New this year, as of June 22nd 2016 reservations are required for camping at Garibaldi Lake campground and Taylor Meadows campground from June 29th-September 30th, 2016. Camping fees must be paid before entering the park. There are no cash payment options. You can pay online here.. In 2016 the trail to Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake was reasonably easy to hike through the quickly melting and tracked out snow in late May. Hiking to Black Tusk or Panorama Ridge before mid June this year will remain very challenging and potentially dangerous.
The main concerns are the shoe soaking sections of knee deep snow and the possibility of losing the snow covered trail and getting lost. The tracked out route keeps it relatively easy to follow, however for some this already exhausting trail, may become frustratingly painful to hike and dangerous to the unprepared.
It is surprisingly easy to absentmindedly set out on a trail like this without adequate clothing and decent pre-planning. You can quickly find yourself soaked with sweat, drenched socks and find yourself approaching hypothermia. It is doubtful that any week of the year passes without hiking, skiing or snowshoeing occurring in this part of Garibaldi Provincial Park. And owing to the large numbers of visitors a few unprepared hikers are often seen. Best to assume it will be very cold near the end of the trail and being dry and warm makes a world of difference!
If you can manage to park your car at Whistler and another at the Garibaldi Lake trailhead at Rubble Creek, you can do this wonderful array of trails linearly and take in a staggering list of stunning sights. Russet Lake, Cheakamus Lake, Helm Creek, Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge, Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake are the more well known highlights of an amazing route like this.
If just hiking from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead the trail has little elevation change for the first 1.5k. At 1.5k you will see a sign directing you to the branching trail to Helm Creek. This takes you down to the huge and gorgeous Cheakamus Lake to cross a nice suspension bridge. Then the steadily uphill grind begins, and doesn't end until you reach the Campground.
The deep forest of towering Hemlocks and Cedars keeps the views to a minimum on the trail until about 5k after the Cheakamus River crossing where you run closer to the Helm Creek which can be heard crashing near the trail before it comes into sight. The total distance from the Cheakamus Trailhead to the Helm Creek campground is 9k.
The campground is wonderfully laid out. With 9 well designed and located, wooden tent pads. Most are steps from Helm Creek. If it took you 1.5 to 2 hours to hike to Helm Creek, then it will take you about the same to hike to Panorama Ridge or the summit of Black Tusk. Corrie Lake is another interesting hike from Helm Creek. If you have ever hiked the High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain you will no doubt have noticed the surreal looking lake, well above Cheakamus Lake and looks to be almost hovering in the forest. Though a bushwack from Helm Creek, it is well worth the couple kilometres to reach. If nothing else, to say you stood on the shores of this remarkable lake.
A good idea if hiking to Helm Creek is to grab a topo map of the area then just pick a mountain and go. Every mountain you can point to on the map is a reachable and almost certainly, an amazing potential hike. And with the staggering array of choices, you will likely spot more bears than humans in such an unexpectedly secluded part of Garibaldi Park.
The hike from Helm Creek to Black Tusk is very beautiful. If you do it in one day from the Cheakamus trailhead to the Black Tusk summit you will likely take From the Helm Creek campground and well worn and well signed trail ascends into the trees and almost directly aims for Black Tusk. Though still about 6k away, it dominates the view from all areas of Helm Creek. In July the snowline will be not too far above Helm Creek, though due to the gradual rise in elevation and weeks of warm temperatures, the snow is hard and easy to walk on without the help of snowshoes.
From Helm Creek to Black Tusk is about 5.5k and takes about two hours and there are a couple options. One of course is to keep to the marked trail as it runs past Black Tusk far to your right and get on to the Black Tusk trail up the conventional, Rubble Creek trailhead way. The better option from Helm Creek is to veer off the trail about 400 metres before reaching Helm Lake, cross the shallow, though wide Helm Creek and follow the obvious route to Black Tusk. This route is faster and absolutely amazing.
The terrain is breathtaking from the moment you leave the established trail until you reach the summit of Black Tusk. Though it looks daunting from the start, near Helm Lake, it is only moderately challenging. No excessive climbs, no ropes needed. The distance from the Helm Creek crossing to the summit is about 2.6k as you follow a relatively straight line. Climbing quickly and reaching the shockingly black rock that has crumbled from the Tusk. To your right you will eventually see the broad sloping side of Black Tusk give way to a massive valley of snow. To your left the valley descends away from you into a breathtaking valley of dead trees, green grassy meadows and the distant river flowing through the mountains.
This route joins with the normal Black Tusk trail route near the base of Black Tusk. From this point you walk the black bridge-like ridge of rock to touch Black Tusk itself. Then you walk the trail that runs at the top of the scree around the left side to reach the perilous looking chute up to the summit. This resting area has incredible views of the valley below and the amazingly blue Garibaldi Lake contrasting with the black rock all around and the pure white snow more distant.
This final chute turns back quite a few people at this point as it looks extremely dangerous. Chunks of rock tumble down it from people above. Handholds routinely crumble in your hands. And looking down reveals the distinctly real possibility of tumbling down a brutal scree slope for several hundred metres. There have been some injuries here requiring emergency airlifts out, however they are remarkably few.
If you have the courage to make this final ascent, you quickly realize that it is much easier than you thought. There are plenty of good hand and footholds along the way and the gentle slope ensures a comforting feeling of safety. This chute is just a dozen metres until it slopes to a crawling scramble and finally walking on top of the world with absolutely phenomenal views all around.
Camping & Bivouacking Near Black Tusk
Garibaldi Lake campsites: The most busy camping option in the area is at Garibaldi Lake with 50 campsites with full service (water, security, etc) and fees (May 1 - Nov 15 - $10 per person). The campsites are well laid out and disappear into the forest. All are steps from the amazing Garibaldi Lake with great, though very cold swimming. There is good fishing here for rainbow trout, which were introduced back in the 1920's. Taylor Meadows campsites: gets very busy at times as well with 40 campsites with full service (water, security, etc) and fees (May 1 - Nov 15). There are some small rivers close by but no swimming. The draw for Taylor Meadows camping is the wonderful location. It lays in a beautiful forested meadow full of hills and flowers and views of the towering Black Tusk. It has a less crowded feel than Garibaldi Lake does, though bear in mind that even when crowded these campsites don't feel crowded - they are just that organized and thick with trees and hills. Also, if you were to feel crowded, you could easily wander in any of several directions and become immersed in the wonderful forest and beautiful desolation in these vast meadows. The Helm Creek camping area is smaller than the Garibaldi Lake and Taylor Meadows camping areas at just 9 tent platforms, however it is in a beautiful setting on the quiet side of Black Tusk, though 1.5 hours away from the approaches to Black Tusk. Helm Creek is another beautiful campground. Most of the 9 campsites are next to the beautiful Helm Creek. The main draw of this campsite is that it is on the quieter side of this area and can be approached from Cheakamus Lake.
Though camping outside of designated campsites is prohibited in Garibaldi Park, the wonderful vastness of the terrain make bivouacking far from humanity enticing. On busy days in the summer you may find your desired campsite full and be forced to camp elsewhere. The trails through Garibaldi Park reach high into the alpine and finding hidden pockets of paradise to sleep under the stars are nearly limitless. People bivouac on top of Black Tusk, sleep under the stars on Panorama Ridge, or tent in any number of remote places. Being located in British Columbia means that you are never far from a creek, river or lake/tarn. Though you will rarely see Park staff beyond the designated campsites, you should be sure to purchase a backcountry permit as you could be given a $144 fine for not providing proof of payment for staying in the park overnight.