Garibaldi Lake (Whistler, BC)

A stunning hike to Garibaldi Lake, which in April is frozen over and surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks.  

It’s my second hike on a brief visit to Canada, after Stawamus Chief on the previous day… but unlike yesterday’s walk, this one I’d planned in advance. Although I’m doing the hike to Garibaldi Lake in April  – which is well before the recommended season – I’m hoping that by avoiding the higher peaks I won’t get thwarted by deep snow.

The advantage of out-of-season hiking is that there’s not another soul around as I set off down the trail from Rubble Creek (a short distance south of Whistler).

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The very well-made trail ascends quite gently at first, through a tall forest of Douglas fir and hemlock. 

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The track crosses a number of side-streams, which all flow into Rubble Creek; they all have well-constructed timber bridges. 

After about 2.2km (1.5 miles), the trail starts climbing steeply via a long set of swich-backs. The snow cover starts here, and gets progressively deeper as the track ascends. It’s quite surreal hiking through the snow-covered trees… although I’m convinced that I keep seeing bear tracks cross-crossing the path!

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After about 5.6km (3.5 miles), I reach the junction with the track that goes to Taylor Meadows Campground, and then onto the Black Tusk peak. Just after this junction is a view of The Barrier, a dam about 300m (1,000 ft) thick and about 2km (1.2 miles) wide which was formed by lava flows from the Mount Price and Clinker Peak volcanoes to the south. The Barrier holds back the water in Garibaldi Dam, and while there’s no credible evidence that this lava dam will collapse, concerns about the Barrier’s instability led to the evacuation and relocation of the nearby village of Garibaldi in 1981. 

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Not long after the Barrier lookout is Barrier Lake, frozen over and surrounded by a dense forest of tall fir trees. 

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The track then crosses another couple of creeks as it follows Rubble Creek and contnues to ascend. First is Taylor Creek, which flows into Lesser Garibaldi Lake….

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and then Parnasus Creek, just before Lake Garibaldi.

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The track reaches Lake Garibaldi (1,484m above sea level) near its outlet. In summer, Upper Rubble Creek would be a rushing torrent of water; today a mass of debris and logs are frozen in place. Framed by the fir trees on both sides of the lake is Castle Towers Mountain.

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The track now follows the edge of the frozen lake: Garibaldi Lake is over 250m (800 ft) deep, 5km (3.1 miles) long and 4km (2.5 miles) wide. In summer the lake is a beautiful turquoise colour, due glacial flour suspended in the meltwater from its two primary inflows (the large Sphinx Glacier to the east and the Sentinel Glacier to the south). 

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I go as far as the Garibaldi Lake Campground, which has a small hut or day-shelter. It’s not really possible to continue without snow-shoes; up to here the path is pretty well-trodden. Beyond the campground you need snowshows to avoid sinking deep into the snow. At the far end of Lake Garibaldi is the Roland Burton Hut (also known as the Sphinx Hut), which can be reached in winter by crossing the lake on skiis or with snowshoes.

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Looking east across Garibaldi Lake is a panoramic view of the snow-covered peaks surrounding the lake: Parorama Ridge (2,133m), Gentian Peak (2,197m), Castle Towers (2,676m), Mount Carr (2,590m), The Sphinx (2,402m)m Deception Peak (2,233m) and Mount Price (2,052m). There are trails to some of these peaks, although in winter you’d need some more serious equipment than I have! 

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After admiring the view and tranquillity for a while, I reluctantly head back along the track to the car…

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While Lake Garibaldi is a popular destination in summer – with the campground requiring a reservation – I haven’t seen a single person all day. It’s been an outstanding walk, and one I’d happily do again!

 0.0km / 0.0mi Rubble Creek parking lot
2.2km / 1.5mi Start of switch-backs 5.6km / 3.5mi Junction with track to Taylor Meadows campground
5.8km / 3.6mi The Barrier viewpoint
6.2km / 3.8mi Barrier Lake
8.5km / 5.3mi Garibaldi Lake outlet
9.1km / 5.7mi Garibaldi Lake Campground (1,484m)
18.2km / 11.3mi Rubble Creek
Location Rubble Creek parking lot, 28km (17 miles) south of Whistler
Distance 18.2km return (5-7 hours)
Grade Moderate. 900m total elevation
Season/s May-Oct
Map/s Cheakamus River 92G/14
GPS Route AllTrails map with option to download GPX / KML files
Resources

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