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Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park - Squamish Hiking

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Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park


Black Tusk is a Moderate to Challenging Hiking Trail

Black Tusk Closeup From Whistler Mountain

In 2018 a lot of changes with Garibaldi Provincial Park campsite reservations. The first big change is that overnight camping fees are required at all campgrounds, year-round.  It is still free to day hike in the park, but sleeping in the park requires a reservation and camping fees apply in all areas of Garibaldi Park.  You can’t pay by cash or at the trailheads or at the campgrounds.  Reservations must be made in advance via the BC Parks online reservation service or at the call center.  It is a pretty organized and fair reservation system.  Fairly easy to use online and reasonably priced.  The revenue goes into maintaining trails, access roads, parking lots, park buildings and snow removal.

The second big change this year for Garibaldi Park is that for the first time you can legally register and pay to camp in the backcountry beyond the official campsites. Wilderness camping permits are available to mountaineers, climbers, ski tourers, and other visitors with advanced skills in wilderness travel and camping, within the wilderness camping zone. The areas you can wilderness camp is quite restricted in an effort to not overrun the park and maintain some control over the massive numbers of hikers in the park.  Backcountry Camping Permits for Garibaldi Park cost the same as the campsite fees: $10 per person, per night.  Children 6-16 years old pay $5 per person, per night and kids under 6 years old are free.

Black Tusk Viewed from Mount Sproatt in WhistlerBlack Tusk is the extraordinarily iconic and appropriately named mountain that can be seen for several kilometres along the Sea to Sky Highway on the drive to Whistler. The massive black spire of crumbling rock juts out of the earth in an incredibly distinct way that appears like an enormous black tusk plunging out of the ground.  Whether you spot it in the distance from the top of Whistler Mountain or from dozens of vantage points along the Sea to Sky Highway, its unmistakable silhouette is captivating.

Whether you see it from the highway or from closer vantage points such as Taylor Meadows, Helm Creek, Panorama Ridge or Garibaldi Lake, all views make climbing to the top look impossible.  In fact, Black Tusk seems to look more impossible to climb the closer you get to it.  Even when you are close enough to touch its vertical, black and crumbling sides, you wonder in amazement how anyone can ever reach the top.

About 170,000 years ago renewed volcanic activity in what is now Garibaldi Park produced a lava dome within a cinder-rich volcanic cone itself over a million years old.  Cinder-rich simply means that the cone formed out of explosive volcanic action and hardened, to some extent, in the air and therefore filled with air pockets and evidently light and weak in structure.  This lava dome which was to become Black Tusk, hardened inside this more easily eroded cinder cone, so in the past 170,000 years the outer cinder cone has crumbled away to reveal the lava dome within.  The Black Tusk itself is extremely crumbly as well as can be seen when you near it. It looks as if erupting out of a uniformly sloping mountain of jagged, black boulders.

Black Tusk from Whistler Mountain in the Winter

Black Tusk is within the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt also called the Canadian Cascade Arc.  This volcanic belt contains mostly dormant volcanoes, though also includes the much alive and infamous Mount St. Helens in Washington State, in the US.  Mount Garibaldi from which Garibaldi Park gets its name was an active volcano as recently as 9300 years ago.  Also in the area but well north of Black Tusk near Pemberton, Mount Meager had multiple eruptions ending only recently, that is 2350 years ago according to recent studies. Meager now has become known in the region for its alarmingly frequent mudslides that terrorize the Meager Creek Hot Springs below and the town of Pemberton further down the valley.  The last mudslide occurred just a couple years ago and was one of the largest in recorded Canadian history.  Pemberton was partly evacuated as a result.

Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park from Taylor MeadowsThe Garibaldi Volcanic Belt that encompasses Black Tusk is a result of the subduction of the Juan de Fuca Plate under the North American Plate at the Cascadia subduction zone along the British Columbia coast.  This fault zone is over a thousand kilometres long and moves at just a centimetre per year, producing large earthquakes on average every 500 years.  Black Tusk is accessible from three directions.  From the nearby microwave tower (also visible from the Sea to Sky Highway), from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead, and from the Rubble Creek trailhead.  Of the three routes, only the Cheakamus Lake trailhead and the Rubble Creek trailhead are officially used for access to Black Tusk.  They have large and free parking lots equipped with an outhouse at each as well as big map and information boards.  Along both trails you will find good signs indicating where to hike as well as kilometre markings.

