Tag Archives: overnight hike

Greater Vancouver Hike – Elfin Lakes

Elfin Lakes CampingDate: August 7-8, 2015

Location: Garibaldi Provincial Park near Squamish, BC (map)

Description: Elfin Lakes is one of BC’s best backcountry camping destinations. It’s easy to access, has more amenities than you would normally find in the backcountry, and has great views of the Coast Mountains. It’s not surprising that the trail is popular with day hikers, overnight backpackers, and mountain bikers.

At the Trailhead

To beat the crowds, we left Vancouver early on Friday morning. The hike starts from the Diamond Head parking lot, located up a gravel road in Squamish beyond Quest University. There are numerous reports of break-ins in the parking lot, so don’t leave any valuables in your vehicle.

The parking lot is at a lofty 960 meters above sea level, a welcome boost for anyone carrying a heavy backpack. Most of the hike to Elfin Lakes is along an old logging road, with plenty of room for 2 or 3 people to walk abreast. The first section isn’t gruelling, but it is a continuous uphill climb without much to look at. There is only one viewpoint – a brief break in the trees with a view over Squamish and Howe Sound. After 4.3 km and 440 meters of elevation gain, you arrive at the Red Heather shelter. This is a good spot to have a meal and use the outhouse.

Wide Trail

After Red Heather you quickly get above the treeline with more spectacular views of the mountains around. Elfin Lakes is another 6 km of ups and downs from Red Heather, with a net elevation gain of only 75 meters. Keep an eye out for pikas in the rocky areas – they are little rodents with a distinctive squeak.


Elfin Lakes is probably BC’s most comprehensive backcountry camping area. There’s a full-time ranger station, outhouses that usually have toilet paper, bear-proof food caches, a lovely cooking shelter with an amazing view, two lakes (one for swimming and one for drinking water), 35 tent pads, and a hut with 34 beds if you don’t want to bring a tent. The cost of camping at Elfin Lakes is $10 per person per night, or $15 if you want to sleep in the shelter.

Ranger Station Filtering Water Bear Caches Cooking Shelter with a View

From Elfin Lakes, there are two day hike options – the Gargoyles and Opal Cone. We had planned on spending Saturday hiking up to the Gargoyles, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. It was grey and drizzly with heavy rain forecasted, so we decided to pack it up and head home early.

I was also worried about my toe. I had stubbed it before we left Vancouver, but didn’t think much of it. However, by the time we arrived at our campsite, it was throbbing and purple. I “iced” it in the lake and taped it to prevent any further damage. I’m not sure if it is sprained or just heavily bruised.

Injured Toe Icing My Toe in the Lake Taped Toes

Check out the BC Parks website for more info about the campsite, and read the great trail reports on Vancouver Trails and Trail Peak.

Times: (with a large backpack on)
Parking Lot to Red Heather: 1.5 hours
Red Heather to Elfin Lakes: 2 hours
(GPS data on Strava)

Elfin Lakes to Red Heather: 1.5 hours
Red Heather to Parking Lot: 1 hour
(GPS data on Strava)
Elfin Lakes Map

Pictures: Elfin Lakes 2015
Hiking Panorama

Tall Toilet

Hiking and Mountain Biking

At Elfin Lakes

Elfin Lakes

Relaxing in the Sun

Camping Spot Panorama

Greater Vancouver Hike – Garibaldi Lake and Black Tusk

Garibaldi Lake
Date: August 12-14, 2006, August 8-10 2008, and July 10-12, 2009

Location: Garibaldi Pronvincial Park, near Squamish, BC (map)

Description: Black Tusk was my first real backcountry experience, and you never forget your first. Glacial Lakes, towering peaks, alpine meadows – this hike has it all. I’ve seen a lot of BC since that weekend in 2006, but Black Tusk is still my favourite overnight hike in BC. I’ve been up there 3 times, and I’m itching to return again.

The Barrier
It’s a 7.5 km hike from the trail head to the campgrounds – taking anywhere from 2 1/2 – 4 hours depending how fast you can move with heavy pack on. It’s a steady uphill the whole way, rising 915 meters, including a section of switchbacks along The Barrier – an imposing lava damn holding back the water in Garibaldi Lake.

There are two camping options – Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake. Garibaldi Lake is the nicer option, but it fills up quickly, especially on a long weekend. The campsites are pretty good by backcountry standards – with gravel or wood tent pads, outhouses, bear caches, and cooking shelters.

