Tag Archives: squamish

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.

Pika

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

Cat Lake Camping

Cat Lake in the Morning
My wife and I’s first camping trip together was to a little forestry campsite just north of Squamish. I have fond memories of that trip. I remember a tranquil lake, quiet isolated sites, and cooking great food over a campfire. One of the best car camping experiences (well almost, you have a short hike to the sites), I’ve had in BC and no reservation needed. We’ve been hoping to go back for years and finally made the trip last weekend.

Either memories can be deceiving, I’m getting old and grumpy, or Cat Lake has changed. Judging from what I wrote about Cat Lake on August 30, 2006, it was a party destination then, but it seemed more extreme this time:

The best features, though, were the lake and privacy of each site. The lake had some small beach areas, and people would float these giant trees into the centre of the lake and use them as docks, diving boards, and log rolling venues. The camp sites were nestled between hills and trees and very spaced out. On one side we had a group playing loud music and on the other a bunch of drunk girls. But at our site we could barely hear them.

Maybe they’ve crammed in more sites, but I didn’t find quiet campsites. When a group decided to go skinny dipping at 2 am on Friday night, they woke me up on the other side of the lake (noises seemed to carry more over the water than between camp sites). I was ready to take an axe to the guy screaming “stop looking at my dick, the water is cold”. There was also a fire ban prevented any campfire cooking.

Cat Lake

The lake is still great for swimming – a perfect temperature and crystal clear. The floating logs are still there and great to play on, but inflatable rafts now outnumbered them.

Typical Cat Lake Campsite
This was a typical campsite – a giant tent, trash and empty beer cans littered around, and food left out to attract wildlife. It bothered me. I must be getting old and grumpy. I love camping and we still had a good time, but I wish more people could enjoy the experience without getting high, stupidly drunk, and making asses of themselves.

Greater Vancouver Hike – Sea to Summit

Upper Shannon Falls Viewpoint
Date: July 1, 2014

Location: Squamish, BC (map)

Description: When a private company decided to build a gondola next to my favourite day hike, I was worried that a great recreational area would be turned into a tourist trap. Luckily, other than greater difficulty finding parking now, the changes have been overwhelmingly positive. The Sea to Sky Gondola opens up a lot of new recreational opportunities, including a great new one-way hike under the gondola from the base to the summit (the Sea to Summit Trail), plus it provides access to a number of hikes from the top.

The Sea to Summit Trail will inevitably be compared to the Grouse Grind, but they are nothing alike. The Grind is an gruelling workout, the Sea to Summit is a real day hike, with fabulous viewpoints, varied terrain, and spots to take enjoyable breaks. The only similarities with the Grind are the licensed patio at the top and the gondola waiting to bring you back to the bottom.

Sea to Summit Trailhead Crowded Chief Trail Passing under the Gondola Hiking Chain
The Sea to Summit trail follows a number of existing trails. The first trail marker is at the gondola base, but most hikers will start at the Chief or Shannon Falls. The trail follows the Lower Shannon Falls trail, climbs the staircases at the beginning of The Chief trail, and ascends the Upper Shannon Falls trail (trail map). The Chief trail is the steepest part of the hike and can get quite congested. Once the trail branches off to Upper Shannon Falls, it becomes less busy. The second half of the hike is virgin trail with more exposure to the sun. There are two options for getting to the summit, you can stay on the Sea to Summit trail or take Wrinkle Rock. We took Wrinkle Rock, which seemed like the more popular route. It is shorter but involves some steep, rocky sections with chains to help pull yourself up.
Old Logging Road Exposed to the Sun Sea to Summit Rope Climbing Finished the Hike

There are two great places to take a break near the midpoint of the hike. At the top of Shannon Falls there’s a spot where you can relax near the creek. 15 minutes further, there’s an excellent viewpoint of Howe Sound.
Upper Shannon Falls Rest Howe Sound View

Sea to Summit Elevation MapThe Sea to Summit is a moderately difficult hike. There are some long, steep sections that will get the heart pumping and a few areas where chains are needed to pull yourself up some rocky areas. The trail covers 6.6 km with nearly 1000 meters of elevation gain. We completed it in just under 4 hours, moving at a leisurely pace with lots of breaks. This isn’t the Grind, so you don’t have to feel like you’re racing up, although a few trail runners did pass us.

There’s a number of things to do once you get to the summit. Most hikers will want to head straight to the Summit Lodge, where there are washrooms, refreshments, and food. There’s also an amazing view from the patio, a suspension bridge, and a number of viewing platforms. Don’t expect to find lumberjack or birds of prey shows – it isn’t nearly as commercialized as Grouse Mountain (at least not yet).
Sea to Summit Patio Sea to Summit Suspension Bridge Suspension Bridge Posing

The summit provides access to several other hiking trails – ranging from some short and family friendly strolls to backcountry access to hardcore trails like Al’s Habrich Ridge Trail. The only one we did was the quick Panorama Trail. It’s more of a walk than a hike, but worth exploring for the epic Chief Viewing Platform, which gives you a sweeping view of Howe Sound and all three peaks of The Chief. It costs $10 to take the gondola down.
The Chief Viewing Platform

More trail descriptions on the Sea to Sky website and on Trailpeak.

