Starting in 2016, hikers require advance reservations to backcountry camp at Garibaldi Lake, Taylor Meadows and Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park. These three campgrounds in Garibaldi are probably the most popular place to backcountry camp in BC since they have gorgeous alpine and subalpine scenery. They also have designated campsites with outhouses and secure storage. And getting there is easy too: the trails are marked and maintained and the access roads are paved or easy gravel driving – no 4×4 required. So getting reservations for summer weekends will be very difficult. But don’t despair if you didn’t get the Garibaldi reservation you wanted this year – there are tons of other beautiful places in BC to go backpacking. Here are five awesome Garibaldi alternatives that serve up the same easy-access scenery but with no reservations required.
Update: Starting in 2017 the Helm Creek Campground will require reservations during peak season (late June to mid-October).
The Helm Creek campground is in Garibaldi Provincial Park but doesn’t require reservations so it’s kind of a backdoor way to experience Garibaldi Lake (you approach from the less popular north side via the Cheakamus Lake trailhead). The trail in to the Helm Creek campground is similar to the traditional Rubble Creek approach: you hike 8.5km and gain about 700m on a well maintained trail that switchbacks up the hillside to a campsite in alpine meadow with a great view of Black Tusk. The campsite has a pit toilet, a food hanging wire and 9 tent platforms (with overflow space for tenting on the grass). From the Helm Creek campsite you can hike up to the Cinder Flats- an amazing moon-like plateau of volcano rocks, and then over towards some of the popular Garibaldi Lake day hike destinations like Panorama Ridge (7km from the campsite) and Black Tusk (8.5km from the campsite). Note: $10 per person/per night backcountry fee applies for this site. No dogs or fires permitted. Directions and more info here.
Like Helm Creek, Wedgemount Lake is also in Garibaldi Park and also doesn’t require reservations. It is accessed by it’s own steep (but maintained trail) that gains a punishing 1200m over just 7km so it’s a better hike for experienced backpackers or hikers in good shape. The trailhead is 13km north of Whistler and does require 2km of travel on a bumpy gravel road but regular cars should be fine if they go slow. Once you get up to the lake there are about 10 tent sites and a pit toilet next to the BCMC hut then another 10 sites and another toilet down near the lake. You can store your food on hooks in the hut overnight. Unless you are an experienced mountaineer or scrambler, the lake itself will be your final destination but the scenery is beautiful and you can even walk over to the glacier that is retreating away from the lake edge (a few years ago it used to calve directly into the lake). Note: $10 per person/per night backcountry fee applies for this site. No dogs or fires permitted. Directions and more info here.
Just north of Pemberton, you’ll find the picturesque Joffre Lakes in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. You can easily hike to all three lakes in a day, but staying overnight at the campground lets you really soak in the views and perhaps explore the surrounding area. It’s a moderate 5.5km hike with about 400m of elevation gain to the upper lake where there are 26 small campsites, a pit toilet and a metal food locker. The campground doesn’t take reservations and fills up so plan to get there early on weekends. All three lakes along the trail are a gorgeous shade of glacial till blue and the trail passes by a spectacular stair-stepped waterfall. Once you are at the upper lake you can explore a small waterfall at the head of the lake or climb up the talus slopes for a better view of the area (but don’t get too close to the glacier as huge chunks of ice can fall off at any time). Note: $5 per person/per night fee applies for this campsite. No fires permitted and dogs allowed on leash only. Directions and more info here.
The Heather Trail in Manning Provincial Park starts right in an alpine meadow thanks to the paved (then fairly smooth gravel) Blackwall Peak road that climbs up from Highway 3. The trail travels through beautiful alpine meadows (with tons of flowers in summertime). You have three campgrounds along the trail to choose from so you can decide do a quick overnighter or a multi-day trek: Buckhorn Campsite is 5km from the trailhead and has 10 tent sites, a pit toilet and a bear locker. Kickinghorse Campsite is 13.5km from the trailhead and has 8 tent sites, a pit toilet and a metal bear cache. Nicomen Lake Campsite is 21km from the trailhead and has 6 tent platforms and some bare ground campsites, a pit toilet and a bear locker. Nicomen Lake is very cold but swimmable and teeming with fish so bring your rod. The campsites each have a water source but the creeks at Buckhorn and Kickinghorse can run dry later in the summer. In between Buckhorn and Kickinghorse is the turn off to the Three Brothers Mountain trail, a beautiful hike to a lofty summit with a great view. Note: $5 per person/per night fee applies for these campsites. No fires permitted and dogs allowed on leash only. Directions and more info here.
The Forbidden Plateau area of Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island offers easy road access to the alpine and lots of fairly flat trails through meadows and forest to beautiful little lakes. There are several routes to choose from in the core area including a few loop combinations so you plan an easy overnighter or spend a few days in the area. There are three campgrounds: Lake Helen Mackenzie is 4km from the trailhead, has 10 tent sites, an outhouse and bear locker. Kwai Lake is 8km from the trailhead, has 15 sites, an outhouse and a bear locker. Circlet Lake is 11km from the trailhead, has 20 sites and an outhouse and a bear locker. The trails to all three campsites involve minimal elevation gain through rolling terrain. Past Circlet Lake there are more rugged hikes and scrambles into the alpine to climb Mount Albert Edward and other peaks or to explore less visited alpine lakes. No fires permitted and dogs allowed on leash only. Directions and more info here. Read about my trip to the Island Alpine: Circlet Lake and Mount Albert Edward.
What other Garibaldi alternatives would you recommend? Where else has easily accessible alpine backpacking in BC? Tell me in the comments.
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