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JOFFRE LAKES IS CURRENTLY CLOSED – NO EXPECTED REOPENING FOR 2020
I think I probably see a picture of the Joffre Lakes hike on instagram every day. This British Columbia lake with its famous blue waters north of Whistler has become pretty famous over the years: almost too famous. I’d been meaning to hike to Joffre Lakes, in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, for a while but somehow never got round to it until recently. There are a lot of lakes in BC and I wanted to see whether Joffre Lakes lived up to the hype as one of the most beautiful lakes in BC and whether they really were as blue as the instagram photos make out.
If you’re keen to hike to Joffre Lakes then make sure to read on and find out about the hike, the things you should know before you hike to Joffre Lakes and whether it’s worth visiting.
NEW FOR 2019!: Parkbus and BC Parks have partnered to introduce a shuttle for Joffre Lakes Park. If you’re going to Joffre Lakes Park and the parking lots are full, you have the option to take the shuttle, which runs on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday on BC Day long weekend (August 3–5) and Labour Day long weekend (August 31–September 2). Note: shuttle has limited capacity so arrive early to secure your spot. Note that there are no washroom facilities at Duffey Lake Park. For more information on the shuttle bus, go to visitjoffre.ca.
About Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
The Joffre Lakes area was set up as a Provincial Park in January 1988. It’s made up of glaciers, mountain peaks, streams, waterfalls and a series of three very impressive, very blue lakes. They’re imaginatively called Lower, Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes. Each one gets more beautiful as the views open up.
Since its creation, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park has become extremely busy. This is the most well known of Pemberton hikes and despite there being one reasonably sized car park and another area slightly down the road where you can park, both will be full by 9am during the summer months.
In 2018, police enforced parking regulations which saw dozens of cars towed from the side of the highway. If you’re planning to hike the Joffre Lakes trail then make sure you arrive early, or take the Park Bus (details below).
About Joffre Lakes
Been wondering what makes Joffre Lake is so blue? Joffre Lake, BC is so blue thanks to the “rockflour” in the water. Rockflour is a type of glacial silt that is suspended in the water and reflects the green and blue wavelengths of sunlight.
We witnessed first hand how much the colour of the lakes changes in the sunlight. When we arrived at Upper Joffre Lake the sun was still behind the mountains but as we were leaving the sun turned the water from a dark, duller colour to the beautiful turquoise green we’d expected.
The three lakes that make up Joffre Lakes Provincial Park are all beautiful in their own way. The Lower lake probably get the least attention but it has beautiful glacier views. Middle Joffre Lakes is the one with that famous log you’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of people standing on, and Upper Joffre Lakes is the one you can camp by, and has amazing mountain vistas.
About the Joffre Lakes hike
On the Joffre Lakes trail you can hike to all three lakes. The hike gets incredibly busy not matter the season or whether it’s a weekend or weekday.
If you’re looking for the quietest time to visit Joffre Lakes then it’ll be midweek, early in the day and not in summer.
We hike Joffre Lakes at the beginning of November during the long weekend. We started hiking at 8.30am at which point there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot. By the time we returned (around 2pm after lots of taking in the views) the car park was full with people doing rounds looking for spaces.
Be mentally prepared to be sharing your hike with lots of other people. If you like hiking in the wilderness this isn’t the hike for you.
The Joffre Lake hike is about 10km long which takes about 3-4 hours depending on your fitness and the season (you’ll likely be slower if it’s icy or snowy).
Thanks in part to how busy Joffre Lakes gets the trail is very well marked so it’s easy to find your way to each of the three lakes.
Map of Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
This map is not to scale, but shows the area around the trail. As you can see the views from Upper Joffre Lake are of some very impressive glaciers near Vancouver. There’s Matier Glacier, Stonecrop Glacier and Tazil Glacier as well as surrounding peaks including Joffre Peak.
Joffre Lakes trail stats
My Joffre Lake hike trip report
We drove up to Pemberton on Friday night from Vancouver and then arrived at Joffre Lakes ready to hike around 8.30am. At this point the car park was quite empty and so for most of the way we didn’t have to share the trail with too many people.
In early November 2018, the trail conditions were snowy. We used our Yaktrax for the entirety of the trail and were very glad to have them, especially since many people were in Converse or Nike and had big trouble taking the stairs about ⅓ of the way into the hike since they were covered in ice.
Lower Joffre Lakes
The hike begins in the forest and just a couple of minutes in you’ve reached your first lake. Lower Joffre Lakes is pretty and I imagine it’d make a good spot for families in the summer. Once you’ve seen Lower Joffre Lakes you can rejoin the trail and head back in the woods.
