Trail Guide: Elfin Lake, BC

Canada / Tuesday, August 16th, 2022

Elfin Lake Hike Introduction

  • State: British Columbia
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Type: In and out
  • Parking Permit: No
  • Time: 6 hours
  • Round-Trip: 22 km / 13.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 396m / 1,300 ft
  • Season: June - October
  • Camping: Yes
  • From Vancouver: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Shuttle Service: No
  • Dog Friendly: No

Elfin Lake is a popular camping destination located in Garibaldi Provincial Park just north of the town of Squamish. You can reach it by car from Vancouver by driving 90 minutes up the Sea to Sky Highway. The two lakes, which you’ll find at the end of the hike, have different purposes. The first is suitable for swimming and the second is reserved for drinking water.

Besides the lake, you’ll find a well-equipped shelter, and a campsite with 35 pads, bear hangs and a toilet. The campsite has some of the best views in the area as the camping pads have been built on the side of the mountain. In summer it is likely there is still snow on the ground so swimming in the lake makes for a refreshing experience.

Once you reach the Elfin Lake campsite you will also have the opportunity to tackle nearby hikes which lead to various sites such as Mamquam Lake and the Gargoyles.


Elfin Lake Hike Information

After driving north through Squamish, exit to the right at the British Columbia Park’s sign for Garibaldi Head. The distance from Highway 99 to the trailhead is roughly 16 km. The narrow, gravel road steepens as you come close to Quest University then you will eventually see a sign for Garibaldi Park.

To access the trailhead is a few kilometers of rough dirt road full of potholes and loose gravel. You don’t need a four-wheeled drive to access, but driving with caution is recommended.

You'll find the trailhead at the gate in the Diamond Head parking lot. There is a map as well as some information about the area at the entrance. Here you will also find a drop box which you can conveniently pay for the campsite at if you didn't pay online in advance.

The Elfin Lake trail is moderately rated with an elevation gain of approximately 600 meters. As the car park is already situated quite high, you don't need to gain much altitude to get spectacular views. The highest point is around 1,590 meters and will take approximately 6 hours to reach the lake depending on your fitness level.

The hike to the lake is approximately 11km each way. Although it is not very steep it is incredibly scenic and makes for a distracting hike. The initial stretch of the trail consists of the remains of a road which was constructed to bring supplies and guests into the Diamond Lodge between the 1940s and ’70s. The second half of the hike opens up to constant 180-degree mountain views. The trail is wide which makes for easy side-by-side walking.

You have the option to camp on wooden platforms overlooking the mountains or inside the cabin equipped with firewood furnaces and bunk beds. The shelter is often used in the winter and allows hikers to warm themselves up using the wood furnace. Booking well in advance is highly recommended. The best time to hike the Elfin Lake trail is from July to October.

Dogs are not allowed on this hike.


Elfin Lake Hiking Trail

The trail begins from the Diamond Head parking lot and is an immediate ascent up the old service road. The path gradually twists and turns around increasing in grade. The beginning is sheltered as it is mostly through a forested area.

The road will take you 5km to the shelter at Red Heather Meadows. Even though there is nothing significant here, as you move along the trail you can catch a glimpse of the Tantalus Range to the west. The trail soon splits in two directions after the shelter. Take the sign towards the left which was created for hikers, as the other was crafted for mountain bikers.

Move on the trail to the left as directed and you will soon come to clear view of Mount Garibaldi to the south. The trail climbs up along Paul Ridge to a height of 1,590 meters. Continue along Paul Ridge and the trail will begin to dip back down towards the lake at an elevation of 1,470 m.  Take the descending trail towards the first lake as you catch sensational panoramic views. While the lower Elfin Lake near the campsite is strictly for drinking water, the upper lake is an ideal location to take a refreshing dip on a hot day.

Overall, Elfin Lake is an amazing hike in the British Columbia region and offers full day or multi-day hiking without too much strain. The stunning scenery, a chance of playing in the snow, the revitalizing and quiet lake, and the superb accommodation facilities make this a must add to your list.


You may also be interested in these nearby trails: Joffre Lakes, Panorama Ridge. Or check out the Best Hiking Trails in British Columbia!

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