although the first hour and a half of the hike is rather strenuous, the last two hours is a bit easier. The last leg of the trail opens up to spectacular views of the lakes and snowy mountains that surround them before descending to the lake itself. Make sure to leave enough time for the hike back if you aren’t camping. This is a popular backcountry skiing hut in the Winter. Click here for more information on Elfin Lakes in the Winter.
A shorter trail and easier trail, just 3.5 km starts at the parking lot and ends at Cheakamus Lake and the campgrounds there. It’s a well-defined trail with hardly any inclination, so it’s good for most fitness levels. Even if you aren’t camping, visiting the lake is rewarding in itself – the deep turquoise and pine-lined shores are worth the short walk.
If you’re stopping at the park, you can’t leave without visiting Garibaldi Lake. The Rubble Creek Parking Lot gives easy access to the trailhead. From there, it’s a 6 km walk to the lake. However, keep in mind this hike requires you to be in good shape – the elevation gain is 770 m. Garibaldi Lake has clear, cool waters, and incredible views of glacier-capped mountains. From there you have a few options to continue your trek or head to the nearby campground.
Many hikers looking for high-up panoramic views of Garibaldi Lake and the surroundings either continue to the Garibaldi Lake or Taylor meadows campgrounds, both just over 2 km away. From there, both have trails leading to Black Tusk, a prominent, rocky peak overlooking the lake shaped a bit like a sharp tooth. Since you’re essentially scaling the mountain, the Black Tusk trail is quite difficult. From both campgrounds, plan on between 6.4 to 7 km to reach the final viewpoint at the top of Black Tusk.
Alternatively, hikers can head to panorama ridge, another popular viewpoint nearly opposite Black Tusk (which means it also gives you a great view of the Tusk’s rock face as well). This path is just as difficult as Black Tusk. Although some people can do one or the other in one day, most hikers like to camp at either Taylor Meadows or the Garibaldi Lake campgrounds to rest up before beginning these strenuous hikes. If you are camping for a few days, you’ll be able to do both without feeling rushed.
With an elevation gain of 1,200 m, this is one of the most challenging (but rewarding) hikes in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Due to the glaciers that feed into Wedgemount, the water is an unbelievable light turquoise color. The opaque hue appears almost bluish-gray at times, especially with the contrasting slate gray mountains and white snow in the background. If you take this trail plan on a 10-hour hike round trip. However, if that sounds too daunting, a hut at the top for 6 people and tent platforms nearby. For easy camping access, you can park at the northern access point to the Wedgemount trailhead.
There are also a number of easier trails close to Whistler around Russet Lake.
Getting to Garibaldi Provincial Park
If you’re around the Squamish-Whistler area, accessing Garibaldi Provincial Park shouldn’t be a problem. There are a few different entrances, most off the Sea to Sky Highway:
Diamond Head Parking Lot
This is the southern access point, just 40 minutes northeast of Squamish. If you are planning on visiting Elfin Lakes, this is the place to go.
Rubble Creak Parking Lot
About 25 minutes south of Whistler, this trailhead gives the easiest access to Garibaldi Lake, Black Tusk, and Panorama Ridge.
Cheakamus Lake Trailhead
As you may have guessed, from this trailhead you can access Cheakamus Lake and campgrounds. It’s just 18 minutes south of Whistler off the Sea to Sky Highway.
Wedgemount Lake Trailhead
For amazing views of this glacier-fed lake without much strenuous hiking, you can park at the trailhead, 20 minutes north of Whistler and walk into the camping area.