Backpacking Garibaldi Lake and Panorama Ridge
If you are taking someone on their first backpacking trip and you aren’t sure how they will feel about it, I recommend Garibaldi Lake. The lake is beautiful and the campground has multiple outhouses and bear shelters for storing and cooking your food. No need to bury your poo in the woods or attempt a bear hang. As far as backpacking goes it doesn’t get much more glamorous than this! This place has been on my to-hike list for a while. After years of drooling over this view, I was able to convince Doris and our boyfriends to come along with me!
Camping at Garibaldi Provincial Park is ONLY allowed at the Garibaldi Lake, Taylor Meadows, and Helm Creek campgrounds. All three require reservations year round (which you can get online here). I have seen multiple people post photos on Instagram camping on Panorama Ridge. This is ILLEGAL. Rangers regularly patrol the area looking for such activity and if you are caught you will be cited/fined. I get it, it would be wonderful to be able to camp on Panorama Ridge. If everyone who wanted to camp on the ridge was able to the experience would be ruined for everyone. If you are considering illegally camping here, do me a favor and read the principles of Leave No Trace and reconsider. The needs of these wild spaces and everyone else outweigh your desire to camp where it’s prohibited. You can find more info on the camping rules in Garibaldi Provincial Park here.
Now that I have gotten that rant out of the way I can get into the details of our trip!
You can book permits for Garibaldi Provincial Park Campgrounds up to four months in advance. Doris and I woke up early one morning in April and hurried to book a site at Garibaldi Lake in August. This ended up being overkill as we talked to many people who had booked their campsites a week or two prior. Better safe than sorry I suppose!
We left Seattle Thursday evening after work and drove to Squamish. Doris booked us a “hotel-style” room in the Squamish Adventure Inn (a hostel). I have never stayed in a hostel before, but it was super clean and ended up being $25 a person for the 4 of us to share the room.
Day One: Hike from Rubble Creek Trailhead to Garibaldi Lake Campground
Our permit said the parking lot at Rubble Creek tends to fill up by 8 am so we arrived at 7:59. There were still a few spots left but a lot of people were arriving for day hikes and backpacking trips. We put our packs together and started out on the trail. Doris and Cody hike a little slower than Brian and I do so they brought along walkie-talkies so we could communicate our campsite choice and in case anything went wrong.
It was a cloudy humid day and the switchbacks to the lake are steep and unrelenting. Even though it wasn’t that warm out I found myself covered in sweat and Brian was asking for breaks often. I would advise bringing plenty of water as there weren’t any places to filter until you get to the first lake a couple of kilometers before Garibaldi Lake.
I was surprised to see how many campsites were open when we arrived at the campground. Brian didn’t want to hike anymore so he sat at an open campsite while I wandered to see if there was anything better. Spoiler Alert, there wasn’t. This isn’t the type of campground where you will get epic views from your tent. Some sites are bigger than others, but generally speaking, they are all about the same view-wise and you will be in the woods. After I figured this out I wandered back to Brian and we got to work setting up our tent.
The weather still wasn’t great so when Doris and Cody arrived we napped and then went to the bear shelter to eat lunch. We could see Panorama ridge in the distance and it was completely socked in. There was talk of hiking to Black Tusk, but with the high points socked in it seemed a little pointless. After lunch, we opted to explore around the lake. There is a little island you can rock hop to, a ranger station, and a dock with a storage shed nearby.
Day Two: Hike to Panorama Ridge
Usually, I force everyone to wake up before the sun rises while I am backpacking, but I had Brian along and he is by no means a morning person. We woke up long after the sun rose and I must admit it was nice to sleep through a sunrise while backpacking for once. After making breakfast in the bear shelter we packed our daypacks and started the hike to Panorama Ridge.
If you want to day hike to Panorama Ridge from Rubble Creek it’s around 20 miles round trip. I saw that number and immediately said HELL NO, but when I was out hiking this trail it actually seemed doable. The majority of the elevation gain is leading up to Garibaldi Lake. Hiking through the meadows is flat before you hit the final push to Panorama Ridge, which is a major push. This section of the trail immediately reminded me of my Mount St Helens summit in June. It wouldn’t be an EASY day if you decided to turn Panorama Ridge into a day hike, but it wouldn’t be impossible if you are in good hiking shape.
This section is also much prettier than the boring hike to Garibaldi. You go through some beautiful meadows and pass a few alpine lakes on your way to the ridge. It was early August when we hiked it and the wildflowers were in full bloom in the meadows.
In an attempt to be nice, I carried the backpack with all our water and food the entire hike up. When we got to the difficult final push to the ridge I definitely regretted this decision. It was hot and the trail had turned into a loose scree and boulder field. However, once we made it to the top I completely forgot about the heavy pack! The view is amazing and the lake is the most gorgeous shade of blue with the sun hitting it from above. This is a popular destination so I wouldn’t expect to have it to yourself, but the ridge is long and people tend to spread out along it to take in the view. We were there in the middle of the day and I never felt annoyed with the number of people trickling in and out (until I witnessed an unprepared group of teens glissade down an unsafe snowfield without ice axes…but that’s a story for another time)
We spent a couple of hours on the ridge eating lunch and taking photos before turning around and heading back to camp. I took it slow on the loose scree since I was pretty nervous after my tumble on Mount St Helens. Once we got to the flat meadow section I started jogging as much as possible to get back to camp quickly. Once at camp Brian and I napped until Doris and Cody got back about an hour later, then we all put on swimsuits and got ready to swim in the lake.
Garibaldi Lake looks much colder than it is. It was warm outside and I didn’t find jumping into the lake to be too shocking, but Brian and Doris didn’t exactly agree with me on that. We jumped in a few times before lying on the dock to dry off in the sun before another dinner in the bear shelter. At sunset, I wandered back down to the lake for photos before turning in for the night.
Doris has a habit of talking me into night photography even though most of the time…I don’t want to do it. My sleeping bag is warm, I am tired, I don’t have a fast enough lens, the excuses abound. Somehow Doris always convinces me I should and I end up shivering under the night sky taking multiple long exposures with her. Most of my shots are still pretty mediocre and I am hoping to get a better lens for astrophotography soon!
Day Three: Hike back to Rubble Creek Trailhead
We had another late morning as we were in no rush to hike out. We ate breakfast and broke up camp later in the morning. The hike down was extremely busy. I had no idea when I booked our campsite, but apparently, it was a long holiday weekend in BC. When we made it down to the parking lot it was completely full, and cars were parked along the road almost the entire way down to the highway. Definitely get to the parking lot before 8 am on a busy weekend day if you want a good parking spot!
I loved this trip! With a little research, it was super easy to plan! Hopefully, this trip report can help you plan your own excursion to Garibaldi Lake and Panorama Ridge.