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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.