Golden Ears Summit Hiking and Camping Guide
Are you looking for a hike in Vancouver that is going to give you that feeling of being on top of the world? Look no further because you have found it! Golden Ears Summit is located in Golden Ears Provincial Park and is an amazing and adventurous hike that takes you up to the Summit of Golden Ears itself! The amazing views from the top overlook Pitt Lake and the surrounding mountains. Better yet, the hike has the most epic campground you will ever see!
The views from this hike were everything we had dreamed of and more. Camping at the top of Golden Ears was a surreal experience and one that we plan to do again. This hike has made it to the top of our favourite hikes near Vancouver list. We would also rate it as one of the best backpacking trips in Vancouver!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links that may earn us a small commission should you decide to click through and make a valid purchase (at no extra cost to you). Thanks so much for your support!
The hike can be done in one exhausting day, or over 2 days with a night at one of the campgrounds. Alder Flats is nearer to the base of the mountain almost halfway through the hike, and Panorama Ridge Campground is much closer to the summit. I will talk about about these campgrounds in more detail further down in the guide.
In this guide I will tell you everything you need to know to hike Golden Ears Summit Trail including how to camp at the top and how hard the actual hike is.
West Canyon Parking lot To Panorama Ridge
Distance: 24km / 14.9 miles
Time: approximately 11-12 hours
Elevation: 1,283m / 4,209 ft
Dog Friendly: Yes, however see note in guide on this
Toilets: Yes, at the trailhead, Alder Flats and Panorama Ridge
West Canyon Parking lot to Golden Ears Summit
Distance: 26km / 16.1 miles
Time: approximately 12-14 hours
Elevation: 1,627m / 5,337 ft
Dog Friendly: Yes, however see note in guide on this
Toilets: Yes, at the trailhead, Alder Flats and Panorama Ridge
Everything you need to know about hiking to Golden Ears Summit
🥾 How hard is the hike to Golden Ears Summit?
We are not going to lie, you need to be prepared for this hike both physically and mentally. It is long and very very steep with lots of scramble sections. Both Dave and I used hiking poles on this hike, which we had to pack away once we reach the more scrambly sections that required both our hands.
We found that the trail was pretty well marked and did have any issues with directions, however we also had our All Trails running which did come in handy a couple of times once we got above the treeline. We highly recommend having All Trails or similar hiking route / GPS so that you won’t get lost.
Reminder: ❗ Ensure you are well prepared for a full day hike. If you are planning on completing the hike in one day, it will take you around 12 hours or more. Make sure you have plenty of food and water as well as a first aid kit in case of injuries. You will drink ALOT of water on this hike as there is a lot of elevation.
When we decided to do this hike, we had read everywhere online that continuing on from the emergency shelter at Panorama Ridge campground to the summit was not recommended, as there was almost always snow and ice present. However when we we reached Panorama Ridge Campground and the emergency shelter, we found that almost everyone was continuing onto the summit due to great conditions and no snow or ice!
Can dogs do the Golden Ears Summit Trail?
Dogs are allowed on the trail and we saw plenty along the trail and all of the way up at the Panorama Ridge campground. However, we did read a review on All Trails right before going which was warning people that their dog really struggle and the sharp rocks tore up his poor dogs paws. Just make sure you are well aware of your dogs capabilities before taking them on this hike. There is also a ladder section with no alternative way down about 3/4 of the way to the emergency shelter so you need to be able to carry your dog down the ladder.
⌚ Golden Ears Summit Hiking Time
The Golden Ears Summit hike will take you approximately 12 hours of walking time in total. When we did this hike, we were surprisingly a lot faster on the way up than on the way back down. We took around 4.5 hours up and 6 on the way back.
The reason for this was that we were going pretty fast on the way up so that we could get a tent pad. On the way down, our feet hurt and we were exhausted so were hiking quite a bit more slowly.
From the Panorama Ridge campground and the emergency shelter to the summit, it will take you around 45 minutes to 1 hour one way. This section of the hike is not as well marked and contains a lot more scrambles.
📌 Finding the Trailhead
You will begin and end the Golden Ears Summit hike in the same spot, through the gates of Golden Ears Provincial Park. Park in the West Canyon Carpark and you will find the start of the trail on your left next to the toilets.