The microwave tower, though very close to Black Tusk, and has a good gravel road to it, is blocked several kilometres away by a large vehicle gate. This is potentially a good way to hike to Black Tusk, however this annoying gate makes what should be a short hike, a long and tedious one.  Also, there are of course no signs indicating where to go once you reach the microwave tower.  This route is currently being considered to be opened to allow vehicles to park at or near the microwave tower, however, little progress has been made so far.

Panorama Ridge Aerial View of Black Tusk

The Cheakamus Lake trailhead route to get to Black Tusk is a good option as it is quiet, serene and takes you over the beautiful Cheakamus River via suspension bridge and through the wonderfully remote Helm Creek campground.  It is, however, quite long at over 15 kilometres each way to the Black Tusk from Taylor Meadows in Garibaldi Parksummit of Black Tusk and part of this route is unmarked, requires some route-finding, and a wet crossing of Helm Creek.  It is a good option if you are keen on avoiding crowds as the beautiful Helm Creek campground has only about a dozen tent platforms and more often than not, are mostly deserted.  Helm Creek is also the gateway to quite a few great great hikes.  A quick look at a map indicates several accessible mountains close by as well as Corrie Lake.

The most popular, scenic and direct hiking trail to Black Tusk is from the popular Rubble Creek trailhead, just off the Sea to Sky Highway, just 30 minutes north of Squamish. As this trailhead is also the best route to access Garibaldi Lake, Taylor Meadows and Panorama Ridge, it is sometimes very busy and some weekends find both campgrounds full.  The Rubble Creek trailhead is easy to find, just keep your eye out for the large highway sign that reads, "Black Tusk(Garibaldi)" along the side of the Sea to Sky Highway 25 kilometres south of Whistler Village.  The huge and free trailhead parking has a map and information board as well as an outhouse.

Rubble Creek is so named because of the large boulder field deposited from The Barrier is previous, massive debris flows.  The last occurred 80 years ago, when The Barrier partly gave way and an estimated thirty million cubic metres of rock crashed down near the now, Rubble Creek trailhead.  The Barrier can be viewed along the trail to Garibaldi Lake just past the y junction after the 6k mark along the trail.  A sign indicates the short path to the viewpoint.  The trail from Rubble Creek starts off by quickly ascending along a wide dirt path inside a deep forest.  For the first 6 kilometres you only catch glimpses of the skyBlack Tusk from Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Park, Squamish through the the deep and thick forest.  Several switchbacks along the trail continue until you get to the first fork in the trail about 6.2 kilometres from the trailhead.  Right takes you to past The Barrier, Lesser Garibaldi Lake and then to Garibaldi Lake (in 3 kilometres).

There is a nice mapboard at this trail junction which gives you a good chance to plot your course.  A good way to hike if doing a one day hike is to take this left fork through Taylor Meadows and then return via Garibaldi Lake for a swim near the end of the journey.  The Taylor Meadows route is also slightly shorter to Black Tusk than the Garibaldi Lake direction and therefore gets you to your goal quicker.

If you take the left fork toward Taylor Meadows you will finally escape the heavy forest cover and emerge to spectacular scenery in about 20 minutes.  Taylor Meadows is in a beautiful valley of gnarled, weather beaten trees, endless green meadows and in July and August, alpine flowers as far as you can see. What immediately comes into view towering in the distance is Black Tusk and the wooden boardwalk through Taylor Meadows continues straight as Black Tusk looms far ahead and to your left.  This is where you will start taking photos almost continuously of Black Tusk, and probably Black Tusk trail view of Garibaldi Lakenot stop until you touch its sheer black sides.  Though you are only half way there, from now on the views from the trail are amazing, varied, and progressively better.

Just past Taylor Meadows the boardwalk ends and the dirt trail crosses a creek and then past a small, locked BC Parks building and another trail junction.  The trail to the right leads to Garibaldi Lake and campsite area in 2 kilometres.  The trail that continues straight goes to Black Tusk(5.5k), the Panorama Ridge(7k) and much further away, Helm Creek(9.2k) and Cheakamus Lake(18k).  The views along this 2 kilometre section of trail between this junction and the Black Tusk junction are beautiful.  Green meadows, flowers everywhere you look.  Distant snow capped mountains and the starkly beautiful Black Tusk towering to your left.

