I’ve hiked to Elfin Lakes at least half a dozen times, but I’ve only recently done the gem of a little add-on hike to The Gargoyles. Elfin Lakes is a popular hike in Garibaldi Provincial Park, near Squamish, British Columbia. The 22 km (14 mile) return hike is a beauty on its own, but for just an extra 2.5 km (from Elfin Lakes) you get into some incredible glaciovolcanic landscapes. In non-scientific lingo, that means bizarre volcanic rock pillars, stark scree slopes, and turquoise-hued, glacially-carved lakes. A few weeks ago, my friend Morag and I got to explore this otherworldly place called The Gargoyles.
Although it’s possible to hike The Gargoyles as a day trip (it’s 27 km/14 miles return from the Diamond Head trailhead), it’s much more pleasant staying overnight at the Elfin Lakes campground or shelter. The hike to Elfin Lakes is a steady and rather boring uphill trudge for the first 5 km, but the remaining 6 km are glorious, with wide-open views on an undulating path.
Yes, we have big packs! When we do an easy over-nighter, we bring “real” food (not dehydrated stuff), wine, books…The lovely Elfin Lakes campground is just behind the lakes.
Despite the heavy packs, we make it to the campground in less than three hours. I think our excitement about The Gargoyles hike has lots to do with our brisk pace. We set up camp, have a quick lunch, and head off on the Saddle Trail to The Gargoyles.
It only takes about an hour to get to The Gargoyles, but it’s quite steep near the end. The trail meanders through heather fields, along the edge of a rockfall, and over scree. We’re aiming for the low point in the saddle that you see in the photo above.
The scree is nasty to walk on, but it makes a starkly beautiful picture with the patches of snow and greenery.
At the cairn on the saddle ridge, a very steep path to the right leads to an upper view of The Gargoyles; to the left is an indistinct trail to Columnar Peak. We decide to go straight, down the other side of the saddle, on a path that leads to Diamond Head—the barren peak just below the cloud.
It’s a good decision to cross the saddle where we look back at the fantasy rock creatures created by volcanic activity. There are several of these crazy formations—all jointly referred to as The Gargoyles.
A little further down the path, we get a close up view of a turquoise lake, unofficially known as Lava Lake. We ponder momentarily about continuing on to Diamond Head—the peak that you see on the far left (above)—but decide to go back up the saddle and tackle the scree slope to the upper Gargoyles view.
The short trail up from the saddle is incredibly steep. I don’t take any photos because I’m crawling up portions of it on my hands and knees. The view over the spiky pillars, with Lava Lake peeking through and Diamond Head and Atwell Peak in the background, is totally worth the effort and anxiety.
From our perch, we can see as far as the glacial lakes of Opal Cone—one of my all-time favourite hikes that can be reached on a 6.5 km trail from Elfin Lakes.
We find an easier way down along the edge of the vegetation. It’s tempting to continue along the ridge to Columnar Peak, but we’ve lingered too long and have had enough scree for one day.
I love the open vistas from the saddle where we can see the snaking trail lead all the way back to Elfin Lakes.
Back at camp, we are happy for those heavy packs filled with wine, a hearty pasta dinner, brownies, cherries….We sit on our tent platform with the million dollar view and toast to another wonderful hike in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
- If possible, hike to Elfin Lakes on a weekday. It has become very busy on summer weekends.
- Reservations are mandatory for both the 35 tent platforms and the 33 person shelter at Elfin Lakes. Book through BC Parks to secure a spot.
- Information about how to access the Diamond Head trailhead and facilities at the campground and shelter is available on the BC Parks Diamond Head Area page.
- A great two night stay at Elfin Lakes can include a hike to The Gargoyles (5 km) return and to Opal Cone (13 km return).
- Hiking (snowshoeing) to Elfin Lake in winter is spectacular.