Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek

Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek

I love Panorama Ridge. It is a challenging adventure but it is also such a popular area to hike, that BC parks had to start issuing day passes in summer to manage the number of visitors. Most people visit Panorama Ridge as a day hike from Rubble Creek. This year Marc and I decided to hike in from the opposite direction, via Helm Creek.

The route up via Helm Creek was far quieter than the route we’ve previously taken from Rubble Creek. Plus you get to walk through the incredible volcanic area around Helm Lake. If you plan to camp in Garibaldi Provincial Park, this is a great option. However, I still think it would be a fun (if long) way to visit on a day hike.

Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek map:

Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek

Distance: 29.6km as a day hike from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead.
13.8km return from Helm Creek
Elevation gain: 1563 as a day hike. 610m from Helm Creek
High Point
: 2133m
Time: 9.5-10.5 hours as a day hike. 5-6 hours from Helm Creek
What to bring:
Water, snacks and your camera!
The 10 essentials. This walk is high in the alpine so you need to stay safe!
Bring bear spray
Facilities: You can camp at Helm Creek Campground, there are loos, tent pads and a bear cache there.
Dogs: No Doggies in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
How hard is it? Hard (especially as a day hike) as it is long. BUT the trail is not technical, so most hikers can manage it. Just don’t do this as your first hike for the season; Get some big 1000m+ elevation hikes in before you give it a go. And be prepared for jelly-legs.

Getting Started

The start of this hike is the same as my previous post about camping at Helm Creek (so click through for more detailed instructions.) When we did this hike, we stopped and set up camp at Helm Creek. This worked well as it was really lovely to camp up in the alpine meadows. It also meant we did not have to carry our heavy bags all the way up to Panorama Ridge.

Once you leave the campground, you can’t go wrong as you just need to follow the (obvious) trail towards Black Tusk. (The jaunty-looking peak above.) Looking backwards, you can see Whistler and the musical bumps trail. It’s another spectacular area to camp at Russet Lake.

Black Tusk Views

The trail starts with a gradual incline for about 2km after Helm Creek Campground. It then flattens out a little as you pass a couple of ponds on the edge of the ancient lava field. Black Tusk is the core of an ancient stratovolcano, so previously there must have been a huge volcanic crater (like Mount Garibaldi.) Over the last million years, the loose cinder has eroded the cone, leaving only the hard lava core of Black Tusk.

Cinder Flats

The trail follows alongside a river that flows down from the Helm Glacier. The ground is all very volcanic as pyroclastic fragments (including volcanic ash and cinder) is easily washed down from Cinder Cone as well as Black Tusk. It reminded me of the amazing Volcanic landscape we saw in New Zealand at Tongariro Crossing.

Creek Crossing

There is a pretty good bridge between Cinder Cone and Cinder Flats, but it does not cross the entire stream. The amount of water varies hugely depending on the time of day. In the morning there were easy stepping stones across the wide edge of the river. However later in the afternoon, after the glacial snow has had a chance to melt, you might get wet feet!

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I find this flat volcanic landscape really interesting. You don’t see anything like this if you hike to Panorama ridge from the other direction.

Helm Lake

Helm Lake is located at the far side of the lava field, right below Black Tusk. The lake is fed from the Helm Glacier on one side, and from the Black Tusk Glacier on the other side. This means it is full of rock flour, so has a fabulous green colour, that changes depending on the direction in which you view it.

This is the view of Helm Lake and the trail we’d just hiked to reach it. That is Helm Peak off in the distance behind Cinder Cone.

How busy is Panorama Ridge?

Once you’ve climbed up above Helm Lake, you join the main trail to Panorama Ridge (with all the people hiking in from the other direction.) We only saw 2 other hikes on the section of trail between Helm Creek and here. However once we joined the main trail it was far busier. Expect to see lots of hikers on the final accent up to the ridge.

