I’ve done many great hikes, but once in a while there’s one that smacks me up the side of the head, reduces my vocabulary to a mantra of inadequate “wows”, and makes me believe that perhaps there is a God. Opal Cone, in the Diamond Head area of Garibaldi Provincial Park, is one of those hikes.
Walking along the rim of Opal Cone, an extinct volcano, I was overwhelmed by the views in every direction. Thick glaciers cling to towering Garibaldi Mountain and Atwell Peak. Massive Garibaldi Névé icefield stretches down the flank of the mountain, giving way to rivulets of meltwater across the rubbly, glacial moraine. Pyramid Mountain and the Mamquam Massif make a dramatic backdrop for the sandy, boulder-strewn plain with its shockingly turquoise lakes.
There is an otherworldly grandeur about the stark terrain, pummeled by nature’s forces over the millennia, which makes you feel far away in time and place. It’s hard to believe you’re in Squamish’s backyard.
The hike to Opal Cone is not difficult, but it’s a lengthy 17.5 km (one way) from the Diamond Head parking area and trailhead. Most people spend a night at Elfin Lakes campground or shelter, 11 km from the trailhead. The next day it’s a manageable 6.5 km to Opal Cone. Don’t rush this hike—Opal Cone is the icing on the cake, but the entire journey is magical. Try to stay two nights at Elfin, before and after the hike to Opal Cone.
The well-trodden trail to Elfin Lakes is gorgeous, passing through lush meadows and fields of blueberries with superb vistas along the way. The campground has wooden tent platforms, with out-of this-world views and killer sunsets. The 33-bed shelter is a good option if you prefer a real roof over your head.
From Elfin Lakes to Opal Cone, every step is a pleasure. The views are wide open as you leave the campground and pass through alpine meadows. For the next few kilometers, the trail rolls gently along a pretty forested ridge before descending into a giant trough created by an ancient glacier. A bridge takes hikers across the rushing, silt-laden Ring Creek, which carries meltwater from the icefields above.
From the bridge, it’s a steady uphill but the imposing peaks and glaciers feel within grasp, keeping your mind off the exertion. Soon, you’re high up on a rocky moraine ridge. Another kilometer more, one of my favourite parts of the hike, the trail passes through an unexpectedly green alpine bowl—almost oasis-like amidst the barren surroundings. Not much further is a junction. Left leads to a steep scramble to the rim of Opal Cone. Straight goes down to the lunar-looking glacial plain with its vivid lakes.
Don’t choose one, do both. The beauty of this hike is that once you reach Opal Cone, options for exploring are endless. Walk the rim, marvel at the 360° views, contemplate the geological forces at work, and savour your time on the rim of an ancient volcano.
Once you pick your jaw up off the ground, retrace your steps to the junction, or carefully navigate a route down the rubbly slope to the toes of the icefield and the beautiful glacial moraine. It’s not difficult to find your way to the jewel-coloured lakes where you’ll undoubtedly want to linger, if not test the icy water.
Exploring the intoxicating reaches of Opal Cone on a warm, cloudless September day is about as perfect a day that I could imagine.
IF YOU GO:
Camping fee ($10/night/person) and shelter fee ($15/night/person) can be paid online, or in cash at the Diamond Head parking area kiosk. Get park information at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/garibaldi/diamond.html
Summer weekends can be busy, so get to the trailhead early, or better yet, go during the week. Note: although you can pay online, this is not a reservation.
The Elfin Lakes Shelter has bunk beds (no mattresses), propane burners/heater/lights, wash sinks, and pit toilets.
The campground has food cache, pit toilet, and day-use shelter.
The lake closest to the campground/shelter is reserved for drinking water. The upper lake can be used for a very refreshing swim.