Don’t miss The Gargoyles on an Elfin Lakes hike

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The Gargoyles in Garibaldi Provincial Park, British Columbia

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.

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Morag and I pose just above Elfin Lakes

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.

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Pretty Upper Elfin Lake

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.

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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.

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Scree slopes below Columnar Peak

The scree is nasty to walk on, but it makes a starkly beautiful picture with the patches of snow and greenery.

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The saddle ridge…decision time…

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.

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The Gargoyles view on the other side of the saddle

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.

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The Gargoyles beautifully displayed in front of the fluffy clouds

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Lava Lake below 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.

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Spectacular view to Diamond Head and Atwell Peak

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.

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View through the Gargoyles

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.

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Ridge to Columnar Peak

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.

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Our campground (at the distant lake) beckons

I love the open vistas from the saddle where we can see the snaking trail lead all the way back to Elfin Lakes.

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A tent with a million dollar view

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.


Categories: Activities, British Columbia, Hiking | Tags: , , , | 61 Comments

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61 thoughts on “Don’t miss The Gargoyles on an Elfin Lakes hike

  1. Pingback: Winter hike to Garibaldi Lake, British Columbia | Writes of Passage

  2. Pingback: Mama bear and baby bear hike Garibaldi’s Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek | Writes of Passage

  3. AndyG

    What a great day for that hike! Makes me want to revisit the Elfin Lakes area again. I must admit I’m just too lazy to bring real food on backpacking trips, but I’m quite happy to pack in some wine. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just love the Elfin area. It has become super busy so I only go on weekdays and/or off season. Since this was just an overnighter, it wasn’t difficult to do real food/wine; any longer I would have gone the dehydrated route (with 🍷)!

      Liked by 1 person

      • AndyG

        Yes, we haven’t stayed overnight there for many years because of how busy it’s become but seeing your photos makes me want to go back to the Gargoyles!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The Gargyoles is such an interesting name for this add-on hike around Elfin Lakes. It really does look like gargoyle-like formations near the saddle – like a group of rocks huddled together telling each other stories 🙂 The view all round there is no short of stunning. Even the pools of water seem a nice blue. As Bama wrote, this is the first time I heard of someone bring wine on a hike…and pasta and brownies and cherries. What a feast. I guess if you can bring it all to base camp, why not. Fresh food is always best 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love your description Mabel: “a group of rocks huddled together telling each other stories.” I bet those rocks have some amazing stories to tell with all the extreme geological/meteorological activity through the ages. Our food feast was the icing on the cake!


      • It really did look like the rocks huddling together telling each other stories. I also like to think the same of trees in a forest – trees side by side and we hear a bit of their stories when their leaves rustle through the wind 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Stunning vistas and fabulous photographs. Looks like an amazing experience, Caroline.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow! What a jaw dropping collection of photos from what is obviously a superb hike. The campsite looks like something out of a travel magazine. Million dollar view indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! Your photos of Elfin Lakes reminds me of landscape you showed while hiking in Patagonia. I’m jealous of your delicious and hearty hiking meals. As a fan of lighter baggage, I make do with smaller fare. 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are definitely some similarities above the tree line once in the rocky environment. You won’t find those dramatic Patagonian spires, but I can’t complain given the hike is only an hours drive from my house. I won’t let my husband read your comment as he’ll suggest we don’t need to travel anywhere else to go hiking 😉
      Sorry for delay in response. We are away and I’ve neglected my blog. Hope things are well with you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Looks amazing!!! Lately we’ve been Bri going freeze dried meals, ugh, but the wine. The wine flows freely ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Freeze dried is certainly the lighter, more convenient option, and I’m totally grateful for it on longer hikes. I cursed the weight of the wine on the way up, but all was forgotten that evening 🍷😊.

      Liked by 1 person

      • pam@ichoosethis

        Yeah, carrying wine Is like having a baby. Your forget the pain after you experience the joy!


  9. Ben Rusuisiak

    Nice report and photos. Thanks. Have you tried Brohm Ridge? Even without the car, you can get up and back in 4hrs if you run from Cat lake. I felt the view was better from there than Elphin Lakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It looks like an excellent hike. I like how you pack real food, wine, and books on short hikes. That is something I have overlooked doing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What an incredible landscape!! The lush green and barren rock and snow are just fantastic. Also, love that you brought brownies. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Caroline Helbig

      You’ll be even more impressed when I tell you that they were black bean brownies…easy, delicious recipe!
      As mentioned to Lexie below, we are away and I’m taking a blog writing/reading break. Will catch up with your adventures later.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I not only love the looks of this hike, but I also agree wholeheartedly that the best thing on earth is a strenuous physical exertion followed by a good meal and some wine! When you described that steep, scree-covered ascent, I hoped that you were not going to try to slip and slide down that stuff. Much as I rebel against steep and slippery climbs, the downhills are always scarier (although easier in other ways). Beautiful scenery – wow! Your cup runneth over out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for the delay in replying. We are cycling in France and I’ve either not bothered with being online or have been technically challenged. We have lift off today! Anyway, I’m enjoying more physical exertion and getting to eat/drink all that yummy French food and wine! Looking forward to catching up with your hikes when I get home.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No worries! I disappear every time I travel (and sometimes even when I don’t 🙂 ) I look forward to hearing about this next European bike ride!


