Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Black Tusk is the extraordinarily iconic and appropriately named mountain that can be seen from almost everywhere in 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 appearance is breathtaking.
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 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 Provincial 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.
The 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 different trailheads, all accessible via old access roads. From the nearby microwave tower(also visible from the Sea to Sky Highway), from the Garibaldi Park, Cheakamus Lake trailhead, and from the Garibaldi Park, 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. These two 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. Most hikers use the more direct and popular Rubble Creek trailhead.
The microwave tower access road takes you very close to Black Tusk, and has a fairly good gravel 4x4 road to it, however is blocked several kilometres away by a 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. Occasionally you will find this gate open, however driving past this point may get you in trouble.
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 summit 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 other great hikes. A quick look at a map indicates several accessible mountains close by as well as the elusive Corrie Lake.
The Rubble Creek trailhead is, for most hikers, the best trailhead option for Black Tusk. It is easy to find, clearly marked and the most direct route. The Cheakamus Lake trailhead is a bit longer and you have to leave the marked trail to ascend to Black Tusk. Though this unmarked route is straight forward and surprisingly easy, as it is unmarked it requires a bit of guesswork that may be intimidating. The Cheakamus trailhead route also lacks one other wonderful attribute that the Rubble Creek route has, a pit-stop at Garibaldi Lake. This less than 30 minute detour(one way) allows for a spectacular place to cool off in an always frigid, glacier fed lake!
The Rubble Creek Trailhead - Black Tusk
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, 25 kilometres south of Whistler Village. 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(rubble) field deposited from The Barrier in 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 a wide, dirt path into deep forest. For the first 6 kilometres you only catch glimpses of the sky through the the thick forest of startlingly tall trees. 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 not 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.
In 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.
As 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, “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.
Trailhead & Parking Directions Map for Rubble Creek
Rubble Creek is the most popular route to Black Tusk and consequently the most chaotic. The huge parking lot is often filled to capacity, with additional cars parked along the access road. This road is the only paved(not a heavily potholed, gravel road) to access a trailhead to Black Tusk. Though very busy, the Rubble Creek trail to Black Tusk is constantly maintained to a high standard. Plenty of helpful mapboards and trail signs keep you on track and aware of where you are. The tidy, natural dirt trail is wide enough to hike side-by-side most of the time. The constant ascent from here gets you to the summit of Black Tusk in 13.5 kilometres(8.4 miles). To get to Rubble Creek, drive south from Whistler Village(zero your odometre at Village Gate Boulevard) on Hwy 99. At 25 kilometres look for the Black Tusk(Garibaldi) sign on the highway indicating you to turn left. 150 metres up this road it will fork. Take the right fork and continue up the paved road for 2 kilometres to the Rubble Creek trailhead for Black Tusk, Taylor Meadows, Panorama Ridge, Garibaldi Lake and much more.
The Cheakamus Lake/Helm Creek Route to 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 summit 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.
Trailhead & Parking Directions Map for Cheakamus Lake
The Cheakamus Lake trailhead access is an excellent and quieter access route to Black Tusk. The 8 kilometre access road is very potholed, however most cars should make it easily, though slowly. From Village Gate Boulevard in Whistler Village, drive south on the Sea to Sky Highway(Hwy 99) for 7.7 kilometres to the intersection at Function Junction. Turn left onto Cheakamus Lake Road toward Cheakamus Crossing. In 300 metres turn left on the the gravel road section of Cheakamus Lake Road. Follow this very potholed road for 8 kilometres to the Cheakamus Lake trailhead. 1.5 kilometres along the trail you will see a sign on the right for Helm Creek. Follow this to the Helm Creek Campground(8.5 kilometres from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead). Black Tusk dominates the skyline from Helm Creek and the trail continues to Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge and Garibaldi Lake from here.
The Microwave Tower Route to Black Tusk
The microwave tower access road takes you very close to Black Tusk, and has a fairly good gravel 4x4 road to it, however is blocked several kilometres away by a 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. It is not unusual to find this gate open, however, driving past this point may get you in trouble.
Parking Directions Map for the Microwave Tower
The microwave tower is pretty straight forward to get to. Most cars can manage the access road, though with a few steep, potholed sections. From Village Gate Blvd in Whistler Village, drive south on Hwy 99 for 7.7 kilometres to the intersection at Function Junction. Turn left onto Cheakamus Lake Road toward Cheakamus Crossing. In 300 metres turn left onto the gravel section of Cheakamus Lake Road. In just 150 metres turn right onto Westside Main, cross the bridge over Cheakamus River and drive past the parking area for Logger's Lake. Keep driving the increasingly bad and steep logging road until you come to the locked gate. Park well to the side to not block access as this road is frequently used by maintenance crews to drive to the microwave tower.
Camping & Bivouacking Near Black Tusk
Garibaldi Lake campsites: The most busy camping option in the area is at Garibaldi Lake with 50 campsites with full service (water, security, etc) and fees (May 1 - Nov 15 - $10 per person). The campsites are well laid out and disappear into the forest. All are steps from the amazing Garibaldi Lake with great, though very 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 (water, security, etc) and fees (May 1 - Nov 15). 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 Tusk. Helm Creek is another beautiful campground. Most of the 9 campsites are next to the beautiful 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.
Though camping outside of designated campsites is prohibited in Garibaldi Park, the wonderful vastness of the terrain make bivouacking far from humanity enticing. On busy days in the summer you may find your desired campsite full and be forced to camp elsewhere. The trails through Garibaldi Park reach high into the alpine and finding hidden pockets of paradise to sleep under the stars are nearly limitless. People bivouac on top of Black Tusk, sleep under the stars on Panorama Ridge, or tent in any number of remote places. Being located in British Columbia means that you are never far from a creek, river or lake/tarn. Though you will rarely see Park staff beyond the designated campsites, you should be sure to purchase a backcountry permit as you could be given a $144 fine for not providing proof of payment for staying in the park overnight.
Facilities in Garibaldi Provincial Park - Black Tusk
There are outhouses(toilets) at various places in Garibaldi Park along the trail to Black Tusk. The parking lot/trailheads at Rubble Creek and Cheakamus Lake have outhouses. The campsites at Taylor Meadows and at Garibaldi Lake have outhouses. There is also an outhouse at the trail junction where the Black Tusk trail ascends from the main trail, 3.5k from Black Tusk. These are basic, pit toilets, usually equipped with toilet paper.
Restrictions in Garibaldi Provincial Park - Black Tusk
Dogs are not permitted on the trail to Black Tusk or any other Garibaldi Provincial Park trails out of courtesy to the resident animals. There are a large number of black bears in the park and encounters with dogs result in unpredictable and potentially dangerous conflicts. There are quite a few excellent hiking trails in Whistler that are dog friendly. Whistler's Valley Trail and Lost Lake Trails are dog friendly and run throughout Whistler. The Sea to Sky Trail, which runs over 30 kilometres through Whistler is a paradise trail for dogs as it runs through numerous parks, beaches and forests. Ancient Cedars is a nice, dog friendly hike that is 5k roundtrip and takes you into a thousand year old forest. Train Wreck is also dog friendly. The trailhead, marked Flank Trail is located in Function Junction, just a short drive south of Whistler Village. Further south you will come to Brandywine Falls, which is a short, 2k (roundtrip) dog friendly hike to the amazing falls. About 25 minutes north of Whistler, Nairn Falls is another beautiful and dog friendly hiking trail. 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..