Garibaldi Lake Trail – Whistler Hikes

Garibaldi Lake Trail – Whistler Hikes

I fell in love with another amazing walk in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This was our toughest hike so far! We started with the Garibaldi Lake trail, and then continued on to Panorama Ridge all in one day. This meant we gained (and lost) over 1555m elevation as well as walking for 35 km. The thing is, it was all soooo pretty that it didn’t feel too hard. However, because I took a zillion photos, I am going to split the walk into two parts and tell you about the Garibaldi Lake Trail first, with a second post about Panorama ridge.

The Garibaldi Lake trail is a pretty amazing hike, even without the extra hike up to Panorama ridge.  It’s also totally worth the effort to see the crazy ever-changing colours of the lake.

Garibaldi Lake trail map

Garibaldi Lake trail – the basics

Distance: 20 km (or 18km, if you just go to the lake and back)
Elevation gain
: 1080m
Highest Point: 1650m (in Taylor Meadows)
Time: 6 -7 hours (My 105 hikes book says 7 hours, but it took around 6 hours, including a rest at the lake)
What to bring:
Camera! The lake is so pretty that I am sure you’ll take photos.
Walking boots. Hiking poles. Bug spray in summer. Plenty of water and food. The ten essentials.
This is another place where I could add a few loos with views! There is a loo in the car-park, and I saw quite a few on the trail. There was on at the first turn off to Taylor Meadows, a couple at different places in Taylor Meadows and several around Garlibalidi lake. You can drink loads of water without worrying about loo-stops on this hike!
Dogs: No doggos for this walk I’m afraid. I saw a sign saying walkers will be fined if they try to sneak in a pooch.

How hard is it? It is over 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, plus there are no steps to kill your knees. So although looking at the statistics, I’d expect this to be tough, it honestly didn’t feel too bad. If you can manage the the Stawamus Chief or the Grouse Grind, I think with a teeny extra push, you can do this!
Extra hint: Go early! We left Vancouver at 6am, and arrived at the car park just after 7:30am BUT there were already hundreds of cars there before us, and only a few parking spots left! If you arrive late in the morning, you’ll have to park much further down the road and it can add some extra kilometers to your walk.

Garibaldi Lake Trail is popular!

The first thing I noticed about this trail, was just how busy it is! Even starting before 8am, there were loads and loads of people out on the trail already. Things calmed down a little near Taylor Meadows, but then later when we made it back to Garibaldi Lake, things were heaving! If you like the idea of a quiet, contemplative hike, this is NOT the walk for you! I often waited for people to get out the way of my photos, so it looks very calm and empty but in reality there were lots of other walkers around.

Trail through the trees

We did this hike on the Labor Day weekend at the beginning of September, so the smoke had cleared and it was really pleasant to walk through the forest. It was completely different to our Hike up Mount Work in the smoke the previous week! I found the hike up along the switchbacks easy-ish but Marc mentioned he found it pretty tough. On the way down I found it really hard and Marc breezed through the trees. I heard other hikers moaning about how hard it was in both directions.

Route – Garibaldi lake first or Taylor Meadows first

This walk is the shape of a lollipop. You hike up the stick, wander in a loop around the candy (the lolly is the prettiest section near the lake and meadows!) then hop back down the lollipop stick. We decided to head to Taylor Meadows first, and then see the beautiful Garibaldi lake on our return journey, but if you can’t wait to see the lake, you could easily do this in the other direction! Anyway, it takes about two hours to get up above the trees, even if you walk at a good pace.

Taylor Meadows

I really loved Taylor Meadows! You get a good view of the Black Tusk Mountain. I have seen pictures of this area earlier in the summer when it was covered in purple and blue lupines (similar to the flower views we saw on Brandywine Mountain and the Gargolyes.) So I will have to come back and visit it again when the wildflowers are in bloom. One plant that I looooved the look of, was the fluff-ball pom-pom like plant in the photo above. It looks like they were hundreds of teeny cheerleaders lining the meadows!

