Elk Lakes Backpack Trip to Petain Falls

Trip Date: Sunday, August 19, 2012 to Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Elevation Gain (m): 700
Total Trip Distance (km): 33
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: The hardest part of the hike is now between the lower and upper Elk Lakes thanks to 2013 flooding. The final bit of hiking to Petain Falls is also strenuous.
Technical Rating: TL3; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

On the weekend of August 17-19 I took my two kids and one of Niko’s friends into the ACC hut in Elk Lakes Provincial Park. We did the approach via Fox Creek from the Elk Pass parking lot in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Alberta. I did a long day trip with my cousin back in the early 2000’s where we biked into the warden cabin from Elk Lakes parking lot via the hydroline trail and then hiked all the way to Petain falls before hiking back to our bikes and biking home again. I remember looking at the cabin and wishing we could stay there. When I found out that the cabin had converted into an ACC hut I knew that I was destined to go stay there one day.

Elk Lakes & Petain Falls Route Map.

Elk Pass Parking to Elk Lakes ACC Hut

The Elk Lakes ACC hut is perfect for parties looking for a fairly easy-to-access hut in a beautiful area. The hike in is relatively flat (for a mountain backpacking trip) and only took us 2.5 hours at a very slow pace. Lots of entries in the hut register about kids and families skiing in, in the winter and my kids instantly wanted to do that.

Nearing the hut, Petain waterfall / basin / mountain is at the base of the mountains far in the distance at the right.
Swimming in Lower Elk Lake on a hot day.

The only bummer in the summer is that people can drive into the park from the BC side (pretty rough road though) and so when we got there, there was a family with young kids / cooler / water bottles and whole 9 yards which took away from the ‘wilderness’ feeling a bit. But they were very friendly and took all our garbage out for us so I’m not complaining too loudly.

Elk Lakes ACC Hut to Petain Falls 

As part of our Elk Lakes backpacking trip, we took a day trip to Petain Falls. This is a pleasant and very easy hike, about 10km return. We also included the Elk Lakes viewpoint hike on the same day which made for a longer day and much more effort.

Lower Elk Lakes.
Upper Elk Lake.


The trail was supposed to be flooded on the inlet flood plain to Upper Elk Lakes but on the way to the falls we were wondering what all the fuss was about. After 4 hours in 30 degree weather we came back to the same area and it was under water! There was one tricky log crossing where I definitely didn’t want anyone slipping and falling into the raging stream underneath. The stream had come up so much that it was running over a section of this log bridge. Part of the trail bridges (planks) had been washed all the way down Upper Elk Lake to the outlet on the far end to Lower Elk.

The trail around Upper Elk Lake was much more maintained than I remembered it – BC Parks has done a wonderful job on it. I really wanted to go into the Petain Basin, but that was another 8km return with over 500 meters height gain. I want to climb some peaks back there so I guess I’ll have to go back some day. The Elk Lakes viewpoint wasn’t really worth it IMHO. It’s a rough trail and the views are marginal. Not terrible, but not up to par with the other hikes in the area. It’s probably more worth your time to hike into Fox / Frozen Lakes instead.

Elk Lakes ACC Hut to Elk Pass Parking

The return hike to the parking lot was without issues. We took our time and took tons of wildflower photos along Fox Creek.

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