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The brilliant turquoise blue Garibaldi Lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, encompasses the incredible beauty of Canada. It’s truly a destination that needs to be on your bucket list while you’re in British Columbia.
People come from all over the world to visit this part of BC and take on the hike to Garibaldi Lake. It’s one of the province’s most well-known hiking trails and one of the best things to do while you’re in BC. Whether you’re driving from Vancouver to Lake Louise or even visiting nearby Whistler or Squamish, planning a day to take this hike is a decision you won’t regret!
But with all the popular lakes in BC (including the stunningly beautiful Joffre Lakes), there’s a lot to know before you hit the trail. Believe me; you aren’t the only one planning an epic hike here.
If hiking to Garibaldi Lake is a must-do for you, this complete guide is here to help. I’ve included everything from where the lake is, whether you can swim in it, how long the hike is and when you should go. It’s basically all the questions you might have along with a few extras, so you’ll be completely prepared!
About Garibaldi Lake
Garibaldi Lake is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtaking places to visit in British Columbia.
The lake formed about 9,000 years ago when lava from nearby volcanoes created a dam in the valley, known as “The Barrier,” that is 980 feet thick and about 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) wide. You can see The Barrier while you’re hiking to the lake too!
Garibaldi Lake is a spectacular lake with a rich aquamarine color and surrounded by soaring mountain peaks and beautiful forest – it’s picture-perfect (make sure you bring a camera!). To get to the lake, you’ll need to complete an 18-kilometer (11-mile) round-trip hike that is rated as intermediate.
The lake is famous for the bright blue water, thanks to the glaciers in the area. The glacial silt or rock flour runs off the glaciers and stays suspended in the water, reflecting sunlight and giving that Gatorade-blue color. The best time to see this shade of blue is during the summer when there are the sunniest days, and the glaciers are melting.
The trail to Garibaldi Lake is inside Garibaldi Provincial Park, which has been a protected park since it was established in the 1920s. This means all provincial park rules apply to this trail, so it’s important to be aware of these and plan ahead. I’ve come up with some of my top tips to hike this trail so you have the best experience and can enjoy your time exploring this incredible place.
Things to Know Before Hiking to Garibaldi Lake
1. Where is Garibaldi Lake?
Garibaldi Lake is located inside Garibaldi Provincial Park in British Columbia. It’s about 37 kilometers (23 miles) north of Squamish and 28 kilometers (17 miles) south of Whistler. Most people coming to Garibaldi Lake will stay in one of those two places or try to camp nearby.
If you were to drive from downtown Vancouver, it’s about an hour and a half away.
Garibaldi Lake can only be reached via hiking trails, and you can’t drive directly there. The most common way to get to the lake is by taking the Sea to Sky Highway (the road that connects Vancouver with Whistler) to the Rubble Creek parking lot and then hiking from there.
2. How long is the hike to Garibaldi Lake?
The hike to Garibaldi Lake is 18 kilometers (11 miles) round-trip, and it takes most people about 5 to 7 hours to complete. The hike to the lake starts at the Rubble Creek parking lot – look for the wooden steps along the top part of the lot. It’s well signed here, and you’ll find the trail starts uphill right away and climbs pretty steadily for about 6.5 kilometers (4 miles).
At that point, you’ll come to the Taylor Meadows Junction, where you’ll have a decision to make. You can either hike directly to Garibaldi Lake by going right at the junction or extend the hike through Taylor Meadows by going left. If you really want to see the lake, take the more direct route by going right here. If you have a bit more time and can add a few kilometers to the trip, then go left.
If you go right at the junction, you’ll follow the trail past Barrier Lake and Lesser Garibaldi Lake before reaching another junction near the lake. Go right here and down a hill, across a bridge, and then walk along the lakeshore as the view you came here for comes into view – turquoise blue waters with the glacier mountain backdrop.
If you go left at the Taylor Meadows Junction, the hike takes you through Taylor Meadows, which is especially beautiful when the wildflowers here are in bloom in late summer. After crossing through the meadows, turn right at the junction before Black Tusk, and the trail will head sharply downhill to Garibaldi Lake.
Some people, including me, hike one way on the way there and the other way on the way back. This especially makes sense if you want to hike up to Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge.
