Marc and I first visited Elfin lakes last summer, and we both immediately fell in love with the trail. It’s mostly because the effort-to-view ratio is just so impressive. It doesn’t feel like you’re trying particularly hard, but the views are spectacular! On the way home, Marc declared that if/when his brothers come to visit us in Canada, he’d like to bring them here.
Well, one of his brothers, Tom, and his girlfriend Andreia, came to visit us this spring. We vowed that if we had good-ish weather, we should take them to Elfin Lakes. The main problem was that Elfin Lakes stays covered in snow well into June. We all donned microspikes and hiked up to Heather Meadows. We planned to show them the first view of Mount Atwell, and then keep going if the conditions were good, or call it a day if it didn’t look safe. In the end, conditions were pretty perfect, so we were able to explore the Elfin Lakes Winter Route.
Elfin Lakes Trail Map
This map shoes the summer route, but if you zoom in, you can see the winter trail. It goes around the other side of Round Mountain, and stays higher.
Elfin Lakes Winter Route – the basics
Distance: 22 km
Elevation gain: 685 m
Highest Point: 1600 m
Time: 6-7 hours (It took us 6 hours)
What to bring:
Snowshoes, skis or at least microspikes.
Hiking poles. Plenty of water and food. The 10 Essentials
There is a toilet at the trailhead, in the middle (about 5 km in) and at the campground
There is a cabin you can sleep in at Elfin Lakes (book the cabin here)
No dogs on this trail.
How hard is it?
Challenging. It’s pretty long for a snowshoeing adventure. We did it late in the springtime so there was plenty of light.
In mid-winter, most people spend the night at Elfin Lakes cabin, then hike back the next day.
We used the Garibaldi Park Map 102 from Clark Geomatics. It’s also in the 105 Hikes book.
Elfin Lakes Winter Route vs Summer Route
The main difference between the trails for Elfin lakes is the winter route goes around the back of Round Mountain, while the summer route stays on the same side as Mount Garibaldi. Both options involve ridiculously pretty scenery, it’s just the winter route is slightly safer from avalanches. Please note, any back country trail will have some risk of avalanche, so you should always check the forecast before you go!
In winter, park rangers leave bright orange markers to show you the way. This is a pretty popular snowshoeing area, so you’ll probably also see other people’s footprints in the snow.
We were not actually sure if the snow would be hard enough for us to hike in micro-spikes, so we started super early and hoped for the best. The snow started about halfway up the logging road. It was pretty well packed down, so easy to hike on. If we had started postholing (sinking into the snow) we would have turned back.
The Elfin Lakes Winter Route is very direct! The summer pathway zig-zags it’s way through Heather Meadows, while the winter route heads straight up! This is the most tiring part of the entire adventure. At least every time you turn around you are treated to these fantastic views of the Tantalus range and Howe Sound.
Epic Winter views
The best thing about the Elfin Lake Winter Route is once you’ve made it up above Heather Meadows, there are beautiful mountain views in all directions for the entire walk. This is our first view of Mount Garibaldi (well… Atwell Peak)
Once you’ve seen Garibaldi, you turn away from that view and follow the orange posts around the back of Round Mountain. The path stays much higher than the summer route, so you get plenty of chances to peak through the trees.
Spring Weather – be prepared
We triple checked the weather, and so we were expecting it to be a warm day, but you need to be especially careful walking in the springtime, as Alpine weather can change very quickly! Bring more layers than you think you’ll need as well as a flashlight, and plenty of snacks.
When is snow not white!? It turns out on days with big puffy clouds, the snow can look very shadowy and dark, unless the sun pops out to brighten it all up. I like the way some of my photos look quite moody, despite the blue skies and pretty snow covered mountains!
Snowshoes, skis or microspikes?
We met some people who were skiing over to Elfin Lakes, some who were snowshoeing, as well as quite a few that were hiking with just hiking boots. We all brought microspikes that strap onto the bottom of our shoes. Those make it much easier to walk on hard, icy snow. If the snow was newer or more powdery, we would not have been able to walk this far without sinking. If you visit Elfin lakes earlier in the winter or spring, you’ll probably need to have snowshoes or cross country skis.
We made it to Elfin Lakes!
I almost didn’t recognize Elfin Lakes! It looks so different in winter and spring- more like a dip in the snow than a pair of lakes.
Just in case you didn’t see our adventure to Elfin Lakes last summer, this is the difference two months can make! This year we did the hike in May, while the photo below is from July.
A ring of melt-water was *just* starting to appear around the edge of the lake, so you can see where the lake should be.
This is the view from the lake, looking back to where we had just walked. )With Tom and Andreia for scale…) This turned out to be Andreia’s first ever hike up in the alpine. I think that is pretty amazing for a first snow-hike! She was such a walking superstar!
This is the view right before you arrive at the Elfin Lakes cabin. Atwell Peak is in the background, with the Gargoyles.
Atwell Peak and Snowy Gargoyles
Hiking up to the Gargoyles was one of the best days ever…but I wouldn’t feel safe walking up that steep slope with this much snow! Still, this was a pretty perfect view for lunchtime!
Elfin Lakes Cabin
At some point I’d love to come back and stay in this cabin. It would be pretty amazing to wake up to these views!
After lunch and a rest, we were ready to follow the Elfin Lakes winter route back home. Big dark clouds swooshed in to make our photos look a little more epic, but it was still a pleasant walk without any snow or rain.
I had a little extra energy on the way back, so I ran up the slope of Paul ridge to get a view from the top. That’s Andreia, Marc and Tom waiting for me (thanks guys!) The mountains around Garibaldi Provincial Park look so, so cool from here!
Lost microspikes along the Elfin Lakes Winter Route
Although we are always careful to leave no trace, on this occasion we failed. Just as we made it back to Heather Meadows, Tom realized that one of his (brand new) microspikes had fallen off. He ran off to look for them while we all waited looking at this gorgeous view. After a while we started to worry about him, so I ran after him…in the end I found Tom, but he hadn’t spotted his missing microspikes.
So, if you visit this hike and find some sad, lonely microspikes, please let me know!
Anyway, although this is a long walk in the snow, Elfin lakes is still one of my favourite hikes near Vancouver and Squamish. What do you think? Do you fancy this fantastic walk in the snow?
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