The next junction you come to has a nice mapboard and more nice kilometre markings and direction signs.  Once again you can turn right and head towards Garibaldi Lake or continue straight for Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge, Helm Creek and Cheakamus Lake.  There is an outhouse here and ropes along the edge of the trail here to try to keep hikers on the trail.  The area is ideal for camping with a beautiful creek and endless flat grassy areas, however a sign indicates not to camp here in order to not damage the fragile alpine areas off the trail.

Black Tusk view of Garibaldi LakeIn just a hundred metres further another fork in the trail takes you left towards Black Tusk(3k) or straight toward Panorama Ridge(4.5k), and you begin ascending steadily through patches of forest occasionally breaking to reveal amazing views of Garibaldi Lake to your right and Black Tusk on your left.  This section of trail, from this junction to Black Tusk is fairly steep and the most challenging.  You will cross dozens of tiny creeks so water is never in short supply.  This section of trail is often snow covered well into July, however, the snow is hard-packed, easy to walk on, and the trail is hard to stray from.

As you approach Black Tusk you will begin walking on the massive scree slopes that surround it.  On a sunny day you will immediately feel the warmth from the black rocks underfoot.  Due to the increasing elevation the temperatures will have noticeably fallen quite a bit as compared to Taylor Meadows, however the heat from the black rocks on a sunny day more than counter this drop in temperature.  You will likely find yourself putting on a sweater after the Black Tusk junction and then taking it off again once you near Black Tusk and feel this heat rising from the ground. The steep scree slope leads to a ridge adjacent to Black Tusk.  To your left the obvious route takes you to Black Tusk and the increasingly sketchy route along the edge of its base.  Following this route you will occasionally look straight up and while marvelling at the enormous, vertical edge of Black Tusk, wonder about odds of one of the millions of crumbling chunks of Black Tusk dropping from high above, onto your head.

The Summit of Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park, SquamishAs you scramble along the edge of Black Tusk you come to a chute heading almost straight up.  Then another chute, this second one is marked with an orange trail marker.  Again, even this close you will wonder, as almost everyone else at this spot, and say to the person hiking next to you, “I don’t think this is a safe way to go.” Then you pause and look around, taking in the view, spectacular.  Just spectacular.

Above the clouds, looking over the impossibly blue Garibaldi Lake, nestled in endless snowy mountains. There is even snow, more accurately a glacier just below you, in the valleys of scree that crumbled from Black Tusk.  The scree is black, very black. Basketball sized boulders litter the glacier far below.  Contrasting colours of the snow, clouds, lake and sky, the view is breathtaking.  Most people don’t continue up the final chute to the top, it’s that scary looking. This is justifiable.  It is unquestionably unsafe.  Chunky rock holds pull free as you grip them. Above you jet black, jagged rocks tumble and ricochet down on and around you.  And the view is so spectacular around you that it’s easy to justify turning around here. But the final ascent is not really that hard.  Keep your head down, three points of contact at all times, slow and steady and you reach the top of the world.

Black Tusk Topo Map - Squamish Trails

Black Tusk Trailhead and Parking Details


Black Tusk is Not Dog FriendlyDogs are not permitted on the trail to Black Tusk or any other Garibaldi Provincial Park trails out of courtesy to the local animals.  There are a large number of black bears in the park and encounters with dogs result in unpredictable and potentially dangerous conflicts.  All Squamish hiking trails outside of Garibaldi Park are dog friendly.  North of Rubble Creek you will find Whistler's Valley Trail and Lost Lake Trails are dog friendly.  For a look at some of the best dog friendly hikes in Whistler try here.. And for some more challenging dog friendly hikes try here..

