Backpacking BC Interior Vancouver Area Vancouver Island

Garibaldi Alternatives: Alpine Backpacking in BC

Joffre Lake Alternatives to Garibaldi lake

Starting in 2016, hikers require advance reservations to backcountry camp in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  The 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 three awesome Garibaldi alternatives that serve up the same easy-access scenery but with no reservations required.

[Note: An earlier version of this post also included Helm Creek, Wedgemount Lake and Joffre Lakes. However, those three campgrounds now require reservations so the list is down to 2.]


Heather Trail, Manning Provincial Park

Heather Trail: Garibaldi Alternatives

Wildflowers along the Heather Trail. Image via

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.


Forbidden Plateau, Strathcona Provincial Park

Forbidden Plateau: Garibaldi Alternatives

One of the many subalpine lakes on Forbidden Plateau

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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5 British Columbia Alpine Backpacking Trips (with no reservations required!) Garibaldi Lake is not the only gorgeous alpine backpacking destination in BC: Here are 5 other options, none of which require reservations.


  • Reply
    June 27, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Helm Creek does require a reservation now, just like Elfin Lakes and other Garibaldi Provincial Park back country campsites

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      June 27, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      The BC Parks website does require you to buy a permit for Helm Creek online before hand but it is different than a reservation – it costs less and there are unlimited permits available – unlike Garibaldi Lake, Taylor Meadows and Elfin Lakes were there are a limited amount of reservable permits. I hope that clears it up.

  • Reply
    June 29, 2017 at 9:20 am

    I came across this old post on your blog! As of 2017 Helm does require reservation for summer, with 30 campsites available. Going up this weekend, wish me luck! 🙂

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      June 30, 2017 at 3:41 pm

      Hi Vania. Yes, Helm does require reservations for 2017. I updated this spring to indicate that Helm requires reservations. It’s in the “Update” text at the start of the Helm Creek section. Have a great trip this weekend. I’m guessing you’ll have snow 🙂

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