Mount Elsay – Hikes Near Vancouver

Mount Elsay – Hikes Near Vancouver

Mount Elsay has fantastic views of Mount Baker and the North Shore MountainsMount Elsay is one of those rare hikes that for some reason is not crazily popular, despite being easy to reach, close to Vancouver and incredibly fun. This might just be because you can’t see Mount Elsay from Vancouver. I was keen to climb all the mountains I could see from home first, maybe everyone else feels this way too? Anyway, if you are happy to challenge yourself and visit a quieter, less famous peak, this one is a doozy.

I read about this trail in the 105 Hikes book, which is full of fantastic (and fun) trails like this. If you like the sound of it, you can buy it here.

Mount Elsay Trail Map

This version of the map follows the loop clockwise, but you can get the general idea. There is plenty of cumulative elevation gain/loss.

Mount Elsay – the basics

Distance: 13km 
Elevation Gain:
Cumulative Elevation Gain: 1187m
High Point: 
Time: 9-10 hours
What to bring:
Water, snacks and your camera!
The 10 essentials.
There are toilets at the trailhead
Ish. Dogs are allowed but there are several boulder fields, which could be difficult for paws.
How hard is it?
Challenging but so worth the effort!

Mount Elsay – Getting started

The trailhead for Mount Elsay (and beginning of the trail) is the same as for Mount Seymour; It’s the large car park at the Mount Seymour Ski Resort. If you start early in the morning on a clear day, pop over to the top of the lodge chairlift before you start walking. You might get a gorgeous sun-rise view of Mount Baker.

Hiking with Lisa

I did this walk with my super-strong hiking buddy Lisa. You should read more about Lisa’s hiking adventures here; She had an amazing year of hikes on the PCT and sunshine coast. And you can see her gorgeous photos around Mount Seymour here. We stopped for a selfie at Brockton Point as the sun was just getting up, so still very bright and glowing.

Mount Elsay Loop

The hike to Mount Elsay can be completed in a loop in either direction. Heading counter-clockwise seemed like the best option for us. For this, soon after Brockton Point (but before First Pump Peak) the trail turns right onto the Elsay Lake Trail. Once you’re on that trail, you’ll see great mountain views through the trees.

This part of the trail has some amazing giant old growth trees (see how teeny they make Lisa look!?)

Hiking in snow

We did this hike on November 1st, so there was a little snow on the Elsay Lake trail. However it was not deep, and we were pretty sure it would melt in the sun and wouldn’t provide much of an obstacle. I would not recommend this trail in winter once the snow is even a teeny bit deeper. The sides of Mount Seymour are very steep and it you’d be in avalanche terrain for large sections of the hike.

Wes’s Staircase

You hike down Wes’s Staircase, dropping over 360m in elevation. You’ll find yourself next to a huge rockslide where you get your first view of Mount Elsay.

There are some fantastic views around the back of Mount Seymour. The pointy bump below is Runners Peak, with Mount Elsay beyond that to the right.

This is the view looking back to Mount Seymour. There were already cliffs covered in icy waterfalls, and you can see why this area would be super dangerous for avalanches in winter.

Mount Elsay Route

Be careful to watch out for the turning onto the Mount Elsay Route. It is very easy to miss it and continue towards Elsay Lake. The trail heads up through the trees until you reach a pretty bowl. The tarn (mini pond) there had frozen and thawed to create contour-line-like stripes of ice. Have you ever seen something like this?

Boulder Field

Now for the hard part! You need to scramble up a massive boulder field to the ridge between Mount Elsay and Runners Peak. The elevation gain is just over 230m, so it is not crazily steep, but you need to use your hands to pull yourself up and it was hard work. The rocks at the bottom of the bowl were in shadow and covered in ice, so we both slipped a few times and had to be extra careful. It was a bit easier once we made it into the sunshine.

Once you’re up on the ridge, it is a steep climb through the trees to the top of Mount Elsay.

Mount Elsay Views

The views from the top make this exhausting hike worth it! You can start by looking back at Mount Seymour. This is one of the most-climbed mountains in Vancouver, but few people get to see how crazily steep it looks from the back.

