10 Things to Expect on a Trip to Elfin Lakes

Posted on: June 1, 2018

10 Things to Expect on a Trip to Elfin Lakes
Photo: @tyrelljohnstone

10 Things to Expect on a Trip to Elfin Lakes

If you plan on heading up to Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park there are a few things you should know before you go. To help, we created a top 10 list of useful information.

1. How to Get There (Chains for your vehicle are required)

Chains are a must to reach the trailhead parking lot, not only are they required (October to April) but they make the drive up a much smoother process. The chain up area is in the lower parking lot.

Turn east off Hwy 99 onto Mamquam Road 4 km north of downtown Squamish (not Mamquam FSR). Follow the paved road alongside the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club. Turn north onto Highlands Way S, turn east at the roundabout and head up and through Quest University. Turn left onto Mamquam road which becomes Garibaldi Park road. Follow this road until you arrive at the parking lot. It is 16 km from the highway to the parking lot, located at 914 m elevation.

2. Follow the Marked Trail Not the Ski Tracks10 Things to Expect on a Trip to Elfin Lakes Image

You will see plenty of ski tracks zig-zagging in every direction along the trail. Be careful not to confuse these tracks with the actual path. The trail to Elfin lakes is marked with poles, so look ahead for the next orange poll to make sure you are on the correct path.

3. The Trip is an All-Day Affair

The trail to Elfin Lakes is 11km each way, it is not an after-work activity so please leave yourself a full day to complete the hike.

4. There is a Permit System for Overnighters

If you wish to camp overnight or sleep in the hut you will need to purchase a permit prior to arrival at the trailhead. Permit prices are $15 per person for the cabin and $10 per person for the campground. You can purchase your permits on the Discover Campsites website.

5. The Snow Sticks Around Longer Than You Expect10 Things to Expect on a Trip to Elfin Lakes Image

Due to the elevation of the trail snow often lingers many months of the year. The lakes themselves sometimes remain frozen until early July! You can check conditions of the trail on the BC Provincial Parks website under trail report or try typing Eflin Lakes into the search bar of Instagram to see recent posts.

6. The Scoop on Parking

You will use the Diamond Head parking lots to access the Elfin Lakes Trailhead, there are two available lots one lower and one upper. If there is still snow on the access road and you don't have a 4-wheel drive vehicle we recommend parking in the lower lot and walking the extra 2km to reach the trailhead. This section of the road is much tougher to drive on, and it's an easy walk. 

7. What Lies Beyond the Lakes?

People often ask what lies beyond Elfin Lakes. If you plan on being in the area for multiple days and want to go exploring you can continue along the trail to the Gargoyles or to Opal Cone. Please note these trails involve complicated route finding and avalanche awareness. Avalanche safety training and a beacon, probe and shovel are a must for trail users. 

8. Watch for Skiers (and Snowboarders)10 Things to Expect on a Trip to Elfin Lakes Image

Share the trail with the skiers, move to one side of the trail when you see a skier coming so they have adequate space to pass.  

9. What is Red Heather Hut?

You will pass by another, smaller hut on your way to Elfin Lakes. Red Heather Hut is a warming cabin and is not meant for sleeping except in the case of emergencies. It is an excellent place to warm up and have lunch on your way up to Elfin Lakes and there is a stove with gas, two tables with seating as well as a log burning stove that heats the hut. 

10. Where Are the Best Views?10 Things to Expect on a Trip to Elfin Lakes Image

There are many beautiful views along the Elfin Lakes trail. The first of which occurs about halfway to Red Heather. Keep your eyes open for a clearing in the trees and look left for sweeping views of the Howe Sound naturally framed by snow-covered trees (pictured above). After that, the most breathtaking spots lie beyond Red Heather Hut along Paul Ridge (a few kilometres after the warming hut). Once you arrive at Elfin Lakes you will be surrounded by towering snowy peaks. If you plan on staying the night remember to look up after the sun sets, the stars have a habit of twinkling brilliantly above the hut.

Snowshoe rentals are available at Escape Route, and Valhalla Pure Outfitters.

Not experienced in the backcountry? Why not brush up on your skills or hire a guide with one of our partners, Altus Mountain GuidesCanada West Mountain School or Mountain Skills Academy.