When you live in British Columbia, the thought of bumping into bears, cougars or even wolves out in the wild is always at the back of your mind. Locals who have grown up in these parts seem to be far more ‘at one’ with the idea than us foreigners, who have few natural predators back home.
Rather than a direct fear of bears, my fear is that of the unknown. Who knows how you will react when an angry mummy bear confronts you to protect her cubs, or you spot a cougar lurking in the bushes that’s probably been tracking you for hours. If you can relate to this, but still want to get outdoors and explore beautiful British Columbia, then the Joffre Lakes trail could be the perfect option!
Rather than a direct fear of bears, my fear is that of the unknown.
Located around an hour from Whistler village in the region of Squamish, this moderately challenging hike will reward you with breathtaking views. At its peak you will see the Matier Glacier feeding three turquoise lakes beneath it. There’s even a backcountry campsite under the glacier for those looking to wake-up in the wilderness.
Why am I recommending Joffre Lakes if you want to avoid bears?
Well, one of the best ways to deter bears and other creatures is by making lots of noise, and due to the shear number of people on this trail it would be incredibly unlikely to encounter a bear. Just check out the constant feed of photos uploaded on Instagram. This is one time I am thankful for the CROWDS!
Joffre Lakes Stats
Rating: Moderate – steady incline for the majority of the trail, tough on the knees on the way down.
Distance: 10 km roundtrip
Elevation: 400m. Most of the elevation is between the Middle and Upper lakes. The lower lake is easily accessible.
Time: Allow 3-4 hr roundtrip
More info from Vancouver Trails here.
What’s the Joffre Lakes trail like?
The trail has recently been updated due to the amount of foot traffic. It’s incredibly well maintained, with clear signage throughout. The path is mainly forest trails and loose gravel, so I would advise hiking shoes with grip and maybe ankle support too.
Starting from the parking lot, take the trail through to the forest to reach Lower Joffre Lake (500m). This lake is just a taste of what’s to come further on down the trail. If you’re travelling with kids or those less able to walk, this would be a great place to stop, you don’t have to continue to the upper lakes.
From the lower lake, continue along the path until the climb starts. The trail ahead is mainly uphill. It’s a gentle gradient, but it is relentless so take plenty of breaks and enjoy the views. Soon you’ll hear the chattering of crowds and through the trees you will see the bright blue turquoise lake ahead. This is Middle Joffre Lake.
At this point, you’re about ¾ of the way to Upper Joffre Lake, so if you can, continue on the trail, which begins along the bank of the lake and then diverts into the forest via a series of steep steps. You will pass a thundering waterfall on your way, the perfect photo op! Continue up the stairs (this bit reminds me of the Grouse Grind) and voila the upper lake will appear through the trees.
From the north shore you can see the impressive Matier Glacier that hugs the mountainside and feeds the turquoise lake below. Look to the right of the glacier and you will see the campsite.
Spent some time taking in the view before continuing back down the trail you came in on. The walk to the car park is pretty quick, just be careful if you have weak knees as it’s ALL downhill.
Camping at Joffre Lakes
I can only imagine what it would be like to wake up on the banks of the tranquil Upper Joffre Lake. We had initially booked our backcountry camping pass intending to hike our gear up and spend the night there. However, time was against us and we wouldn’t have made it up the trail before nightfall. Sigh.
There are 26 campsites and it’s a first come first serve basis. Be sure to book your permit with BC Parks as park wardens do patrol the area. It was $10 at the time we booked – not bad for that view!
Camping is permitted between June and September, due to risk of avalanche in the off-season.
If you’re driving from Vancouver or Whistler, head north on Route 99 through Pemberton and towards Lillooet. You will see the parking lot on from the main road. There is an overflow parking lot for busy days. When we were there, cars were parked on either side of the highway which I’m not sure is 100% legal, so get there early to guarantee a space.
Don’t have a car and in need of transport? No problem. Take a look at ParkBus
Best time of year to go?
The campsite is open from June to September, with the summer season being the busiest but most beautiful time to go (in my opinion). During the winter, you need to be experienced in backcountry conditions as the weather can change rapidly with snow falling on the trail and a high risk of avalanches.
The trail is busiest on weekends and bank holidays.
What to bring
Pack as much water as you will need as there are no supplies on the trail. If needed, water from the lakes can be treated or boiled.
Good quality walking shoes with a grip and ankle support if possible, as the ground is loose in places and there are lots of stones and tree roots.
If you intend to go swimming in one of the lakes, and why wouldn’t you! Then bring plenty of warm dry clothes for afterwards as these lakes are directly fed by a glacier. It’s chilly!
Food and snacks to keep you going – of course! We took a pack lunch and enjoyed it on the Upper Lake.
A warm layer for the upper areas; you are trekking towards a Glacier and the weather in the mountains can change in an instant.
Insect repellent – mosquitoes and black flies can be pesky at certain times of the year.
Sunscreen if it’s the season. The sun reflects off the rocks and lake = sunburn.
Be sure to check out the local weather report before you go.
I very much doubt you’ll be needing your bear bell or spray on the route, but bring them if it makes you feel better.
Looking for other ‘bear friendly’ hikes near Vancouver – check out the Brandywine Falls.
Check out the official BC Parks guide to Joffre Lakes.
Be sure to read BC Parks official guide to bear safety on the trails.
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