Little Creek
Late July to early August is the best time to visit, as the alpine flowers are in full bloom and the area is mostly snow-free. You can even take a dip in Garibaldi Lake if you’re brave (no matter how warm it might be outside, a glacial lake is never very warm).

The Ascent to Black Tusk
From the campgrounds, there are two day hike possibilities – Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge. Black Tusk is a unique experience. If you’re afraid of heights, like I am, it’s a uniquely terrifying but exhilarating experience. The trail leads up a large scree slope and then traverses a ridge with a steep drop off before reaching the base of an intimidating lava column.

At the Summit
You can rock climb/scramble the top of the tusk but it’s not for the feint of heart. It is steep and the rock is loose. I’ve only ever made it to the top once, on my first trip up when I wore a bike helmet to protect my head. Every other time I’ve chickened out. But if you do make it to the top, the 360 degree views of Garibaldi Provincial Park and Whistler-Blackcomb in the distance are breathtaking.
View of Whistler Mountain

Transportation: It’s a 90 minute drive from Vancouver to the trailhead near Squamish, BC. Directions.

Pictures: Garibaldi Lake 2006, Garibaldi Lake 2008, Garibaldi Lake 2009

Ridge Walking

On the way to the Tusk

Black Tusk Snow Angels

Dr Seuss Flowers

Lake-side Reflections

Backpacking India: Singalila Trek

Singalila Trek day 2 - return to Maney

The Singalila Range forms a ridge of hikeable mountains along the India-Nepal border that offer awesome views of the Himalayan mountains including Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world (8598 m). We set out to do a 5-day trek from Maneybhanjang (near Darjeeling) to Phalut, but unfortunately didn’t make it all the way. 

India - Singalila Ridge Trek Day 1
India - Singalila Ridge Trek Day 1

The first day I was really slow going up the 11 km with over 800 metres elevation gain. That night I was so chilled and achy I couldn’t sleep until the wee hours of the morning. All night all I could think about was the 21 kms we had to cover the next day and the ascent up to 3636 metres above sea level. I was feeling better the next morning but knew I didn’t have enough energy to complete the day. We were lucky to have views of Kanchenjunga that morning before heading back down to Maneybhanjang. We were both disappointed about not making it to Sandakphu and Phalut, the two peaks with amazing views, but knew it was the right decision.
Singalila Trek day 2 - return to Maney
Singalila Trek day 2 - return to Maney
We weren’t in the national park yet so we could do the descent without a guide, at least a human one. We had three different dogs join us for different parts of the day. They were just village dogs that seemed to want a little company and a journey. They responded better to petting than treats.
Singalila Trek day 2 - return to Maney
This one was our favourite, we named him Charzing.

Singalila Trek day 2 - return to Maney

Tour companies will arrange all-inclusive Singalila Trek expeditions for around 3000 rupees per person, but we’re cheap and resourceful so we planned our trek on our own. We wanted to create a comprehensive guide to the trek for others to follow, but since we never made it past Tumling (near Tonglu peak), our knowledge is incomplete. But here is what we figured out. 

India - Singalila Ridge Trek Day 1

There are two standard treks out of Maneybhanjang. A 3 day-trek to Sandakphu and down to Rimbik or the 5 day trek that goes to Phalut. Phalut has 360-degree views from the peak (3600 m) so that was the trek we chose.
India - Singalila Ridge Trek Day 1
We took a shared jeep from Darjeeling to Maneybhanjang in the morning. Apparently it’s not a very popular route. There were three other foreign tourists going to do the same trek and no one else. After waiting for 30 minutes we paid for the remaing five seats so we could get trekking at a reasonable time. We ended up trekking with our new friends to help share the costs.

India - Singalila Ridge Trek Day 1

Most of the hike is in the Singalila National Park, which requires visitors to be accompanied by a guide. If you’re not using a private tour operator, you can get guides through the Society for Highlander Guides and Porters Welfare (link), whose mission is to preserve the park and create employment opportunities for youth. The cost is 1200 rupees per day, including food and lodging for the guide, no matter how big your group is. 

India - Singalila Ridge Trek Day 1

There are government and private lodges along the way, as well as snack, water, and lunch huts. We only stayed in one, which was lovely. We had our own room with three beds, lots of blankets, and a washroom (cold water and squat toilet) for 800 rupees. We spent most of our time in the main house with the other guests by the fire. 

