Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hiking Elfin Lakes at Garibaldi Provincial Park

Garibaldi Provincial Park between Squamish and Pemberton, B.C. is well known for it's gorgeous mountains, pristine lakes, glaciers, and numerous hiking trails.  In the past I have hiked Garibaldi Lake, Panorama Ridge, and Black Tusk which contain incredibly beautiful views and are definitely worth the effort.  For this overnight backpacking trip, we decided to hike the southern end of Garibaldi Provincial Park to Elfin Lakes.  

Elfin Lakes at Garibaldi
Although it can be done as a day trip we decided to use the opportunity of having child care for all four kids and make it an overnight one.  Gary and I used to do these types of trips together quite frequently–even on our honeymoon! With the addition of three kids I haven't gone on a backpacking trip with him in eleven years which is so unbelievable to me and I'm going to try not to think of that.  Gary has gone on several per year and recommended this one.  It was perfect.

The 11 km hike has two main portions to the trail.  The first 5 km's are through the forest on a logging type road that is inclined the whole way; I would say that this is the hardest and least enjoyable part of the hike.  I felt frustrated and I felt my age–38 in a few weeks!  Once you reach Red Heather Meadows, get ready for the beauty to really begin–you're in the alpine and there are wide open spaces with mountains and beauty galore. In the Meadows there is also a washroom and day shelter. Oh, and a lot of bugs.

Along the first (slightly boring and difficult) section there are a few peeks of Squamish below but other than that, it's just forest.  At about the 45 minute mark you will come across this waterfall.  Just another 30 minutes and you should be at the meadow!

You definitely want to hike this trail on a clear day.  We experienced a completely overcast hike on our return and it was nowhere near as stunning.  There is not a lot of shade for the next two hours so make sure that you are wearing sunscreen. Ahem.

We saw several park rangers and they commute from the base to the ranger station via mountain bikes! Isn't that cool?  If you would like to experience this trail by bike you are more than welcome to.

Even in mid July there are still several sections of snow.  I love how every corner revealed a unique view.

After three hours of hiking (or close to 2.5 if you aren't carrying an overnight pack) you come over the ridge and see the lakes! What a beautiful view.  The lakes are not large and can be walked around in about ten minutes, but wow, the reflections you can get off of it are gorgeous!

This is the first lake and it can be used for swimming!  We took a quick dip to clean off after our hike in.  Yes, it is as cold as you think it would be but if felt so good.

Reservations now need to be made for this campground and that is done online. There are two options for staying overnight; you can camp on the tent pads available or stay in the Elfin Shelter. We chose to tent for privacy and check out our view!  Be prepared for mosquitoes and other bugs–the one positive of our thunderstorm that afternoon is that the insects were no longer a problem.

For just $10/night per person and this is what we saw outside of our tent.  Each of the 35 tent pads has an optimal view.

It can be very busy there but with the forecast calling for thunderstorms I think a few people may have stayed away.

There is also a kitchen shelter for everyone to use.  It has three picnic tables and keeps you protected from most of the elements.  We did experience thunder and lightning while we were there so we spent some time in this shelter with several other groups.  You can see our tent outside the shelter's window.

This is the heated sleeping shelter.  It costs slightly more at about $15/night per person.

The downstairs has tables and a cooking area and then the upstairs has bunk beds–it can sleep 33 in some pretty small beds (the bottom bunks are for double occupancy).  There are also several pit toilets available.

The lake closest to the campground and shelter is for collecting water which needs to be boiled or treated.  Here's Gary collecting water during the thunderstorm and you can see the hanging apparatuses which serve as the food caches for bears.

The original plan was to hike Saddle Trail after we settled in but after the thunderstorm we decided to head in that direction without hiking to the top.  I was hesitant to hike up in the snow as slipping is a fear of mine and we already had about 29,000 steps and 294 floors that day (according to my FitBit)!

