One of southern British Columbia’s most well-known hiking destinations, Garibaldi Lake, can be found about 70 kilometers north of Vancouver, 37 kilometers north of Squamish, and 19 kilometers south of Whistler. Part of the stunning scenery of Garibaldi Provincial Park (and its 90 kilometers of hiking trails), Garibaldi Lake stands at 1,484 meters (4, 869 feet) above sea level and reaches to about 260 meters (849 feet) deep 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.
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 300 meters thick and over two kilometers 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 it would hit Squamish with a force equivalent to 200 times the strength of an atomic bomb.
What to Do There
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.
Garibaldi Lake Hike is an 18 kilometer, round-trip hike with an 900 meter elevation gain. It takes about two and a half to three and a half hours each way and is the shortest route to the base of the lake. This intermediate-expert hike is accessible in the summer months of July to September when the snow has melted, though there could always be patches at this altitude. 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.
Take lots of water, snacks and build in time for breaks and sightseeing (you’ll want to take lots of photos!).
Garibaldi Lake Hike begins from the Rubble Creek parking lot and starts with a well-established trail through tall trees before you begin 6 kilometers of switchbacks to gain altitude. At the lookout point, the trail levels off to give incredible views of The Barrier, and from here, you can follow trail markers to Garibaldi Lake Campground, which is around another 3 kilometers from that point.
It’s fairly flat, but look out because there are lots of roots and rocks to trip you up, especially if you’re tired and carrying your pack. Continue to hike around two smaller lakes, as you make a descent and the trail opens up onto an awesome view of Garibaldi Lake and its Castle Towers Mountain behind. Take the boardwalk around the lake to reach Garibaldi Lake Campground (be sure to make a reservation before you go) Taylor Meadows and Helm Creek Campgrounds are also nearby. To reach Taylor Meadows, take an alternative route after the switchbacks, and head through alpine meadows to find the campground.
Always carefully plan your route beforehand, hike with a buddy, and let someone else know your trip plan.
Beyond Garibaldi Lake, there are the more challenging Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge hikes that extend on from the Garibaldi Lake Hike to climb higher for even more spectacular views of the lake and peaks. These hikes should only be tackled by experienced hikers in the height of summer (late July to September) when the snow is clear.
Since January 2018, visitors need to make year-round reservations at Garibaldi Lake campground and Taylor Meadows campground before arriving. Book early via the BC Parks Reservation Service Website.
Campgrounds have pit toilets and access to drinking water but no electricity, so pack accordingly. Taylor Meadows Campground features views of towering Black Tusk and is reached by another 20-minute uphill hike from the turning off point on the Garibaldi Lake Hike trail.
Drive from Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway, and when you’re around 37 kilometers north of Squamish, take the Rubble Creek exit to Garibaldi Lake Road on your right, and then follow the (paved) road for 2.5 kilometers to reach the parking lot. Be aware that 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.