August 2022 Vancouver Area Hike of the Month: Elfin Lakes

View of Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park

Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Photo: Pranav Prashar/Unsplash

The long days of summer are a great time to tackle more challenging mountain hikes. The long trail to Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park has incredible views as you ramble along a ridge top.

Trail Info: Moderate/difficult; 22 km round trip, 600 m elevation gain, 6-8 hours, no dogs

Day Passes: Starting in late June 2022, you must book a BC Parks day pass parking pass to visit Garibaldi Provincial Park. Passes are available to reserve starting at 7 a.m. two days in advance of your planned visit. There is no cell service at Elfin Lakes, so print out your pass or save it as a screenshot on your phone. Passes are free.

Safety First: AdventureSmart recommends bringing a backpack with essential safety and first aid gear on every hike. Check the forecast and pack extra clothing for the weather. Leave a trip plan so someone knows where you are going and when you will be back. Check out our tips for safe summer hiking in Vancouver for more advice.

Getting There: From Vancouver, go north on Highway 1 and then Highway 99 to Squamish. Turn right on Mamquam Road in Squamish, then left on Highland Way. At the top of the hill, turn right at the roundabout onto The Boulevard. Continue straight through the next roundabout and stay on the main road as it curves past the university. Turn right at the roundabout, then immediately left to get back onto Mamquam Road, which turns into the gravel Mamquam Forest Service Road. The remaining 8.5 km of the drive are on a gravel road that is bumpy and dusty, but fine for 2WD vehicles if you go slowly. Stay on the main Mamquam FSR, ignoring side roads. Watch for the left turn onto Garibaldi Park Road and follow it to its end at the parking lot.

The Trail: The route to Elfin Lakes is long, but since the trail is well-graded and never very steep, it isn’t too hard for fit and experienced hikers.  The bulk of the trail is on an old road, which makes for easy walking. There are signs at all junctions. Use the park map to stay on track.

From the parking lot, the first five kilometres of the hike are fairly straightforward as the trail climbs gradually through the forest. Watch for a peek-a-boo viewpoint of the Squamish Valley below. A creek at the 2.5 km mark features a waterfall that has dries to a trickle in late summer.

About five kilometres from the start, emerge from the forest into open subalpine meadows and arrive at the Red Heather Hut day use shelter. In the winter this little hut is a welcome place for skiers and snowshoers to warm up. Continuing past the hut, the hikers’ route splits off to the left on a single-track trail. (Mountain bikers can continue on the old road.) Watch for the pink and white blooms of heather bushes through here, as well as ample blueberry bushes. Make lots of noise because the bears love the berries too.

Less a kilometre later, rejoin the old road on the shoulder of Round Mountain. From here, follow the trail as it undulates along the top of Paul Ridge for five kilometres with great views of Mount Garibaldi (Nch’Kay in the Squamish language) to the north.

Views along Paul Ridge on the way to Elfin Lakes

Views from Paul Ridge on the way to Elfin Lakes. Photo: Pranav Prashar/Unsplash

Eventually, the trail trends slightly downhill to reach Elfin Lakes, two small tarns filling depressions in the ridge. The Elfin Lakes Hut, campground, and ranger station are located just beyond the northern lake. If you want to cool down, go for a swim in the southern lake. (There is no swimming in the northern lake since it is a drinking water source.) Admire the views of Mount Garibaldi, the Garibaldi Neve Icefield, and Mamquam Mountain before retracing your steps back to the trailhead.

Tents at the Elfin Lakes Campground with Mountain Garibaldi behind

Tents at the Elfin Lakes Campground with Mount Garibaldi behind. Photo: Taryn Eyton/

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