Then you can turn around and be dazzled by the views out to the rest of the North Shore Mountains, up to Squamish, Whistler and even over to Mount Baker.

This has to be one of the best possible lunch spots in Vancouver. We didn’t see a single other hiker, but we did get to wave to one of the North Shore Rescue helicopters when it flew over us. It’s pretty amazing to have such stunning scenery to yourself. Especially so close to Vancouver.

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This is the view over to Eagle Mountain, with Mount Baker in the distance.

Mount Elsay Trail – heading home

The return journey from Mount Elsay is not as long or as challenging as the first half of the loop. However the path undulates with plenty of elevation loss (then gain, then loss, then more gain…) so it is still quite tiring.

There are several more boulder fields for you to navigate. This time you’ll have the near vertical cliffs of Runners Peak, then Mount Seymour on your left.

Mount Elsay and Vicars Ridge

There are some bluffs halfway up the climb to Mount Seymour. This is a great place to stop for views of Mount Elsay and the Vicars ridge trail beyond.

That ridge leads to Rector Peak, Curate Peak and Vicar Peak on the way to Mount Bishop. They are all overlooked by Cathedral Mountain, so I guess this is a religious area for mountain-lovers!?

You have to dip down once again after the bluffs, before climbing back up to Mount Seymour. Part of the path had been in shadow all day, so this is where we found the most snow and ice on the trail.

This is looking back once we were a bit higher. The views were spectacular, but all that ice was a bit scary sometimes!

The scariest (and dodgiest) section was the the pathway when we first re-joined the Mount Seymour trail. The path is not very wide and it was covered in ice, with steep drop-offs.

If we had done this walk in a clockwise-direction, I would have probably turned back at this point as the path felt very dangerous. We couldn’t turn back as it would have been even more dangerous to attempt the whole loop backwards this late in the afternoon!

Back on the busy trail

We stopped for a rest between Tim Jones Peak and First Pump Peak. Now we were back on the Mount Seymour trail there were several other hikers around, as well as some friendly Whiskey Jacks who kept sitting on the toes of my hiking boots. It was a fun end to a fantastic (if exhausting) day out.

Views down to Vancouver

By the time we were back on the main Mount Seymour trail, the light was starting to fade and the views down to Vancouver were gorgeous.

Mount Elsay Panoramas

I’ll finish this post with a couple of the panoramas from this epic trail. The top one is from our lunch spot on top of Mount Elsay. The second is the view of Mount Elsay from the bluffs on our return journey. Can you see why I liked this hike!?

If you fancy the views, but you’re not sure if you can manage such a long day out, here are some easy options for peak-bagging close to Vancouver (or click here for a map with all my Canadian hikes if you fancy something more challenging.)

  • Dog Mountain This is the easiest option on Mount Seymour but has great views.
  • Mount Seymour The very popular hike close to Mount Elsay.
  • Lynn Peak This is the next-door mountain. It’s not too hard or too busy.
  • Grouse Mountain (Grouse Grind) This one is crazily busy but you can take the gondola down.
  • Goat Mountain One of my favourites. You can start from Grouse Mountain.
  • Black Mountain A fun easy-ish climb from the Cypress Mountain resort.
  • Hollyburn Mountain Another easy day out from the Cypress Mountain resort.

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Mount Elsay - spectacular Mountain views near Vancouver Mount Elsay - A great hike near Vancouver  Mount Elsay has fantastic views of Mount Baker and the North Shore Mountains

61 thoughts on “Mount Elsay – Hikes Near Vancouver

  1. Looks like another amazing adventure. I always love your photos. Was that a waterfall I saw in the photo just before the one of you with outstretched arms?

    Happy new year Josy! I’m looking forward to many more hiking and nature posts this year.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    1. Happy New Year Patricia! I hope 2020 brings fewer crazy guests for you, and that your cruise will be amaaaazing! 😀

      Yes, it is sort of a waterfall. The water drips down the cliff and freezes, so it was a mini frozen river of ice. I don’t think you’d notice it in the summer when it’s just a dribble.

