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Elfin Lakes Hike in Squamish (By a Local)

Elfin Lakes Hike in Squamish (By a Local)

These days, Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park is the closest backcountry camping to my house in Squamish – it’s literally just up the street. But I’ve been going to Elfin Lakes for two decades – it was my first winter backpacking trip back in 2003!

I’ve hiked the Elfin Lakes Trail more times than I count, in every season, in boots, in spikes, and in snowshoes. I’ve spent lots of nights in the campground and the shelter and really explored the area. Elfin Lakes is one of the best hikes in Squamish and it is featured in my hiking guidebook, Backpacking in Southwestern British Columbia.

In this post, I’ve got everything you need to know to do the Elfin Lakes hike in Squamish. This guide includes:

This is a sensitive wilderness area. Learn how to Leave No Trace to keep the wilderness wild. Make sure you are prepared by bringing the 10 Essentials. Get ready for adventure with this checklist of things to do before every hike.

Hey there: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support. -Taryn

A hiker wearing an overnight pack takes a selfie in front of Elfin Lakes
On a recent solo backpacking trip to Elfin Lakes

Elfin Lakes Trail Stats

Here are the basic stats that you need to know about hiking the Elfin Lakes Trail in Squamish:

Location: The trail is located in the southern part of Garibaldi Provincial Park near Squamish, BC.

Duration: 6-7 hours

Distance: 22 km

Difficulty: Moderate/Challenging

Elevation Change: 900 m of elevation gain

Day Passes: Required between June and October. (See the Day passes section below for more info.)

Camping and the Hut: Reservations are required for camping and staying at the Elfin Lakes Hut. (See the Camping and Hut section below for more info.)

Best Time to Go: July to early October when the trail is snow-free. I also recommend picking a clear day so you can enjoy the views.

Toilets: There are toilets at the trailhead, Red Heather day-use shelter, Elfin Lakes campground, Elfin Lakes Hut, and Rampart Ponds campground.

Drinking Water: You can fill your water bottles at Brandvold Falls (2.5 km from the trailhead) and at the north Elfin Lake (11 km from the trailhead). Pack plenty of drinking water. Since you don’t know if humans or animals have pooped or died upstream, you need to filter or treat all water before you drink it. (I use a Katadyn BeFree.)

Dogs: Not allowed in Garibaldi Provincial Park to protect wildlife and the fragile ecosystem.

Bikes: Bikes are allowed on the trail as far as the Elfin Lakes shelter. (See the biking section below for more info.)

Bears: This area has a high black bear population. Hike in a group and carry bear spray.

Indigenous Context: The Elfin Lakes Trail is in the traditional territory of the Skwxwu7mesh (Squamish) Nation. Historically, the area was an important place to pick berries and harvest mountain goats. To learn more, see the info sign in the Elfin Lakes campground or visit the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.

Tips for Hiking Elfin Lakes

  • Check the weather before you go. City weather forecasts are useless in the mountains. Use an algorithmic spot forecast for Elfin Lakes like Spotwx. (Read my guide to weather apps for hikers for more tips.)
  • Check trail conditions online using AllTrails or Instagram. This is especially important in the spring or fall when the trail can be icy or snowy.
  • Bring a rain jacket and warm clothing just in case. It can be much colder and rainier in the mountains than in the city.
  • Wear trail running shoes or hiking boots. The trail is rocky and loose in places. Regular running shoes don’t have enough grip or ankle support.
  • Bring water and snacks. It is not safe to drink the water from the lakes without boiling, filtering, or treating it as you never know if people or animals have pooped or died upstream. Gross! (I use a Katadyn BeFree.)
  • Bring the 10 Essentials. These are key safety items you should have on every hike.
  • Bring a camera – it’s gorgeous and you will want tons of pics! But leave the drone at home. Drones aren’t allowed in BC Parks without a commercial filming permit.
  • Pack out all your garbage. There are no garbage cans here so you must take your garbage home with you. Leaving it in the park attracts animals.
  • Be Bear aware: There are lots of black bears on this trail, especially in late summer and fall. Hike in a group, make noise, and carry bear spray. Read my bear safety tips for more info.
A close up of a large black bear poop with a hiker's foot next to it for scale.
Big bears make big bear poops! (For reference, I wear a size 8.5 women’s hiking boot.)