Campgrounds for Black Tusk


Pay Campsite Information for Black TuskGaribaldi Lake campsites: The most busy camping option in the area is at Garibaldi Lake with 50 campsites with full service (water, security, etc). The campsites are well laid out and disappear into the forest.  All are steps from the amazing Garibaldi Lake with great, though Taylor Meadows Campsitevery cold swimming.  There is good fishing here for rainbow trout, which were introduced back in the 1920's. Taylor Meadows campsites: gets very busy at times as well with 40 campsites with full service.  There are some small rivers close by but no swimming.  The draw for Taylor Meadows camping is the wonderful location.  It lays in a beautiful forested meadow full of hills and flowers and views of the towering Black Tusk.  It has a less crowded feel than Garibaldi Lake does, though bear in mind that even when crowded these campsites don't feel crowded - they are just that organized and thick with trees and hills.  Also, if you were to feel crowded, you could easily wander in any of several directions and become immersed in the wonderful forest and beautiful desolation in these vast meadows.  The Helm Creek camping area is smaller than the Garibaldi Lake and Taylor Meadows camping areas at just 9 tent platforms, however it is in a beautiful setting on the quiet side of Black Tusk, though 1.5 hours away from the approaches to Black TuskHelm Creek is another very nice campground.  There are several tent platforms next to, or near the idyllic Helm Creek.  The main draw of this campsite is that it is on the quieter side of this area and can be approached from Cheakamus Lake.

Garibaldi Park Reservations 2018


In 2018 a lot of changes with Garibaldi Provincial Park’s campsite reservations.  The first big change is that overnight camping fees are required at all campgrounds, year-round. It is still free to day hike in the park, but sleeping in the park requires a reservation and camping fees apply in all areas of Garibaldi Park.  You can’t pay by cash or at the trailheads or at the campgrounds.  Reservations must be made in advance via the BC Parks online reservation service or at the call center.  It is a pretty organized and fair reservation system.  Fairly easy to use online and reasonably priced.  The revenue goes into maintaining trails, access roads, parking lots, park buildings and snow removal.

Staying at the Elfin Lakes hut costs a bit more at $15 per adult, per night and kids 6-15 pay $10 per person, per night.  Kids under 6 are free.  The Elfin Lakes hut fee includes your backcountry camping permit, so one adult staying in the Hut pays a total of $15.  If you want to stay in the Wedgemount Lake hut or the Russet Lake hut, you simply buy a campsite pass and if the hut has an empty bed when you arrive, you take it.  There are no reservations for these two smaller huts and the rule is simply first come, first served.

The second big change this year for Garibaldi Park is that for the first time you can legally register and pay to camp in the backcountry beyond the official campsites. Wilderness camping permits are available to mountaineers, climbers, ski tourers, and other visitors with advanced skills in wilderness travel and camping, within the wilderness camping zone. The areas you can wilderness camp is quite restricted in an effort to not overrun the park and maintain some control over the massive numbers of hikers in the park.  Backcountry camping permits for Garibaldi Park cost the same as the campsite fees: $10 per person, per night.  Children 6-16 years old pay $5 per person, per night and kids under 6 years old are free.

There are two ways to book a reservation to camp in Garibaldi Park. Reserve online 24 hours once the inventory is available for booking.  For mobile devices, scroll to bottom of page and click “Switch to Full Site”.  Or via the Call Centre (an additional $5 surcharge applies): 1-800-689-9025 (toll free Canada) +1-519-826-6850 (International) 7:00 am-7:00 pm seven days a week.  Some of the Garibaldi Park trailheads don’t have reliable cell coverage, so don’t forget to book your reservation  before you start hiking!  When you book online or by phone you will need the following information.  Your arrival date, your desired campground, your group size.  Then you have to pick the number of tent pads your party requires.  At tent pad is 10 feet by 10 feet and usually accommodates one tent.  Each tent pad can fit a maximum of 4 people.   For Elfin Shelter choose one “tent pad” per party (up to 4 people).  Choose your itinerary for each night.  Click “reserve”  Fill in the permit holder and camping party information.   Pay for your reservation with your credit card.

Reserve Now Garibaldi Provincial Park Camping

Rubble Creek Trailhead for Black Tusk


Free Parking at Rubble CreekThe most popular direction to get to Black Tusk is from the Rubble Creek parking lot 32k north of Squamish. From Garibaldi Way (the last intersection before leaving Squamish, near Canadian Tire), heading North on Highway 99, toward Whistler. The well marked turnoff to "Black Tusk(Garibaldi)" trailhead is 32km on your right. The free parking lot is 2k up this road.  Hiking from the parking lot - 6.5k From the trailhead you will come to a junction.  Right goes to Garibaldi Lake, left goes to Taylor Meadows.  A good idea is to take one way on the way up and return the other way.  From Garibaldi Lake to Black Tusk is a further 6km.  Both are roughly the same distance.

Black Tusk Driving Directions from Squamish

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