3. Is the hike to Garibaldi Lake difficult?
The Garibaldi Lake trail is rated as intermediate, so it’s a bit of a challenge and requires some stamina. I definitely wouldn’t classify this as an “easy hike” as the trail is not flat, and it’s almost entirely uphill until just before the lake.
The first couple of kilometers is the hardest as this is the steepest part of the trail. You’ll hit some switchbacks (uphill zig-zags in the trail that are tiring but not as steep), but by the time you make it to the Taylor Meadows Junction, the steepest part of the climb is over.
Throughout the hike, you’ll be gaining 820 meters (2,690 feet) in elevation. For me, the elevation gain is what makes a trail difficult, so be prepared for the uphill nature of this. With that said, the walk back down will be easier!
The trail itself is wide the whole way there, and it’s well taken care of. However, you’ll still want good hiking shoes for this – especially if it has rained recently.
At points, this trail does seem like it won’t ever end, but the scenery is nice as you’re making your way through the forest of Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees. Once the view opens up to the lake, I promise you it’s all worth it.
Related Read: Looking for easy hikes nearby? Check out 15 easy hikes in Vancouver and nearby!
4. Can you hike to Garibaldi Lake and back in a day?
Yes! The hike to Garibaldi Lake is often completed in a day by fit hikers. It’s best to set off earlier in the morning, so you’ll be finished as the heat of the afternoon starts. Hiking the trail in one day is still an ambitious hike, so make sure you have lots of water and snacks with you before you set out.
Personally, I would not hike the trail in one day. The 18 kilometers (11.2 miles) takes most of the day, and only experienced hikers should attempt it.
If you want to break up this hike or attempt a longer hike in the area, you can easily turn this into an overnight hike. You’ll need to stay at the campground at Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake (see #5 for more info on camping options!).
5. Can you camp at Garibaldi Lake?
Camping is allowed at Garibaldi Lake at one of two campgrounds – Garibaldi Lake Campground and Taylor Meadows Campground. There are a total of 94 campsites available between the two campgrounds, along with outhouses and day-use shelters for cooking. Unfortunately, there are NO garbage facilities here, so you must pack up and carry whatever you bring.
NOTE – Reservations are required for overnight stays and MUST be booked in advance online. There are no walk-up sites available.
You can camp here year-round with a reservation, but the most popular time is during the summer months. You can book a site up to two months before your stay or as soon as the day of arrival before 5 pm… if there are any sites left. If you want to camp here, I highly recommend that you plan in advance and make your booking exactly two months prior to your desired date, otherwise, you’ll risk missing out. This is especially true on weekends in July and August.
The cost is very reasonable, with a reservation fee of $6 CAD per tent pad required and then a nightly fee of $10 CAD per adult or $5 per child. All tent pad sizes are 10 feet x 10 feet and can hold a maximum of two tents. When you reserve online, you will be guaranteed a tent pad, but not its location. The sites are first-come, first-served when you arrive at the campground.
Make sure to bring two copies (and download a copy to your phone) of your backcountry camping reservation confirmation with you to Garibaldi Provincial Park. You’ll need to keep one with you all the time and then attach the other to your campsite post inside a small sealed bag.
6. Are there other hikes you can do from Garibaldi Lake?
There are a couple of other trail options if you’re looking for different views or longer hikes. The two most popular hikes are Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge. Both of these hikes can be completed in a day, starting from the Rubble Creek Parking lot, but it’s better to break these long hikes up over multiple days and leave from either the Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake Campgrounds.
The hike to Black Tusk will take you to the base of one of the most recognizable mountains here. It’s known for its jagged, black rock, which is supposedly left over from volcanic activity in the region thousands of years ago.
The trail is a 27-kilometer (16.8 miles) round-trip from the Rubble Creek Parking Lot and would take 11 hours to hike. This is a long day, which is why most people choose to camp at Garibaldi Lake Campground or Taylor Meadows Campground and do this as a day trip from there. From both campgrounds, it is about 10 kilometers (6.4 miles) round-trip taking about six hours.
This hike is rated as difficult as the trail climbs quickly and can be quite rocky with loose shale near the end. The highlight is the ridge next to the base of Black Tusk, where you’ll have an incredible view of the whole area, including Garibaldi Lake.
Hiking to Panorama Ridge is a great multi-day hike as it’s quite long to complete in a day. While the hike is strenuous, the reward is so worth it – panoramic views of Garibaldi Lake, Black Tusk, and Helm Lake that will take your breath away.