Elfin Lakes Day Passes

Since this is such a popular area, you need to get a free day pass to visit between June and October. Your pass covers everyone in your vehicle. Passes are available on the BC parks website starting at 7 AM two days before your trip. Act fast: passes run out fast on summer weekends.

Tip: Select the Diamond Head trailhead in Garibaldi Provincial Park to reserve a day pass to hike to Elfin Lakes.

Print out your day pass or save it as a screenshot on your phone. Cell service at the trailhead is really spotty, so you might not be able to pull it up from your email. Parks staff will check for passes on the road just before the trailhead. If you don’t have a pass, you won’t be allowed to hike.

Read my guide to BC Parks day passes for more info including tips for getting a pass.

Elfin Lakes Camping Reservations

The backcountry campgrounds and hut at Elfin Lakes are popular destinations so they all require reservations. You can book online up to 4 months before your trip. See my guide to making backcountry reservations in BC for tips on getting a spot.

Camping costs $10 per person per night plus a $6 reservation fee for each tent. Bunks in the hut cost $15 per person per night plus a $6 reservation fee per group. Note: You don’t need a day pass if you have a backcountry camping reservation.

I’ve got lots of details on what to expect at the Elfin Lakes Campground, Elfin Lakes Shelter, and other nearby campgrounds further down in this post.

Read my guide to making backcountry camping reservations in BC for tips on getting a camping reservation.

Elfin Lakes Trail Map

I made a map of the Elfin Lakes Trail for you using Gaia GPS, my favourite GPS and mapping app. It also includes an elevation profile. Click through to zoom in and download the GPX track.

Map of the hike to Elfin Lakes in Squamish with key locations highlighted
I made you this custom map of the Elfin Lakes Trail in Gaia GPS. Click through to zoom in and explore.

How to Get to Elfin Lakes

The trailhead is about 1.5 hours from Vancouver and about 30 minutes from Squamish. You can get there by car or a bus/taxi combo. In this section, I’ve got everything you need to know for driving, parking, and taking the bus and a taxi to Elfin Lakes.

Driving Directions

From Vancouver, head over the Lions Gate Bridge, then go west on Highway 1. Follow the signs to switch to Highway 99 North just before Horseshoe Bay. Stay on Highway 99 North and drive past downtown Squamish.

Turn right onto Mamquam Road just after crossing the bridge over the Mamquam River. A few blocks later turn left onto Highlands Way. At the roundabout, go right onto the Boulevard. Go straight through the next roundabout and follow the Boulevard up the hill and across a bridge where it becomes University Boulevard.

Turn right at the roundabout onto Village Drive. Then turn left onto Mamquam Road. A few blocks later Mamquam Road turns to gravel and becomes Garibaldi Park Road. The road has bumpy and loose sections, but is fine for all vehicles – just go slow.

Stay on this road, ignoring side roads. Watch for mountain bikers. Go left to stay on Garibaldi Park Road amongst a group of houses. Follow the road for another 5 km to the trailhead and the large gravel parking area. Here are Google Maps driving directions.

Map showing driving directions to the Elfin Lakes Trailhead from downtown Squamish.
It’s an easy 30 minute drive from Squamish to the Elfin Lakes Trailhead.

Parking Passes

Just before you reach the parking lot, you may encounter a park facility operator checking parking passes and camping reservations.

If you visit between June and October, you must have a day pass for your car (also called a parking pass). See the day pass section above for more info.

If you are camping, you don’t need a parking pass, but you do need a camping reservation for each member of your group. See the camping section above for more info.