  2. Looks like a great hike! I would love to make it out to this area some day, but there are so many places on my list. Thank you for sharing. What are “The 10 essentials” under What to Bring? Is that supposed to be a link?

    1. I keep meaning to write a post about the 10 essentials. It’s basically just the things you should always have on your bag; flashlight, whistle, fire-starter (matches), first aid kid, extra clothes, shelter (like an emergency blanket), food/water and a way to navigate/communicate.

      There are a few other things depending on the time of year, like bug spray, sunscreen, microspikes etc. 🙂

      p.s. thanks for the reminder. I really should write a post about it!

  3. You really do live in the most amazing place don’t you? Vancouver is a wonderful city and with the mountains so close you get to do amazing hikes like Mount Elsay. Sounded a little tough but the views from the peak were spectacular. Hiking in the snow is great fun as long as it’s not too deep. Great photos.

    1. Thanks Jonno! I hope I have convinced you to come back and explore more here! 😉

      I am glad I made it sound tough. I think I slightly underestimated how hard it would be from the stats (it’s not too long, and doesn’t sooound like a challenging walk!) Still, you’re right. It was worth it for those views.

  4. Seriously, I don’t think it’s possible to choose what trails to hike near Vancouver! They all look amazing!! Love the mountain views on this one – and that it’s a bit longer. I like a good challenge!

  5. So close to Vancouver, it’s like I have no excuse. Another great hike in the area with stunning views. That’s really cool that the whiskey Jack birds come that close to you. I feel that wouldn’t happen if the trail was more popular so you were really lucky

    1. Have you been up Mount Seymour Emma? All the mountains in that area are so blooming pretty!

      You’re wrong about the Whiskey Jacks though! They are Canada’s cheekiest bird! They have learned that humans might feed them, so we find they are friendlier on the most popular trails. You have to resist their charms, but they’ll still come and ask for snacks.

  6. Wow, that point of view of Vancouver looks beautiful! I;m so jealous that in vancouver you have so beautiful mountains close by!

  7. What a gorgeous hike!! Seriously, I need to come over to your part of the world and so some hiking! This definitely looks like it would be better minus the ice though. I don’t like playing around with ice on steep trails!

    1. I am very sure that you would love it here Maggie! You’ll have to bring your parents up to hike on Canada’s West coast. 😉

      If you do, I’ll come out and join you!

  8. So refreshing to hike in the mountains with a bit of snow on the ground! I slip and slide with much more snow than this, but it certainly is beautiful!

    1. Yeah, I found the icy rocky sections a bit perilous, so I wouldn’t want to do it with more snow on the ground. It’s so pretty with a sprinkle though.

  9. I have been to Vancouver so many times, mostly for city breaks but now I have to check this out.
    Love the photos and the detailed guide! Thanks for putting this together

    1. Have you been up Mount Seymour Mayuri? You might have as that is the same area, but much more famous/popular…

  10. That looks like an incredible hike! I bet the views in the early morning were amazing to see. Hiking on snow can definitely be a challenge but with the right gear it’s great. Adding this to my list of hikes I’d like to do! 😁

    1. You know, I had never seen Mount Baker (the mountain we saw as the sun was rising) from this area before…so the views are not always this epic. Still, if you get a good day of weather this hike will blow your socks off.

  11. This hike has a great combination of features, really makes this area seem special! I think I’d like to try that boulder field. One time on TMB I accidentally climbed up a bunch of boulders because I thought it was the trail, and it soon became obvious that it wasn’t, but I was already in too deep lol. It was kind of nerve-wracking but I found that I liked throwing in a little “climbing” aspect with my hike.

    I’m so jealous you and Lisa get to meet up! I’d love to do a group hike with you guys sometime.

    Some of these pictures kind of remind me of Flagstaff. We don’t have such expansive mountain ranges here, just the San Francisco Peaks, but something about the scenery and alpine trees is still reminiscent. Giving me a kick in the ass to go out and do some winter hiking now instead of waiting around for the snow to melt!

