Elfin Lakes

May 1, 2011

If you park at the trail-head the area has seen a bit of criminal activity by local dysfunctionals so be sure to take valuables with you or keep them out of site.

If you are planning to go overnight camping, the park charges $5 per night for staying on the campground, and $10 per night for staying in the Elfin Lakes shelter. There is also a $3 car park fee per day - there is a machine for paying at the parking lot. Make sure you bring exact change with you, since you make your deposits in the envelopes.

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On the parking lot, follow the gated road. The road was built in the mid-1940s to shuttle guests to the old Diamond Head Lodge at Elfin Lakes -- now a part of history. What remains is a jeep road that is still used by B.C. Parks to supply the ranger station at Elfin Lakes.

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Howe Sound

The first 3.5-4 kilometres from the trail-head are the steepest until you get to Red Heather Meadows (1450 metres).

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Red Cabin

The Red Cabin is used in the winter by snowshoers and cross-country skiers as a place to warm up and in the summer months as a place for hikers to use the outhouse just beyond the building.

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Tantalus Range

The meadows in winter provide perfect terrain to practice backcountry skiing.

In another 2.5 kilometres the high point of Paul Ridge (1660 metres) is reached.

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On the north the spire in behind is the actual summit of Mt.Garibaldi (2678 metres). The route is completely surrounded by mountains: the Tantalus Range to the west, Mt. Garibaldi and Diamond Head to the north, Mt. Mamquam to the east. All have glaciers which cascade to tree line.

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Diamond Head

Before and during the last ice age about 15-20,000 years ago Garibaldi Provincial Park was one of the premier volcanic areas of the Cascades.

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The Garibaldi Massif is in fact an old volcano. The sides have eroded away leaving a lava plug that still stands today. Mt. Atwell (Diamond Head) is mostly composed of compressed unstable muds.

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This area is the start of the Garibaldi Neve traverse and ends at the Rubble Creek parking lot.

The traverse is best done in winter or early spring when Garibaldi Lake is frozen.

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It is usually done as a ski traverse with 2 or 3 travel days. The 3 day variation can be done as a hut to hut traverse, staying at the Elfin Lakes Shelter and then at the Burton Hut or the Sentinel Bay Glaciology Huts. The terrain is relatively easy for skiing but the route finding challenges and remoteness make this an advanced trip.

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From Paul Ridge, the trail descends towards the Elfin Lakes before arriving at a view above the lakes of the surrounding area. Make the final descent down towards the first lake and stop to take photos and enjoy the view.

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First (Top) Lake

In summer, people are allowed to swim in the top lake, however the lower lake is reserved for drinking water only and must be kept clean.

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Columnar Peak

The ranger station is just beyond the second lake and a bit further down the trail is the overnight shelter used by hikers who plan on hiking to further destinations such as Opal Cone, the Gargoyles, or Mamquam Lake.

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Second (Bottom) Lake

The hut is a large two story hut constructed with the typical curved glue laminated beams and a metal roof. This construction is common among BC huts, although Elfin is the largest. Inside there is a propane heater in a front area, and about 8 propane cooking burners and metal covered counters in the rear. There are several large tables with benches.

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Columnar Peak and the Gargoyles

In late winter, the snow is usually 4 or 5 meters deep, and the lower story of the hut will be buried, and the main floor door may be buried. Fortunately, there is a door which opens onto a balcony on the second floor, and this is used for access to the hut.

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Elfin Shelter (Second Floor)

Hiking Trip Statistics

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Region: Howe Sound / Squamish
Difficulty: Intermediate
Time: 7 hours
Distance: 22 km
Elevation Gain: 600 meters
Hiking Season: July - October
Camping: Yes
Dog Friendly: No
Public Transit: No

How to get there

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To get to the trailhead, turn right off Hwy 99 onto Mamquam Road four km north of Squamish. Following the paved road pass the Squamish Golf and Country Club and then take the logging road which start just after the Mashiter Creek bridge. It is 16 km from the highway to a parking lot located at the 914 metre level. There is a lookout 1 km before the parking lot that provides a sweeping, panoramic view of the Squamish River Valley and Howe Sound.

Driving distance from Vancouver: 86 km (53 mi)
Driving time from Vancouver: Approx. 1 hour 45 minutes

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