Elk Lakes / Cabin Snowshoe Trip

Elevation Gain (m): 600
Total Trip Distance (km): 17
Trip Date: Dec 22 2013
Round Trip Time (hrs): 6
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 1 – you fall, you tripped over your own feet
Difficulty Notes: On-trail snowshoeing and backpacking the entire way from the trailhead to the Elk Lakes ACC Hut. The only difficulty is with a family of four with fresh snow and full backpack. Marked as “OT” due to the nature of snowshoeing – you’re not guaranteed to be on a “trail”.
Technical Rating: OT2; YDS (Hiking)
MapGoogle Maps

Just before Christmas 2013, our family did a 3 day, 2 night snowshoe trip into the Elk Lakes ACC hut in Elk Lakes Provincial Park, BC. In August 2012 I took the kids on a backpacking trip to the hut but we’d never visited in the winter before. The route is fairly obvious for snowshoers. Start on the snowshoe track under the power lines from the Elk Pass parking lot in Kananaskis Country and follow it steeply where it goes beside and then directly on the xcountry ski trail down a steep hill before detouring briefly (follow bright orange signs) into the forest. After this you join the xcountry track again and either follow it (don’t ski on the track set!) all the way up to Elk Pass under the power lines or take the snowshoe track on the left (marked by bright orange signs on high posts).

Elk Lakes Cabin Snowshoe Route Map

We had very cold temperatures on our way into the cabin. Making it even worse was the stiff south wind. The trail is a bit boring since you are under power lines for almost the entire trip – but it’s easy to follow and hard to get lost if you keep this in mind. Skier’s have a tougher time than snowshoers, especially once the track setting ends at Elk Pass. The descent into BC was easy and fast on ‘shoes. Most people xcountry ski into the hut but it’s not easy and not quicker either. We did the trip in under 3 hours both on the way in and out. On the way out we left later than some skiers and still beat them to the parking lot! Snowshoes allow a more direct route, especially on the BC side of Elk Pass. We stuck under the power lines the whole way – never detouring into the trees on the easier graded logging road.

At the top of the first hill. The ‘shoe track is off to the left here. Since the xcountry track wasn’t groomed, we chose to stay on it because it was nice and easy travel. Obviously we avoided tramping on the ski tracks.
Looking back at the hydro line / trail as we finally arrive at the Elk Lakes summer parking lot.

After spending a nice afternoon / evening at the cabin all by ourselves, people started pouring through the front door! It was all good though – everyone was friendly and we had some good conversations. We enjoyed a good night sleep and awoke to much warmer temps for our second day. Our goal for the second day was a snowshoe to the second Elk Lake. We followed an old ski track past the first lake to a sign indicating that the trail to the 2nd lake was impassable due to the spring 2013 floods! This was disappointing so we pushed on anyway – still following an old ski track. Eventually we realized that the ski track wasn’t on any trail anymore and eventually the track ran into thick bush and ended. 

At first we were hoping to have the cabin all to ourselves, but it filled up by evening. Oh well.
Kaycie enjoying the quiet cabin before it became a zoo again!

Being me, I pushed on to the dismay of Hanneke and Niko. They had a point, as I was purely guessing where to go… We doggedly pushed through some pretty thick bush before I started sensing we were on an old route of some sort. There was old blazes on the trees and a ‘sort of’ path through the trees. We followed it and wouldn’t you know – we popped out on the main trail to the upper lake! I still had no clue why or where we’d lost the original trail but we didn’t complain and push on towards the upper lake which was now only 200 meters up the trail.

After taking some photos we went along the lake trail for a while. Dead-fall across the trail indicated to me that very few (if any) folks had been along here during the summer months of 2013. On the way back, we followed the regular trail rather than our tracks – to see where we went wrong on the approach. We quickly realized that it wasn’t our fault – the entire trail was completely washed out about 300 meters from where our bushwhack rejoined the trail! There was no sign of any trail, bridges or anything. It looked like a turmoil of mud, trees and rocks had simply gouged out hundreds of meters of old stream bank and all that was left was a mess of tangled logs and branches – totally impassible. We backtracked to our bushwhack route and followed it back to the regular trail.

At the Upper Lake. From L to R, Mount McCuaig, Mount Nivelle and lower Fox.
A peaceful ACC Hut at night.

The third day was a much warmer day than the approach and we knocked off the return trek in around 2.5 hours. I was happy to be snowshoeing the entire trip rather than on skis. Everyone on skis was either unbalanced due to thin skis and heavy packs or horribly over-equipped with A/T gear. Elk Lakes is a unique area that has been ravaged by floods – I hope that it is not abandoned due to this unfortunate event because it’s a tiny gem of the Rockies that is often overlooked and should not be.

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