Panorama Ridge Terrain

This (below) is the ridge you’ll hike up, next to Black Tusk Lake. The trail ascends to the left of the lake, through what feels like 3 main sections. First there is an uphill hike through the tree-lined meadows. Then you follow an obvious path along rocky ridge, which is not technical or particularly steep. Lastly, the final section has a less distinct path, so follow the cairns through a mix of snow and steep slide-y rocks.

The easy section is the first climb through the trees. You’ll be rewarded with a fabulous view of Black Tusk and Helm Lake.

This is looking up the ridgeline. You can see the path is very obvious, at least until you reach the snow.

Black Tusk Views

We were planning to hike up Black Tusk the following day, so I was extra excited to see that view. Once you get onto the ridge, the views over to Black Tusk are incredible!

We did this hike in July, so there was still quite a lot of snow up on the ridge.

We made it up!

Panorama Ridge views

It’s impossible to get tired of the views of Garibaldi Provincial Park. There are mountains, glaciers as well as that huge bright blue glacial lake. This has to be one of the best views in BC’s coastal mountain range.

Leave your drone at home

It’s illegal to fly drones in BC’s Provincial Parks without permission. But (of course) there were some folks up here spoiling the quiet with buzzing of their drone. It was easy to see they were flying illegally, as they were super jumpy and tried to hide the drone as each hiking group made it to the summit.

We kept hiking a little further along the ridge to escape the drone noise.

I am really glad we did as the wildflowers and views are even better if you keep going to the highest point.

The giant snow slide

We saw quite a few people sliding down the glacier, rather than hiking back down the trail. There have been multiple few Search and Rescue call outs after people injure themselves or get stuck on that glacier. It may look fun, but there are cracks in the ice that can really cut you up. The SAR folks have enough to deal with, so just don’t tempt fate!

As expected, we really loved the hike to Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek. I especially loved the trail through the volcanic Cinder Flats to Helm Lake. Camping at Helm Creek allowed us to stay up a little later; So it was less crowded than our previous visit.

If you are planning a camping trip to Garibaldi Provincial Park, but you prefer a quieter alternative to the main campsites and trails, this is a fantastic option.

I’ll finish with some Panoramas, as it seems rude not to when Panorama is in the name of the location!

I hope you like the look of this one as it is such an incredible area of BC. L:et me know what you think and/or click on the pins below to share them.

Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek - an alternative way to BCs best view Great route to Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek - hike through volcanic area

34 thoughts on “Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek

  1. Hello Josybean, Please clarify for me. At one point you say you will climb Black Tusk tomorrow. Yet just after that you at a summit. Was that Black Tusk or may we hope for more tomorrow? Love, Lis

    1. It’s too different summits. Panorama Ridge is one summit and Black Tusk is the tusk-like summit behind it. I’ll write about that one next. 🙂

      (or maybe I’ll write about Frosty Mountain and the larches next as that was amaaazing last weekend.)

  2. Stunning photos of what looks like a really different hike through BC. That volcanic landscape is absolutely fascinating and looks like a different planet in some places. What a wonderful trip.

  3. Those views from Panorama Ridge are ridiculously gorgeous! With high up views like that who needs a drone anyways. Black Tusk and Helm lake are so beautiful too. I love hikes that have this much scenery making it easier so the distance doesn’t seem as long! I’d definitely need to get in shape before doing this one!

    1. Thanks Vanessa!

      I feel like you go on enough hikes that you’d know what you are getting into – I totally think you could do it. Once you get to the alpine, the views give you extra energy…

  4. What a gorgeous post! Those mountains… whew! Very inspiring. I’ve never done a high altitude rugged hike like that. Maybe I’ll work up to it. Shared this post on fb for my son. He’s an intrepid adventurer and had hoped to get up to Canada this summer. Alas… it didn’t happen.

