Situated in the south-west end of Garibaldi Provincial Park, Elfin Lakes is the perfect overnight winter adventure. At the time we did the hike, we didn’t have much winter camping experience. We chose Elfin Lakes as it is a well-travelled trail, there’s a hut to sleep in and it looks like a winter wonderland!
Before we get to the adventure, we should note a few important points. Firstly, you now must make reservations for the Elfin Shelter. Secondly, there are unfortunately no dogs allows in Garibaldi Provincial Park. And thirdly, make sure you have snow tires AND tire chains.
We set off on this adventure last winter on Boxing Day, because what better way is there to burn off those Christmas dinner calories! We parked at the lower parking lot as we didn’t have chains for Matilda, the Jeep. It took about a half hour to trudge up the road to the trail head. The trail itself started out as narrow-ish switchbacks. We passed a couple who were ski touring and it looked much more tiring going uphill on skis. However, I envied the fact that they could carve through all the powder and down the rolling hills around the Red Heather Hut area.
When we finally reached the Red Heather Hut, we stopped for a quick snack and to warm our hands. After leaving the hut, we hustled at a pretty fast pace. As the reservation system was not in place yet, we didn’t want to be left without room at the Elfin Shelter.
Once we got into the trees, it really looked like a winter wonderland. I don’t remember the last time I saw so much snow!
When we saw the Elfin Shelter in the distance, it sure was a sight for sore eyes – and sore legs! The cabin has two levels. The ground floor has a few tables and a cooking area, and the upstairs holds 33 bunks. It was getting dark, plus the snow wasn’t dying down any time soon so we decided to stay warm inside the shelter for the remainder of the night. However, the pilot light of the propane heater was off and the area was locked to the public, so it was actually pretty cold on the first floor after it got dark! We cooked dinner to fuel ourselves up and spent the rest of the night playing games. There were a few games that are kept in the shelter, such as Cards Against Humanity and Scrabble, but I also brought our game of Munchkin, my non-essential essential. To our surprise, there were quite a few more parties that arrived at the cabin late into the evening. We eventually retired to our bunk and thankfully, the second floor was decently warm.
The next morning, we discovered we got about a foot of snow overnight! We hung out in the cabin and took our time to cook and eat breakfast. We also wrote in one of the many log books. Eventually, we were on the road again and boy is it fun going downhill in the snow!
IMPORTANT! We just want to reiterate again how important it is to have tire chains. Being our first time in the backcountry in winter, we didn’t have chains and decided we didn’t need to go out and purchase some. We will never be making that mistake again. Even though the roads were clear when we drove up the day before, the foot of snow overnight had been packed down by skiiers and cars going down the road, turning it into ice. We safely drove down most of the mountain, until we saw a car had spun out blocking the road in front of us. We couldn’t stop because of the ice so we drove into the snowbank. The truck behind us couldn’t stop either and ended up bumping into our Jeep. A good samaritan who lived in the house beside where we spun out came out and helped to clear the scene. We slipped and slid down the rest of the way and it was one of the scariest experiences of my life. Even though sometimes you may not need tire chains, always have them handy just in case!
Hikers: Josie and Nick
All photos by me, Josie.