Helm Creek Campground in Garibaldi Park
A tranquil campground on a wonderful creek in a beautiful forest valley
Helm Creek is a beautiful, meandering creek that winds its way from beyond Black Tusk, down the valley to the wonderful campground that takes its name. From the Helm Creek Campground it descends further along the Helm Creek Trail, until it joins the Cheakamus River near where it leaves Cheakamus Lake.
The location of Helm Creek Campground has two tremendous advantages. First it is just a great location. About halfway between Cheakamus Lake and Black Tusk it lays in some amazingly scenic areas. Beautiful, climbable mountains all around. Amazing fields of snow that run all the way to the base of Black Tusk. Rivers, creeks and waterfalls everywhere you turn. And the campground area itself is very nice. A large, grassy field ringed by trees and Helm Creek. The area really has no trails except the Helm Creek trail that runs past it, but there are infinitely numerous directions you can wander. Exploring in any direction takes you to more and more pristine, green fields, streams, pocket lakes and mountain views.
Though most just use it as a base to extend onto Black Tusk, it is a great base for so much more. Helm Peak, Corrie Peak, Cinder Cone, Empetrum Peak as well as the more frequented Panorama Ridge, Black Tusk and Garibaldi Lake.
The second great aspect of Helm Creek as a campground is that it is quiet and serene when compared with the other two area campgrounds. Garibaldi Lake and Taylor Meadows are very busy all summer long. In fact there is a posting part way up the trail to Garibaldi Lake indicating how crowded it is and if it is full.
The reason that these two campgrounds are so much more busy than Helm Creek is not that they are nicer, but simply that their trailhead is closer to Vancouver where the bulk of the hiking traffic emanates from. The trailheads are only about 30 minutes apart, but that makes all the difference. For the serenity and accompanying beauty, Helm Creek Campground is well worth the extra 30 minute drive.
The trailhead for Helm Creek is the same as for Cheakamus Lake, so a beautiful multi-day hike can easily be done from here. Camping at Cheakamus Lake one day, then Helm Creek another, then Taylor Meadows another as you explore the huge array of spectacular sites in Garibaldi Park. If you are ambitious for a tougher hike you can link several hikes together, and in fact begin your hike at the Whistler Gondola. From there hike the amazing Musical Bumps via the High Note Trail out to Russet Lake. Another gorgeous mountain paradise and has a similar hut to Wedgemount Lake. From Russet you can descend down Singing Creek (rough, not well established trail) for 3k and arrive at the Cheakamus Lake Campground furthest from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead. Then you can hike 9k to Helm Creek.
If you can manage to park cars at Whistler and another at the Garibaldi Lake trailhead at Rubble Creek, you can do this wonderful array of trails linearly and take in a staggering array of stunning sights. Russet Lake, Cheakamus Lake, Helm Creek, Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge, Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake are the more well known highlights of an amazing route like this.
If just hiking from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead the trail has little elevation change for the first 1.5k. At 1.5k you will see a sign directing you to the branching trail to Helm Creek. This takes you down to the huge and gorgeous Cheakamus Lake to cross a nice suspension bridge. Then the steadily uphill grind begins, and doesn't end until you reach the Campground. The deep forest of towering Hemlocks and Cedars keeps the views to a minimum on the trail until about 5k after the Cheakamus River crossing where you run closer to the Helm Creek which can be heard crashing near the trail before it comes into sight. The total distance from the Cheakamus Trailhead to the Helm Creek Campground is 9k.
The campground is wonderfully laid out. With 9 well designed and located, wooden tent pads. Most are steps from Helm Creek. If it took you 1.5 to 2 hours to hike to Helm Creek, then it will take you about the same to hike to Panorama Ridge or the summit of Black Tusk. Corrie Lake is another interesting hike from Helm Creek. If you have ever hiked the High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain you will no doubt have noticed the surreal looking lake, well above Cheakamus Lake and looks to be almost hovering in the forest. Though a bushwack from Helm Creek, it is well worth the couple kilometres to reach. If nothing else, to say you stood on the shores of this remarkable lake.