Getting to Elfin Lakes Without a Car

You can get to Elfin Lakes without a car, but it isn’t easy. From Vancouver, take the YVR Skylynx or Squamish Connector buses to downtown Squamish or the Squamish Adventure Centre. From there, Howe Sound Taxi can take you 30 minutes to the trailhead. (Call ahead to confirm that they will go up the gravel road to the trailhead – some dispatchers get confused as to where this is.)

Elfin Lakes Hiking Directions

Here are my step-by-step directions for hiking to Elfin Lakes.

Trailhead to Red Heather Day-Use Hut

The trailhead is at the east end of the parking lot next to a large info sign. Walk around the yellow gate and past the outhouse to start your hike up the old road.

The Brandvold family built this road to access their backcountry lodge at Elfin Lakes in the 1940s. The lodge closed in 1972 and these days the only cars allowed on the road are BC Parks maintenance vehicles. The road is steep and rocky, so it doesn’t make for the most pleasant hiking experience.

The trail to Elfin Lakes is mostly on an old gravel road.
Most of the first 5 km of the hike looks like this as you follow the old gravel road.

Follow the old road up and around a switchback. About 1.5 km from the trailhead, look for a small opening in the trees to your left. There is a bit of a view down to the Squamish harbour, but it is getting overgrown.

Looking down through the trees to the Squamish harbour from the Elfin Lakes Trail
Looking down through the trees to Squamish Harbour and Howe Sound

Reach Brandvold Falls about 2.5 km from the trailhead. This is the only place to get water on the hike – but be sure to treat or filter your water. The falls are quite dry late in the summer, but there is usually at least a trickle.

Water trickles down Brandvold Falls on the way to Elfin Lakes
Brandvold Falls often slows to a trickle by mid-summer.

Past the falls the trail starts to zigzag. In the next few kilometres, the forest opens up a bit as it starts to transition to alpine vegetation.

About 5 km from the start, reach the Red Heather day-use shelter tucked away on your left. This is a good place to take a break. There are tables and benches inside. There is also a wood stove, but it is only unlocked and available for use in the winter.

Red Heather Hut in Garibaldi Provincial Park
The entrance to Red Heather day-use shelter.

You’ll find an outhouse a few metres down the trail from Red Heather day-use shelter. It has tall stairs to keep it out of the deep snow that falls here each year.

Red Heather Day-Use Shelter to Elfin Lakes

So far the trail has been entirely uphill. (You have gained about 400 m of elevation up to this point.) But past here, the trail gets a little flatter and the views start.

From Red Heather Shelter, follow the trail past the outhouse to a junction. Go left onto the hiker’s trail and follow it steeply uphill through patches of trees and meadow. (The cyclists’ route stays on the road to the right.)

Junction of the Hikers' and Cyclists' Trails on the Elfin Lakes Hike
The junction with the hikers’ trail – go left here.
View of the Tantalus Mountains from Round Mountain in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Looking west to the Tantalus Mountains from the hikers’ trail.

About 1 km after Red Heather Shelter, the hikers’ trail meets back up with the old road. Turn left and hike along the road.

The Elfin Lakes Trail follows an old gravel road.
Rejoining the old road.

Follow the trail as it works its way along the crest of Paul Ridge through rolling terrain. In places, the terrain is rocky and barren and in others, there are beautiful meadows. There are great views of Mount Garibaldi (Nch’kay in the Squamish language) to the north.

View of Mount Garibaldi/Nch'kay from the trail
Mount Garibaldi/Nch’kay is always on the horizon.

Occasionally, there are patches of trees, but the entire route is quite exposed to the sun, so wear a hat and sunscreen. About 10 km from the trailhead the path heads downhill and you get your first good view of Elfin Lakes.

Elfin Lakes with Mount Garibaldi/Nch'kay and Opal Cone
The first good view of Elfin Lakes with Mount Garibaldi/Nch’kay and Opal Cone

Follow the trail to the left of the lakes. Reach the lakeshore about halfway along the southern lake. This is a good place to go swimming on a hot day.

South Elfin Lake - the swimming lake
The south Elfin Lakes is the designated swimming lake.