India - Singalila Ridge Trek Day 1

Lunch was either chowmein or noodle soup for 50 rupees and egg could be added for 20. Tea and water were a little more expensive than usual, 15-20 and 30 respectively. The one dinner we had was amazing (although I didn’t eat much) – dal, rice, veg curry, potatoes, fried bitter gourd, egg curry, raw veggies, and apricot dessert – for 150 rupees each. Breakfast was porridge, Tibetan bread, honey, jam, and a boiled egg for 100 rupees.

India - Singalila Ridge Trek Day 1

We didn’t hire a porter and carried our own gear. We probably brought too much stuff. I would recommend packing lite – only bringing a few days of clothing, warm hat and gloves, and a headlamp. We rented down sleeping bags in Darjeeling for 80 rupees a day from Trek Mate. We didn’t need them in Tumling as there were plenty of blankets. We also foolishly brought snacks from Darjeeling that we could have bought at any of the tea stall that dotted the trail.

India - Singalila Ridge Trek Day 1

Greater Vancouver Hike – Lightning Lakes Chain

Lightning Lake Reflection
Date: August 6-7, 2011

Location: E.C. Manning Provincial Park (map)

Description: The Lightning Lakes Chain is a trail between four thematically named lakes in Manning Provincial Park – Lightning, Flash, Strike, and Thunder. It’s a great hike because it’s relatively flat, it is snow-free before many of the other hikes in the area (like Mount Frosty and Poland Lake), and there is a well serviced hike-in campsite at Strike Lake.

The hike follows the edge of the four lakes, and the creek that connects them, offering many stunning views of nature and animals. Between Strike Lake and Thunder Lake the scenery changes and the evergreen forest gives way to alpine meadows and rock slides. The campsite at Strike Lake has spots for 8 tents. The hike can be done as one long day-hike, but we enjoyed relaxing in the evening and camping at Strike Lake.

The hike starts at Lightning Lake, which is extremely popular with car campers, day trippers, and canoeists. The northern part of the lake is busy with people and surrounded by a wide flat trail. Once you pass the Rainbow Bridge (which spans the skinny part of the lake) the trail becomes more like hiking and less like walking in the park. The Rainbow Bridge is a popular spot for swimmers and daredevils who like to jump into the shallow-looking creek bellow. It must be deeper than it looks because no one got hurt while we watched.
Rainbow Bridge Leap

The area around Lightning Lake is a maze of alternate trails. The junctions aren’t very well signed, but as long as you keep heading in the right general direction, you should arrive at Flash Lake. Just stay off the Fisherman’s Trail (see map) on the west side just past the Rainbow Bridge. We made the mistake of taking it, but it is covered with fallen trees that we had to scamper over, under, and between. After scraping our way past dozens of trees we eventually gave up on the trail and scrambled up a steep hill to the main trail. But not before one of the many branches we had to duck under destroyed a bag of chips I was saving for an evening snack.
Tree Scramble

Both Flash and Lightning Lakes have loop trails, so you can take an alternate route on our return trip. We took the east side of Lightning Lake on our way back and it wasn’t any longer then the hiking the other way. Just check the trail report (PDF) before. The eastern Flash Lake trail is currently closed.

The campground, just past Strike Lake, is really nice. We were worried it would be busy, but only 2 other sites were taken. Unlike many other hike-in campsites, not only does Strike Lake allow campfires but there are firepits and free wood provided at the campsite. We had a great time sitting around the fire at night. There’s also an outhouse and a food cache to keep the bears and deer away – not that it dissuaded a pair of deer from wandering into our campsite and within 5 feet of us looking for food.
Happy Campers

From the Strike Lake campground, you can leave your packs behind and hike to Thunder Lake. This section of the trail was more rugged and less traveled then the rest. In some of the meadows, the plants are really crowding the trail. I recommend wearing pants.
Bush Whacking

Detailed trail descriptions can be found here and here.

Time: 6 hours of total hiking (2 1/4 hours to the campsite)
Lone Duck Parking Lot to Rainbow Bridge: 30 minutes
Rainbow Bridge to the end of the Lightning lake: 45 minutes (longer if you take Fisherman’s Trail)
Flash Lake to start of Strike Lake: 30 minutes
Start of Strike Lake to the Campsite: 30 minutes
Campsite to Thunder Lake: 45 minutes (without large packs)

Transportation: The starting point for the hike is 3 hours east of Vancouver in the E.C. Manning Provincial Park. Driving directions. You can either start the hike at the Lightning Lake day use area, the Lone Duck group campground, or the main Lightning Lake campground. We started from the Lone Duck parking lot.

Cost: Parking is currently free, but backcountry camping is $5 per person. You can pay online and print out a receipt.