A good idea if hiking to Helm Creek is to grab a topo map of the area then just pick a mountain and go. Every mountain you can point to on the map is a reachable and almost certainly, an amazing potential hike. And with the staggering array of choices, you will likely spot more bears than humans in such an unexpectedly secluded part of Garibaldi Park.
The hike from Helm Creek to Black Tusk is very beautiful. If you do it in one day from the Cheakamus trailhead to the Black Tusk summit you will likely take From the Helm Creek Campground and well worn and well signed trail ascends into the trees and almost directly aims for Black Tusk. Though still about 6k away, it dominates the view from all areas of Helm Creek. In July the snowline will be not too far above Helm Creek, though due to the gradual rise in elevation and weeks of warm temperatures, the snow is hard and easy to walk on without the help of snowshoes.
From Helm Creek to Black Tusk is about 5.5k and takes about two hours and there are a couple options. One of course is to keep to the marked trail as it runs past Black Tusk far to your right and get on to the Black Tusk trail up the conventional, Rubble Creek trailhead way. The better option from Helm Creek is to veer off the trail about 400 metres before reaching Helm Lake, cross the shallow, though wide Helm Creek and follow the obvious route to Black Tusk. This route is faster and absolutely amazing.
The terrain is breathtaking from the moment you leave the established trail until you reach the summit of Black Tusk. Though it looks daunting from the start, near Helm Lake, it is only moderately challenging. No excessive climbs, no ropes needed. The distance from the Helm Creek crossing to the summit is about 2.6k as you follow a relatively straight line. Climbing quickly and reaching the shockingly black rock that has crumbled from the Tusk. To your right you will eventually see the broad sloping side of Black Tusk give way to a massive valley of snow. To your left the valley descends away from you into a breathtaking valley of dead trees, green grassy meadows and the distant river flowing through the mountains.
This route joins with the normal Black Tusk trail route near the base of Black Tusk. From this point you walk the black bridge-like ridge of rock to touch Black Tusk itself. Then you walk the trail that runs at the top of the scree around the left side to reach the perilous looking chute up to the summit. This resting area has incredible views of the valley below and the amazingly blue Garibaldi Lake contrasting with the black rock all around and the pure white snow more distant.
This final chute turns back quite a few people at this point as it looks extremely dangerous. Chunks of rock tumble down it from people above. Handholds routinely crumble in your hands. And looking down reveals the distinctly real possibility of tumbling down a brutal scree slope for several hundred metres. There have been some injuries here requiring emergency airlifts out, however they are remarkably few.
If you have the courage to make this final ascent, you quickly realize that it is much easier than you thought. There are plenty of good hand and footholds along the way and the gentle slope ensures a comforting feeling of safety. This chute is just a dozen metres until it slopes to a crawling scramble and finally walking on top of the world with absolutely phenomenal views all around.
Keyhole Hot Springs (aka Pebble Creek)
An incredible alternative to the nearby, though access obliterated Meager
Sometimes called Pebble Creek Hot Springs, Keyhole Hot Springs is a very beautiful hot springs. All natural, except for some cementing modifications to create two beautiful spring filled tubs on the edge of the loud, crashing, and wonderfully beautiful, Upper Lillooet River. Located just 7k past the old, and now destroyed Meager Creek Hot Springs turnoff and bridge, Keyhole Hot Springs is the only realistically viable hot springs for over 100k. The next closest, nice, well known, and easily accessible hot springs are back past Pemberton and up along and past the huge Lillooet Lake. Which of course is where the Upper Lillooet River flows into.
