Garibaldi Provincial Park is one of the most popular parks in British Columbia, encompassing a massive 194,650 hectares of undeveloped mountain wilderness. The centrepiece of the park, the 2,678m high Garibaldi Mountain, is named after the famous 19th-century Italian patriot and soldier, Giuseppe Garibaldi. The park contains rugged snow-capped mountain peaks, glaciers, alpine lakes, glacial fed streams and colourful alpine meadows.
There are five main areas in the park; Diamond Head is located in the southwestern portion of the park and features Mount Garibaldi, Atwell Peak (a volcanic pinnacle), the Opal Cone, Garibaldi Névé and Mamquam Lake. Black Tusk and Garibaldi Lake are located at the heart of the park that features Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge, Helm Glacier, the Sphinx, Guard Mountain, the Barrier, Garibaldi Lake, the Table, Sentinel Glacier, Sphinx Glacier and Castle Towers.
Cheakamus Lake is located in the northwest portion of the park around the glacier fed Cheakamus Lake. Singing Pass is just north of Cheakamus Lake and offers magnificent views of the Fitzsimmons and Spearhead Mountain Ranges and Cheakamus Glacier. Wedgemount Lake is located at the northern tip of the park and features Wedge Mountain, the highest peak in the park at 2,891m, and surrounding Wedgemount and Armchair Glaciers.
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The area has a very interesting geological and volcanic history. Many of the park’s peaks, including Black Tusk, Price Mountain, The Table, Mount Garibaldi, the Cinder Cone and Glacier Pikes are the results of recent, geologically speaking, volcanic activity. Garibaldi Lake sits behind a natural 300-metre dam called The Barrier, which was formed from the erupting lava of Clinker Peak. The jagged face of The Barrier is the result of a massive landslide that occurred in 1855, most likely triggered by an unrecorded earth tremor. Fortunately the dam held, as the damage from unleashing the pent-up waters of Garibaldi Lake would have been enormous. The Black Tusk is perhaps the most interesting of the volcanic peaks. This peak stands alone and has experienced severe erosion over time, which has given it its distinctive appearance.
Although much of the park’s terrain is rock and ice, there are lush stands of mature hemlock, fir, and cedar in places such as Cheakamus Lake. Southwestern slopes around Diamond Head are thickly carpeted with heather, which bears pink and white blossoms in summer, and blueberry bushes that turn every shade of yellow and red imaginable in fall.
Wildlife in the park is just as varied as its plantlife, however large mammals are surprisingly scarce for a park of this size. Deer, mountain goat, grizzly bear and black bear are present, but rarely seen. Smaller mammals such as marmots, squirrels and chipmunks are far more common. The Canadian jay is seen almost everywhere throughout the park, while golden eagles and ptarmigans are more recluse. Most of the waterways and lakes have fish, with rainbow trout being the most common.
Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor recreation activities in the Sea to Sky corridor. You could easily fill up every weekend in summer with a different trail, beginning at lower elevations in spring and gradually heading higher as the snowpack melts. Although the distances seem great, most hikes are only moderately demanding. Some, such as Garibaldi Lake (moderate; 11 miles/18 km return) and Black Tusk (extreme; 8.7 miles/14 km return from Garibaldi Lake), are so popular that the route seems as congested as Hwy 99, particularly near the end of the day when everyone is making a hurried descent to be in the parking lot before dark.
There is backcountry camping. These are located at Elfin Lakes, Mamquam Lake, Garibaldi Lake, Taylor Meadows, Helm Creek, Cheakamus Lake, Singing Creek, Russet Lake and Wedgemount Lake. Pit toilet and food storage facilities are located at all designated campsites. Fires are prohibited in Garibaldi Park. Applicable fees must be paid in full at the trailhead Fee Stations by Visa, Mastercard, cash or cheque. Proof of payment must be carried at all times while in the park.
