Garibaldi Lake: The Complete Guide

Garibaldi Lake viewed from Panorama Ridge
Garibaldi Lake viewed from Panorama Ridge.

Getty Images/LeonU

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Garibaldi Lake

Address
Garibaldi Lake, British Columbia V0N, Canada

One of southern British Columbia’s most well-known hiking destinations, Garibaldi Lake can be found about 43 miles north of Vancouver, 23 miles north of Squamish, and 12 miles south of Whistler. Part of the stunning scenery of Garibaldi Provincial Park (and its 56-plus miles of hiking trails), Garibaldi Lake stands at 4,869 feet above sea level and reaches depths of 849 feet at some points. Visitors come here in the summertime to enjoy a hike and to camp around the alpine lake, which has a beautiful aquamarine hue and is surrounded by a backdrop of dramatic volcanic mountains.

History

Around 9,000 years ago, Garibaldi Lake was formed when the lava flow from the Mount Price and Clinker Peak volcanoes blocked the valley, creating a natural dam (referred to locally as "The Barrier”), which is more than 984 feet thick and over a mile wide. Meltwater from the Sentinel Glacier and Sphinx Glacier has been trapped in behind the dam for millennia, forming what we now call Garibaldi Lake. It’s been estimated that if Garibaldi Lake ever burst, its dam would hit Squamish with a force equivalent to 200 times the strength of an atomic bomb.

Things to Do

Part of the beautiful Garibaldi Provincial Park, Garibaldi Lake is a glacier-fed body of water that boasts stunning scenery of volcanic mountain ranges and turquoise water—a perfect subject to capture for photographers traveling to the area. As nearby Sphinx Glacier and Sentinel Glacier continue to be eroded away, the mineral-rich "rock flour" leaches into the lake and refracts the sunlight to create a rich aquamarine hue. Best tackled by intermediate and advanced hikers, the Garibaldi Lake Hike is the most popular activity to enjoy here.

Other activities available at the lake include fishing, though you will need to apply for a license through BC Parks beforehand. Swimming, too, is an option, though keep in mind that there are no lifeguards on duty and the water is very cold.

The shore of Garibaldi Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada
Brent Doscher / Aurora Photos/Getty Images

Best Hikes & Trails

Garibaldi Lake Hike is an 11-mile, round-trip hike with approximately 2,690 feet of elevation gain. It takes about 2.5 to 3.5 hours each way and is the shortest route to the base of the lake. This moderately strenuous hike is accessible from July to October when the snow has melted, though there could always be patches at this altitude.

The trail begins from the Rubble Creek parking lot and starts with a well-established trail through Douglas Fir trees before you begin 3.7 miles of switchbacks to gain altitude. At the lookout point, the trail levels off to give incredible views of The Barrier,

From here, you can follow trail markers to Garibaldi Lake Campground, which is around another 1.9 miles from that point. It’s fairly flat, but be on the lookout for roots and rocks that can trip you up. Continue to hike around two smaller lakes; as you make your descent, the trail opens up onto an awesome view of Garibaldi Lake and the Castle Towers Mountain behind. Take the boardwalk around the lake to reach Garibaldi Lake Campground.

Beyond Garibaldi Lake, there are the more challenging Black Tusk (18 miles round trip) and Panorama Ridge (18.6 miles round trip) trails that extend on from the Garibaldi Lake Hike to climb higher for even more spectacular views of the lake and peaks. These trails should only be tackled by experienced hikers in the height of summer (late July to October) when the snow is clear.

Where to Camp

The area surrounding Garibaldi Lake has three hike-in campgrounds, each with pit toilets and access to drinking water. Campers are asked to bring their cooking stoves and pack everything out as there are no garbage facilities. All three campgrounds are available year-round; book early via the BC Parks Reservation Service Website.

  • Garibaldi Lake Campground: A 6-mile walk from the Garibaldi Lake parking lot, this campground features 50 tent sites and four day-use cooking shelters. Each of the cooking shelters comes with two picnic tables and a wash sink.
  • Taylor Meadows Campground: With 40 tent platforms and two day-use cooking shelters, this campground offers views of towering Black Tusk. It's located 4.7 miles from the parking lot, but you can also reach it via the Garibaldi Lake Hike. From the trail, take a left at the junction at the 3.7-mile mark; it's another 20-minute uphill hike through alpine meadows to find the campground.
  • Helm Campground: This campground is located 5.3 miles from the Cheakamus Lake parking lot and 11.2 miles from the Garibaldi Lake parking lot. Here, campers will find nine tent platforms and food hang facilities.

Getting There

Drive from Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway, and when you’re around 23 miles north of Squamish, take the Rubble Creek exit to Garibaldi Lake Road on your right, and then follow the (paved) road for 1.6 miles to reach the parking lot.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Bear in mind that at any time the high-altitude lake is around 50 degrees F (10 degrees Celsius) cooler than Squamish, and the weather is very changeable, so be prepared with layered and appropriate clothing and footwear.
  • Rubble Creek parking lot fills up fast in the summer and on weekends, so try to get there as early as possible to beat the crowds.
  • High levels of snowfall are the norm in the wintertime. While the Rubble Creek road and upper parking lot get plowed between Dec. 15 and March 31, drivers should still prepare to equip their tires with snow chains.
  • If you're hiking to the lake, take lots of water and snacks, and be sure to build in time for breaks and sightseeing (you’ll want to take lots of photos!).
  • BC Parks does not provide toilet paper at any of the backcountry toilet facilities; bring your own if you plan to hike through the backcountry.
Frequently Asked Questions
  • How long does it take to hike Garibaldi Lake?

    It can take between five to seven hours to hike the Garibaldi Lake Hike.

  • Can you swim in Garibaldi Lake?

    Yes, you can swim in the lake, but be aware that it is extremely cold as it is glacier-fed!

  • How hard is the Garibaldi Lake Hike?

    The Garibaldi Lake Hike can be challenging depending on your fitness level. Rated as intermediate-to-difficult, the 11-mile, round-trip trail has a 2,690-foot elevation gain, a good portion of which is gained in the first 3.7 miles.

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Discover One of Southern BC's Most Popular Hikes at Garibaldi Lake