Garibaldi Provincial Park – Elfin Lakes Trail

Garibaldi Provincial Park – Elfin Lakes Trail

Elfin Lakes Trail - Garibaldi Provincial ParkGaribaldi Provincial Park is truly spectacular! I already wrote about our adventure to Watersprite Lake, but to continue the fairy-hike theme, this time we hiked along the Elfin Lakes trail. This is now easily my favourite hike. Watersprite lake still has my favourite view, but the thing about the Elfin Lakes trail, is the stunning mountain views just keep coming! The effort-to-view ratio might be the best EVER!!

One of my blogging friends, the lovely Shannon, from Must Hike Must Eat had been working on a trail near the USA boarder, so afterwards she came North to hike with Marc and I. We wanted to introduce her to a really pretty walk, and we settled on this, hoping it’d be good. In the end, it was more than just good – it was a perfect day!

Elfin Lakes trail map

Elfin Lakes Trail – the basics

Distance: 22 km 
Elevation gain
: 685 m
Highest Point: 1600 m
Time: 6-7 hours (It took us 3 hours up, and 2 hours down…so we did an extra walk from the lake)
What to bring:
Walking boots. Hiking poles. Plenty of water and food. The 10 essentials.
We saw a girl doing this hike in her converse plimsolls. She looked so uncomfortable! Don’t be that girl!!
Facilities:
There is a loo at the start of the trail, in the middle (about 5km in) and at the campground
Dogs:
No dogs on this trail.
How hard is it?
It’s 22 km as a round trip, so that makes it long for lots of people. However, I was actually surprised by how easy it was. Most of the elevation gain is in the first five kilometers, but even that is not steep! Once you’re up, it is sooo pretty that you don’t really notice how far you’re walking!
Maps:
We used the Garibaldi Park Map 102 from Clark Geomatics

Elfin Lakes trail – the start

You need to start at the Diamond Head trailhead (on googlemaps, this is called the Elfin Lakes trailhead) From there, you follow a wide, easy to follow trail up through the forest towards Round Mountain. The 105 Hikes book said this first part would be a chore, so I was expecting something really steep like the Grouse Grind or the Chief. It turned out to be much easier than those walks! It’s more like an uphill stroll through woodlands. We started early, so it was shady and pleasant, but I imagine it’d be far less fun if you start when the sun is high in the sky!

Red Heather warming hut

After around 5km, the trees start to thin out and you’ll pass the Red Heather warming hut. This is for snowshoers and cross country skiers to warm up in winter. It also marks the point where this hike goes from pleasant, to spectacular! To start with, you’ll catch glimpses of the Tantalus mountain range above the treetops. Then you’ll get your first view of the gorgeous Mount Atwell!

Andrew the trail Angel

When we first started the hike, there were three other hikers with large backpacks that started walking just before us. Once we’d caught up, we got chatting to one of them, Andrew. He could tell we were excited, and new to Garibaldi Provincial Park (my ‘squeee’ noises might have given that away!) So he pointed out the names of the surrounding mountains for us. It turns out, what I had thought was Garibaldi, is actually Mount Atwell. Garibaldi’s summit is a little higher, and hiding behind Mount Atwell’s peak. Andrew also suggested that we should consider a longer hike to the ridge just below Mount Atwell called the Gargoyles.

Elfin Lakes trail

The actual trail to Elfin lakes is really easy to follow. It is wide, not particularly steep, and pretty well paved. Although we had a map in my bag, we didn’t actually need to stop and look at it until we’d made it all the way to Elfin lakes!

You still need good walking boots for this trail, as there were some patches of snow, even in July. We noticed that everyone hiking early in the morning looked well prepared, but after about 3pm, (on our return journey) we met quite a few people that looked inadequately clad for a long walk in the back-country.

Stunning views!

You know, you can never quite capture the spectacular views with a camera! Andrew took these photos for us. I was pretty sure this would be the best view of the walk… (spoiler alert, it wasn’t!)

After this gorgeous viewpoint, we walked along Paul Ridge towards those huge mountains, including Pyramid Mountain. We were all so excited taking photos and staring out at the views, that none of us really noticed that this was basically downhill most of the way to Elfin Lakes! This was a bit of a shock on the return journey, as we weren’t expecting such an uphill slog! Now when I look at this photo I feel a bit dappy. I mean that is obviously downhill!

Can you guess which Mountain is Pyramid Mountain!?

A little further down the path, we were treated to mountain views in the other direction! You can even see the path we took to Watersprite lake the previous week.

First view of the Gargoyles

Looking in the other direction, we had our first view of the Gargoyles. The tree-covered mountain in the foreground is Columnar Peak. Then, there is a saddle between that and the next (slightly orange coloured) peak, which is called the Gargoyles. Mount Atwell and Mount Garibaldi are further back.

At this point we were starting to consider climbing up to the Gargoyles, but I didn’t really think we’d do it that day.

The view was good enough for a jumping photo! Then, just a few minutes further down the road, we had our first glimpse of Elfin Lakes.

Elfin Lakes

These are the beautiful Elfin Lakes. The first, larger lake is for swimming, and the smaller lake is used for drinking water. These lakes are surrounded by beautiful mountains in all directions. It is seriously pretty! There is a cabin as well as quite a few platforms for tents. Please note, if you’d like to stay at the cabin or campground, you need to make a reservation in advance!