Keyhole Hot Springs is named after the beautiful Keyhole Falls that can be seen up river a couple kilometres. If you drive a bit higher than where you park for the hot springs you will be able to see them. There are a few keyhole-looking falls you will notice if you hike the area. In fact on the hike into Keyhole Hot Springs there is an amazing viewpoint five minutes into the trail with a view across the river valley to a beautiful keyhole-looking falls. The frequency of these types of falls in the area is evidently the reason for the old, Pebble Creek Hot Springs name fading away. Pebble Creek is located about 5k south of the hot springs and was the location of the old trailhead which was a nasty, though pretty hike along the boulder filled rivers edge to Keyhole Hot Springs.
The springs at Keyhole are incredible and varied. From the two luxury pools at the rivers edge, to the more serene and varied, do-it-yourself pools you dig into the sand with the resident shovel. This area of sand is beautifully located just steps from the rushing river and has plenty of room for a fire, several cut log chairs and interesting rock features everywhere. The water temperature is perfect and perfectly adjustable. Though the taps in the two cemented pools are not functioning. They just let hot water flow through. The temperature can be cooled by adding river water with a bucket provided. Originally the taps could be closed and opened to moderate the temperature.
The 15-30 minute hike to the falls is fairly steep and some may have difficulty with it as it requires using branches and tree roots at times to lower yourself down the trail, which is often on loose and steep dirt. If you can manage to carry all your things in a pack on your back you will be happier and safer on the hike. Although bears are in the vicinity, sightings are extremely rare between the trailhead and springs. There are however, frequent deer sightings in the area. The campsite has a safe cooler up a ladder to a bear-proof loft that can be readily be used to avoid bear conflicts.
Meager Creek Hot Springs
Access was obliterated by the 2010 mudslide, but still reachable by the brave
With the catastrophic mud and debris slide let loose from Devastator Peak in 2010, the nice new (in 2009) million dollar bridge to the Meager Creek Hot Springs was destroyed. Though destroyed doesn't even begin to describe it. Looking on the now, dead end road, where the bridge once stood, the place still looks a mess. "Meager Creek FSR is closed indefinitely; no access to the hot springs." This is from the BCParks Upper Lillooet Provincial Park site, and evidently quite accurate.
Dead and still dying grey ghosts of trees still stand as they did in piles of forest wreckage. Even the road in looks bizarre. The road was simply bulldozed back to life. On either side, hemmed in by piles of dirt and dead trees. The mudslide that did this seems beyond belief. This river valley in the midst of a beautiful, green forest, is a sea of brown. Mud, dirt, and dead trees.
At its peak of popularity in 1994, Meager Creek Hot Springs had 30,000 visitors a year. With the unrestrained numbers, vandalism and violence broke out at the springs often so the BC Forest Service stepped in. They hired an on-site supervisor, limited vehicle access and charged a usage fee. Then the big slide of 2010 happened and now of course it only gets a few, very motivated visitors.
The access now, though you can barely call it that, is by crossing a the slow, though potentially dangerous, Upper Lillooet River where the bridge used to be, hiking 7k through the mudslide debris, then crossing the small, though fast flowing, Capricorn Creek to reach the much intact Meager Creek Hot Springs. If you have a canoe you can paddle across the Upper Lillooet at this wide, though slow flowing area where the bridge used to be, then make the interesting hike through the considerable debris left from the catastrophic slide. Spring runoff does increase the water through this area considerably and canoe crossing becomes quite tricky and even dangerous.
The landscape across the river in the debris field is hypnotizing. Every inch is mangled and wrecked looking. Twisted trees, extraordinary looking rocks.. and nothing is where it looks like it should be.
Both river and creek are fairly shallow, even during the spring runoff. But then again the Upper Lillooet River has only had a couple years to erode back into a conventional river through the debris field. If you are into adventure Meager is still an option, but the whole access route is fraught with peril from another all-to-possible mudslide or trouble at one of the river crossings.