Pictures: Lightning Lakes 2011

Greater Vancouver Hike – Joffre Lakes

Glacier Runoff
Date: September 4-5, 2010

Location: near Pemberton (map)

Description: The hike through Joffre Lakes Provincial Parks takes you by three stunning lakes under the Matias Glacier. The best part of the hike is the view you get from each lake, with the glacier visible in the background at every lake. The hike is short enough to do as a day hike, and the vast majority of hikers do, but because it is a 3 hour drive from Vancouver many take their time and spend a night at the 3rd lake.

The first part of the trail up to the 2nd lake will take you up forested sections with bad bugs, over giant boulder fields home to cute little pikas, and along picturesque waterfalls. The 2nd lake makes a natural break and a great place to eat lunch, and as I overheard another hiker say “this is the place where people take their Facebook profile pictures”. After the 2nd lake, the trail flattens out and the bugs start to disappear (at least they did when we were there in September).

The 3rd lake is the end of the hike and the place to pitch your tent. The campsite is nestled on a flat, but rocky patch along the Upper Joffre Lake right below the Matias Glacier. There are 24 campsites cleared amongst the rocks and along the edge of the lake. The campsite is pretty bare-bones, but there are pit toilets and a bear cache to store your food. When we were there on the September long weekend, the wind was extremely cold and we even had a good hail storm, so be prepared. From the campsite there is a steep trail up a ridge to the foot of the Matias Glacier. I didn’t make it all the way to the Glacier, but I did make it high enough to hit snow and get a good view of two of the Joffre Lakes.

Detailed trail descriptions can be found here, here and here.

Time: 3 hours of hiking up and 3 hours down
Lower Joffre Lake to Middle Joffre Lake: 2 hours
Middle Joffre Lake to Upper Joffre Lake: 1 hour
Optional hike from campsite to Matier Glacier: 2 hours roundtrip

Transportation: Joffre Lakes is a long way from Vancouver. To get to the parking lot and trail head you need to drive 2 hours and 45 minutes along the Sea to Sky Highway, past Whistler and Pemberton. Driving directions.

Cost: Parking and camping at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is free, so the only cost is transportation. Gas for the return trip cost us $30 per vehicle.

Pictures: Joffre Lakes 2010
Ready, Set, Hike Lower Joffre Lake Joffre Lakes Hike Joffre Lakes Boulder Scramble Joffre Creek Middle Joffre Lake Matier Glacier Our Tent Glacier Runoff Post-Hike Stretch Joffre Lake Leap Hiding From Hail Hail Joffre Lakes Dining Joffre Lakes At Dawn Joffre Lakes Reflection Bear Cache Matier Glacier Hike Upper Joffre Lake Alpine Flower Emily and Joffre Me and Joffre Creek Crossing Alpine Emily Post-Hike Foot Bath

Greater Vancouver Hike – Gold Creek

Gold Creek Campsite
Date: June 19-20, 2010

Location: Golden Ears Provincial Park (map)

Description: Our first overnight hike of 2010 was a trek into Golden Ears Provincial Park along the Gold Creek on the East Canyon Trail. The trail follows the creek on the valley floor, so there isn’t a lot of elevation gain but there aren’t any sweeping vistas either.

We stayed at a beautiful beach at the 10km mark of the trail that is popular with campers (there is even an outhouse). The first 5 km of the trail are well marked and wide enough for 2 or 3 people to walk abreast. After that the bushes encroach on the trail and there is a lot of wind-fallen trees that you need to climb over or under. We were hoping to leave our packs at the campsite and continue on to Hector Ferguson lake, but the trail very overgrown after the 10km mark and we weren’t willing to bushwhack a further 9 km to the lake and make a creek crossing. Instead we spent a lazy afternoon suntanning and playing in the ice cold creek. It was the most relaxing hike-in I’ve ever been on.

There’s more trail descriptions here, here, and here.

Hiking Time: 4 hours 30 minutes (one way, wearing overnight packs)

Not accessible by public transportation. You need to drive to the Golden Ears Provincial Park and park in the Gold Creek parking lot. The drive takes about 80 minutes from Vancouver (map).

Cost: $21 per car ($15 for gas plus $6 for parking).

Pictures: Golden Ears – Gold Creek 2010
Hiking Ladies Backpacks in the bush Lunch Break Gold Creek Campsite Suntanning Hikers Campfire Story Time Happy Candles Gold Creek Bonfire Getting Ready to Hike Hump-A-Tree Hiking Lunch Break Hiking Feet