The Elfin Lakes hike has been on my bucket list for a few years. It is a well-known and very popular overnight trip near Vancouver, and because of that I had avoided it. However this year BC Parks implemented a reservation system for both the campground and the winter shelter, giving me the chance to make the trip without worrying about an overcrowded hut.
Hike Name: Elfin Lakes
Date: Friday April 28
Location: Garibaldi Provincial Park, Squamish, BC
Approx. drive time: 2 hours
Distance: 13.6 mi. / 22 km
Elevation gain: 1970 ft / 600 m
Max. elevation: 5215 ft / 1590 m
Approx. hiking time: 8 hours
The weather of the Pacific Northwest has been pretty dismal these past few months. Normally I get out over Easter weekend, but Easter fell early this year and was still pretty rainy and cool. I finally bit the bullet and reserved a Friday night at the shelter, with the forecast promising a mix of sun and clouds. It would do.
I tagged a friend to come along with me, and we hit the trail early afternoon on the Friday. There was still a couple feet of snow at the trailhead, so we strapped on our snowshoes right away.
The first 5 km of trail are a gradual climb along an old forest road. This first hour or so of travel is pretty boring, offering only one good viewpoint and a few peek-a-boo views through the thick forest. It’s certainly worth pushing on for the rewards that await higher up.
We reached Red Heather Meadows and it’s warming hut after about an hour and a half of hiking. The Meadows area is a good destination for those wanting a shorter wander, and many local hikers use it as a short day hike goal. We rested for about half an hour in the hut and also made friends with some of the resident Whiskey Jacks.
The next section of the trail was a steep ascent to gain the ridge, but rewarded us with great views south to Howe Sound. The winter route then directed us to the right, avoiding the avalanche-prone terrain on the west side of the ridge. We wandered through the dripping forest before climbing through a bowl to the high point of our hike. Looking north from there, we could guess at our destination another few kilometres along the ridge.
The last section of trail along the ridge was the most rewarding. The trail rolled along the ridge, though mostly in a downhill way. We had wonderful views of the Garibaldi mountains to the Northeast, as well as the Sunshine Coast range across the Squamish valley to the west.
My hiking partner and I were both pretty spent by the time we spied the Elfin Lakes shelter. We were relieved to make it there and find it warmed with propane heat and lighted thanks to solar panels. Most intriguing though was having to step down a short ways to reach the second story balcony in order to enter the shelter. We had been travelling on about 3 meters of snow!
Inside the shelter we were greeted by a few other hikers, two from Vancouver, and one incredibly brave hiker from San Diego. He certainly got a unique Canadian experience! We relieved ourselves of our packs, picked a bunk and then settled in for a hearty dinner.
We all tucked into bed pretty early. Of course later in the night I woke up, needing to venture to the outhouse. I’m really, really glad I did, because if not I would have missed out on a crystal clear sky and even some subtly shifting northern lights. It was an amazing spectacle. I could have stayed out there for hours, but the warmth of my sleeping bag beckoned.
In the morning we woke to grey skies. The clouds had settled over the nearby peaks and it looked like we’d have snow before too long.
Thankfully the snow held off until we’d made it nearly back to the Heather Meadows shelter. We enjoyed the gradual uphill wander along the ridge to the trail’s high point. Back down at Heather Meadows we passed a couple large groups making their way to Elfin Lakes for the night. The shelter would be full to the brim for Saturday night!
The last 5 km of trail along the forest road passed quickly, only made a bit more interesting by the swirling snow coming down. We made it back to our car around 1 p.m. We rewarded ourselves with hot coffee and a big lunch at a great cafe in Squamish before hitting the road home.
It may not have been blue-bird sky weather, but it was still a perfect trip to me. I got to stretch my hiking muscles, have my overnight pack on again and enjoy a unique overnight experience.
The trip was also a good reminder that it is still winter in the mountains. The trip has made me realise just how much snow we’ve head this year and that it’s likely not going to melt out until August. Either way, I plan to make it back to Elfin Lakes again, hopefully next time to stay at the campground!