Ignore the spur trail to the ranger station and continue on the main trail as it trends left. Arrive at a junction near the Elfin Lakes Shelter and go right and up a small hill to reach the Elfin Lakes campground.

There are great views of Nch’kay from here as well as of the Garibaldi Neve glaciers. Take a break at the picnic tables in the campground or head down to the shore of the north lake to fill up on water. (Don’t swim in the north lake as this is the drinking water source.)

The ranger station at Elfin Lakes
The ranger station at north Elfin Lake

When you are ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead. If you want to explore further, I’ve got some options for extending your trip below.

Extending Your Trip

At 22 km round-trip, this hike is fairly long. But if you have lots of time and energy, it’s possible to extend your trip a bit. As well, the Elfin Lakes campground is a great place to base yourself for some day hikes. Here are my picks for the best hikes that leave from the Elfin Lakes campground/Elfin Lakes Shelter area.

Map showing the hikes you can do from Elfin Lakes in Squamish
I made this map in Gaia GPS to show you all the hikes you can do from Elfin Lakes.

Columnar Peak and the Gargoyles

The short (but steep) hike to Columnar Peak and the Gargoyles is doable for hikers tackling the Elfin Lakes hike in a day. It’s also a great hike from the campground. It has incredible views of the campground, Mamquam Mountain, and Nch’Kay.

Here are the key stats for the hike to Columnar Peak and the Gargoyles from Elfin Lakes campground:

From the junction outside the Elfin Lakes Shelter, go west on the trail towards Opal Cone and Rampart Ponds. The trail heads downhill into a meadow.

About 1 km from the shelter, go left at a junction towards Columnar Peak and the Gargoyles. The trail immediately becomes much rougher and eroded. Try to stay on the trail as much as you can to keep the erosion concentrated, rather than spreading it out.

Follow the trail uphill through clumps of trees and then across the bottom of a scree slope and across a creek. The trail braids in a few places – you should stick to the most well-trodden path. Keep following the trail steeply uphill through rocks and meadows to a saddle.

A hiker takes a break on the way up to the saddle between the Gargoyles and Columnar Peak
Taking a break in the meadows below the saddle. You can see the Gargoyles on the right. Columnar Peak is out of frame to the left.

There are incredible views from here and you may be content to make this your turnaround point. If you want to reach a summit, you can scramble uphill to the Gargoyles (to your right) and Columnar Peak (to your left). Both involve a bit of route finding and some steep slopes, so step carefully and take your time. The Gargoyles is a bit shorter and easier.

The view from the trail to the Gargoyles
Looking down to Elfin Lakes from the Gargoyles Trail.

Diamond Head Peak

Diamond Head Peak is a triangular subsummit of Mount Garibaldi (Nch’kay). This peak is also called Little Diamond Head and is named after Diamond Head Peak in Hawaii.

This is the only peak on Nch’Kay that you can reach just by hiking. It’s a long trip that involves some route finding, but it is fairly straightforward. It’s best as a day trip from the Elfin Lakes campground, but strong hikers can tackle it from the trailhead in one long day. When I did it, we took about 11 hours car-to-car.

Here are the key stats for the hike to Diamond Head Peak from Elfin Lakes campground:

Follow the directions above to the saddle between the Gargoyles and Columnar Peak. From there, follow a faint trail downhill through the scree to a low point with a great view of the Squamish Valley to the southwest and a small lake to the northeast.

Follow a faint trail uphill through meadows and trees to the base of a huge gravel slope. The trail disappears here and you will need to find your own route. There are a few cairns that show the way, but they peter out eventually. Just keep working your way uphill towards Diamond Head, which you can always see above you.

A hiker in a yellow jacket hikes up a long screen slope towards Diamond Head Peak in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Hiking up the gravel slope towards Diamond Head. There are cairns in this section, but you mostly just have to find your own way.

About half a kilometre before the summit, reach the edge of a ridge that drops away steeply to the west. I was lucky enough to see mountain goats here! Stay back from the edge and follow the ridge uphill to the north. A very steep boot-beaten path through the gravel takes you to the summit of Diamond Head. It’s steep with big drop-offs so be careful.

