Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Elfin Lakes is a wonderfully accessible mountain paradise at the southern end of the mighty The Gargoyles, Little Diamond Head, Opal Cone... There is a wonderful, extremely well equipped hut and campsites as well as a ranger station at the lakes. Staying at the amazing hut costs $15, cash only. You can pay with cash using an envelope drop-box at the trailhead or you can pre-pay through the BC Parks site online. Which sounds expensive until you see it. It looks more like a ski lodge than a mountain hut. Complete with solar powered lights, heat, propane stoves and room for 33 to sleep. You will find envelopes to pay at the trailhead. Camping away from the hut costs $10. Once again that seem expensive, but the area is very beautiful and popular so park rangers are nearly always around to keep things nice and functional.. An amazing destination on its own, Elfin Lakes is also part of a gateway to so much more.
Elfin Lakes starts out ascending through deep forest, reaching the Red Heather Hut after 5k. This is a small warming hut equipped with a wood stove complete with a stack of wood free to use. Though sleeping here is for emergencies only, the Red Heather Hut is warm and welcoming. The final 6k from this hut to Elfin Lakes takes you along a beautiful ridge with amazing views of snowy mountains all around. The sheer distance of this snowshoeing trail ranks it as difficult. Also, there is a considerable amount of elevation gain and loss along the way and you move through several gradual peaks and valleys.
Expect to take four hours to reach the Elfin Lakes Hut as you are almost constantly ascending a gradual, though consistently uphill trail. There are several jaw-dropping views along this final 6k stretch. This trail is so well marked with orange poles and tree markers that you can reliably find your way after dark or before sunrise with good lights to assist you. You often see, with some shock, skiers trudging up the trail, not far from the trailhead after the sun has set. Making their way to the Elfin Lakes Hut in the dead of night seems to be a pastime of quite a few local skiers and boarders.
As this trail is within Garibaldi Park, dogs are not allowed. This is a courtesy to all the animals that inhabit the park and the potential disturbance that dogs my introduce to their environment. BC Parks staff can issue fines for dogs in the park. Though it is rare, it does happen as Elfin Lakes is regularly staffed with rangers and even has a separate ranger station near the Elfin Lakes Hut. Getting to the trailhead can be problematic during periods of heavy snow. The gravel road runs deep and high into the mountains to the trailhead parking lot. You should be prepared with tire chains and may have to walk from the lower parking lot below the main, usually deep with snow trailhead parking lot.
Trailhead to the Red Heather Hut (0k - 5k)
This part of the hike is easy and relaxing, though with little to see except a few beautiful glimpses of Squamish below. After 5k you reach the cute little Red Heather Hut. This is a great, one room house with a wood stove in the middle and huge windows all around. There are great stacks of wood outside and two big tables. This hut is day use only though and not for sleeping in.
Red Heather Hut to the Elfin Lakes Hut (5k - 11k)
This is where the trail gets amazing with jaw dropping views everywhere you look. The winter snowshoeing/skiing trail runs along the incredible Paul Ridge which drops off steeply on either side into beautiful and vast valleys below. This ridge runs directly into the Elfin Lakes campsite and hut, and even in the depths of winter is easy to follow. Almost all of the uphill hiking is behind you, about 1k past the Red Heather Hut, so following the ridge is amazingly easy.
The Elfin Lakes Hut
The Elfin Lakes Campground is located in an incredibly beautiful area of distant, enormous, jagged mountains and beautiful rolling hills and valleys. The two cute little lakes lay next to the amazing Elfin Lakes Hut. To snowshoe to this hut is quite something. As you approach it in winter it looks quite small, buried as it invariably is in metres of snow. The entrance is reached by descending a snow staircase. Upon entering you feel an unexpected wave of heat as you realize the hut is heated.
There are also propane stoves and very unexpectedly, working lights. The Elfin Lakes Hut is solar powered. Amazing.
Stairs lead up to a impressively large sleeping area which can accommodate 33 people. A fact you would have never believed from your approach view outside. Not only can it sleep 33, but it does so in style. Beautifully organized, solid looking, wooden bunk beds built right into the structure make the hut look like some characteristically beautiful, European ski lodge. What an great place Elfin Lakes is!
There are several outhouses next to the Elfin Lakes Hut and plenty of beautiful spots in the area to put up a tent. Even in the bitter cold of winter you will see a few tents a few hundred metres from the hut. There is an amazing plateau near the hut that edges onto a sweeping view of the valley below.
Elfin Lakes/Diamond Head Trailhead is 16k From the Sea to Sky Highway
There are excellent signs directing you to the Elfin Lakes/Diamond Head trailhead parking. From the Sea to Sky Highway follow the signs to "Garibaldi Park Diamond Head." You will want to turn onto Mamquam Road at the Canadian Tire store. (left if coming from Whistler, right if coming from Vancouver). Continue following the signs for 16k as they go up a gravel road ending at the parking lot at the trailhead. This road is extremely dangerous to drive in the winter months if you don't have proper tire chains. Even though the road is plowed occasionally it is usually hard packed with snow.