Elfin Lakes Winter Trail – Table of Contents
- Snowshoe Introduction
- Hike Statistics
- Map and Elevation
- Hiking Route Description
- Directions and Parking
- Free PDF Download
Elfin Lakes Snowshoe Trail Intro
Any snowshoers or ski tourers around Vancouver will likely be familiar with the Elfin Lakes winter trail. This is a personal favorite for many because the route is well-marked and it provides spectacular views.
The trailhead is about a 30 minute drive from downtown Squamish, although tire chains are mandatory to access the Elfin Lakes/Diamond Head trailhead parking lot. The trail itself is a steady uphill, 11 km climb to reach the hut at Elfin Lakes. It takes around 3 – 5 hours, each way (with great variability depending on the Elfin Lakes weather and snow conditions, and personal fitness levels and experience).
The elevation gain is 600 m, with the highest point of the hike reaching about 1,660 m along Paul Ridge before you descend to the Elfin Lakes hut at 1,470 m. There are spectacular views of nearby mountain peaks along the way to the lakes as you make your way along the marked snowshoe trail.
Another draw for this hike is the ability to sleep in the heated Elfin Lakes shelter (details below).
(If you are looking for the guide to the Elfin Lakes summertime / hiking route – click here)
Avalanche.ca rates this route as Class 1 (Simple) terrain: “Exposure to long angle or primarily forested terrain. Some forest openings may involve the runout zones of infrequent avalanches. Many options to reduce or eliminate exposure. No glacier travel.” Use the Avalanche.ca Trip Planner to factor in the risk levels with current avalanche forecasts. More information about winter travel and avalanche safety can be read here.
Elfin Lakes Winter Trail Stats
Distance: 22 km
Net Elevation Change*: 700 m
Highest Point: 1,660 m (Paul Ridge)
Time Needed: 7 to 10 hours (or overnight)
Season: November to July
Dogs Allowed: No
Est. Driving Time from Vancouver: 1 hour 30 minutes
Trailhead Coordinates: 49.750175, -123.053186
*For a better understanding of the stats and difficulty rating, check out the Hiking Guides page for details. Always carry The Essentials and fill out a trip plan.
Elfin Lakes Snowshoe Map and Elevation
Elfin Lakes Winter Route (one-way)
Elfin Lakes Snowshoe Route
From the Diamond Head parking lot, the first 5 km of the trail are the steepest of the day. Shortly after beginning the ascent, you’ll reach a switchback going to your left, and continue your uphill march. There will be a few quick views to the west through the trees if you keep your eyes peeled, but most of the trail to the Red Heather shelter is within the forest.
At the 5 km mark (roughly 1.5 hours), you will reach the Red Heather shelter and this is a great place to eat, rest, and warm up using the wood furnace before pushing the final 6 km of your hike. Winter camping is permitted here outside the hut. Sleeping in the hut is only allowed for an emergency. There are restrooms here as well.
Many people day-hike to the Red Heather shelter, and enjoy some backcountry snowboarding and skiing along Paul Ridge before heading back to the parking lot.
From Red Heather Hut to Elfin Lakes Hut
Pushing on from the Red Heather hut, the next 6 km provide a few steep sections, but also some flat and downhill relief. From here, once the snow is deep enough, a winter route marked by orange poles will be set up. The markers are usually close together, which is useful in the case of a snowstorm or low visibility conditions, and also for those caught outside after sunset. To see if the winter route is in place, and the latest trail conditions, see here.
Simply follow these orange poles and enjoy the views (provided you have good weather), until you finally reach the Elfin Lakes shelter. One of the prominent peaks visible along the way will be Atwell Peak – the diamond-shaped peak off to the north.
You will climb up along Paul Ridge to a high point of about 1,660 m before the trail begins its rolling descent back down, and finally reaching the Elfin Lakes hut at 1,470 m. As you make your way down to the Elfin Lakes hut and ranger lodge, a view will open up to your left of the spectacular Mount Garibaldi.
Once you’ve reached the hut, you can go inside to warm up, eat, and hopefully grab a bunk to sleep in.
Camping at the Elfin Lakes shelter opens up the opportunity to other nearby hikes like Gargoyles, Opal Cone and Mamquam Lake. These may or may not be marked for winter routes, but regardless, you will need to take all the requisite snow travel safety precautions if you carry on to any of these other destinations from Elfin Lakes.
Download the free PDF version of this guide for offline use on any device
The Elfin Lakes Shelter
There is a large, heated, shelter at Elfin Lakes that sleeps about 33. The cabin is two floors, with bunks on top, and a kitchen and a recreation area on the bottom. Overall, the cabin is comfortable and has gas stoves so you can melt some snow for water, and prepare your meals. There are also outhouses just adjacent to the shelter.
The best, or depending on your luck, worst part of staying at the shelter may be your company. The times I’ve slept at the hut, it’s been a blast, meeting a group of friendly new people – playing board games and trading hiking stories. I would also recommend bringing earplugs, as it can get pretty loud when you are trying to sleep if there are night owls and the inevitable snorers.
Backcountry camping in Garibaldi Provincial Park requires reservation.
Directions and Parking
To get to the trail from Vancouver, take Highway 99 just north past Squamish. As you are driving through Squamish, exit right at the BC Parks sign for Garibaldi Park Diamond Head. This is Mamquam Road, right before the Canadian Tire. It is about 16 km to reach the trailhead from Highway 99, mostly on a narrow, gravel road. The road will steepen and you will pass Quest University. You will eventually see another sign pointing you left, for Garibaldi Park Diamond Head.
Snow tires and tire chains are required along the road in. The road is narrow, and it’s not worth taking chances if your car is not winter-ready, as more than a few cars have fallen off this road before. The final curve before the parking lot is particularly sketchy (steep and often icy), and you may walk in the final few kilometers from an overflow parking/ turnaround area instead of navigating this final part of the road.
Google Map directions are here.
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The 14 Best Snowshoe Trails Around Vancouver
Click here to read our guide to snowshoeing in and around southwest B.C.
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Subaru parts/service said I can’t put chains on my car, does that mean I’m outta luck? I have M+S rated winter tires.
Did you find out any answer to your query yet?
use spring chain
Not likely you’ll be carrying a ‘shelter/hut’ on your back – unless you know something I don’t.^^
Is there avalanche terrain enroute to Elfin Lakes Hut? Beacon, Probe, Shovel?
The route staked by BC Parks takes you through a safe route, but you should always be prepared with beacon, probe and shovel, the proper education, and check avalanche conditions prior to heading out into the snow.
Great writeup! The elfin shelter/hut can now be reserved in advance; no idea what happens if you show up without one.