One of the best hikes in Garibaldi Provincial Park, getting up close and personal with the Black Tusk should be on every Sea-to-Sky hiker’s to-do list by virtue of its notoriety alone. If you walk into a souvenir shop in Whistler and look at the postcard rack, you're sure to notice a large black rock punctuating the skyline in almost every photo that includes a mountain vista. You'll likely see this rock while driving up the Sea-to-Sky highway, just south of Whistler, towering above you ominously. And if you ski or mountain bike on Whistler Mountain and take the Peak chair up to the very top, you will be greeted with a stunning view of the mountains of Garibaldi Park to the southeast, including the same most noticeable chunk of black volcanic rock protruding majestically from the landscape. The Black Tusk is without question the most iconic mountain peak of the Sea-to-Sky corridor, its name having been used for a subdivision, a helicopter company, a band, an art gallery, and at least two kinds of beer, just to name a few. All across Garibaldi Provincial Park the hikes are beautiful, the views are great, the lakes are pristine and the scenery is spectacular, but this destination is particularly iconic.
Black Tusk is most often hiked from the Rubble Creek Trailhead, which is also used as the primary access point for the popular Garibaldi Lake and Panorama Ridge hikes. It is also accessible via the slightly longer but less steep and much less busy Helm Creek Trail, starting from the Cheakamus Lake Trailhead. It is possible to hike up and down from the Rubble Creek Trailhead in a single day, but 28 to 30 kilometers and 1,625 meters of elevation gain makes for a very long day, so many hikers choose to camp at one of the campgrounds at Helm Creek, Garibaldi Lake, or Taylor Meadows, and then hike the Tusk in the morning before heading back down or continuing on to the other trailhead. The campgrounds here tend to fill up most weekends, and it is forbidden to camp elsewhere in Garibaldi Park, so it is important to arrive as early as possible to lock down a campsite.
From the Rubble Creek parking lot, the wide and well-maintained trail ascends through old growth forest, steadily gaining elevation through 6 kilometers of switchbacks before coming to a fork. The most direct route to Black Tusk is to the left via Taylor Meadows, while the trail to the right meanders past The Barrier viewpoint, Barrier Lake, Lesser Garibaldi Lake, and then finally Garibaldi Lake before climbing back up toward the base of the tusk. If you plan to hike back down to Rubble Creek on the same day, your best bet is to take the Taylor Meadows route up and go via the lakes on the way back down, time permitting. The section through Taylor Meadows is pleasant and beautiful as the trail levels off and trees thin out, revealing views of the Tantalus Range to the southwest, Mount Garibaldi to the east, and eventually Black Tusk to the north. There are several intersections, but signage is clear and the trails are easy to follow.
Eventually you’ll reach a junction where the main trail continues on toward Panorama Ridge, Helm Creek, and Cheakamus Lake, and a fork to the left leads up to Black Tusk. From here the trail starts climbing again through rugged and rocky terrain above the tree line until you reach a signpost at the end of the maintained trail. Looking beyond, there is an obvious route to base of the tusk through steep loose shale that slides down with each step, making the final ascent that much more torturous. The views of Garibaldi Lake and the surrounding mountains from the ridge are spectacular, and the true majesty of the Black Tusk can only be properly appreciated from up close. It is possible to summit the tusk via a near vertical chimney on the south side of the tusk, but the loose crumbling volcanic rock is very dangerous, and this is strongly discouraged by B.C. parks. Anyone hoping to summit the tusk must have proper equipment and training, and anyone hanging around near the base of the tusk should be aware of the possibility of falling rocks.