  5. I’ve wanted to do Panorama Ridge for a while but there’s no way I’m doing that as a day hike. My hiking team is way to slow to get that done in one day. I wonder how early in the season you can hike it?! I saw everyone said it was super busy in the summer and the passes made that even more challenging. It certainly looks beautiful though and one I really need to get done ASAP

    1. I think you can hike it early in the season, but then you might have to camp in snow. We went in early July and that was pretty perfect, (but after the heat dome in June…I not sure if it is normally that lovely in early July.)

      Interestingly it is MUCH easier to get campsites in Helm Creek compared to Garibaldi Lake or Taylor Meadows. We booked 2 weeks in advance (rather than 2 months…)

  6. We were just in this area of BC. It rained for the whole time. We got out for easy hikes. This hike along Panorama Ridge looks amazing. Especially with views of the volcanic area around Helm. So many stunning views. Your panorama pics are stunning.

    1. Oh no that it rained while you were here! I hope you made it to some of the waterfall hikes then (they can be incredible in the rain!)

    1. Yaaay I hope you can out for a hike Krista! I feel like there are always fab places to walk all over the world once you start looking out for them.

  7. I just love this route to Panorama Ridge and camping at Helm Creek. I hope it doesn’t become too popular. Great photos and how lucky are you to have the bonus of the beautiful wildflowers on the ridge!

    1. I’d never been up there for wildflower season so that was a lovely surprise. 🙂

      Yeah it’s funny…I have a feeling Helm Creek will stay quiet-ish as most people seem to just talk about the route from Rubble Creek.

  8. I would love to hike to Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek. Stunning views and love your panorama shots…so appropriate!

    1. Thanks Hannah!

      It’s funny, your amazing photos in Yorkshire make me miss Blighty, but the views here in Canada are just so, sooo different to anything we have back home.

  9. I just watched a video about how amazing Whistler is, and now I am hooked! I would love to visit and spent some time exploring. This trail in particular looks really spectacular, but there is no way I could do that distance as a day hike! – Aireona

    1. Thanks Aireona!

      Yeah most people around the world know about Whistler for skiing and mountain biking, but there are loads of incredible hikes there too.

  10. What a gorgeous place to camp and hike! I would love to visit the Rockies here in the US to do some hiking in the summer.

  11. I hope it stays quieter too – we really liked tackling Panorama Ridge from Helm Creek, and it’s such a lovely campground too.

  12. Wow, the photos are amazing! Since I am more of a beach person, may I naively ask: I see you guys walk by and over the snow fields with short sleeves and short pants. Since the snow is still there, it is probably not a sign that it is very warm over there. Isn’t that too cold and aren’t you afraid to catch a cold?

    1. It’s one of those strange things about old snow at elevation in the summertime! The snow itself is cold, but on hot days it doesn’t affect the temperature around it much. You can just dress for summer weather even though you are right next to snow.

      Sometimes the wind blows over the snow and creates a lovely cool breeze, but it’s not always cold.

  13. What a breathtaking hiking trail. Added to my Canada hiking list immediately. Thank you for mentioning the drone rules, I am a drone user and find it incredibly annoying when people don’t obey the rules…We see so much bad behaviour in the UK too.

    1. Thanks Kitti.

      Yeah those people make other drone users look bad. We like the idea of getting a drone, but I would try to use it when there are fewer people around too. It’s a bit selfish to use it in an area where hundreds of people are hiking, as everyone has to listen to the annoying buzz sound. (Having said that, it’s less bad for the new teeny drones!)

    1. Oooh exciting! It depends what you like. The Rockies are amazing if you want the crazy blue glacial lakes and epic mountain views… but I also really love the coastal mountains for the gorgeous green forests (and less rocky, but still cool mountain views…)

      If you end up coming near us, I’d love to go on an adventure with you Melissa!

  14. Wow the pictures are amazing…love the one where you jump!! I didn’t know you cannot bring a drone to BC’s Provincial Parks (not that I have one lol). The wildflowers are so pretty! Too bad doggies are not allowed, we like to take the puppy with us.

    1. Thank yoooou! Don’t worry there are other stunning hikes nearby where you can take the doggos… just not to this delicate alpine environment…

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