Black Tusk in Garibaldi Park Whistler Hiking Trails
Black Tusk is the extraordinarily iconic and appropriately named mountain that can be seen from almost everywhere in Whistler. The massive black spire of crumbling rock juts out of the earth in an incredibly distinct way that appears like an enormous black tusk plunging out of the ground. Whether you spot it in the distance from the top of Whistler Mountain or from dozens of vantage points along the Sea to Sky Highway, its unmistakable appearance is breathtaking.
Whether you see it from the highway or from closer vantage points such as Taylor Meadows, Helm Creek, Panorama Ridge or Garibaldi Lake, all views make climbing to the top look impossible. In fact, Black Tusk seems to look more impossible to climb the closer you get to it. Even when you are close enough to touch its vertical, black and crumbling sides, you wonder in amazement how anyone can ever reach the top.
About 170,000 years ago renewed volcanic activity in what is now Garibaldi Park produced a lava dome within a cinder-rich volcanic cone itself over a million years old. Cinder-rich simply means that the cone formed out of explosive volcanic action and hardened, to some extent, in the air and therefore filled with air pockets and evidently light and weak in structure. This lava dome which was to become Black Tusk, hardened inside this more easily eroded cinder cone, so in the past 170,000 years the outer cinder cone has crumbled away to reveal the lava dome within. The Black Tusk itself is extremely crumbly as well as can be seen when you near it. It looks as if erupting out of a uniformly sloping mountain of jagged, black boulders.
Black Tusk is within the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt also called the Canadian Cascade Arc. This volcanic belt contains mostly dormant volcanoes, though also includes the much alive and infamous Mount St. Helens in Washington State, in the US. Mount Garibaldi from which Garibaldi Park gets its name was an active volcano as recently as 9300 years ago. Also in the area but well north of Black Tusk near Pemberton, Mount Meager had multiple eruptions ending only recently, that is 2350 years ago according to recent studies. Meager now has become known in the region for its alarmingly frequent mudslides that terrorize the Meager Creek Hot Springs below and the town of Pemberton further down the valley. The last mudslide occurred just a couple years ago and was one of the largest in recorded Canadian history. Pemberton was partly evacuated as a result.
The Garibaldi Volcanic Belt that encompasses Black Tusk is a result of the subduction of the Juan de Fuca Plate under the North American Plate at the Cascadia subduction zone along the British Columbia coast. This fault zone is over a thousand kilometres long and moves at just a centimetre per year, producing large earthquakes on average every 500 years.
Black Tusk is accessible from three directions. From the nearby microwave tower (also visible from the Sea to Sky Highway), from the Garibaldi Park, Cheakamus Lake trailhead, and from the Garibaldi Park, Rubble Creek trailhead. Of the three routes, only the Cheakamus Lake trailhead and the Rubble Creek trailhead are officially used for access to Black Tusk. They have large and free parking lots equipped with an outhouse at each as well as big map and information boards. Along both trails you will find good signs indicating where to hike as well as kilometre markings.
The microwave tower, though very close to Black Tusk, and has a good gravel road to it, is blocked several kilometres away by a large vehicle gate. This is potentially a good way to hike to Black Tusk, however this annoying gate makes what should be a short hike, a long and tedious one. Also, there are of course no signs indicating where to go once you reach the microwave tower. This route is currently being considered to be opened to allow vehicles to park at or near the microwave tower, however, little progress has been made so far.
The Cheakamus Lake trailhead route to get to Black Tusk is a good option as it is quiet, serene and takes you over the beautiful Cheakamus River via suspension bridge and through the wonderfully remote Helm Creek campground. It is, however, quite long at over 15 kilometres each way to the summit of Black Tusk and part of this route is unmarked, requires some route-finding, and a wet crossing of Helm Creek. It is a good option if you are keen on avoiding crowds as the beautiful Helm Creek campground has only about a dozen tent platforms and more often than not, are mostly deserted. Helm Creek is also the gateway to quite a few great great hikes. A quick look at a map indicates several accessible mountains close by as well as Corrie Lake.
The most popular, scenic and direct hiking trail to Black Tusk is from the popular Rubble Creek trailhead, just off the Sea to Sky Highway, 25 kilometres south of Whistler Village. As this trailhead is also the best route to access Garibaldi Lake, Taylor Meadows and Panorama Ridge, it is sometimes very busy and some weekends find both campgrounds full.
The Rubble Creek trailhead is easy to find, just keep your eye out for the large highway sign that reads, "Black Tusk(Garibaldi)" along the side of the Sea to Sky Highway 25 kilometres south of Whistler Village. The huge and free trailhead parking has a map and information board as well as an outhouse.