Time: 5 hours if you want to enjoy yourself
Hiking the Sea to Summit Trail (including Wrinkle Rock): 3 hours
Lunch Break at Upper Shannon Falls: 30 minutes
Relaxing at the Summit: 30 minutes
Panorama Trail: 15 minutes (plus 15 minutes for pictures at The Chief Viewing Platform)
Gondola Descent: 15 minutes
Hike to the Parking Lot: 15 minutes

Transportation: It is only a 60 minute drive from Vancouver to the trail head. You can park at either Shannon Falls or The Chief parking lots. Avoid the Sea to Summit Gondola parking lot, as it has a 3 hour time limit. Directions.

Pictures: Sea to Summit Hike 2014
The Chief
Sea to Summit Hike Busy Chief on Canada Day Sea to Summit 1/4 Mark Sea to Summit Gondola With the Soft Rocks Rhea Hiking Upper Shannon Falls Jig Upper Shannon Falls Tight Squeeze Upper Shannon Falls Viewpoint At Upper Shannon Falls Lightning Strike Survivor View of the Gondola Narrow Trail False Summit Virgin Trail Hiking with Dogs Sea to Summit Gondola Sea to Summit Gondola Please Leash Your Dog End of Wrinkle Rock Sea to Summit Gondola Terminal Finished the Hike Sea to Summit Peak Area Beautiful Terminal Building Suspension Bridge Sea to Summit Hiking Board Chief Viewpoint Howe Sound Sea to Summit Gondola Sea to Summit Gondola Gondola Descent Wayward Hikers The Chief Sea to Summit Gondola View Sea to Summit Gondola

Greater Vancouver Hike – Brohm Lake

Green Carpet
Date: April 20, 2014

Location: Squamish, BC (map)

Description: Over the Easter long weekend we were looking for a good mountain hike that would be snow free. We found a great one in the Brohm Lake Interpretative Forest, just north of Squamish. It was unbelievable how green and vibrant the forest is, with layers of moss below towering cedar and fir trees. The area was logged until the 1970s and the stumps of giants can be found along the trails.

There’s no mountain to ascend, but there is still quite a bit of ups and downs and some great mountain views (assuming it isn’t cloudy). Be prepared to work your leg muscles. We stopped at one of the viewpoints along the Cheekamus Trail for lunch. It had an open view of the mountains and river below. 10 minutes further along the trail there were two spots with picnic benches, but the view wasn’t as good. Here’s a GPS map and elevation profile of our hike, and a good trail description from Vancouvertrails.com (check out the comments for reports on recent conditions).

Total Time: We spent 4 1/2 hours doing a large loop clockwise loop that covered several trails (Bridge, Cheekamus Loop, High Trail, Tantalus View, and Brohm Lake). You can make your hike longer or shorter by picking different trails.

Transportation: Drive just past Squamish and Alice Lake Provincial Park, 75 minutes from Vancouver.

Pictures: Brohm Lake 2014
Brohm Lake Interpretative Forest Map Brohm Lake Bracken Fern Brohm Lake Forest Windy Path Viewpoint Hiking Lunch Spooky Trunk Picnic Table River Valley Helping Nature Green Beast Observing the Beast Busted Stairs Strawberry Head 1960s Viewpoint

Greater Vancouver Snowshoe – Red Heather and Elfin Lakes

Mountains in the Clouds
Date: March 15-16 2008, January 30 2010, and March 10 2012

Location: Garibaldi Provincial Park, near Squamish (map)

SquamishDescription: For winter fun, the trail up to Red Heather and Elfin Lakes has something for everyone. It’s close to Vancouver but removed from the crowded North Shore trails; it is perfect for snowshoeing and ski touring; the Red Heather hut makes for a great day hike destination; and Elfin Lakes cabin is an excellent overnight shelter for those looking to spend a few days in the backcountry.

Beams AwayThe highlight of all of our trips to Red Heather has been sledding through knee-deep snow. I highly recommend packing crazy carpets. The trail from the parking lot to the Red Heather is wide and gently sloped, which makes for good sliding on the way down. In addition, the Red Heather hut is in a meadow surrounded with sloping hills that are perfect for tobogganing, if you don’t mind creating your own bobsled runs. It’s tiring work, but rewarding. After playing in the snow, you can warm up and dry off in the hut, which has a wood stove.

Gear Parking LotIf you’re feeling adventurous and want to spend the night, you can continue past Red Heather to Elfin Lakes where there is a cabin that sleeps 30. It costs $15/person/night and there are no reservations, so head up early if you’re going on a popular weekend. When we went up in March, we arrived at the cabin around 2 PM and were one of the first groups. By the evening, every bunk was taken. The hut is heated and has a cooking area on the bottom floor and wooden bunk beds on the top floor. You only need to bring a thermarest and sleeping bag, but if you want a real winter camping experience you can pitch a tent outdoors or build a snow cave. More info and trail reports on the BC Parks website.