The trail is 30 kilometers (18 miles) round-trip from the Rubble Creek Parking Lot and would take just over 11 hours to hike.
From Garibaldi Lake Campground or Taylor Meadows Campground, it is about 13.5 kilometers (8.4 miles) round-trip taking about 4.5 hours. This hike has a difficult rating due to the elevation gain and how the trail turns to steep rocks at the end that you’ll need to scramble up!
What we recommend
Book two nights camping at Garibaldi Lake. On day 1, hike to Garibaldi Lake Campground and relax before spending the night. The next morning, get up early and only bring the essentials with you to hike to Black Tusk and back. Spend the night at Garibaldi Lake Campground. The next morning hike to Panorama Ridge before returning back to the parking lot.
7. Are dogs allowed in Garibaldi Provincial Park?
Unfortunately, dogs and all other domestic pets are not allowed in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This park is one of several in BC that have an outright ban on dogs.
There were concerns about dogs here as the vegetation and flora in this alpine environment can be extremely vulnerable. There are also bears here throughout the summer and fall, which can create safety concerns.
If you are traveling with your dog and want to experience the BC outdoors with them, there are still lots of other places where dogs are allowed (on-leash) nearby, including Shannon Falls.
8. When is the best time to visit Garibaldi Lake?
Garibaldi Provincial Park is open to public access year-round and is never completely closed. However, during the winter, the hiking trails will be covered in snow, and most access roads won’t be plowed. There are also avalanche and glacier hazards in the park, so it’s not advised to hike here in the winter months unless you are very experienced and have the proper equipment.
The trail to Garibaldi Lake is typically accessible from May until October, but the best time to visit is in late July or early August. This is when all the wildflowers in Taylor Meadows are in full bloom. The colorful scene with all the wildflowers stretching out in front of you looks like a postcard!
While summer is the best time to visit, it’s also the busiest. If you can, try to plan for doing this hike mid-week and get an early start (before 7 am). If you aren’t an early bird, you can start the hike later in the day when many of the people here for the day will have already left.
During the summer in BC, it doesn’t get dark until 9:30 pm. So if you set off for the hike around 2 to 3 pm, you can enjoy the later afternoon and sunset before it gets dark. You’ll still want to get back to the parking lot before dark, though, as the trail can be harder to navigate once the sun goes down. Bring a flashlight with you just in case the hike back takes a bit longer than expected.
9. Can you swim in Garibaldi Lake?
Yes, you can swim at Garibaldi Lake, but be prepared for the cold! The lake is glacier-fed, so the water is VERY cold all year long – even in the heat of summer. If you come in May, the lake ice is usually just starting to break up, so swimming is best in July and August.
The scenery here is spectacular if you are brave enough to swim. It’s absolutely stunning to see the mountains reflected in the clear, blue water. If you walk along the lakeshore, you’ll come to a dock that’s a nice place to swim from. You can also sit here and just dip your toes in the water if you don’t want to jump in.
Keep in mind that you should be a confident swimmer to take a dip here. The lake is very deep – around 850 feet in places. There are also no lifeguards and no cell service at Garibaldi Lake.
10. Is Garibaldi Lake crowded?
Yes, but it depends on when you go. Around 80,000 people visit Garibaldi Provincial Park annually, and many of them are hikers wanting to see the lake itself. The busiest months here are July and August, when the vast majority of hikers come.
If you want to do this hike during the summer, try to avoid peak times and visit instead during the middle of the week. You can also beat the crowds by starting realllllly early in the morning (like 5:30 am when the sun is rising).
The crowds aren’t really a factor in the winter, so you can hike here then for a quieter experience. But remember, you need to be a confident hiker and have all the necessary safety equipment, including snowshoes.
11. Is there parking at the Garibaldi Lake trailhead?
There are five different access points to Garibaldi Provincial Park, but you’ll need the closest one for this hike. For this specific trail to the lake, look for the Black Tusk/Garibaldi Lake access point.
It’s a righthand turn off of the Sea to Sky Highway shortly after you cross the Rubble Creek Bridge. You’ll then follow a paved road for about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) to the Garibaldi Lake parking lot with the Rubble Creek Trailhead.