Middle Joffre Lakes
As you head back into the woods, the trail begins to climb. It’s only about 20 minutes in amongst the trees before you come out at a clearing with impressive views of the valley. The views here were made even more impressive thanks to the snow glistening in the early morning sunlight. From here, the Joffre Lakes trail just continues to get more and more scenic.
It also gets a lot steeper. You’ll hike up some switch backs and up a few sets of steps too. It definitely got our blood pumping! It’s nothing compared to the elevation gain of Panorama Ridge though, and you’ll soon reach a point where the trail levels out a little and you arrive at Middle Joffre Lakes.
Middle Joffre Lakes is the lake with the famous log that people love to stand on and jump from for photos. When we visited in November Middle Joffre Lakes was entirely covered in snow and the log was hidden.
The trail passes the left hand side of Middle Joffre Lakes and there are some places to sit here and enjoy the view. We stopped here for a while on the way back down and the trail was noticeably busier (another hint to start early!).
Upper Joffre Lakes
Leaving Middle Joffre Lakes takes you across a few bridges and up past a reasonably impressive waterfall. There’s a bit more uphill here too.
It’s only about 15 minutes before you see Upper Joffre Lakes but you have to walk along the bottom of it before you can come out to some rocks where you can sit. Whilst you might be tempted to walk off the path and find your own quiet spot to sit PLEASE DO NOT. There’s a reason it’s closed off (damage to vegetation) so don’t cross over the lines.
Once you’ve reached Upper Joffre Lakes you can choose to carry on and hike over to the campsite area on the far side of the lake. I’d recommend this as the views are impressive and the Joffre Lake trail becomes a bit quieter too.
Is Joffre Lakes worth the hype?
So is Joffre Lakes worth the hype it receives? Honestly, probably not. It is very beautiful and if you want to go see it then do but the amount of hype it has seems a little odd to me.
It’s a long way from Vancouver, a 3 hour drive doesn’t exactly make it an easily accessible hike. There are a lot of beautiful, quieter hikes on Vancouver’s North Shore that are much easier to get to. Added to that, there are also a lot of beautiful lakes near Vancouver too and even more lakes in BC, Canada that are worthy of being so worshipped.
It’s also very busy. We started hiking early so enjoyed hiking on a relatively quiet trail. When we were coming down there were a lot of people on the way up and it looked pretty horrid to be walking up with that many people.
However, having said all that, it’s not just the lakes that are pretty. You do also get beautiful views for the majority of the trail rather than being in the trees. I think it’s partly that that makes the hike as popular as it is.
Things to consider before hiking Joffre Lakes
Before hiking to Joffre Lakes, bear in mind the following information for your own safety, the safety and enjoyments of others and the protection of this beautiful area.
- This isn’t an easy hike. Just because you’ve seen picture of it all over social media it doesn’t mean it’s easy. There’s still a decent amount of elevation and you need to wear proper hiking shoes or boots.
- Bring your own drinking water. There isn’t any drinking water in the park.
- There are no campfires allowed at any point regardless of whether there’s a fire ban or not.
- Expect snow and ice from November until the end of May. Always check recent trail conditions before hiking so you know what to expect and what to pack.
- Remember to check the Pemberton, BC weather before you hike.
- DO NOT park on the side of the road, use only the parking lots otherwise you’ll get towed.
- There are a couple of garbage bins in the parking lot – NEVER leave rubbish on the trail.
- Expect the park to be very, very busy and arrive before 9am (ideally 8am) if you want to get a parking space and hike without too many people.
- If you’re wondering whether you can swim at Joffre Lakes then the answer is yes and no. Yes you can in that you’re allowed in the water, but no in that it’s never going to be warm. It’s glacial waters so it’s cold all year round and therefore not the best for extended swims.
What to pack for Joffre Lakes
If you’re planning on hiking to Joffre Provincial Park make sure you pack appropriately for the weather and Joffre Lake trail conditions. This page on the BC Parks website is kept pretty well updated but you can also ask in local hiking groups, or y’know, just check the Joffre Lake weather before you go and the snow reports in winter. Don’t just assume the weather is the same as it’s been in Vancouver, Joffre Lakes is a long way away.
Your packing list for Joffre Lakes will change depending on whether it’s summer or winter but you should always have your 10 essentials with you whenever you hike. See this post if you need a reminder of what the 10 essentials are.
What to pack for Joffre Lakes in winter
If you’re hiking Joffre Lakes in winter (anytime from November to the end of May usually) then you’ll need to pack some extra equipment with you to keep safe and enjoy the hike.
- Lots of layers! Layering in the winter is key, I like a thermal top, a fleece or thinner hood, a warmer jacket (my The North Face Thermoball one is my fave) and a waterproof & windproof coat on top. A lot of waterproof coats also do a good job of keeping the wind away so I don’t think you need both.
