Sitting right on top of Chilliwack, Elk mountain is a popular hike for anyone due to it’s ease of access (no 4WD required) and it’s stunning views of both the city and the Chilliwack River valley.
The biggest mistake that people make when doing this hike is stopping at the first major lookout, which only really offers great views of the city. At that point in the hike you’ve done 90% of the work to gain the ridgeline which yields views back down the river valley and to a number of stunning peaks like Slesse and The Border Peaks.
To get to Elk get off a Prest road in Chilliwack and head south. You’ll pass through a few stop signs and at the round about you want to go left to head up to the Ryder Lake area. About 500m after the left stay to the right hand side to head up the hill. From here you stay on the main road for around 10km until you hit gravel. Proceed on this road for about another kilometre and pull out on the left side of the road in the obvious parking lot.
From there the trail head is on the far right side marked by a brown sign.
Distance and Grade
Elk is one of the steeper hikes in the area, averaging 23% grade over the 10km to the proper summit. This actually is a bit of a trick since the last 1500 meters to the proper summit are up and down as you start across the ridgeline. So to get to the first lookout is probably a higher average grade.
Overall the trail is great. In lake 2015 there were a number of upgrades to old stairs near the top of the trail that took out some old steps which were hip high and made them a more reasonable height.
The trail is also generally very grippy since it’s in the forest. Unlike Mt Cheam which is dirt and a bunch of loose rock, Elk is just dirt. Yes it can get slippery in the rain, but that’s normal for any hike of this gradient when you encounter rain.
Near the top of the hike the trail gets a bit braided, with many options possible. They pretty much all go to the top so I recommend picking the ones that aren’t quite as steep.
This is a hard hike for kids. Their little legs probably take 3 steps for every 1 adult step. As with every hike you take your kids on, make sure you take breaks to snack and rest. For our trip on July 13 2016 we took 6 hours to get to the first lookout and there were 2 hours of rest in there for kids.
We started our day at 0830 by driving across town to pick up a friend that wanted to join our hike. This was her first ‘real’ hike. She’s been out on some of the local trails in Cultus Lake, but nothing as steep or long as Elk.
We hit the trailhead at 0916 and got going within 10 minutes, which is amazing for kids. By the time we hit the road (I’ve never driven to this road, but there are often a few cars here and it would cut off about 1km from your hike maybe more) we were on our second snack break and it was 1039. By 1109 we were taking another snack break, and getting the 2 year old out of the Poco Premium to do some walking.
While our middle child L doesn’t have long-term stamina, she really isn’t much slower than the rest of the kids. She hike over 1.5km of this trip. None of the steepest parts, but lots that she ended up crawling up on her hands and knees.
With a few more stops we got to the first big lookout at 1305. My original plan was to go right up to the ridgeline, but the kids were not quite in to it. One was tired, and the smallest one was just a bit on the cool side. Despite sun down in Chilliwack, it was a slightly cool slightly cloudy slightly windy hike and a 2 year old sitting in a backpack doesn’t generate much body heat. I figured it would be warmer and had her in shorts and a t-shirt. Her jacket helped keep her warmer, but I really should have dressed her in pants and brought a sweater plus her full mud suit to keep her warm.
The other two kids and myself were fine. My oldest was fine mainly because she decided to bring her own sweater on top of the rain coat we had as a windbreaker. She never did wear the rain coat, but she did pull out her sweater at a few points to stay warm. I was simply dressed in shorts an a t-shirt, but I’m a furnace so even in the wind I just lived with a bit of a chill till we started hiking again. My windbreaker stayed stowed in the pack for the entire trip.
They way down is always faster for anyone, but with kids the biggest benefit of coming back down a mountain is often that they’re no longer whining about how hard the hike is. I’ve often thought that if we stopped hiking in the first hour like the kids want most times we’d hate hiking. It’s only once they’re at the top looking at a beautiful view and back in the car that they start to ask about going on another hike and when. The hard work of getting to the top is just hard for kids and they don’t think about anything but stopping that hard work and getting on to something easy.
On the way back down we stopped at a lookout that faces north over Highway 1 and has some trees obscuring the view. Here is where we hit the biggest problem, and tears of the trip. Another family had a young dog that had run ahead of the rest of the group with one of their kids. This younger dog ran up to us and proceeded to help itself to the sandwich L (the 2 year old) was eating in the Poco. It also tried to steal food from the other kids, which ended when I grabbed it’s collar, dropping the peach I was slicing for the kids, and escorted it back to its owners.
The two year old was in tears and the other kids were a bit excited and sad since the peach in my hand took a roll and tumble off the small cliff there when I dropped it. The owners of the dog felt terrible, but I remember my dog doing things like this as well so I wasn’t super concerned. Plus I had packed 7 sandwiches for 3 of us so I still had 4 of them left for kids to eat.
With that mess cleaned up and a food back in kids hands we happily hiked all the way back to the trailhead with only stops to take drinks. I kept offering to let L out of the carrier so she could walk but she kept saying no so I let her ride and relax as she dropped sandwich down my back and shouted about finding the orange markers on the trail.
We finished our hike at 1552 which mean we were on the trail for around 6.5 hours. While I may be able to run to the top and back to the car in 2 hours, this really isn’t a slow pace for kids. We dropped off our friend and made it back home for dinner easily.
All in all, it was a great day in the Chilliwack Mountains.