Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park
in Garibaldi Park is an absolutely phenomenal, though long, snowshoeing trail that begins at the Diamond Head area in Squamish. From Whistler Village, the trailhead is just over an hours drive away, located near the south end of the massive Garibaldi Park. The is very well marked and maintained and leads to the wonderful, Elfin Lakes Hut. This amazing hut sleeps 33 and is solar powered and propane heated. There is a charge of $15/person to stay the night there which is a small price to pay for the beautiful comfort after the long, 11 kilometre snowshoe hike to get there. This area is very popular with skiers as well as snowshoers in the winter and deep snow covers the trail usually from November to June.
The trail to Elfin Lakes starts out ascending through deep forest, reaching the Red Heather Hut after 5k. This is a small warming hut equipped with a wood stove complete with a stack of wood free to use, though sleeping here is for emergencies only. The final 6k from this hut to Elfin Lakes takes you along a beautiful ridge with amazing views of snowy mountains all around. The sheer distance of this snowshoeing trail ranks it as difficult.
Expect to take four hours to reach the Elfin Lakes Hut as you are almost constantly ascending a gradual, though consistently uphill trail. There are several jaw-dropping views along this final 6k stretch. This trail is so well marked with orange poles and tree markers that you can reliably find your way after dark or before sunrise with good lights to assist you. You often see, with some shock, skiers trudging up the trail, not far from the trailhead after the sun has set. Making their way to the Elfin Lakes Hut in the dead of night seems to be a pastime of quite a few local skiers and boarders.
As this trail is within Garibaldi Park, dogs are not allowed. This is a courtesy to all the animals that inhabit the park and the potential disturbance that dogs my introduce to their environment. BC Parks staff can issue fines for dogs in the park. Though it is rare, it does happen as Elfin Lakes is regularly staffed with rangers and even has a separate ranger station near the Elfin Lakes Hut. Getting to the trailhead can be problematic during periods of heavy snow. The gravel road runs deep and high into the mountains to the trailhead parking lot. You should be prepared with tire chains and may have to walk from the lower parking lot below the main, usually deep with snow trailhead parking lot.
Elfin Lakes Trailhead Directions
There are excellent signs directing you to the Elfin Lakes/Diamond Head trailhead parking. From the Sea to Sky Highway follow the signs to "Garibaldi Park Diamond Head." You will want to turn onto Mamquam Road at the Canadian Tire store in Squamish. (left if coming from Whistler, right if coming from Vancouver). Continue following the signs for 16k as they go up a gravel road ending at the parking lot at the trailhead. This road is potentially dangerous to drive in the winter months if you don't have proper tire chains. Even though the road is plowed occasionally it is usually hard packed with snow.
More Whistler Snowshoeing
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, if you don't mind the drive, is one of the nicest snowshoe trails near Whistler. Certainly comparable in beauty to Elfin Lakes, however only moderately difficult and gets you right into deep forest and deep snow fast. It is located about 90 minutes north of Whistler Village via Highway 99(Sea to Sky Highway). Joffre Lakes can be a challenging trail if the weather is very cold, raining or snowing. If you are new to snowshoeing, you should try another, easier trail as in bad weather you can get dangerously lost. If you include the drive to and from Whistler, this is an all day outing. If you are lucky enough to get sunny weather, this trail is beautiful, and the drive to the trailhead is very scenic as well. Closer to Whistler Village, Parkhurst Ghost Town is an amazing trail any time of the year. In snow it is quite an adventure. It is located just a short, 10 minute drive north of Whistler Village and is, for the most part an easy snowshoe trail. If you can find your way to the marked trail from the unmarked route where you can park, then you will find the trail well marked with flagging tape. Parkhurst was a logging town several decades ago that has been long abandoned. Now it exists as an interesting array of old machinery and a couple ancient looking houses. What makes this trail amazing is not just the ghost town itself, but the town's setting. High up on a ridge overlooking Green Lake, the views are sensational. Depending on how deep the snow is and how close you park to the Parkhurst trailhead, expect to take two or three hours, roundrip on an average snowy day. Parkhurst is a short drive north of Whistler Village, but south of the Village exists another similarly beautiful trail. The Whistler Train Wreck is another ghostly area of decaying wreckage left from the 1950's. A train slid off the tracks here and down along the beautiful Cheakamus River. Seven interestingly mangled train cars now lay in over a kilometre of forest. The decades have added an amazing array of artwork on these massive train cars. The trail to Train Wreck takes you through a very interesting zig-zagging route through the wilderness south of Function Junction. You pass under the Sea to Sky Highway via the highway overpass then along various stunning viewpoints of the Cheakamus River. In January the Cheakamus River is wonderfully frozen with torrents of water crashing under, over and through the ice. Train Wreck, roundtrip should take you less than an hour at a quick pace and a couple hours at a leisurely walk. If it hasn't snowed in more than three days, you should be fine doing the hike without snowshoes as the trail will be packed down by others. Across the highway from Train Wreck is another beautiful trail that follows along the edge of Cheakamus River for two kilometres then crosses a suspension bridge and returns along the other side. Cheakamus River is a spectacular, crashing and huge river that often has vertical cliffs on either side, making the trail amazing to hike. In January the trail is often buried in over a metre of snow, making it quite a winter adventure. The trail is fairly popular, so if it hasn't snows significantly in Whistler in the previous couple days, you likely won't need to bother with snowshoes. Rainbow Falls, just north of Whistler Village is another easy snowshoe trail to try. This always up and down and zig-zagging trail is possibly the easiest way to see deep, wilderness snow in Whistler in the winter months. Snow accumulates deep and fast here, it seems. And the short trail to Rainbow Falls, buried deep in this winter wonderland is located in a cute little wintery oasis. Along with Rainbow Falls, the zig-zagging trail takes you to a bridge over the river, with more great views. Kids love this trail as it is easy, yet very scenic and adults love it for the same reasons. Rainbow Falls can be done in less than and hour and is just a short 10 minute drive north of Whistler Village. Located very near to Rainbow Park, another beautiful place to visit in January or any time of the year. If you continue beyond Rainbow Falls along the Rainbow Trail as if going to Rainbow Lake, you will come to the Flank Trail. The Rainbow Sproatt Flank Trail cuts along the edge of Mount Sproatt. Once you get on the Flank Trail from the Rainbow Trail, you have hiked most of the elevation. The Flank Trail then runs along with amazing views across to Whistler, Blackcomb and Wedge Mountain. Below you, you look down on Alta Lake and tiny people, like ants, skating on the lake. Endless viewpoints along the Flank Trail slow your progress and you will likely only hike or snowshoe for a couple kilometres before taking in enough sights to turn back home. This trail is well marked and very wide, making it easy to follow and navigate...