The hike follows the West Canyon Trail eventually turning into the Golden Ears Trail at the Alder Flats Campground. If you are doing the hike as a backpacking trip, you can leave your car in the West Canyon parking lot. This is what we did.
Click here to open the map in Google Maps!
We were really impressed by the facilities along this hike!
There are toilets located at the trailhead in the West Canyon Parking Lot, at the Alder Flats Campground and also at the Panorama Ridge Campground. Please remember to bring along your own toilet paper as the Parks no longer supply this.
There is also an emergency shelter at the Panorama Ridge Campground as seen in the below photo, which is to be used for emergencies only. When we camped there, a lot of people were using the shelter to store their food overnight.
🚱 Where to Filter Water
You are going to drink a lot of water during this hike so a water filter is a necessity! You can purchase one here. We also love having Nuun Sport Electrolytes with us to add to our water on big hikes like this one.
There are a few places you can filter water. One is about halfway, right before you reach the first campsite called Alder Flats on the way up. We were lucky enough to have a little stream of water at Panorama Ridge campground. However, make sure you check recent All Trails reports so that you are aware of where all of the current water sources are located as these can change.
🐻 Are there Bears in Golden Ears Provincial Park?
Golden Ears is home to many animals including black bears and cougars. If you go on any hike in the park, please ensure that you are familiar with bear safety. Check out this article to familiarize yourself. Bring along bear spray with you and ensure you know how to use it. You can purchase a bottle of bear spray here.
It is also SO SO SO important to make sure that you never leave any food unattended at your campground if you choose to camp. Make sure you have either a bear proof container or bag to store your food such as an ursack or a bear vault.
There have been a lot of incidents in the past in Golden Ears where food has been left out and a curious bear has come across it. This then leads to the bear returning to the camp area for more food, which in turn may lead to the bear becoming aggressive towards people. Unfortunately BC Parks then have to catch the bear and put him down as it is their responsibility to ensure the safety of the visitors to the park.
Please remember, leaving food out can not only affect your safety and those around you but also affect the lives of the innocent animals that live in the park.
⛺ Panorama Ridge and Alder Flats Campgrounds
There are two campgrounds along the way to the Golden Ears Summit. The first campground that you will come to is called Alder Flats and is approximately halfway along the trail to the summit. Alder Flats is located at the bottom of the mountain under the trees so is very sheltered. Some people choose to camp here and then leave their heavy backpacking gear at their campsite to hike the rest of the way to the top.
The second campsite is called Panorama Ridge Campground and is located next to the emergency shelter above the treeline and not too far away from the summit. A lot of people choose to end their hike here as the views are absolutely incredible!
When we were researching where to camp, we found it extremely confusing that this campsite was called Panorama Ridge just like the popular viewpoint along the Panorama Ridge hike in Garibaldi Provincial Park. I can confirm that they are completely different locations and quite far from each other. The name is just a coincidence.
Do I need to book the campgrounds?
Tip for camping at Panorama Ridge Campground
This campground is extremely popular due to the epic views and there are only about 6 wooden platforms in the main campground section with another couple on the other side of the emergency shelter. There are plenty of other spots to camp so if you miss out on a platform don’t worry too much. If you have your heart set on camping on a platform like we did, we highly recommend camping at one of the frontcountry Campgrounds (North Beach, Gold Creek or Alouette) in Golden Ears Park the night before so that you can start hiking at the crack of dawn. You can book these campgrounds on the BC Parks Website here.
The Golden Ears Summit Hiking Trail
The hike can be divided into 2 sections. The first half to Alder Flats, which you will find quite easy and the second half to the Panorama Ridge Campground and then on to the summit if you choose. The second half of the hike is definitely the hardest and where most of the elevation comes from. You will also find yourself using your body to climb boulders and over tree roots during the second half of the hike.
First half of the hike
Your hike will begin on a wide, gravel trail call the West Canyon Trail starting from the West Canyon Parking lot. You will find that the trail is pretty easy for the entire first half of the hike up until just after Alder Flats so make sure you enjoy this section. The trail follows orange markers which appear every 500 metres or so.
The first intersection that you will come to is a trail on your left called the Menzies Trail. Ignore this and stick to the West Canyon Trail. Next you will reach Evans Peak Trail on your left. Ignore this turn and continue straight to stay on the West Canyon Trail. While the trail is wide, it remains pretty flat, before climbing a little through the forest.
After around 1km, you will come to a bridge. Cross the bridge and continue on through the forest before reaching another bridge.