Andrew told us this view from above the lakes is the spot where most people take their epic instagram photos.

The colour of the water is not quite as bright blue as Joffre Lakes or Watersprite Lake but it was still a pretty shade of blue, especially on this sunny day! I LOVE the way the clouds and mountains were reflected in the water.

Pink Snow

Have you ever seen pink snow? I guess there must have been some kind of algae living in the snow. It looked a little bit pink when we first saw it early in the morning. Then as it melted, the colour becomes a darker pink.
Edit: Andy just told me this is called watermelon snow, and that it is an algae. 

Loos with views

These are the toilets along the Elfin Lakes trail. The first toilet was built up high, so people can use it in winter when the snow covers the trail. However the really epic toilet view was at the Elfin Lake campground. I mean, have you ever peed anywhere that picturesque!? It’s an amazing view! The platforms down below the loo are where people can camp. Those platforms protect the heather in the meadow from being trampled by campers.

Pretty good views for lunch

We stopped for lunch on one of those platforms for tents. We had fantastic views up to Atwell Peak, Mount Garibaldi and the Gargoyles.

We’d made it to Elfin Lake pretty early (by 11:30am), so continuing onto the Gargoyles was very, very tempting!! We took out my map to look at the extra distance and elevation gain…and decided we could manage that too (squeeee!!) However, I took so, so many photos on this extra 3 km walk, that I am going to save it for a second post. I mean, it was amaaaazing!

Elfin Lakes Trail Panoramas

The views on this walk call for panoramas! They are so wide and picturesque. These all look better if you click on each photo, so I’l leave them all in one gallery.

  1. The first panorama is our first view of the Gargoyles from Paul ridge.
  2. Next is the view from meadows looking over towards Watersprite Lake where we hiked the previous week
  3. Third is our first view of Elfin Lakes
  4. Last is the mountain views at lunch. This is what you’d wake up to if you camp at Elfin Lakes.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to pin it! Read the next part of this adventure here.

Elfin Lakes - Garibaldi Provincial Park  Elfin Lakes Trail - Garibaldi Provincial Park

40 thoughts on “Garibaldi Provincial Park – Elfin Lakes Trail

    1. It was pretty epic, and just after we’d done an extra long hike with you! My legs were tired before we got started!

      BUT if you want to do this with Ash (and not carry too much) you could book an overnight stay in the Cabin! That way the walk would be way less long. I actually think you could do it easily as you managed Elk Mountain…but it might be tiring for Ash if his legs aren’t used to BC steep mountains!!

  1. This was our first real hike in BC and we were blown away, though it was a hot, dusty, tiring day. It’s just so scenic! The new campground is inspired – it has awesome views. The old one was down the hill in a boggy meadow (you’ll have passed the turnoff on the way to the Gargoyles).

    1. I also remember the first time I saw the outhouse at Red Heather – so high off the ground! Then I visited the area in winter and immediately understood. 🙂

      The pink snow is indeed algae – it’s called watermelon snow because it apparently smells like watermelon (it doesn’t to me). There’s a researcher at SFU who wants to know about local snow patches to get samples. Check it out here: http://quarmby.ca/watermelonsnow/

      1. Oooh I had no idea! If I see it again, I’ll give it a sniff!! It is a really nice colour!

        That SFU researcher is very smart! They must have to go hiking as part of their job!

    2. The new campsite is truly gorgeous isn’t it!! I can totally see why you fell in love with it. What a perfect first real hike!! 😀

  2. Wonderful hike, Josy!
    I have experienced red snow in Norway. We thought it was algae and now I did a check on it.
    If the snow lies for a long time, it can – just like floating water – support algae growth and stain it. The red (green) algae Chlamydomonas nivalis is the explanation behind pink snow.
    You might give it a sniff next time but don’t eat it as watermelon 🙂 🙂

    1. Hehe me too!

      I’m starting quite a good collection of photos of them. I think I’ll have to write a post about them at the end of the summer. 😀

  3. A lovely report of our day! It is so fun to look back at the pictures and remember how stunning the views were. Thank you for such a wonderful wander in Canada, Josy!

    1. Thanks George! It was SUCH an amazing day! The Gargoyles post is up now. Thank you for the reminder though – I should probably link it back to this post!!

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more about the awesomeness of Elfin Lakes. Beautiful photos and great write up. Next time you go, spend another day and hike to Opal Cone. I did a post on Opal as well as winter hiking to Elfin. Looking forward to seeing Gargoyle photos.

    1. The other hikers we met on the way were planning to go to the Gargoyles, but then when they saw how little snow was left, they went to Opal Cone. I would love to go back and visit that too!!

      At some point I will need to shell out for some camping gear!

  5. Wow. This place is so gorgeous with its snow. After the sweltering summer we had (still having 😫) that is looking mighty fine!
    Sooo awesome you met a fellow blogger, though I must say I’m a bit jealous! I hope we can meet some time soon!!

    1. Me tooo!!

      Even when you stop blogging because you’re a famous writer extraordinaire, I hope we can stay friends and meet up!

      You know, when you hike near snow, there is SUCH a nice cool breeze! 😉

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