Northair Mine is a surreal little world of colourful murals on abandoned cement foundations, surrounded by an astoundingly tranquil little lake in a secluded forest. Just a short logging road off of the Callaghan Valley Road takes you to this unusual little abandoned mine. You would have driven by the turnoff if you have been to Whistler Olympic Park, which is just a couple kilometres away. Northair Mine gets its name from the Vancouver based mining company Northair Group. The mine was in production from 1976 and extracted 5 tons of gold before being abandoned in 1982. Meager Creek Hot Springs, 148k north of Squamish was beautifully developed into gorgeous pools, with a caretaker and usage charge. At its height of popularity, Meager Creek Hot Springs had 30,000 yearly visitors. Unfortunately, due to two recent catastrophic mudslides it seems unlikely to ever officially reopen. After several years of being closed, access reopened on 2009 with a nice, expensive, new bridge. Only to be dramatically obliterated from another slide in 2010. The access bridge over the Upper Lillooet River which cost nearly a million dollars was wrecked in seconds in 2010. Skookumchuck Hot Springs is both tacky and beautiful. There are several tubs that the hot springs water gets channeled through. On first sight, many are disappointed at the unnatural and shabby setup, however after a couple minutes the disappointment fades. The ramshackle collection of tubs becomes strangely charming and the large A-frame, main tub is quite large. The variety of tubs allows for quite a fun atmosphere as you get a couple people drinking champagne in one tub, more in another tub in serene silence, and others in the main tub relaxing in conversation. As Skookumchuck is located on a relatively busy logging road, it is snowplowed in the winter, allowing the hot springs to remain open year-round. Keyhole Hot Springs(aka Pebble Creek Hot Springs) is located 155 kilometres north of Squamish. Though half of this 155k is on logging roads, it is drivable by most cars without any trouble. The final couple kilometres is the only bad section to drive, leading you to a small, though wide and shallow stream to drive through near the trailhead, most cars should be able to make it as it is only about 10-20 centimetres deep. Dodging potholes and the occasional boulder are usually the only obstacles around this area. Sloquet Hot Springs is a wonderfully wild set of shallow, man-made pools fed by a small, all natural, and very hot, waterfall. The pools stretch from the waterfall to the large and crashing Sloquet River. The large, spread out campsite for the hot springs lies a short 5 to 10 minute walk from the springs(depending on your campsite). You have to follow a dark and quickly descending trail toward the crashing river. As you near, you can smell the unusual, but kind of nice hot springs scent, and you see steam rising all around you, some steam rising, bizarrely, out of the grass clearing on the edge of the river.
Black Tusk from Helm Creek - Squamish Trails in July
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 characteristics. 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 bushwhack 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.