An Overnight Hike to Elfin Lakes

by Aishling

When living in British Colombia, it’s highly likely that the summer months will involve hiking. And after two years of doing day hikes, I finally started planning an overnight hike with some friends. For this trip, we chose to head to Elfin Lakes – a pair of alpine lakes located in Garibaldi Provincial Park, North-East of Squamish. It’s a popular backcountry destination all year round. We reserved two camping pads for late August, 2021 and started preparing for the trip.

One Google Sheet packing list and a few trips to MEC later, we were ready to go. We set off early from Vancouver for the 1-hour 45-minute drive (you can read the directions to the trailhead on Vancouver Trails). We changed into our trusty hiking boots, loaded up with our 50-60L backpacks and headed off. The first segment of the hike is a gravel trail, uphill through the woods. Eventually, the trail opens out as it passes through Red Heather Meadows (there’s an outhouse here). When we took a snack break here, we spoke to another hiker who mentioned that they had seen a bear in the area on a previous trip. It’s essential to be bear-aware when hiking in the backcountry, especially in late summer. I hung a bear bell from my backpack and my friends carried bear spray as a precaution.

As we continued up the trail, the vegetation started to thin out and the narrow trail eventually joined a wider gravel track. The views of the surrounding mountain ranges opened up as we got above the treeline. Unfortunately, there was some smoke in the air from distant forest fires so the mountains in the distance were slightly hazy. But the alpine scenery was still impressive. The trail levelled out for a while and then started descending towards Elfin Lakes as we got your first views of the lakes. This viewpoint is the perfect place to stop for photos.

The Campsite

When we reached the campsite, we looked for two adjacent tent pads and dropped our heavy packs from our backs. The campsite has the best set-up. There are wood tent pads scattered on the hillside, all with views of the surrounding mountains. We finally ate our packed lunches and assembled our tents, then it was time to explore. We wandered through the campsite and along the two lakes. The lake closest to the campsite is reserved for drinking water and the one further away is for swimming. After the sweaty hike, we rewarded ourselves with a refreshing dip in the lake. I hadn’t anticipated this so I didn’t even have a towel but we made it work.

We spent the evening hanging out on one of the tent pads, playing Monopoly Deal. This was the first time I discovered the game and I was immediately hooked. Later, we made dinner and watched the hazy sunset in the distance. There were some mosquitos buzzing around so it’s worth bringing something for that (e.g Thermacell, citronella candle, head net, bug spray).

Day Two

We woke up early in the morning to catch the sunrise around 6:30 am. It was so peaceful, sitting on our tent pads, watching the sun creep up over the mountains. The smoke disappeared overnight and we were greeted with clear views of the mountains. We filled up on quick oats, packed up all our gear and hit the road again. The scenery on the return hike was stunning, we got a clear view of some snow-capped mountains in the distance that we hadn’t been able to see the previous day. Despite the temptation to stop to take photos every few minutes, we made it back in good time.

Useful Info
  • Check the current conditions online before you go, especially if you’re hoping to avoid snow
  • At the campsite, there’s a day-use shelter, a pit toilet (bring toilet paper), some picnic tables and two bear hangs (all food & toiletries should be stored here)
  • There are no garbage bins so bring a bag to pack out your rubbish
  • Don’t leave any valuables in your car (in case of break ins)
  • There’s no cell reception for most of the hike
  • No dogs allowed
Time6 hours
Distance22km round-trip
Elevation Gain600 m
How to Book
  • A camping reservation is required for overnight hikes. Reservations cost $10 per adult and are required all year round. They become available two months in advance and usually sell out immediately during the summer, so be prepared. For more information, visit BC Parks.
  • A pass is required for day hikes. Passes are free and become available at 7am PST two days in advance of your trip. For more information and to book, visit BC Parks.

The trip to Elfin Lakes was one of the highlights of my time in Canada, I couldn’t recommend it more. But if it’s not challenging enough, you could book two nights of camping and use the day in between for exploring further afield. There are three further hikes from Elfin Lakes – Opal Cone, Diamond Head (the Gargoyles) and Mamquam Lake.

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