How to Hike the Elfin Lakes Trail – Garibaldi Provincial Park

Last Updated: May 2021

Elfin Lakes Trail Quick Guide

  • Location: Squamish, British Columbia
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 13.5 miles (22 km)
  • Elevation Change: 1970ft (600m)
  • Time Needed: 6.5 hours (roundtrip)
  • Crowdedness: High
  • Type of Trail: Out and Back
  • Camping Allowed: Yes
  • Dogs/Pets Allowed:  No
  • Trail Head Location: Elfin Lakes Trailhead
  • Best Time to Go: Late June - October

About Elfin Lakes

elfin lakes trail

Glaciers across the meadow & valley/ Photo: Stephen Sullivan

Elfin Lakes is one of the Sea to Sky country's crown jewels.

Located near Squamish, British Columbia & inside Garibaldi Provincial Park, this 13.5 mile (22km) out and back hike promises some of the best views within the Pacific Northwest.

With 35 tent pads, multiple bear-hangs, and a night sky full of stars, an overnight stay is highly recommended! 

Moderate in difficulty with just under 1970ft (600m) of elevation gain, the trail can typically be completed (one way) in about 3 hours. The trail is well-groomed and easy to follow, allowing you to take in the views and enjoy the company that you are with.

If you are like most avid hikers & want to avoid the crowds, it is best to visit during the week. Throughout weekends in the peak summer months (June – August), trail use is heavy.

That said, if you are faced with the choice of having to go on the weekend or not go at all, just go.

Trust me!

The first half of the hike consists of trekking through old-growth forest, eventually giving way to sub-alpine meadows with panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges.

At the halfway point, you can stop and take a drink, have a snack, or use the outhouse at the Red Heather Meadows Hut, a popular touring destination for winter adventurers.

The reward at the end of this hike is two crystal clear lakes (one for drinking, one for swimming) with mountain peaks all around. 

Several trails lie beyond the Elfin Lakes campground and make great day hikes if you plan to spend a night or two here.

Please note that the first lake (from approaching) is for swimming while the second (and closest to the campsites) is for drinking. 

There are signs present, so it is easy to figure out which is which in case you forget.

elfin lakes trail

Sunsetting on a smoky sky from forest fires in the area  / Photo: Stephen Sullivan

How to Hike the Elfin Lakes Trail

Reservations are required to spend the night at Elfin Lakes, as it is located within Garibaldi Provincial Park. Please visit the discover camping website to book your spot. 

Getting to the trailhead is straightforward. Please see the Google Maps location here

The gravel road to reach the parking lot is rough in some spots, and as always, SUVs and trucks are recommended. 

That said, it is entirely passable with a car. If at any point you are not comfortable proceeding, there are plenty of pull-outs that are safe for your vehicle.

Most of the elevation gain takes place in the first half of the hike as you make your way through the old-growth forest.

Breaks in the trees give you glimpses of the Tantalus Range across the valley.

Besides a waterfall that serves as a good spot for your first water break, there is not much to this section of the hike. 

As you continue on the winding trail, you will eventually reach your first major landmark, the Red Heather Meadows Hut.

The Red Heather Meadows Hut is roughly the halfway point and serves as a great spot to take a break, have a snack, and use the outhouse. 

At this point, your fortunes turn for the better. The elevation gain levels out shortly after leaving the hut as the trail gives way to flatter and downhill gradients.

This is the section of the hike where you realize why this trail has the reputation it does. 

Please note that there is a fork in the trail just beyond the hut. Stick to the left as mountain bikers make use of the trail to the right.

Every step along the ridge reveals more of the surrounding mountain peaks than the last.

Diamond Head Mountain, in particular, stands out. 

Take a moment and enjoy the scenery. You are probably a bit out of breath at this point too. In the distance, you can see your destination, identifiable by two lakes and, if you look close enough, a ranger hut nestled right beside them. 

Excitement takes over as you can see yourself getting closer to the campground. Upon arrival, you will notice how pristine the lakes are, strikingly clear and calm.

Now is a good time to remind yourself which lake is for drinking and which lake is for swimming.

Pick a tent pad (if you are staying the night) and settle in.

At this point, it feels like you are in the middle seat of an amphitheater, surrounded by mountain peaks in every direction. 

Perhaps nothing is more peaceful than the early morning coffee or tea you can enjoy on your tent pad as the sun rises over the mountains in front of you. 

Read our guide to the 6 Best Ways to Make Coffee while Camping

Being as established as this trail is, there is a big hut for cooking, outhouses, picnic tables, and bear hangs for you to take advantage of.

There is also a camper hut that sleeps 22 should you decide that tents are not your thing.

elfin lakes trail

Diamond Head / Photo: Stephen Sullivan

What You Will See When Hiking the Elfin Lakes Trail

  • The Red Heather Meadows Hut
  • Diamond Head Mountain
  • Elfin Lakes
  • The ranger hut
  • Wildflowers
  • Camper hut for winter tourers

Best Photo Spots

  • Tantalus Mountain Range from the trail
  • Diamond Head Mountain
  • Sub-alpine meadows 
  • The ranger hut
  • Either of the two lakes (or both)
  • Sunrise and sunset over the surrounding mountains
  • Your tent set up with the mountains as a backdrop
elfin lakes trail

  The swimming lake & ranger hut in the back. / Photo: Stephen Sullivan

How to Prepare to Hike the Elfin Lakes Trail

Make sure you have reservations before arriving.

Occasionally a park ranger is present at the trailhead to make sure you are booked. An overnight reservation typically costs $5.00 (USD) per tent pad per night. Day trips are free. 

Bear spray is good to have as the area immediately surrounding the Red Heather Meadows Hut is densely populated with black bears.

That said, human traffic is heavy enough that they are rarely seen.

Bring a swimsuit and towel. After a 3-hour hike up the mountain, it's hard to beat jumping into the lake as a reward. 

Bring some type of bag or dry sack that you can hook onto the bear hang. The park has enough pullies in place to accommodate everybody.

Make sure you have some type of water filtration system.

Tabs, filters, or boiling is fine. The lake looks pristine, but it is still good practice to err on the side of caution.  Read our guide to the Best Hiking Water Purifiers.

What to Pack for Hiking the Elfin Lakes Trail

  • Bear spray
  • Water filter
  • Whistle
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Sunscreen

Never forget to pack out what you pack in.

Looking for some new hiking gear, then check out our best of the best gear list.

If you are in British Columbia and looking for more hiking trails, check out our following trail guides:

Final Thoughts

Elfin Lakes is one of the most well-known and established trails within Garibaldi Provincial Park.

The well-groomed trail makes it accessible to any level of hiker if they are willing to put up with a little bit of elevation gain.

The truly remarkable views from the campground justify what it lacks in isolation.
Hop in the lake.

It is a great little novelty to go swimming on top of a mountain.

Your tent pad can act as your little slice of heaven where you can enjoy an evening drink or a morning coffee.

Use the facilities to keep your area clean, and remember to pack out what you pack in.

Check this one off your list!

This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.

Related Posts