It was our last full day in Squamish, British Columbia and we had a lofty goal. Bobby had been reading and dreaming about hiking to Garibaldi Lake. The trip would be 11 miles with 3000 feet of elevation gain and I was unsure if I would be able to complete it. I hadn’t done anything with that distance or elevation gain in a couple of years. We were also concerned that Jack wouldn’t last that long in his carrier and would be a total wreck by the end. The longest he had done was 7 miles. But, we were in Squamish and I was feeling strong and Jack had been doing amazingly well traveling, being in his carrier, and having his schedule go completely haywire during our trip. So, we decided to go for it! Our friends Jesse and Wendy who had been staying with us for the week were also planning on completing the hike so we decided to go together.
We left the house in Squamish shortly after 7:00 a.m. and drove 20 minutes to the trailhead. The number of cars already at the trailhead was staggering. Two large parking lots were almost completely full and cars lined the side of the road for awhile. A ranger stopped us as we were driving in asking if we were day trippers or backpackers. There are a couple of large backpacker campgrounds that are accessed from this trailhead and after a certain number of backpackers had hit the trail they began turning people away. We snagged one of the last spots in the lower parking lot and geared up for the day.
This trail is touted as the most popular hike in British Columbia and we would soon learn that that was indeed true. We lost count of the hundreds of people we passed, saw, and were passed by while out on the trail. The trail begins switchbacking up at an easy and manageable grade. Wendy and I chatted as we went while Jesse and Bobby pulled ahead of us with their longer strides. The trail was wide and well maintained. Signs were posted sporadically with mileage, maps, warnings of cutting switchbacks, and kilometer posts.
The forest was gorgeous and we were grateful for the shade it provided. The weather continued to be unseasonably warm and we had all packed ridiculous amounts of water. The hike up became daunting and thankless. No peak-a-boo views and seemingly no end in sight had us eventually hiking in silence. Our initial enthusiasm and excitement faded as the switchbacks continued to stretch before us. We finally made it to our first trail junction and we were all feeling great! We were a little more then 6 kilometers in (about 4 miles). The trail junction was hopping! Hammocks had been hung by a large group of hikers who were taking an extended break after their vigorous hike up. Wendy and Jesse had managed to snag a nice sittin’ log when we finally met up with them. They had gotten ahead of us when we took a break along the switchbacks for a diaper change.
From here a decision had to be made. Should we take the shorter, more direct route straight to Garibaldi Lake or should we take a detour adding on several miles but get in some alpine meadows. I was feeling surprisingly chipper and strong and wanted to take the long way. Jack was happy in his carrier and though Bobby was beat after a big climb with a lot of weight he too wanted to see the meadows. We took the left fork at the junction to head towards Taylor Meadows.
We continued our ascent, stopping to take a break near the Taylor Meadows Campground, a backcountry campground with 40 sites! We all needed some snacks and Jack needed a break from his pack! After crossing over Taylor Creek we found some benches near an old ranger cabin that were in the shade, a perfect spot for a respite!
We continued our trek while marveling at the number and quality of structures we were finding this far in the backcountry. Privies, old ranger cabins, and well-built boardwalks were everywhere along this trail.
We reached another trail junction and stayed to the left to continue eastward and towards the meadows. The trees finally began to thin, and then clear and we found ourselves in a stunning alpine meadow!
We were afforded some great views of the Black Tusk that can be summited. It would’ve added on an additional 6 miles onto the day and a lot of elevation gain. Nobody was up for that, especially since it’s summit is reached by a dodgy class 3 scramble. We admired it from a distance!
We reached the next trail junction, Outhouse Junction, where, you guessed it, there was another privy. Open, stocked, and somewhat clean… It felt like a complete luxury this far into the backcountry! This junction was busy with hikers and we snapped a couple of quick pictures before veering right to take the trail that leads down to Garibaldi Lake!
From this point the trail has a gentle downward slope that leads you to a trail junction where the turquoise waters of the lake can be seen shimmering through the trees. Veer left to head down to the lake. From here on out the trail was insanely busy and we were shocked not only by the sheer number of people enjoying the lake but by the footwear and gear (or lack thereof) that so many of the hikers were using.
Never before had any of us seen such a stunning alpine lake. We all agreed that it was the most picturesque lake any of us had ever been to. We soon understood the popularity of the hike but were still marveling at the sheer number of people roaming around the shore. We found a shaded, somewhat quiet spot to have some lunch and to soak in the water.
The lake was so beautiful and our extended lunch break was enjoyed by all!
Jack became thoroughly furious when we took him away from his pile of rocks. He threw his first all-out tantrum. It was pretty dramatic and everybody in a mile radius probably heard it. Normally when he makes a scene I don’t get too embarassed because it happens to all kids. But, he was the ONLY baby we had seen all day on the trail and I felt very self conscience about the whole situation. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I felt terrible. I felt as if we were ruining everybody’s day. We put him in the backpack, knowing he likes to be on the move and hoped that would settle him down. It didn’t. I finally lowered myself down, put my head to his and spoke quietly and calmly in his ear. I didn’t say much, just spoke quietly about how he had been so strong and brave all day and that he should calm down and take deep breaths. Somehow this miraculously worked. He calmed himself down, found his thumb and the tantrum was over. We knew that the reprieve may be only temporary so we donned our packs and headed out. He was happy as a clam as soon as we started moving again.
We climbed the steep trail out of the basin where the lake was located and reached our first junction. We veered left to take the more direct route back to the parking lot. This trail was crazy busy and, I know I keep saying it, but we couldn’t believe how many people were out! This trail passes by Lesser Garibaldi Lake and Barrier Lake.
As we reached the last trail junction Jack decided to give the hikers milling about a little bit of a scare. He began growling as we neared the junction and all the hikers began nervously looking around for the source of the growls. I hollered ahead telling them not to worry, that he couldn’t do much damage. They all laughed, cooed over Jack, and one hiker exclaimed, “I was getting ready to run!”. From here we had the boring switchbacks down that seemed to go on forever. Jack had fallen asleep in the carrier which meant stopping wasn’t really an option. We continued down, down, down, down, down for what seemed an eternity. We finally reached the trailhead and all celebrated! Bobby and I split a gatorade while Jack enjoyed a bottle in the shade! We couldn’t believe we had done it! All in all our day on the trail ended up being around 14 miles long! We had been on the trail for 8.5 hours and somehow, we were all still smiling! Jack was excited to get to crawl around and explore before we loaded up in the car. As we drove out, the number of cars parked along the road was insane! We estimated that the cars stretched along the roadway for at least 2 kilometers. Those people at the end had a lot of extra hiking to do!
Overall, this trail was amazing! It was well maintained, well signed, well used, and well loved by all of us!