Hiking the trails in Garibaldi Provincial Park provides a taste of British Columbia's Coast Mountains, a vast and relatively unknown range with some of North America's most spectacular mountain scenery. Garibaldi is just a few hours drive north of Vancouver, and well-served by the outdoor adventure oriented towns of Squamish and Whistler. This page highlights some great day hikes I found in Garibaldi.
Distance: About 17.5 miles out and back by the most direct route, with 1500m (5000 feet) of elevation gain.
The hike to the Panorama Ridge begins at the Rubble Creek trail head. From here there are 5 miles and 890 meters (3000 feet) of climbing before the trail emerges from the trees at the Taylor Meadows campground. The grade is steady and the trail is in excellent shape, but even so this first section is undeniably tedious. Once past Taylor Meadows, however, the exertion starts to pay off as views of snowy peaks emerge and the trail traverses (in late July) some of the richest wildflower meadows I've ever seen.
Continuing onward, the trail remains fairly flat as you past, first, the fork leading to the Black Tusk (the odd looking formation seen in the right hand photo above) and then a small lake that lies on the back side of the Panorama Ridge. Turning right past the lake the route then turns upward once more, gaining about 1000 feet in a steep ascent past (or across) any lingering snow to reach the crest of the ridge. The view from here is magnificent: Mount Garibaldi, the Tantalus Range, and the Black Tusk frame the intense blue of Garibaldi Lake to form a 360 degree view of what looks like endless wilderness. From the top, it's possible to hike further along the ridge to the east (in principle as far as the Helm Glacier). Returning, you can either retrace your steps back through Taylor Meadows or detour via the shore of Garibaldi Lake.
We did this as a day hike, and as long as you're up for a long and strenuous day this is the option I'd recommend. Taylor Meadows looks like a nice campground, but to reach there backpacking would require hauling a pack up the first five miles of steep and boring trail! If you do camp, though, make sure to spend a second day hiking the Black Tusk, which also looks like a great hike.
Distance: 16.5 miles (mostly but by no means entirely downhill) if done as the near-loop described below. Alternatively, it's 12 miles out and back to Singing Pass from the top of the gondola.
Distance: 9 miles round trip to the lake, with 1160m (3800 feet) of elevation gain.
As you'll gather from the above, I highly recommend the hike to Wedgemount Lake. There is, however, no mystery as to why you might find yourself alone in the cirque. The trail is steep. And dull. And root-infested. Most frustrating of all, the outlet stream from the lake thunders toward the valley via a spectacular waterfall, which the trail takes pains to conceal from hikers. All in all, it's hard to avoid the impression that BC Parks assigned their B team to the construction work here. But the destination is worth the effort. Consider it an aerobic workout, leave plenty of time to savor the awesome scenery at the lake, and you won't be disappointed.
More alluring still are the peaks that lie further to the north of the Coast Range. These include Mount Waddington, which at 13,186 feet is actually higher than any of the peaks in the Canadian Rockies. You can't drive (or hike, unless you're up for a month-long expedition) to anywhere that's remotely close to the base of Waddington and the mighty glaciers that surround it, but there are trails in the general vicinity that are most easily accessed out of the town of Bella Coola on the Pacific Coast. Some trails lie within Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, but there are many more sparsely documented but probably spectacular hikes in the region. I'm hoping to make it up there to check them out myself sometime, but it hasn't happened yet.
[As an aside, Mount Waddington is so remote that it's quite a challenge to find a hike that affords even a distant view of the peak. Your best bet is probably to hike to the top of Perkins Peak in the Pantheon Range, from where there is said to be a clear view of Waddington. But I haven't actually done this!]
Bears and bugs
If your wildlife worries in the Coast Mountains start and end with bears, you're making a mistake. Although there are both grizzly and black bears in these mountains, and normal care is certainly sensible, bugs will almost surely be your most pressing problem. In the peak hiking season dense swarms of black flies, which will envelope you the moment you pause to rest or eat lunch, are almost everywhere. Don't rely on insect repellant - take long sleeved shirts and pants and a net for the head to be on the safe side for days when they're particularly bad.
My brother and I stayed in Whistler while hiking Garibaldi, and this is probably the most convenient base for the hikes described on this page. Whistler is primarily a ski resort, but it's still a pleasantly lively town during the summer with an excellent range of restaurants, bars and breakfast places. If you prefer a slightly less "urban" base - then Squamish might be a better place to stay. Book early though, as there are fewer rooms to be had in Squamish as compared to Whistler.