    1. I hope you’ll make it up to Canada for an adventure at some point. I bet you’ll be able to meet up with us both! 😉

      I agree about scrambling…I find it really fun to have a bit of a climb along with hiking. It can just be hard when it is a looong climb through boulders. I found the boulder section the hardest part of this hike. It was fun, but I think I would hate it in the opposite direction if we had to climb down those boulders!!

  12. Oh wow, the views are amazing!!! I love nature! We’re suppose to be doing a road trip soon of the PNW, I’m gonna add this place to our list! Thank you!

  13. Thanks for this post! I have done lots of hiking around Vancouver but haven’t yet made it to Mount Elsay. Saving this loop for next time I’m out west.

    1. Yay Erin! Give me a shout if you hike around here again if you fancy an extra hiking buddy. I am always up for meeting blogging/hiking friends.

    1. Yees! It’s pretty amazing living close to a temperate rainforest in Vancouver (even if that means it rains a lot!) 😉

    1. Oooh what kind of things do you like Mayuri?

      Vancouver has fantastic food, shopping and some good museums (although coming from Europe, the culture/museums are a bit less good than what i am used to in London…we just love it for the nature/hikes/skiing.)

  14. I’ve never been to Vancouver, but have heard so many wonderful things about it! Now I can add beautiful hiking trails to that list (:

  15. You have spoiled it for me, hiking in Ontario will never be the same! 🤣 This hike affords some pretty fantastic views. I hadn’t heard of Mt Elsay before, I love how you give such details about the trail and distance, it’s a great resource.

  16. Wow this looks like such a beautiful hike! I’ve only briefly been to Vancouver but good to know there are great hikes there. Those rocks make this hike look hard and it looks pretty steep, I bet you felt so accomplished after the hike!

  17. Such stunning panoramas! Such good info on the difficulty of the hike as well. I’ve been looking for things to do in the Vancouver area, but some times it’s hard to tell what to expect.

    1. Thanks Clarice. Yeah, it is a bit misleading from the stats. 13km and 500m elevation does not sound like much, so I didn’t expect it to take 9 hours. It is a challenging trail, but really worth it for the views.

    1. Yay Kez! It’s always great to meet other hiking bloggers. Let me know if you fancy hiking together next time you are here. 🙂

    1. It’s hard to tell from that photo, but I think they were Douglas fir trees. Normally you can identify them from their massive crinkly tree-trunks.

  18. This has been on my list forever but for some reason have never got to it. Maybe the boulder field scared me, but it doesn’t look too bad. Thanks for reminding me of this hike.
    Happy New Year! Wishing you lots of fun hiking and travel adventures.

    1. Right back at you Carol! Do you have any epic hikes in mind for 2020?

      I have to admit, that boulder field was tough. But if you fancy an easier option, you could always do the hike as an out and back, avoiding the steep drop at Wes’s staircase (and re-climb up the huge boulder field.) If you did that, you’d still have to cross a few boulder fields, but you’d avoid the hardest one.

  19. Vancouver is just the best place in Canada isn’t it? If I ever visit the country, I would love to explore this destination and enjoy it at the fullest.

    1. It is pretty awesome, but I feel like there are amazing locations all over this giant country! I am always blown away when we head further inland to the rockies, or to the desert areas/wine regions.

    1. Oh yay! Do you plan to do any hikes while you’re here? Mount Elsay might not be the best option for springtime (with the snow/avalanche danger), but I can help you find some fun options if you need help choosing.

  20. These hikes all seem amazing! So glad you shared a range of easy to difficult, because sometimes it depends on the day which I feel like doing haha. I’m hoping to visit Vancouver this year so I’ll definitely be checking some of these out!

  21. What an amazing hike! The scenery looks fantastic and I can almost taste how clean the air must be! Those patterns in the ice are incredible.

    1. You know, that is one of the reasons we moved here (from London.) The air around Vancouver is really fresh, so much so that I stopped having to use my inhaler… At least until the fires start in the summertime.

  22. Wow what an amazing hike. It looks like it would be tiring but also very worth it. That frozen and thawed ice on that pond looks awesome! I would love to see something like that in-person. I also love that you include some easier hikes just in case not everyone wants to take a full day out there.

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