One of the most incredible summer hikes near Vancouver and Whistler is to Garibaldi Lake (and then on to Panorama Ridge if you have enough puff.) However it is also a stunning area to go snowshoeing. After checking the avalanche warnings for the Sea to Sky Region, we decided to make the most of a gap in the rain to have a look at Garibaldi Lake in winter.
If you fancy a fabulous adventure through snow-encrusted, sparkly trees, this is a great option. You might be exhausted by the end of the day, but it is well worth the effort.
Garibaldi Lake Snowshoeing trail map
Garibaldi Lake Snowshoeing – the basics
Elevation gain: 970m
Highest Point: 1500m
Time: 6 -7 hours – We took 6 hours in summer but 7 in winter (including breaks)
What to bring:
It is extra important to bring the ten essentials (with extra layers of clothes) in wintertime.
We used both microspikes and snowshoes.
You will also want tire chains and a shovel to help you park.
There are several loos with views! There is a loo in the car-park, one at the first turn off to Taylor Meadows, as well as one at Garlibalidi lake.
Dogs: No doggos for this walk. Dogs are not allowed in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
How hard is it? It is around 1000m elevation gain, so you know it’s going to be hard-ish. The thing is, the path is very easy to follow and not particularly steep. This means although it is challenging as a long snowshoeing trail. It doesn’t feel as hard as the statistics make it sound.
Extra hints: Make sure you check Avalanche Canada as well as the weather before you go!
Is Garibalidi Lake accessible in winter?
BC Parks introduced a day-use pass registration system in 2020 because sooo many people were flocking to just a few crowded hiking spots. I tried to get passes a couple of times in the summer, but never had any luck; So we did not visit Garibaldi Provincial Park this summer. In winter you normally have to park at the base of Daisy Lake Road and hike up. However this year BC parks have an agreement to plough the road all the way to the parking lot. Woot!
When we visited, the road was semi ploughed. One driver had attempted to do a u-turn into a snowbank, so there was a bit of a delay while everyone else tried to pull them out. If you want to do this hike in winter, you should bring tire chains as well as a shovel, as you may need to dig out a parking space on the edge of the ploughed area.
Garibaldi Lake Snowshoeing – Getting started
You might have to be flexible if you’re out and about in winter. We arrived later than our original plan because there was a large traffic jam of skiers heading to Whistler. After that, there was the blockage on Daisy Lake Road. We spent a while putting chains onto our tires, and then had to park about 700m away from the main car park…so all in all we started about 1.5 hours later than our original plan. There is only one trail leaving from the Rubble Creek Car park, so once you make it that far, the start of the trail is obvious.
Garibaldi Lake trail switchbacks
If you are not a fan of trees, you might not love the start of this snowshoeing adventure! The first 6.5 km follow switchbacks up towards the barrier, so you only really get views of the forest. We found the trail was icy by the car park, then gradually the snow became deeper and softer as we hiked higher.
Views from the Barrier
This is one of my favourite views along the trail is from the Barrier Viewpoint. Cloudburst Mountain and valley of the Sea to Sky look beautiful in the snow. It is definitely worth hiking the extra 100m to see it.
Barrier Lake and Lesser Garibaldi Lake
Once you’ve made it as high as the barrier, the trail gets a little easier and more interesting. You can look down to the two smaller lakes; Barrier Lake and Lesser Garibaldi Lake.
I loved how the fluffy snow is piled up on the trees, rocks and bridges. It is such a winter wonderland.
Whoomf – Snow bombs
Once the snow starts to warm up, it becomes less stable piled up on the trees above you. Every so often massive piles of snow would drop from the upper branches of trees with a massive “whoomf” sound. Marc and I both got snow dumped on us several times from these tree-dumps. There isn’t much you can do to prevent it, apart from run forward it you hear the sprinkle sound when one is triggered.
Busy areas at Garibaldi Lake
We’re all attempting to stay apart on the trails in 2020, and mostly, this was easy on the way to Garibaldi Lake. The only place where we couldn’t avoid a bunch up of hikers was at bridge at the edge of Garibaldi Lake. Just like in the summertime, this little area was full of people waiting to cross the bridge, before they could spread out at the edge of the lake. Bring a mask for moments like this.
Garibaldi Lake in the snow
This is the view from that bridge – isn’t it stunning!? There is now a thin layer of ice over most of the lake, just not at this edge where the water runs off to Upper Rubble Creek towards Lesser Garibaldi Lake.
Then once you hike past that open section of water, this is the view of Garibaldi Lake covered in ice. *Swoons*.
This has to be the prettiest view for a reward for snowshoeing. We ate our leftover turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwiches feeling pretty happy.
Snowshoes vs Microspikes
Although I think of this as an adventure for snowshoes, we didn’t actually put our snowshoes until we reached the deep powder at Garibaldi Lake. Before that, the trail was so packed down by other hikers that microspikes were actually more useful. I’ve included a photo of both so you can see the difference. Both options fit over your hiking boots. Our spikes stretch over our boots, while you need to strap snowshoes onto your shoes.
It is easier to walk with microspikes if the trail is hard-packed. However once you reach powdery or melting snow, you’ll sink down into it. This happened to us once we started to walk around Garibaldi Lake, so we were glad we had lugged up our snowshoes. Most people on the trail seemed to carry both. I would recommend doing the same.
We continued to walk around Garibaldi Lake (with snowshoes) to see more of the lovely winter views.
This is the view from the snow-covered dock on Garibaldi Lake.
This is the view of the Black tusk in the snow (left) and Panorama Ridge (right). You can see why this area is so popular at all times of year. We decided to head back once the shadows started to lengthen. Most other people had left by this point (3pm).
Head back the same way you came. Cross the bridge at Rubble Creek, then follow the trail passed the two lower lakes, the barrier and all the switch backs.
Golden Hour on the trail
We didn’t expect to be out this late but after all the traffic jam issues we only just reached the barrier as the sun was setting behind the mountains.
My photos don’t do it justice. The views from the barrier were even more pretty as the snow turned pink.
The Barrier is a massive rock face which was formed as part of an even larger lava-flow, (from Mount Price) that was blocked by a glacier. This created an enormous ice-cooled volcanic dam, which now holds back Garibaldi Lake. In summer it looks all crumbly like it might give way, unleashing a massive flood on the valley below. It actually looks a little more stable in winter once the snow covers all the crumbling rocks.
After this golden moment, the light faded as we walked down the rest of the switchbacks. We needed our headlamps for the final couple of switchbacks and it was dark by the time reached our car. Last time we did this hike we ran down the switchbacks. We didn’t feel safe doing that in snow as the light faded. It may have taken slightly longer to descend but we were safe and happy by the end of the day.
Panoramas from Snowshoeing to Garibaldi Lake
I’ll finish with a couple of panoramas from the trail to Garibaldi Lake in winter. Just click on them to see the larger versions.
Garibaldi Lake is a fantastic, if challenging snowshoe or winter hike. Let me know if you like the look of it in the comments, or please click on the pins below to save them for later. If you live nearby, would you be tempted to snowshoe here?