Rubble Creek is so named because of the large boulder field deposited from The Barrier is previous, massive debris flows. The last occurred 80 years ago, when The Barrier partly gave way and an estimated thirty million cubic metres of rock crashed down near the now, Rubble Creek trailhead. The Barrier can be viewed along the trail to Garibaldi Lake just past the y junction after the 6k mark along the trail. A sign indicates the short path to the viewpoint.
The trail from Rubble Creek starts off by quickly ascending along a wide dirt path inside a deep forest. For the first 6 kilometres you only catch glimpses of the sky through the the deep and thick forest. Several switchbacks along the trail continue until you get to the first fork in the trail about 6.2 kilometres from the trailhead. Right takes you to past the Barrier, Lesser Garibaldi Lake and then to Garibaldi Lake (in 3 kilometres).
There is a nice mapboard at this trail junction which gives you a good chance to plot your course. A good way to hike if doing a one day hike is to take this left fork through Taylor Meadows and then return via Garibaldi Lake for a swim near the end of the journey. The Taylor Meadows route is also slightly shorter to Black Tusk than the Garibaldi Lake direction and therefore gets you to your goal quicker.
If you take the left fork toward Taylor Meadows you will finally escape the heavy forest cover and emerge to spectacular scenery in about 20 minutes. Taylor Meadows is in a beautiful valley of gnarled, weather beaten trees, endless green meadows and in July and August, alpine flowers as far as you can see. What immediately comes into view towering in the distance is Black Tusk and the wooden boardwalk through Taylor Meadows continues straight as Black Tusk looms far ahead and to your left. This is where you will start taking photos almost continuously of Black Tusk, and probably not stop until you touch its sheer black sides. Though you are only half way there, from now on the views from the trail are amazing, varied, and progressively better.
Just past Taylor Meadows the boardwalk ends and the dirt trail crosses a creek and then past a small, locked BC Parks building and another trail junction. The trail to the right leads to Garibaldi Lake and campsite area in 2 kilometres. The trail that continues straight goes to Black Tusk(5.5k), the Panorama Ridge(7k) and much further away, Helm Creek(9.2k) and Cheakamus Lake(18k). The views along this 2 kilometre section of trail between this junction and the Black Tusk junction are beautiful. Green meadows, flowers everywhere you look. Distant snow capped mountains and the starkly beautiful Black Tusk towering to your left.
The next junction you come to has a nice mapboard and more nice kilometre markings and direction signs. Once again you can turn right and head towards Garibaldi Lake or continue straight for Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge, Helm Creek and Cheakamus Lake. There is an outhouse here and ropes along the edge of the trail here to try to keep hikers on the trail. The area is ideal for camping with a beautiful creek and endless flat grassy areas, however a sign indicates not to camp here in order to not damage the fragile alpine areas off the trail.
In just a hundred metres further another fork in the trail takes you left towards Black Tusk(3k) or straight toward Panorama Ridge(4.5k), and you begin ascending steadily through patches of forest occasionally breaking to reveal amazing views of Garibaldi Lake to your right and Black Tusk on your left. This section of trail, from this junction to Black Tusk is fairly steep and the most challenging. You will cross dozens of tiny creeks so water is never in short supply. This section of trail is often snow covered well into July, however, the snow is hard-packed, easy to walk on, and the trail is hard to stray from.
As you approach Black Tusk you will begin walking on the massive scree slopes that surround it. On a sunny day you will immediately feel the warmth from the black rocks underfoot. Due to the increasing elevation the temperatures will have noticeably fallen quite a bit as compared to Taylor Meadows, however the heat from the black rocks on a sunny day more than counter this drop in temperature. You will likely find yourself putting on a sweater after the Black Tusk junction and then taking it off again once you near Black Tusk and feel this heat rising from the ground.
The steep scree slope leads to a ridge adjacent to Black Tusk. To your left the obvious route takes you to Black Tusk and the increasingly sketchy route along the edge of its base. Following this route you will occasionally look straight up and while marvelling at the enormous, vertical edge of Black Tusk, wonder about odds of one of the millions of crumbling chunks of Black Tusk dropping from high above, onto your head.
As you scramble along the edge of Black Tusk you come to a chute heading almost straight up. Then another chute, this second one is marked with an orange trail marker. Again, even this close you will wonder, as almost everyone else at this spot, “I don’t think this is a safe way to go.” Then you pause and look around, taking in the view, spectacular. Just spectacular.
Above the clouds, looking over the impossibly blue Garibaldi Lake, nestled in endless snowy mountains. There is even snow, more accurately a glacier just below you, in the valleys of scree that crumbled from Black Tusk. The scree is black, very black. Basketball sized boulders litter the glacier far below. Contrasting colours of the snow, clouds, lake and sky, the view is breathtaking.
Most people don’t continue up the final chute to the top, it’s that scary looking. This is justifiable. It is unquestionably unsafe. Chunky rock holds pull free as you grip them. Above you jet black, jagged rocks tumble and ricochet down on and around you. And the view is so spectacular around you that it’s easy to justify turning around here. But the final ascent is not really that hard. Keep your head down, three points of contact at all times, slow and steady and you reach the top of the world.
