Trip Report: Elfin Lakes

We’ve been itching to get on an overnight trip since we got back from the GDT and over the winter break was the first chance we’ve managed to make it work. We haven’t done any winter camping before, so we decided on Elfin Lakes – the route is marked and a reasonable length (11km one way) and there’s a heated shelter at the end.


All camping in Garibaldi Provincial Park requires permits/reservations year-round. If you plan to go on a weekend, you will need to book well in advance, but weekdays tend to have spots available. All reservations need to be purchased online or by phone in advance – there are no options to pay cash in person anymore.

To get to Elfin Lakes, you will want to the Diamond Head trailhead. Signage to get there is straightforward from the highway. The final several kilometres are on a gravel road. In the winter, you’ll want winter tires and chains – chains are required in the park and the final section of road is quite steep.

The winter route is classified as simple terrain, but you should always check the avalanche forecast before you go.

Trip Report

It snowed the previous day and only a narrow ski track was worn into the trail, so on the way up, we were breaking trail to avoid walking in the ski tracks. We made good time though and got to Red Heather quicker than expected. The shelter was full of skiers taking breaks and we stopped for a quick snack break.

We were happy to find the route from Red Heather to Elfin Lakes was marked the day before as it was snowing and we had very low visibility after leaving Red Heather. It would have been quite slow going without the poles.

Despite the poor visibility, the ridge from Red Heather to Elfin Lakes was easy walking and we quickly made it to the Elfin Lakes shelter. It was early in the day, so we had it to ourselves at first. We ate, played Sushi Go and entertained ourselves on our phones. Over the afternoon, people slowly trickled in and then a whole bunch arrived around dinner time.

As we were considering going to the bed, the CO detector went off due to someone leaving the propane burner on without it being lit. All the doors and windows were opened, but surprisingly few people went outside – I guess most people don’t realize how dangerous carbon monoxide can be. Thankfully it wasn’t too cold out and the skies had somewhat cleared, so we got to enjoy views on the surrounding mountains while we waited for the alarm to stop going off. Once it stopped 20 minutes later, it was time for bed!

We both slept surprisingly well and were nice and toasty warm.

We woke up as others started to wake up and make noise and then went outside to watch the sunrise. After the sunrise, we lazily made breakfast and packed up before starting on our way back down.

We could actually see things on our way down and I can see why this area is so popular! The area is truly beautiful and seeing it all covered in snow is magical. My phone decided it was too cold though and shut itself off early on, so we did not end up with many photos.

We made quick time on the way down and stopped again at Red Heather for lunch. After Red Heather, the trail after was very wide and packed in – certainly not the single ski tracks and making our own trail of the way up.

We made it to the car in just over three hours total including our lunch break.

We drove off and were quite happy we brought chains – there was a Jeep in the ditch that wasn’t there on our way up!

Final Thoughts

Going on a winter overnight was quite fun and I think overall our current gear works quite well. For future non-shelter-based trips, I think we’d want a new shelter, but otherwise I don’t think there’s anything else we’d need.

We also tried out instant miso soup and rice as a breakfast option. It was quite tasty, but not very calorie dense. We’ll need to brainstorm some additions to add more calories.

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