This parking lot fills up quickly during the summer, especially on weekends. If you want the best chance to get a spot here, arrive super early in the morning – before 8 am on weekends and before 9 am during the week.
Another option to avoid parking woes completely is to book a ride with Parkbus from Vancouver. They offer day trips from Vancouver, leaving at 7:30 am and arriving back around 8 pm. They will drop you off at the Rubble Creek parking lot, where you can spend the day here before the bus picks you up after the hike. A round-trip ticket is $63 CAD. But make sure you don’t miss the bus back to Vancouver as then you’ll need to call a taxi.
12. Bear safety at Garibaldi Provincial Park
There are both black and grizzly bears in the area surrounding Garibaldi Lake. Black bears are more common as grizzly bears are fewer in number and very rarely seen. The grizzly bears here are usually found in the undeveloped eastern part of the provincial park, deep in the wilderness.
If you’re just here to hike to Garibaldi Lake, you most likely won’t see any bears. Bears don’t like crowds of people, and they don’t want to meet you just as much as you don’t want to meet them! But, you should always carry bear spray with you and know how to use it. Of course, never try to feed or approach a bear and make sure you don’t leave any garbage or food behind on your hike.
If you’re going to camp here, you’ll need to take extra precautions. Have bear spray packed and handy. Also, ensure any food and “smelly” items like deodorant and toothpaste are safely stored away. There are also no garbage facilities here, so anything you bring, you have to take back with you. Bear hangers are available at the campgrounds and you should use them as well as cooking shelters.
If you do happen to see a bear, stay calm and don’t approach the animal. This bear safety guide is something I found very helpful in preparing for hikes and camping in bear country.
13. How far is Garibaldi Lake from Vancouver and Whistler?
To get to Garibaldi Provincial Park from Whistler is a quick trip of under 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) heading south on the Sea to Sky Highway. It should take you less than half an hour to reach the trailhead at the Rubble Creek parking lot.
From Vancouver, it’s a 1.5-hour drive (98 kilometers/61 miles) along the Sea to Sky Highway to get to the start of the trail. This stretch of highway is one of the most picturesque in all of Canada, so don’t rush the drive! You may even want to make a few stops along the way to enjoy the stunning views of this part of the world.
If you’re making the drive to Garibaldi Lake in winter, you MUST have winter tires on your vehicle and be aware of any icy or snowy conditions on the road.
14. Do you need a pass to visit Garibaldi Lake?
There is no day-use pass currently required to visit Garibaldi Lake. However, there was a day-use pass pilot program implemented in 2021. All visitors were required to book a free day-use pass online for the five busiest parks in BC – including Garibaldi Provincial Park. The purpose was to limit visitors to avoid overcrowded trails and parking lots and minimize any environmental impact.
Make sure to check the Garibaldi Provincial Park webpage before you go for the latest info on if a day pass is required in the future.
15. Are there tours to Garibaldi Lake?
There are a couple of great tour options to Garibaldi Lake if you want an experienced guide. This also is a good way to take care of transportation, so you don’t have to worry about getting a parking spot – which is like finding a needle in a haystack in the middle of summer.
This full-day tour picks you up in Vancouver and takes you to the start of the Garibaldi Lake trail. Then you’ll set off for the lake with your guide, who is not only an experienced hiker but also a professional photographer!
He will help you capture amazing shots of the lake on your camera (or phone), let you borrow a DSLR camera to take your own photos, and he’ll take pictures for you. The tour is limited to a maximum of six people, so it’s a nice small group for the hike.
For a bucket-list adventure, take to the skies in a helicopter and soar overtop of Garibaldi Lake! This private helicopter tour will take you over the park to see incredible sights like Garibaldi Lake, Cheakamus Lake, the Black Tusk, and Cheakamus Glacier, to name a few. If the weather cooperates, your pilot will land the helicopter right on a glacier on Rainbow Mountain for you to see! This is one of those movie star experiences that will be one of the highlights of your trip!
Where to Stay near Garibaldi Lake
Garibaldi Lake trailhead is located about halfway between Whistler and Squamish, so most people stay in either of these towns before and after their hike to Garibaldi Lake. Here are the best places to stay in both:
Note: You can also stay in Vancouver, it’s about a 1.5-hour drive away. Read our complete guide about deciding where to stay in Vancouver for more info!