- Nice warm socks
- A wooly hat
- Gloves or mittens
- Yaktrax or Microspikes for shoulder season hikes (November – early December and April – May) or snowshoes if hiking in the middle of winter
- Warm and waterproof shoes
- Hiking poles are a good idea for extra balance in the snow
- Plenty of water
- Lunch & snacks
- Your 10 essentials
What to pack for the Joffre Lakes in summer
Hiking Joffre Lakes in summer still requires a lot of the same gear you’ll need in winter.
- Hiking clothes: I like to wear leggings and a t-shirt if it’s warm enough for just that. However make sure you also have a waterproof coat and a warm sweater and/or fleece as the mountains can still be cold in the summer!
- Good hiking shoes
- Plenty of water
- Lunch & snacks
- Your 10 essentials
Where to stay near Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
If you’re planning a bit of a road trip or don’t want to do 6 hour’s driving in one day from Vancouver to Joffre Lakes (don’t blame you!) then here are a few options of places to stay near Joffre Lakes. Of course, you can also camp at Joffre Lake – check the information about that below.
Hotels & Airbnbs
There is no hotel at Joffre Lakes – it’s a park, a hotel would ruin it – but you can stay at some hotels near Joffre Lake. These are hotels in Pemberton or Whistler are all Airbnbs and hotels near Joffre Lake.
This has to be the best Joffre Lake accommodation. For most of the year you can rent out either the Big Cabin or the Little Cabin. Both look absolutely gorgeous and are the closest accommodation to Joffre Lakes. It’s also one of the dog friendly Pemberton accommodation choices. Book them on Airbnb and save on your booking with this link.
Private Cabin close to Whistler
This Cabin looks absolutely gorgeous and perfect for an off-the-grid weekend away. It also has a hot tub and beautiful mountain views. Doesn’t get much better than that!
The Log House B&B Inn
This B&B near Joffre Lake has a sun terrace with panoramic mountain views and a hot tub. All rooms have Wi-Fi and private bathrooms, there’s even a fireplace to warm up by after hiking in the snow in winter.
The Hitching Post Motel
This is one of the more budget options for hotels near Joffre Lakes Provincial Park but it still gets great reviews and has great views of nearby Mt Curie.
Camping at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
Camping is allowed at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park but only in the designated camping area at Upper Joffre Lakes. There is no Lower Lake campground.
If you plan on doing some Joffre Lake camping from June 1st to September 30th you will need a backcountry camping permit which you can buy online.You cannot reserve a camping spot at Joffre Lakes but you do need to register and buy the permit before you go.
Camping in winter at Joffre Lakes is possible but not recommended due to avalanche risks.
There are only about 26 camping spots at Joffre Lakes, Canada and no overflow as the ground is very rocky and covered with small trees. In the summer the spots go quickly and are usually all taken by 2pm on a Saturday. If you plan to do some camping near Pemberton at Joffre Lakes in the summer you’ll need to arrive early and be prepared to hike back if the campsite is full.
Camping near Joffre Lake
If you don’t want to camp at Joffre Lakes itself or if you’re wondering where to camp if the campsite at Joffre Lakes is full then here are a few options.
- BC recreation areas: These are usually free or very cheap to camp at. Check this BC recreation sites map for full details of each one.
Is Joffre Lake dog friendly?
No. Joffre Lakes is no longer dog friendly. You used to be able to take dogs on leashes but this changed a few years ago and now there are no dogs allowed at Joffre Lakes.
How to get from Vancouver to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
By car from Vancouver
Driving to Joffre Lakes from Vancouver is easy since you just join highway 99 and continue up past Whistler to Pemberton. It’s quite a long drive, about 3 hours.
After Pemberton continue following highway 99 along Duffey Lakes Road and follow signs to Joffre Lakes. The car park is just off the highway and you can’t miss it!
Also, from October 1st – March 31st you must have winter tyres on your vehicle as required by law.
By car from Whistler to Joffre Lakes
The Joffre Lakes hike makes a great Whistler day hike. To get there, simply rejoin highway 99 northbound towards Pemberton and follow the signs to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. It takes just under an hour to get from Whistler to Joffre Lakes, it’s roughly 62km.
Getting the Park Bus to Joffre Lakes
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is one of the view parks on the Sea to Sky highway that is accessible by public transport. The Park Bus service goes from Vancouver to Joffre Lakes and costs $69 returns for adults.
The Park Bus to Joffre Lakes picks you up from the Bank of China, near Burrard Skytrain Station, at 1025 Dunsmuir Street at 7.30am. The Joffre Lake bus arrives at 10.45am at this Pemberton lake and leaves Joffre Lakes at 4.30pm, returning back to Vancouver at 7.30pm.
Want more Vancouver hiking trail reports?
Take a look at all my posts on hikes near Vancouver like these ones to Garibaldi Lake and Panorama Ridge