If you're looking for some peace and quiet in the wilderness but don't have a lot of time to get out of town, this hike to Elsay Lake in Mount Seymour Provincial Park is a great adventure for you. Elsay Lake is hidden between Mount Elsay and Mount Bishop, and it can only be seen from these two mountains (or by air). These two mountains surround 90% of the lake with steep and wooded slopes that keep the lake well protected from wind but also from early morning and late evening light.
Mystery Lake, as it was previously called, can be accessed a few ways, but the Elsay Lake Trail is the only official way in and out. There are other approaches from the mountain ridges, but there are no trails, and the bushwhacking is steep and strenuous.
To get to the Elsay Lake Trail you have to first start at Mount Seymour Resort. From the north end of the parking lot you start up the Mount Seymour Summit Trail and follow it for 2.2 kilometers. This trail takes you from the ski resort to Brockton Point. The Elsay Lake junction is less than a kilometer from here. The trail is well marked and lets you know direction and distances between destinations.
The trail to the lake past the junction is very steep and rugged in the beginning. It takes you to the backside of Mount Seymour's three peaks and down the West Staircase, which is little more than a rocky avalanche chute for several hundred meters before it starts to flatten and descend further into the valley. The trail then passes through some wooded areas and back through more steep, rocky chutes for several kilometers.
The trail leads around the west side of Mount Elsay's base and into the Elsay Creek Valley that leads up to the lake. The terrain here becomes very different. The trails follow the creek through thick mossy forest on a mild incline and up to the flats surrounding the lake. Early and late season hikers will experience saturated ground and should try to stay on logs and rocks placed along the trail to keep their feet dry.
There are a few dry, flat spots for backcountry campsites at the east end of the lake, and the trail continues around the north side of the lake to the cabin and a few more camping sites. The cabin sleeps four on the upper level and can fit another 10 easily on the bottom floor. Built and maintained by the North Shore Search and Rescue, the cabin is free to use. Note that it does have mice visiting during the night, and fires are prohibited. Fishing and non-motorized boats are allowed on the lake.
Return on the same trail, enjoy the downhill, and use caution crossing the creeks that can get high after a good rain. Once out of the creek valley, the trail climbs steeply and crosses rugged terrain most of the way back to Brockton Point. After that the trail passes into the boundary of the resort and back down to the parking lot.
Crowds are at their lowest in the late season and in the middle of the week. That said, many hikers do not venture all the way to the lake because of the trail difficulty, making this adventure a nice retreat from the hectic city.