Snow TrailsThe hike up to Red Heather is in the trees and doesn’t have many viewpoints, but it is relatively safe when the avalanche conditions are high. If you continue on to Elfin Lakes, you’ll end up walking above the treeline along Paul Ridge, which has spectacular views of the surrounding mountains but has a higher risk of avalanches. Make sure you check the Sea-to-Sky avalanche conditions before heading up.

More trail descriptions at Trail Peak, Vancouver Trails, and Snowshoe Magazine.
Trekking Out

Day Trip to Red Heather: 4+ hours
Parking Lot to Red Heather: 1.5 hours
Lunch: 1 hour
Sledding Time: 30 minutes +
Descent down: 1 hour

Snowshoe to Elfin Lakes with a Large Backpack: 5 hours up, 5 hours down
Parking Lot to Red Heather: 2 hours
Lunch Break: 1 hour
Red Heather to Elfin Lakes: 2 hours

Transportation: The trail starts in Squamish, about 90 minutes from Vancouver. You drive past Quest University along Garibaldi Park Road to the Diamond Head Trail parking lot. The road is routinely plowed, but can be hard to drive after a snowfall. Four-wheel drive is recommended. Directions from Google Maps.

Pictures: Elfin Lakes Snowshoeing 2006
Base Camp Gearing Up Practising Group Shot - Front Hiking Up Rhea Hiking Up Red Heather Park Rangers Elfin Lakes Trail Cloudy Mountains Hike or Freeze Snow Cave Inside Snow Cave Outside Elfin Lakes Hut Kitchen Area Monopoly Bunk Beds Elfin Lakes Shelter Dawn Getting Snow Snow Trails Frosted Skis Gear Parking Lot Sunday Morning Crew

Red Heather Snowshoeing 2010
Hiking Up to Elfin Lakes Snowball Attack Ready to Hit the Slopes Crazy Carpets and Snowshoes Crazy Crapeteers Powder Puff Carpeting Airborne Capturing Big Air Poor Form Perfect Form Beams Away All Downhill From Here Superman Style Helmet Cam Captures the Action

Red Heather Snowshoe Bachelor Party 2012
Bachelor Snowshoe Party Snowshoeing Whiskey Jack and the Neon Man Whiskey Jack Whiskey Jack Daniel Red Heather Hut Drying Out the Chest Hair Snowy Outhouse Breaking Trail Deep Snow Free-for-all First Sled Run Deep Snow Sledding Crazy Carpet Dan Head First Crazy Carpet Snowy Fun Penguin Style Shovel Jousting Snowy Sled Run Crazy Carpet Mountain Heading Downhill Drying Out Human Avalanche Snowshoe Descent Heavy Snowfall in Garibaldi

Greater Vancouver Hike – The Chief

On Top of the Chief
Date: May 8, 2010 (also on May 2, 2009, July 20, 2008, and August 27, 2006).

Location: Squamish (map)

Description: The Chief (aka Stawamus Chief) is a my favourite day hike. It is easily accessible from Vancouver; the hike is a real workout, but within the range of most fit people; the terrain and scenery change throughout the hike; and it offers the most breath-taking views of Howe Sound and the Coast Mountains.

When you arrive at the parking lot, all you can see is a imposing, 700 m tall granite face. If you look closely, you’ll see small, colourful dots – rock climbers ascending the sheer face. Luckily, the hiking trail takes a more gradual climb up the back of The Chief. Along the hike you’ll climb long staircases, scramble up boulders, and even pull yourself up steel ladders and chains near the top. There are a few small waterfalls near the beginning of the trail, and some impressive giant boulders midway up the hike. But the highlight is the view from the peak – it always instills awe and vertigo in me.

There are a few branches along the trail, but each is well signed. I recommend hiking to 1st (or South) Peak. It’s the most popular and best trail to take. 2nd and 3rd peaks are also interesting hikes and give similar views from slightly higher elevations. Detailed trail descriptions are available here and here.

Hiking Time: 3 hours 45 minutes (return trip, with plenty of time at the peak)
Parking Lot to 1st Peak: 90 minutes
Time to enjoy the view: 1 hour
1st Peak back to the parking lot: 75 minutes
(You can also hike to the 2nd and 3rd peaks in an extra 2 hours).

Transportation: The easiest way to get to Squamish is to drive. The drive takes 1 hour from Vancouver (directions). There are also 3 bus companies that run service between Vancouver and Squamish – Greyhound, Pacific Coach, and Perimeter. The bus will take 1 hour 45 minutes from downtown Vancouver.

Pictures: The Chief 2008 and 2009 and The Chief 2010
Exhausted The Chief Panoramic Victorious Hikers Climbing The Chief Start of the Chief Chiefly Canopy Don't Jump Life on the Edge Vertigo Inducing Don't Feed the Wildlife Squeamish Squamish First Peak and the Howe Sound First Peak Sea-To-Sky The Chief Chief Scramble Starting the Descent Contemplating the View Chipmunk Chief Summit Chain Climb Tree Huggers Chief Stairs Sign-Eating Tree Waterfall Rock Climbing Hiking Home Winding Road On Top of the Chief Hiker Vertigo