This short and easy hike to Lower Elk Lake could be either a great introductory backpacking trip or an access to other trails in the park.
Accommodation in Elk Lakes Provincial Park
The trail passes a lodge/ranger station that is staffed by BC Parks during the summer. Accommodation is also available for public rental. This modern lodge, operated by the Alpine Club of Canada, is reached by a short hike (500 m) from the main trailhead at Elk River FS Road on a wide level trail. See Contact Information and References or www.alpineclubofcanada.ca/facility/reservations.html for information.
Lower Elk Lake Campsite is an easy, beginner-level, walk-in campsite. The picturesque and popular site is by the lakeshore, in mature forest. The hike in takes about 30 minutes from the trailhead and park entrance at Elk River FS Road. Facilities include fire rings, a cable food cache and pit toilets.
Pétain Campground is a new site about 6 km from the trailhead and about 1.5 km from the south end of Upper Elk Lake. The camp is beside the trail to Pétain Waterfalls. (The former campsite washed out when the creek flooded in 2003.) Facilities include a bear-proof storage locker, a cooking area, campsites and a pit toilet.
If arriving at night after the long drive, there is a flat spot just inside the park entrance that is suitable for a tent. No water, no facilities.
I did not write details for every hike. Most of the Elk Lakes Park trails are of such good quality and so well marked that I am only mentioning my favourites.
Upper Elk Lake
This is the largest and most scenic of the park’s lakes. Follow the signed trail west from Lower Elk Lake for 1.5 km. The trail crosses the Elk River bridge in the forest. The lake is about 2 km long and the trail follows the shore, with views of vertical layers of rock forming the base of rugged limestone mountains. The lakeside trail has recently been upgraded.
About halfway along the shore of Upper Elk Lake, the spur trail to the viewpoint branches left (south). This 1.5-km hike climbs 91 m (300 ft.) through a forest to an east-facing view of the rippled limestone of the Elk Range. There are no edge railings along the narrow rocky bluff.
Tall, powerful and impressive, the Pétain Waterfalls are worth the hike. The surge of the cascade is captivating as the water crashes over a cliff below Mount Castelnau. Remnants of the Castelnau Glacier hang in white curtains high above falls. The cone-shaped summits flank the glacier, Mount McCuaig on the left, Mount Castelnau to the right.
On a hot day it is refreshing to stand right at the base of the falls, on the rocks beside the turbulent cascade, with blasts of shattered water droplets cooling you.
Upper Pétain Basin from waterfalls
High above the Pétain Waterfalls is an alpine basin on smooth bedrock below the glaciers. The trail leaves from the right of the Pétain Waterfall trail. As soon as you can see the falls, look for a faint trail heading uphill into the forest. This hike is not well-maintained and may not be signed. The trail gains a lot of elevation from the waterfalls to the basin lower rim. Once in the open, gradually sloping Pétain Basin, you can explore the high tundra for many hours. The bedrock slopes climb another 600 m (2,000 ft.) and the Pétain Glacier, Mount Pétain and Mount Castelnau rise high above the basin. It is a challenging but rewarding hike.
Lower Elk Lake to Frozen Lake Loop
This nice day hike on well-made trails is a scenic and moderate loop with a diversity of sights and topographies. The hike features fine views of Lower Elk Lake from a high slope, and at Frozen Lake the views of Mount Fox are impressive. This is a good day hike that features much of the park’s northern vistas.