A hiker walks up a steep rocky slope to Diamond Head Peak in Garibaldi Provincial Park
The steep and loose final slope to the summit.

Opal Cone

Opal Cone is an extinct volcanic cinder cone. It has great views of the glaciers to the north as well as Mamquam Mountain to the east. It’s a great day hike from the Elfin Lakes campground or a detour on the way to Rampart Ponds.

Here are the key stats for the hike to Opal Cone from Elfin Lakes campground:

From the junction in front of the shelter, follow the trail north through the meadows. After the turn-off for the Gargoyles, it heads into the trees crosses lots of deep gullies as it trends downhill. Reach your low point 3 km from Elfin Lakes and 200 m lower as you cross Ring Creek on a bridge.

A hiker in a yellow jacket hikes towards a creek in the mist and rain
Descending to cross Ring Creek in the pouring rain

On the other side, the trail heads uphill beside the creek through bare gravel that transitions to meadows. The route makes a few switchbacks before heading into a short stretch of trees. Reach a junction and head left to make your ascent of Opal Cone. (The route to the right continues to Rampart Ponds.)

After the junction, the route is very steep and loose. Follow the cairns to stay on track to the summit 1.25 km from the junction. You can retrace your steps, or walk all the way around the rim of the crater.

Rampart Ponds

If you want to explore further into the park, make the trek out of the backcountry campground at Rampart Ponds. It’s a good spot to base yourself for the hike to Mamquam Lake.

Here are the key stats for the hike to Rampart Ponds from Elfin Lakes campground:

The route to Rampart Ponds involves lots of elevation gain and loss as well as a mandatory ford through a flooded section. To begin, follow the directions to the Opal Cone junction above.

From Opal Cone, the trail descends down to a huge volcanic gravel plain that looks like a moonscape. About 1 km after the Opal Cone junction, reach the flooded section. Each year the melting glaciers change this area, expanding the meltwater ponds. Carefully wade across the flooded area – it may be up to your waist.

On the other side, follow the trail as it heads downhill to cross Zigzag Creek on a small bridge. If the bridge is missing, this creek can be too dangerous to cross. Climb up the hill from the creek. The turn-off to the Rampart Ponds campground is 1 km past the creek. The glacier views through here are amazing.

Mamquam Lake

Mamquam Lake makes a good day hike from the Rampart Ponds campground. It’s also a very tough day hike from Elfin Lakes campground. Note: There used to be a campground at Mamquam Lake, but BC Parks closed it due to archeological concerns and built the Rampart Ponds campground instead.

Here are the key stats for the hike to Mamquam Lake from Rampart Ponds campground and from Elfin Lakes campground:

  • Duration: 1-1.5 hours from Rampart Ponds/6.5-9 hours from Elfin Lakes
  • Distance: 3.7 km round-trip from Rampart Ponds/20.8 km round-trip from Elfin Lakes
  • Difficulty: Easy from Rampart Ponds/Very Challenging from Elfin Lakes
  • Elevation Change: 250 m elevation gain from Rampart Ponds/1200 m elevation gain from Elfin Lakes
  • Map: Use my Gaia GPS map of the Mamquam Lake trail

Follow the directions above to Rampart Ponds. From there, follow the trail as it switchbacks downhill. The route starts in the gravel glacial plain, then transitions to meadow and then forest. The trail ends at the lakeshore, which is great for swimming.

Backcountry Camping and the Hut at Elfin Lakes

Most people choose to camp at Elfin Lakes campground or stay in the Elfin Lakes Shelter (also called the Elfin Lakes Hut). But there are also a couple other camping options nearby. I have details on all of them below.

Elfin Lakes Campground

Elfin Lakes Campground is spread out at the north end of North Elfin Lake. The campground has 35 wooden tent platforms that can hold up to a 4-person tent. You can also squeeze two 2-person tents on the platforms, but you probably won’t be able to get your rain flies staked out all the way.

All campsites are first-come, first-served for campers with reservations. Just choose a site once you arrive.