At the 3km mark, you will reach another intersection where there is a separate trail on your right that splits off to go to the Lower Falls. Follow the sign that points to Alder Flats and Golden Ears on your left with a small and steady incline.
Gold Creek Lookout and continuing to Alder Flats
Before long, at around the 4km mark, you will reach a small lookout through the trees called Gold Creek Lookout which is marked on the map located in this guide. From here, you can see Gold Creek down below you and it makes for a nice photo (above photo).
After the lookout, the trail will take you up and down through a beautiful old growth forest. When you reach the 4.5ish km mark, you will come to another intersection after a creek crossing which points to East Canyon Trail on the right and Alder Flats on your left. Take the left hand turn towards Alder Flats. The trail continues uphill. You will reach the Alder Flats campground a little before the 6km mark. Here you will find a pit toilet and some bear hangs if you plan to camp overnight.
Second half of the hike
After Alder Flats, the trail changes from the West Canyon Trail into the Golden Ears Trail. We hope you enjoyed the “flat’ section of the trail because this is where the elevation begins. From here the trail takes you up a wide boulder field. This continues for a while until you reach a small clearing which is the perfect spot for a rest. Ahead of you, you will see some REALLY steep stairs that kind of look like they have been made for giants. This is where the real fun or should I say “challenging part of the hike” begins!
After you have rested for a bit, begin the exhausting climb up the stairs and back into the forest where you still be climbing uphill over roots and mud. This section of the hike reminded us a lot of the trail to Wedgemount Lake which is also a challenging hike but this one somehow seemed even steeper than Wedgemount.
From this point, the rest of the hike consists of a mix of very steep elevation and scrambling up boulders – some which have ropes to assist. Personally, I found the scrambling the most physically exhausting part of the hike.
As you get closer to your destination, the views get better and better. The trail begins to get a little harder to follow, so having All Trails GPS on will be helpful. If not, you just need to make sure that you are continuing to follow the orange markers. You will eventually reach a ladder section. There is only one ladder on this hike and it is very close to the end. After the ladder, the views start opening up more and more and you will keep thinking you are almost there but the trail somehow just keeps going.
The scariest part of the trail
You will know when you are almost at Panorama Ridge because you will reach a section of the trail where you need to climb vertically up a rockface with a pretty steep drop off on your right. You should also see a permanent snowfield on your right, down below you. Unfortunately, I was too in the zone to get a photo here, so you will have to do the hike to see it for yourself.
This is the section where I had a little mental breakdown as I couldn’t figure out how to climb up the rock, but eventually calmed down and was able to navigate up the rockface. This section was the scariest part because of the drop off but it also didn’t last too long and before I knew it, we had made it to the campground! I instantly forgot all about being exhausted because it was time to choose our camping platform. We had made it and we were the first ones there! We arrived at around 10:15am after setting off before sunrise.
The hike from Panorama Ridge to the summit
While I napped in the tent, Dave continued on to the summit with a couple of our friends (photos below). He reported back saying the views from up there were insane and that the trail was more scrambling and less of a well marked trail.
📄 Golden Ears Park Permits
During the off season (aka Winter), you can visit Golden Ears without needing to book a permit. During Winter the park is extremely quiet and you will probably have it almost to yourself.
The best time to do the Golden Ears Summit hike is in Summer, which means you will need a day pass to visit Golden Ears Provincial Park. You only need to book a permit to visit Golden Ears if you are visiting between 7am and 3:30pm. Outside these hours, you can come and go as you please as long as the gates are open.
The day pass is free and you can reserve one from the BC Parks Reservation Website. These passes can be booked only two days before visiting and the booking system opens at 7am.
🗨 Our Thoughts
The Golden Ears Summit hike was both the BEST backpacking trip we have EVER done and also the HARDEST. The views from the top were worth every second of pain to get there! We highly recommend camping in the park the night before so that you can get a head start first thing in the morning. If you do decide to do this, bring along an eye mask and ear plugs just in case you have any loud neighbours. We unfortunately had a large group near who were still partying when we left in the morning and we didn’t get much sleep.
Looking for more Golden Ears Provincial Park Guides?
Looking for more activities to do in Golden Ears Provincial Park? Check out our other Golden Ears Provincial Park guides, including our guide on 8 Fun Things to do in Golden Ears Provincial Park.