British Columbia: Hiking Garibaldi Lake

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After getting off of a red-eye with only four hours of sleep, we decided to head to Squamish to attempt an EPIC 18 km hike to Garibaldi Lake.  Were we crazy?  Probably.  But how can you not hike when you’re in British Columbia, where hiking is practically a required past time.

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We heard from a few good sources that Garibaldi Lake is one of the most scenic destinations in British Columbia, and they were not exaggerating. This turquoise-colored lake is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and alpine meadows.  Sitting at almost 5,000 feet above sea level, the lake is filled with pristine glacial water. Even in the summer months, the mountains are still covered in white snow, creating a breathtaking backdrop.

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Attempting this strenuous hike is daunting, but definitely doable as a day trip.  It’s better to start as early as possible, so you have more time to enjoy the lake.  The hike can be done in about 6 hours including breaks and photo ops. Even though we started much later than anticipated, we were still able to finish the hike before it was completely dark.  Some people also choose to camp overnight giving them more time to explore the surrounding area.

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Getting there:

The trailhead is located 90 minutes from downtown Vancouver and just 30 minutes from Whistler.  To reach the Rubble Creek parking lot, the start of the trail to Garibaldi Lake, take Highway #1 (Trans Canada Highway) west towards Horseshoe Bay. Then just before the ferry terminal, watch for signs to Squamish and merge onto Highway 99 North.  Keep driving for another 20 minutes and look out for parking signs for Black Tusk on your right. This area is quite busy during the peak July-August time frame, especially on the weekends. The entire parking area will be packed with cars, overflowing onto the nearby highway.  To avoid traffic and beat the crowds, it’s better to start from Vancouver before 7 am.

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Pack List:
  • Lots of water – at least 3 L per person
  • Sturdy hiking boots – be prepared for snow and mud
  • Warm layers – the weather is unpredictable and it can get very chilly in the mountain
  • Headlamp – if you’re starting late, better to bring a headlamp
  • Food and snacks – nourishment for the long hike
  • Camera and extra batteries
  • Your swimsuit if you’re brave enough
  • Bear spray and bear bell– there is definitely a chance of a bear sighting on this hike, make sure you’re prepared.

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The Trail:

Rating: Moderate
Distance: 18 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 810 m/2660 feet
Time Required: 5 – 6 Hours

The trailhead is accessible from the Rubble Creek parking lot. We arrived there at 3:30 pm and were able to find a parking spot right away. Most people were done by that time and we were the only ones crazy enough to start the hike that late.  The 9km hike to reach Garibaldi Lake begins at the wooden steps along alongside Rubble Creek. The first part of the trail is a gradual uphill climb through dense forests of Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir trees. The wide, smooth switchbacks seem to go on forever, each turn gave way to yet another.  Along the way, you’ll cross several creeks, a good opportunity to freshen up on a hot day.

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The relentless uphill battle can be especially grueling on only 4 hours of sleep, but we kept marching on.  Shortly after the 6km mark, the ground leveled out and the rest of the way was fairly flat. This junction is a good point to take a break. Since we didn’t have a lot of time to spare, we continued on, passing by Barrier Lake and Lesser Garibaldi Lake. These lakes also offer beautiful scenery but they are not quite as spectacular as their mother lake. Don’t forget that in these parts, bear sightings are common especially in the late Spring when they just came out of hibernation.  We brought bear spray just in case, but thankfully we didn’t run into a bear.

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After passing these smaller lakes, we crossed a wooden bridge over Taylor Creek. This is the part of the hike that is muddy and covered in packed snow, making it especially hard to navigate. Up in the mountains, you’ll find snow on the trail right into the summer months.

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Eventually, we arrived at another junction where we had the choice of continuing to Panorama Ridge. Since we didn’t have time, we decided to save the longer hike for another day and headed off towards Garibaldi Lake.  The lake became more and more visible as we got closer. After another 30 minutes we rounded the final bend and the trees opened up revealing a panoramic view of the entire lake and glacier off in the distance.

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The glacier-fed, turquoise water of Garibaldi lake is surrounded by alpine mountains and meadows. The lake was still semi frozen in late June, but the snow only added to the the spectacular scene.  We took our time walking around, appreciating the sheer beauty of the place before heading back down again.

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