Explore Squamish - August 05, 2016

Friday Trail Feature - Hiking to Elfin Lakes

Elfin Lakes
Photo: D'Arcy McLeish

I have a confession to make. I’ve never hiked to Elfin Lakes. I know, I know. It’s pretty much THE classic Squamish hike. I’m almost embarrassed to admit, but it seems like everyone I know has been up there except me. So much so that when people talk about it, I remain conspicuously mute on the subject, lest people suspect I haven’t been there. But today, that’s all going to change. Today, I am heading up to Elfin Lakes. Located in Garibaldi Provincial Park just east of Squamish up the Ring Creek Forest Service Road, the hike to Elfin Lakes is not a quick outing. The round trip is about 22km in length and for most parties, it runs at least 4 to 7 hours for the return trip. Slower parties can bank on a whole day affair or even an overnight affair. If you're keen to run, though, you can make it up there in just over a couple of hours. 

Paul Ridge

I arrive at the parking lot at 6:30am. There isn’t a cloud in the sky and I have a feeling I’m in for something special today. Setting a stiff pace, I make the first leg of the trip to the Red Heather Meadows Shelter in just under an hour. This part of the hike holds few views, but the forest leading up to the meadows is awe-inspiring. The size and scope of old growth trees will never cease to amaze me. 

After a quick break, I set off. It’s 6 km to Elfin Lakes and I’m in the mood for moving fast. No such luck. Five minutes out Red Heather, I move into the sub-alpine and my jaw drops. The views here are ridiculous and I find myself moving slower, taking in the Coast Mountains in all their glory. After reaching the high point on a Paul Ridge, the trail descends towards my destination. The views here are straight out of a storybook. Massive glaciers, rugged peaks, alpine meadows, lakes and forest; all of it conspires to overwhelm and I find myself humbled a little at the rugged beauty before me. I’ve been to a lot of places in the world, and this is fast becoming one of the most beautiful.

Elfin Lakes from Paul Ridge

As I approach the lakes, just uphill of the campground and shelter, I remember reading that the smaller lake is for drinking water, but the larger lake is for swimming. It’s hot today, and the thought of a high alpine swim in this place makes me pick up my pace. I hoof it to the shoreline, have a quick look around and not seeing anyone, strip down to nothing and jump into the lake. Is there anything more refreshing than swimming in a lake on a hot day? I spend ten minutes in the water, feeling relief and energy pour into my bones. As I dry off, I marvel at the view and spend some time enjoying this alpine paradise. After getting dressed, I head over to the far side of the lakes.

Camping At Elfin Lakes

There is a shelter, ranger cabin and sleeping hut here, along with one of the most spectacular campgrounds in BC. The tent pads are all wood decks, perched on a hill overlooking the valley beyond. I see a couple, sitting at the picnic table, enjoying a lazy alpine breakfast. Joining them with my own thermos of black gold, we sit and enjoy the view. They came the night before, to celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary. Neither of them look a day over 40, but then this is the coast, and folks around here like to stay fit. They said the first time they’d hiked up here was in the late seventies and I am both amazed and grounded by how happy they both are.

After an hour of rest, food and good conversation, I wish them well and wander off for the long walk down. The views on the way down are as good or better and I am again bogged down with slow progress. It’s not often we get to see views like this and I find a place to stop, this time on a boulder, and spend an hour just sitting and enjoying my surroundings. There’s magic in hiking, I see that now. And I savour it more, everyday.

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