Camping at Garibaldi Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park is restricted to two designated areas – Taylor Meadows and the west end of Garibaldi Lake. The hiking distance to both locations is the same, about 5.6 miles (9 km) from the Garibaldi Lake/Black Tusk trailhead, located 2.5 miles (4 km) east of Hwy 99, 12 miles (19 km) south of Whistler. A common trail leads to within 0.6 mile (1 km) of each, then divides. Tent pads and a covered cooking shelter are located at each. Campers must bring their own stoves and be prepared to pack out all refuse. When water levels in Garibaldi Lake are high, be prepared to wade a short distance along the shoreline to reach the campsites on its west side.
There are also wilderness campsites at three locations on Cheakamus Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park. The easiest one to reach is at the west end of the lake, while those at Singing Creek and Castle Towers Creek are more remote. You’ll need a boat (and a couple of hours’ paddling) to reach the primitive site at Castle Towers from the launch at the lake’s west end, which almost guarantees that you’ll usually have the site to yourself. From the trailhead, located about 4 miles (7 km) south from Hwy 99 on Cheakamus Lake Rd, it’s an easy 2-mile (3.5-km) hike to reach the first sites at Cheakamus Lake, situated beneath a sheltering old-growth forest.
The sites at Singing Creek are a further 2 miles (3.5 km) of moderate hiking along the north side of the lake. Castle Towers Creek enters Cheakamus Lake directly across from Singing Creek. Access to the Singing Pass area of Garibaldi Provincial Park is from the bus loop at Whistler Village. The trailhead and parking area located 4 km up Fitzsimmons Creek is no longer vehicle accessible, due to slope instability. Parking is available in Whistler Village day lots. For those hiking into Singing Pass overnight, parking is permitted in the designated area of Lot 4.
Elsewhere in Garibaldi Provincial Park, there are wilderness campsites at Russet Lake, 1.2 miles (2 km) east of Singing Pass, and at the northwest end of Wedgemount Lake. In addition, an alpine hut with room for six is located at each site. To access Wedgemount Lake turn right off Hwy 99, 13 km north of Whistler. You must cross the BC Rail train track to access the road. Use caution, this is an uncontrolled railway crossing. The parking lot is 4 km from Hwy 99. The access road is currently an active logging road.
Open all year, access depends on weather and snow load. Fees collected May 1 to November 15 at Garibaldi Lake and Taylor Meadows and all year at Elfin Lakes and Red Heather (winter camping only).
As soon as the snow begins to fall at higher elevations around Squamish, cross-country skiers head for Diamond Head in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Chances are that, beginning in late October and lasting through May, you will find snow covering the 7-mile (11-km), intermediate-level route that runs from the trailhead at the 3,000-foot (900-m) level to the cabin at Elfin Lakes (4,900 feet/1485 m). Allow four hours to make the trek one way. Bring your skins, as it’s a steady uphill for the first three hours as far as Paul Ridge before the trail levels and then makes a gradual descent to Elfin Lakes. If you’re just here for a day trip, the day shelter at Red Heather Meadow, a 2-mile (3-km) climb, may be as far as you wish to go, whereas continuing up the trail to the Elfin Lakes is more appropriate for an overnight excursion.
Diamond Head is also the approach to a vast backcountry region in the southwest corner of the park. Skiers should come prepared for sudden changes in weather. Diamond Head is the southern terminus of the Garibaldi Neve Traverse, a classic 26-mile (42-km) ski trek to Garibaldi Lake. Although this tour has many extended moderate sections, do not attempt it without a guide experienced in glacier travel.
You can ride a mountain bike on the trail that leads to Cheakamus Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This is one of only two places in the massive park where cycling is allowed. There aren’t many trails in Garibaldi Provincial Park where mountain bikes are allowed, but one of the best is the 7-mile (11-km) trail to Elfin Lakes in the Diamond Head region of the park. Plan on taking several hours to ascend the old service road, then enjoy a thrilling though not technically challenging descent.
Five park access points are located along Highway 99, Sea to Sky Highway, between Squamish and Pemberton. Vehicle access is recommended as the five trailheads are located anywhere from 2 km to 16 km off Highway 99.
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