Tents on wooden platforms
Tent platforms at the Elfin Lakes campground

There are metal hanging poles with pulleys to store your food. Bring a waterproof bag (I recommend a lightweight dry bag) to protect your food from rain and birds.

The cooking shelter has a metal counter for cooking, picnic tables, and a wash sink with grey water disposal. There are also outdoor picnic tables. Plan to cook and eat in the cooking area to minimize food smells and waste around the tent pads.

Cooking shelter, picnic tables, and food hanging pole at the Elfin Lakes Campground
The cooking shelter, picnic tables, and food hanging poles at the Elfin Lakes Campground.

There are outhouses at each end of the campground. The outhouse building for the Elfin Lakes Shelter are also very close by.

Collect water from the north Elfin Lake. This is the designated drinking water lake so keep it clean! You must filter or treat all drinking water as you don’t know if people or animals have contaminated it with poop or other pathogens. (I use a Katadyn BeFree.)

Campfires are never allowed in Garibaldi Provincial Park to protect the fragile alpine vegetation. As well, be sure to stay on the paths through the campground. Over the years, campers’ feet have eroded a lot of the beautiful heather meadows.

You can find more info about backpacking to Elfin Lakes in my book, Backpacking in Southwestern British Columbia.

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Elfin Lakes Shelter

The Elfin Lakes Shelter is also known as the Elfin Lakes Hut or the Elfin Lakes Cabin. It is located just past the north end of the two lakes. This large A-Frame hut has a kitchen and eating area downstairs and bunkbeds upstairs.

There are 33 double bunks (bottom bunks) and 11 single bunks (top bunks) and all bunks are first-come, first-served amongst people with reservations – choose an available bunk when you arrive.

Bunkbeds on the upper level of the Elfin Lakes Hut.
Bunks on the upper level of the hut. I took this photo on a Wednesday, so there weren’t very many people staying in the hut.

The kitchen area downstairs has a propane stove that is free to use but you will need to bring your own pots. There are also metal counters for cooking and picnic tables for eating. You can wash dishes in the sink – it also has a grey water disposal drain. Hang your food on hooks on the wall and ceiling to protect it from mice.

The interior of the Elfin Lakes Hut at Garibaldi Provincial Park
The cooking area on the lower level of the Elfin Lakes Hut.

The propane heater in the centre of the hut is only turned on in winter. The hut also has solar lighting, but it doesn’t always work. There is an outhouse building to the east of the hut with four separate stalls.

Collect water from the north Elfin Lake by walking past the cooking area for the campground. This is the designated drinking water lake so keep it clean. You must filter or treat all drinking water.

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Rampart Ponds Campground

The Rampart Ponds Campground is located 8.5 kilometres from Elfin Lakes and 19.5 kilometres from the trailhead. Keep in mind that it will take about 7-8 hours to hike there from the trailhead.

The Rampart Ponds are shallow glacial ponds in the middle of a rocky glacial plain. There are no trees for shelter so it can be a miserable place to camp in bad weather… but it also has gorgeous glacier views in good weather.

The campground has 12 gravel campsites, an outhouse, and food lockers. Collect water from Rampart Ponds.

Red Heather Campground

The Red Heather Campground is open during the winter months only. (It is prime bear habitat the rest of the year so camping is only allowed in the winter.) There are no tent pads or designated tenting area – just pitch your tent on the snow. You can use the Red Heather hut for cooking, eating, and storing your food. There is an outhouse nearby.

The inside of the Red Heather Hut in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Inside the Red Heather Hut. This photo was taken in summer so the woodstove is padlocked and there is a pile of winter trail markers on the floor.

Snowshoeing and Skiing at Elfin Lakes in Winter

The Garibaldi Park Road is plowed in winter, making Elfin Lakes a very popular winter hiking, snowshoeing and backcountry skiing destination. I’ve got more details in my guide to snowshoeing in Squamish.