Skookumchuck Hot Springs (aka T'sek)
Both beautiful and tacky, the Skookumchuck Hot Springs lay along the huge and crashing Lillooet River in an area rich in history and unexpectedly wonderful
Skookumchuck Hot Springs, located almost three hours north of Squamish along the edge of the huge Lillooet River. The name Skookumchuck means "strong water" in the language of the Chinook people of the Pacific Northwest. The name is associated with the hot springs because of the nearby First Nation community of Skatin, which was once, and usually still called Skookumchuck.
The Skookumchuck Hot Springs were also once known as St. Agnes Well during the days of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, but that name has fallen into disuse. They are also known locally by the Skatin name as the T'sek Hot Springs. See a short history of Skookumchuck Hot Springs here. Though having three names, it is hard to beat the name Skookumchuck. It is awkward and beautiful at the same time, which describes the Skookumchuck Hot Springs perfectly. The tubs are a clumsy collection of odd looking tubs, which at first sight make you chuckle. But, after a few minutes, the extraordinary charm of the place takes over and Skookumchuck becomes oddly beautiful and wonderful.
The Skookumchuck Hot Springs start in a pool which is far to hot to use so there are a network of tubes emanating from this pool to feed a ramshackle array of tubs. There are five tubs, which include one very large one under an A-frame which could hold 10 people and is beautifully comfortable. A smaller one under a half A-frame privacy screen which could hold 8 under the stars. And three more open tubs. Clothing, you will quickly discover, is optional. There are small change rooms and one outhouse a few metres away.
Skookumchuck Hot Springs is the only, properly maintained and supervised hot springs of the four mentioned here. As a result there is a small and well worth it, charge to use them. Also, the campground is first class. Beautiful, secluded forest setting on the gorgeous Lillooet River. Firewood is even provided at each tent spot.
The wild and beautiful Sloquet Hot Springs is just one hour past Skookumchuck and so Skookumchuck makes a great pit stop on the way to and from Sloquet.
For more information, maps and info on Skookumchuck Hot Springs click here.
Sloquet Hot Springs
All natural, waterfall fed hot spring deep in the vast Canadian wilderness
Sloquet Hot Springs is wonderfully designed, as it were, though randomly by nature. The large, spread out campsite lies a short walk from the springs. You have to follow a dark and quickly descending trail toward an enormous, crashing river. As you near, you can smell the unusual, but kind of nice hot springs smell, and you see steam rising all around you, some steam rising, bizarrely, out of the grass clearing on the edge of the river. On your left a rising cliff, on your right the crashing river. The path narrows and steepens. Finally, you come to a large fallen tree which the trail seems to run to. So huge though as to not worry you walking the length of. Then, there it is. The massive fallen tree flanks it. Nestled between the tree and a cliff, in a large triangular area, with the river forming the third side are the Sloquet Hot Springs.
Sloquet is the contrast of both Skookumchuck Hot Springs and Meager Creek Hot Springs. Meager is artificial, but wonderfully constructed by the BC Forest Service. Skookumchuck Hot Springs is shabby, though comfy. Sloquet has the best of both of these and none of the worst. It consists of seven pools formed with rocks positioned to segment pools out of what must have been one huge pool. It is in a dramatically natural, cozy and hidden place. Every aspect seems fined tuned for comfort. The cold, dark cliff at your back, specked with candles. The majestic river so loud and so close. The scent of cedar. As if it could get any more perfect you'll notice the water comes from a small waterfall cascading down the cliff. What a wonderful place.
The drive to Sloquet Hot Springs is a bit long and three plus hours north of Whistler. It is very beautiful though as the gravel road runs along the huge Lillooet Lake. The drive also takes you past Skookumchuck Hot Springs, which is an ideal pit stop as it is two thirds of the way to Sloquet. The last 8k to Sloquet is on an unmaintained logging road so can get a bit sketchy. You do see cars at Sloquet, but the rough, last 8k must take a toll on them. In the winter months this 8k is not plowed of snow, so you must hike in. But of course you will almost certainly have them to yourselves from December to mid May.
For more info, maps and directions to Sloquet Hot Springs click here..