For budget travelers, Pangea Pod Hotel is a great option. It’s a basic hotel with pod-style rooms with clean, well looked after facilities. The location is also really good right in the heart of Whistler Village. One thing to note is this is not your typical hotel and it does lack privacy due to the style of rooms. However, for location and price, it’s the best low-cost option.
If you can spend a little more (my typical category) then you can certainly get privacy in a good location. The Pinnacle Hotel Whistler is my personal choice when I visit Whistler (unless there’s a crazy deal somewhere else.) The hotel is located in the heart of Whistler Upper Village, features a fitness center, hot tub, pool, and restaurant. On top of that, it’s only 500 meters from the chairlifts.
For luxury travelers, I obviously love the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, but another option slightly cheaper is the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre. Its location is perfect for luxury travelers because it’s only 250 meters from the closest gondola/chairlift. On top of that, it has all the luxury facilities you’d expect such as a heated, outdoor pool and 2 hot tubs with mountain views, a fitness center, a spa and wellness center, as well as an included breakfast. Oh, and all suites have a full kitchen!
Those are just a few of the many amazing places to stay in Whistler – read our blog for more info!
There are lots of choices when it comes to hotels in Squamish, here are three of my personal favorites!
Two miles from downtown Squamish is the 3-star Sandman Hotel and Suites which offers spacious rooms, a gym, and a swimming pool. Breakfast is available at the hotel, but there’s no restaurant to enjoy lunch or dinner. This hotel is also pet-friendly. Rooms here start from $175 CAD per night.
A fantastic budget-friendly option in downtown Squamish is the Crash Hotel, where rooms start from as little as $80 CAD per night. This hotel doesn’t look like much from the outside but the interior is stylish and cozy and there’s even an on-site bar/restaurant The Goat Pub.
At the top end of your budget is the Executive Suites Hotel and Resort which has lovely mountain views and a large outdoor swimming pool. The rooms here are luxurious and spacious and come with a basic kitchen. Worth noting it’s a 5-minute drive into downtown Squamish. A studio here starts from $210 CAD per night.
Related Read: Learn about all of the different things to do and see in Squamish, BC!
Renting a Car in British Columbia
If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane, then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province and traveling between the best places to visit in BC requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Car rental in Canada is relatively cheap, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $70 CAD per day. The price does vary though, depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Rental Cars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used Rental Cars.com all over the world, including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic, you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Canada Travel Essentials
Before you decide to head off and explore the gorgeous mountains, lakes, towns, and cities around Canada it’s important to have the right equipment. Of course, it’s likely you’ll have most of the basics already, but there are some common items people forget that I never travel without.
Crampons: In winter, crampons are super handy, but what people don’t realize is that they come in handy in summer too. In fact, up until mid-July, you can still expect icy conditions in the mountains. The pair I use is only $29 and they have lasted me 3 seasons so far!
Waterproof shell: Most people will have this item but I thought I’d include it anyway since it’s so handy in Canada. The Columbia waterproof jacket is a lightweight windproof jacket that will seriously save you in many situations. The best part, though? It comes in pink!
Scent-proof bag (for bears): Most people think you only need to keep the smell of food away from you when you’re overnight camping. However, bears can smell the food in your bag while you’re hiking and the best way to avoid an encounter is to use a scent-proof bear bag. Basically, you put your food in the bag and the bear cannot smell it while you’re hiking. This is one item most people never have (I never hike without it) but it could save you and the bear.
Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. There are a few brands around but I always buy the original Buff (you know, the one from Survivor!) They’re a little more expensive but the material is good quality and both breathable and quick drying.
Dry bag: I have expensive camera equipment, so I always travel with a dry bag large enough to fit some of my equipment. It can be a camera, book, binoculars, or even my keys. Regardless, a dry bag gives me peace of mind! The MARCHWAY bag is really good quality, and when not in use, takes up only a small amount of room.
Binoculars: I love my binoculars! Seriously they have come in handy so many times, especially when I’m looking for wildlife. The best part is, I use a set that only costs $27 and they serve my basic needs without any issues!
Thanks for reading!
Garibaldi Lake is a special place in the BC wilderness that is worth the long hike to get there. You will feel like you really earned those breathtaking views (and may need to catch your breath after that hike!). I hope this hiking guide has given you all the information you need for your upcoming trip, so you’re ready to tackle the incredible hike to Garibaldi Lake.
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