However, it is a much more challenging and potentially dangerous trip in winter. The trail is marked in winter with reflective wands, but when the fog rolls it can be difficult to see them. You will need to be comfortable with navigation. I use the Gaia GPS app.

A group of snowshoers walking through a snowstorm and fog at Elfin Lakes Shelter.
Fog and snow storms are common, which can make navigation challenging.

The trail will also be very snowy and icy. Depending on trail conditions, you will need snowshoes or microspikes. I recommend microspikes in May and November and snowshoes between December and April. (Read my guide for tips on how to choose snowshoes and my guide to the differences between snowshoes and microspikes).

Elfin Lakes Trail in winter
We wore microspikes on this November hike to Elfin Lakes. There wasn’t enough snow for snowshoes yet.

The winter route (marked by wands) deviates from the summer route in a few places (most notably around the east side of Round Mountain.) Thanks to this, it stays out of most of the serious avalanche terrain. However, the backcountry ski runs below the trail are in avalanche terrain. In any case, you should still have avalanche training and rescue gear. Check the avalanche forecast before your trip.

While the road is plowed in winter, it is still usually snow and ice-covered. You must have tire chains to drive this road. BC Parks has a checkpoint partway up the road in winter. If you don’t have chains, they won’t let you continue. Even if the road doesn’t seem that slippery, the final switchback before the parking area can be very icy – lots of cars have slipped off the road here and required a tow truck to get them out. Just put your chains on!

Biking to Elfin Lakes

Bikes are allowed on the trail as the Elfin Lakes Shelter. Since the entire route is on an old road, biking makes the trip to Elfin Lakes much faster.

The biking directions are the same as the hiking directions above, with one key exception. Just after Red Heather day-use shelter, the hikers’ route leaves the road and heads directly uphill. If you are on a bike you must stay on the old road as it makes a long switchback before meeting back up with the hikers route about 1 km later.

The trail is steep in a few places and is often very rocky. You will need a mountain bike with suspension or at least a gravel bike. Class 1 e-bikes (pedal assist only) are allowed. You will also need a bit of stamina for the first six kilometres since they are entirely uphill.

A mountain biker on the trail to Elfin Lakes
A mountain biker near Elfin Lakes

That’s everything you need to know to plan a trip to Elfin Lakes. I recommend going in clear weather to really enjoy the views. Do you have questions about the trail? Ask them in the comments – I’m happy to help.


Taryn Eyton


Saturday 1st of June 2024

Thank you for all this helpful information! Is there a way to lock up some of your stuff in the hut while you hike? Thanks!


Sunday 2nd of June 2024

@Taryn Eyton, Great thank you for this!

Taryn Eyton

Saturday 1st of June 2024

No. There are no lockers in the hut. You are welcome to leave gear in the hut while you are out - it is common practice. In general, since you are 11 km from the trailhead and most backcountry users are good people, thefts are extremely rare but not totally unheard of.

Andrea Dowdle

Friday 17th of May 2024

I’m assuming the food hangers at Elfin Lakes are still buried in snow in May. What do people do to secure their food? Is the shelter open? Can you store your food there?

Taryn Eyton

Friday 17th of May 2024

Yes, you can store your food in the shelter if needed. It's a 2 minute walk way.


Thursday 9th of May 2024

Hi! I was wondering if you had done this trail in May any year at all (or recently) and knew the risk of avalanches on the Red Heather Meadows trail up to Elfin LakeS? I do not have any avalanche training but I have read it is a pretty low risk route. I have safety gear and the like, but do not want to do anything that puts me in danger! Thanks!

Taryn Eyton

Thursday 9th of May 2024

I haven't done it in May because the conditions are often variable - the snow is often slushy and soft, which makes for exhausting snowshoeing and wet feet. As I said in the post, the route stays out of serious avalanche terrain, but there are a few places with overhead hazard. Check the avalanche forecast on Avalanche Canada before you go. If you don't have avalanche training and equipment, you should not be heading into avalanche terrain unless the forecast is low. In the spring, avalanche Canada suspends their regular forecasting since avalanche danger is so variable due to wide ranging temperatures.