The two main parking lots to access Black Tusk are free to use and very well organized. The Rubble Creek trailhead parking is well equipped with direction signs, a mapboard and outhouse. The access road that connects it to the Sea to Sky Highway is even paved and it is generally free of snow from May to November. The trailhead at Cheakamus Lake is also equipped with a signboard and frequent directions and kilometre markings as well as an outhouse and is similarly free of snow May to November, however is riddled with large potholes for most of its 8k length. The printable topographic map to Black Tusk below has driving directions to the Rubble Creek trailhead. Both trailheads are easy to find and well marked with large signs on the Sea to Sky Highway indicating where to turn.
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). 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.: 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 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. The trails through Garibaldi Park are in such a vast area that suitable places far into the wilderness away from anyone, to put up a tent are limitless. People bivy on top of Black Tusk, put up a tent on the far slopes of Panorama Ridge, or tent in any number of other places. Being located in British Columbia means that you are never far from a creek, river or lake wherever you hike in Garibaldi Park.
There are outhouses (toilets) at various places in Garibaldi Park along the trail to Black Tusk. The parking lot/trailheads at Rubble Creek and Cheakamus Lake have outhouses. The campsites at and at Garibaldi Lake have outhouses. There is also an outhouse at the trail junction where the Black Tusk trail ascends from the main trail, 3.5k from Black Tusk. These are basic, pit toilets, usually equipped with toilet paper.
Dogs are not permitted on the trail to Black Tusk or any other Garibaldi Provincial Park trails out of courtesy to the resident animals. There are a large number of black bears in the park and encounters with dogs result in unpredictable and potentially dangerous conflicts. There are quite a few excellent hiking trails in Whistler that are dog friendly. Whistler's Valley Trail and Lost Lake Trails are dog friendly and run throughout Whistler. The Sea to Sky Trail, which runs over 30 kilometres through Whistler is a paradise trail for dogs as it runs through numerous parks, beaches and forests. Ancient Cedars is a nice, dog friendly hike that is 5k roundtrip and takes you into a thousand year old forest. Train Wreck is also dog friendly. The trailhead, marked Flank Trail is located in Function Junction, just a short drive south of Whistler Village. Further south you will come to Brandywine Falls, which is a short, 2k (roundtrip) dog friendly hike to the amazing falls. About 25 minutes north of Whistler, Nairn Falls is another beautiful and dog friendly hiking trail. For a look at some of the best dog friendly hikes in Whistler try here.. And for some more challenging dog friendly hikes try here..
Trailhead Directions & Trail Map Printer, Smartphone & Tablet Friendly
Printer, smartphone and tablet friendly. Designed to fit standard printers and copiers. To print: Right click on the map below, save image as, save to desktop, then open the image and print on standard size printer paper. Cell coverage is reliable on all of the trail to Black Tusk so you will be able to access the internet if you have a data plan, however saving this map to your smartphone or tablet may be a good idea.
Cheakamus Lake and Microwave Tower Trailheads to Black Tusk
The less popular yet in some ways superior route to Black Tusk is from Cheakamus Lake trailhead. The well marked, often deserted trail takes 2.5 hours to get to the beautiful Helm Creek campground. From Helm Creek to the top of Black Tusk is another 2.5 hours. Travelling through spectacular scenery and an improbable looking approach, well off the beaten track. At the lights at Function Junction (8k south of Whistler Village), turn left, then after 500m you will see a sign on your left for Cheakamus Lake. Follow this unpaved road for 8k to the Cheakamus Lake trailhead. Follow the Cheakamus Lake trail for 1.5k until you see a sign directing you to turn right toward Helm Creek. Follow the signs from here.
One relatively unknown route to Black Tusk is via the Cheakamus Valley Microwave Tower. This is possibly the easiest and shortest route but requires reaching Black Tusk from a little used, and unmarked direction. There is currently some wrangling going on between local hiking enthusiasts and the Resort Municipality of Whistler to open this vehicle access to the microwave tower which sits very close to Black Tusk. Various reasons are given for having this road blocked by a gate and potential vandalism seem to top the list. This is a shame as the road is quite good and already maintained to a high standard due to its frequent use.
So for the foreseeable future hikers will need to park at the gate about 5k from the Microwave Tower and hike it. There is room at the gate for about two vehicles and signs leading to the gate which are quite straight forward. Find your way to the turnoff from Highway 99 to Cheakamus Lake and instead of following the west side of Cheakamus River, follow the east side. Once reaching the Microwave Tower you simply walk in the direction of Black Tusk as close as you can. There is no trail of course, but as you are in the alpine there is no foliage to block your way so you just have to look down on the terrain and plot your course.
The Cheakamus Valley Microwave Tower Near Black Tusk