  13. Amazing post. I love the photos of the upper Elfin Lake and the Lava lake. And the ridge to the peak. Spectacular scenery!

    Bravo for bringing a good meal along. After a strenuous hike who would want to eat dehydrated food (not me) and EVEN wine. Impressive! All sounds really great, except for the steep anxiety inducing part!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peta, it was a terrific hike, despite a bit of anxiety, and a great post-hike feast. I’m way behind on my Sri Lanka posts but I’ve had such a good run of local hikes that I wanted to write about them while our weather here is still warm and sunny. Now we’re off to France and I’m going to take a short blog writing/reading break.
      All the best settling into your new environment.


  14. Caroline, I think this is the first time I read someone bringing a bottle of wine while hiking a mountain. You’re so cool! But with a view like that and a weather that nice, I can understand why you decided to do it. One of the consolations for me when I did the grueling 3-day, 2-night hike to Indonesia’s second-tallest volcano back in 2013 was the fact that we always had good food every day.

    Liked by 3 people

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    Liked by 2 people

  16. Good for you for taking real food! The extra weight just makes you stronger anyway! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this trip – despite having been up to Elfin many times, I’ve never done the Gargoyles, but your photos have convinced me. ‘ll add it to list. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Elfin has become so busy but I still enjoy it and love the scenery. We didn’t see anyone else on The Gargoyles despite it being so close to the campground. It’s definitely worth a visit and you can potentially add on Columnar Peak and Diamond Head.


  17. Jackie Frioud

    It looks amazing, Caroline! Thanks for the great post

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Absolutely breathtaking!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. What a stunning view! I especially like the one through the Gargoyles. You have like 3-4 different terrains in one photo 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Wow! What a stunning location. Like a true pro, you brought wine.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Mike Hohmann

    Really a beautiful hike, Caroline. I’m making note of it. My youngest daughter/family is relocating to WA very soon, so it looks like it’s time to shift some hiking from the SW (Sierras, UT, NM ) to the NW and southern BC/Alberta areas. It’s long overdue! Thanks for the beautiful post and gorgeous photos!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the post Mike. That’s great that your daughter’s relocation will open up new hiking opportunities for you. I have done so little hiking in Washington and it has such great stuff. Mt. Baker has been on my list for years. I get stuck in my little area (not a bad place to get stuck).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mike Hohmann

        Agreed, Caroline…not a bad place to be stuck! I’m planning to get out that way quite a bit in coming years and enjoy the weather and scenery, along with family… a good combination!

        Liked by 2 people

  22. Hi. That’s a heck of a hike. I doubt if I’ll ever be there, but I enjoyed reading about that beautiful territory.

    Neil Scheinin

    Liked by 2 people

  23. really impressive sights.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. What a beautiful area, I’ve only been to Squamish/Whistler in the winter. I love the campground with wide open views not between dense trees.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We have a lot of big beautiful trees here, but I do prefer a campground like this with the open vistas (and where I don’t feel damp all the time). You’ll have to come for a visit in summer (actually, early fall can be really nice too).

      Liked by 1 person

  25. You made it feel like we were right alongside with you!

    Liked by 2 people

  26. josypheen

    I looove this post so much! I totally approve of your way of camping! Wine, pasta and brownies sounds like a great way to finish such a gorgeous day.

    When we hiked to the gargoyles we had not planned to, but chatting to other hikers, they all told us that we should. It is SUCH an amazing view. I agree about the steepness near the top though. I found it a bit scary on the way down!

    Now I really want to go back to visit Opal cone!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well thanks!!! I remember your beautiful post on The Gargoyles. Good on you for fitting it in on a long day hike. The steepness was a bit scary. I stayed low to the ground on the way up and down (I’m surprised my shorts didn’t rip with some of my bum sliding).
      You guys definitely need to put Opal Cone on your list. It’s even more dramatic than The Gargoyles. September is a great time to go…I look forward to your post!

      Liked by 1 person

      • josypheen

        Squeee! It might have to be October (i’ll cross my fingers the weather stays okay) as we’re heading to Spain in September.

        Liked by 2 people

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