We then walked around the lakes a bit waiting to see if there would be a beautiful sunset but it was quite overcast at this point.

It's been so long since I have been away from everything; kids, TV, internet, responsibilities– it was so restful!  Gary and I spent so much time catching up and then we were in bed by 9:30 PM.  Next time I would bring a book or cribbage game.  As per any hike, make sure you have layers!  It was pretty cold and wet as a thunderstorm had passed through. 

The next day we got up quite early due to the rain starting again at 5 AM. We packed up, had breakfast, and were on the road by 8 AM.  The hike back is much easier as it's mostly down hill and we made it back to our car in about 2 1/4 hours. 

You can see that the hike out was not as lovely although I was appreciating the cooler weather!

We didn't see much on the return trip because it was so overcast but we did see this deer, some grouse, chipmunks, as well as some wildflowers.

This hike was just what Gary and I needed.  For our dating and early married years we spent a lot of time adventuring.  Since having kids we have gone on many hikes but not any overnight backpacking ones together.  It felt so good to return to something that is so important to me and I hope that we are able to do more frequent backpacking trips in the future–we may even take the boys on an overnight one in a few weeks!  I feel confident in my 38-year-old body and the experience made me feel giddy with relaxation and enjoyment.

I said to Gary that I would rather do a hike like this than spend a night in a hotel somewhere, it was just perfect for us!  Have you done an overnight backpacking trip?  Which one is your favourite?


Please pin here for later:

Hiking Elfin Lakes at Garibaldi Provincial Park. A must do when in B.C.

To get to the Diamond Head parking lot, turn east off of Hwy 99 on Mamquam Road on the the north end of downtown Squamish. Follow the paved and then gravel road 16 km to the Diamond Head parking lot (following the signs).  Be very careful on the gravel road as at one point it is single lane and the side is quite a drop off. There is very little cellular coverage up there so be prepared for that!


  1. This spot seems like it would work for newbies? Do you think?

    1. It's great! There is a ranger station there if you need help. Online it says that it takes 3-5 hours to hike up so just take your time. It's well marked and easy to find the trail on a clear day. I'd say it's a great overnight hike for someone who hasn't done it before!

  2. So beautiful!! You guys are so fun. Glad you got an overnight together :)

    1. So beautiful :) Not sure how fun I was on the way up! So happy we had a night away too!

  3. Kristin McNair7:54 PM

    It's great you two could get out and do this together! Craig's already talking about our first backpacking trip with William....we will have to see ;)
    If you ever get a chance and haven't checked it out yet, Strathcona Park on the island is pretty amazing and has a good range of hikes depending on how much difficulty you want and how much time you have. It's one of our fave parks as well as the Juan de Fuca trail and the many beaches along it :)

    1. So interesting you mention that one! We met two German girls up there that had just done it! Is there a specific trail in strathcona? I've never looked it up! I've just done cape Scott and west coast trail on the island (Gary has also done Juan de Fuca).

    2. Kristin McNair8:08 PM

      Craig and I have done hiking in the Forbidden Plateau area. We did the Kwai Lake Loop which was really nice and not too difficult. There's a campsite closer to the parking lot too and another one past Kwai so you can decide how far to go. We did two nights there and did a day hiking trip from Kwai Lake to Cruickshank Canyon. I believe there's a map you can find by googling Forbidden Plateau. It was one of my first overnight hikes. Craig's done more in Strathcona than I have including the Golden Hinde, which was really tough.

    3. I'll have to add it to "the list"...when the kids are old enough to join us or we get a magical getaway again! Great hike idea!

  4. SO awesome!!! I am hoping we can fit in an overnighter this summer together (we did our first since having kids, two years ago), though we'll probably stay in the fraser valley just because there's so much here to explore! This looks so beautiful though - definitely going to add to my "hikes to do" list! :)

  5. We went on a camping trip on our hiking trips for us, though. Looks beautiful!!