This is where we continued on to Panorama Ridge. But I’ll write about that next time…

Heading to Garibaldi Lake

We hiked through the lovely meadows, past small bubbling streams and tarns until we made it back to the treeline. Next, the Garibaldi Lake trail will lead you towards Garibaldi Lake. These trees are quite deep into Garibaldi Provincial Park, so there is no pollution. This means the lichen is free to grow and cover the trees in fluff-like bunches. Now it is downhill all the way to the lake. You even start to see glimpses of the bright blue lake through the trees…

Garibaldi Lake

Suddenly, you will find yourself peeking out at this beautiful lake. This is why the Garibaldi Lake trail is so blooming popular! I think it is fantastic that so many people are willing to hike up over 1000m to see this lovely view.

The Mountain in the middle of the photo is Panorama Peak, (and Panorama Ridge).

Colourful Lake

I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed by my first view of Garibaldi Lake. It was earlier in our walk from far away, and in the early morning light; It looked sort of silver-grey, not the crazy blue I was expecting. The thing is, the direction you are looking, the light and the reflections all change how the lake looks. I have not used filters on any of my photos, but the colour of the lake changes in almost every image! The two photos below are taken about 20 meters apart, but one is towards the sun, and one is away from the sun. It makes SUCH a big difference.

Hike around the lake

Most people hike around the lake a little way, but the further you go, the fewer people there are to share the views. We still had plenty of energy, so we kept wandering along, until we found an empty bench with stunning views across to the glaciers; You can see the edge of Cheakamus Glacier below, and then the Sphinx Gacier further along. I always love looking at glaciers, so for me, this was a perfect place to sit and have a snack.

The Sphinx glacier looks like it is trying to stretch down and touch Garibaldi Lake. There are actually three other smaller lakes between here and the glacier, each it’s own shade of blue-grey. It all looks so serene and quiet over there in the snow.

A little further around Garibaldi Lake you’ll see Battleship Islands. Maybe their shape looks battleship-esque!? Down by the lake, they just seemed peaceful and pretty! The Mountain in the background is Mount Price. I hope we can hike up to that at some point too.

Of course I needed a Garibaldi Lake Jump shot!!

Fewer flowers, but no bugs!

Now it’s September, there are very few flowers. The pretty fireweed flowers (below) are starting to fade and we didn’t see much blooming around the lake. BUT the upside of this was the lack of bitey bugs! This is the first walk in a while when I did not have to cover myself in bug-spray! I think this time of year is fantastic for hiking. The days may be getting shorter, but the air is clear, there are no bugs and its pleasant to hike in cooler temperatures.

Heading home

The only bad thing about the Garibadi Lake trail is the return journey. It is still beautiful to walk through the trees, but this part of the walk can be very hard on your knees! The trail down is about 9 km, and you lose 920m elevation (3018 ft). If you have brought hiking poles, this is the moment to get them out! There are a couple of cool things to see on the return journey, that we had missed on our ascent, so we did stop and give our knees a break. There are two small lakes; The lesser Garibaldi Lake (below) and then the smaller Barrier lake.

The Barrier

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. There is a sign along the Garibaldi Lake trail leading off to this view point. It’s only an extra 100m, so if you do this walk, do pop over and take a peek. I thought it was amazing!

This is the view looking down from the barrier. Not bad eh!?

There were also some friendly, cheeky chipmunks enjoying the view with us. Remember – don’t feed the wildlife, even if they ask nicely and are this cute!

Zooming home

I was getting pretty exhausted by the end of this walk. My phone says we hiked a total of 35km in 9.5 hours (plus another hour for breaks); But the final 5-6 km were the hardest! However we found even when we were tired, we seemed to be faster than most other hikers. In the end, I actually found it easier to let gravity do most of the work, and I jogged down the mountain. The path isn’t actually very steep, and for some reason jogging seemed to put less pressure on my knees than walking. It sounds mad – but it worked!

Remember, if you do the hike I have described above (without the detour to Panorama ridge) it is only 18-20 km to that amazing lake and back. Plus your legs won’t be quite as exhausted as mine were at the end of the day. The Garibaldi Lake trail really is a fantastic hike. If you find yourself near Vancouver or Whsitler in the summer (or autumn), I cannot recommend it enough!

Other amazing blue lakes near Whistler

If you like the look of this, but you don’t fancy such a long hike or large elevation gain, you could visit Jofffrey Lakes (below left) or Elfin Lakes, (below right) for easier walks with similarly gorgeous views!

Garibaldi Lake Trail - Whistler Walks Garibaldi Lake - Canada's best views Garibaldi Lake trail - Glacier views


37 thoughts on “Garibaldi Lake Trail – Whistler Hikes

    1. It was ah-maaaazing! I was pretty damn pooped at the end of the day! Plus my legs were exhausted the following day too!

    1. Yaaay! I hope you get to visit it too! If you have bundles of energy, the hike up to Panorama ridge is worth adding to your list too! <3

  1. Great write-up on a beautiful hike. It has got very busy but I can see why. I totally love those pom-pom flowers too!
    At some point, you might consider doing a “loop” starting at Cheakamus Lake trailhead and possibly camping at Helm Creek, which wasn’t crowded at all when we were there last August. The scenery is gorgeous as you head toward Panorama Ridge from that direction. You’ll need a pick-up or car at both trailheads. Here’s the post I did on that (plus a secret, non-busy hike…shhhhh).

    1. Ooooh Caroline you are such a star! I will have a peek. I already noticed the path heading off in that direction, so I was wondering where it leads! 😀

  2. I’m a sucker for flowering meadows too! Also, glad I’m not the only one who likes to take jump shots on the trail 🙂 Can’t wait to read about the second half of this hike!

    1. Yeah, I really love the flowers…but I have to admit, it was pretty nice to see the view without the flowers this time as I was getting bitten sooo much in August! I am ready for the cooler hikes with no black flies!!

  3. Can’t wait for the Panorama Ridge write-up – it’s perhaps the best view in the Lower Mainland. Garibaldi has become crazy busy in recent years – it was busy enough even when we first hiked up there. I like to hike up there early in the season to catch the glacier lilies in bloom and before the bugs (and crowds!) get really bad.

    1. I didn’t mind the crowds *too* much. No one was rude, littering, or playing loud music, so it was kind of cool to see how many people are happy to attempt 1000m+ elevation hike.

      Sometimes it’s nice to visit secret, quiet spots, but I am glad so many people are getting out to the famous hikes. Hopefully this many nature lovers will mean people vote for governments that will protect the special areas. <3

      1. That’s good that folks were well-behaved. I love seeing more people get out and learn more about their surroundings – my main concern is that the park infrastructure isn’t designed to cope with the number of visitors these days. And yes, I admit I have become rather spoiled as a result of visiting some of the more remote backcountry areas! 🙂

        1. I think you are right about that. The infrastructure is pretty good for the number of walkers on non-busy days, but the erosion to the paths just shows that the provincial parks are a bit strained when it’s busy!

  4. I love hiking trails that lead to such beautiful areas like this. Adding this to my hiking list! I’m like you…jogging downhill seems to be easier on my knees, too.

    1. Normally I don’t feel safe jogging downhill (I’m clumsy when there are lots of tree roots to trip over.) But when the paths are as good as this trail, it works really well!!

    1. Jules!! Yay that you are back!!

      Yep, I’m still larking about. I just popped over you your blog and left you a comment. 😀

    1. Thanks Rachel! That lake is pretty amazing isn’t it! It was even more impressive from above. I need to get my arse in gear and finish the second half of this post!!

  5. Okay, this weekend I was happy that Agnes and I managed to get through the whole 2km westie walk without Agnes falling asleep, and you hiked a MOUNTAIN! The lakes out west are so gorgeous, and I always love being able to gaze at them for a bit 🙂 I’m hoping that the smoke/ash didn’t affect it at all??

    1. No we had a week of rain, so that seems to have dampened the smoke right down. I could taste it in the air a couple of times, but it all seemed pretty smoke free!

      Poor Agnes, I don’t think she’d be allowed on this hike, even if her little legs could manage it. We saw a marmot that was bigger than her!

    1. Eep! Sorry for the homesickness , but I do really love this Canadian wilderness! It blows me away every time we go for a hike!!

    1. I had never heard of any of these walks before I moved here!! I have a feeling it is only really famous for people that live near Vancouver, so don’t worry!

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