Discovering Joffre Lakes in Vancouver

James Smart

In the mountains north of Vancouver, three lakes shine brightly against the green pines and rocky slopes. It’s a wonderful sight, and Joffre Lakes is a wildly popular attraction, with its turquoise waters, great glacier, submerged tree and superb views popping up on countless social media feeds.

A trip to Joffre Lakes in Canada isn’t just a snap-and-go-home photo opp – visiting all three is a serious hike that takes you through woodland, around switchbacks and boulders and past a waterfall to get to the series of lakes sparkling in the sun.

Upper Lake can be reached by a rocky but worthwhile climb

Discover Joffre Lakes

The lakes lie in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park in British Columbia, 22 miles (35 kilometers) from the village of Pemberton and 112 miles (180 kilometers, or around three hours’ drive) from Vancouver. Matier Glacier hangs above them, and its meltwater gives the lakes their distinctive color.

The rock flour – sediment ground up by the glacier that ends up suspended in the lake – reflects blue and green wavelengths, meaning sunlight turns the water its characteristic milky turquoise. The lakes are named based on their height – Upper, Middle and Lower – and there’s a car park a short walk from Lower Lake.

The hike to Middle Lake

The full trail is a six-mile (10-kilometer) return trip, which will take most hikers three to four hours. The flat walk to Lower Lake should only take around 10 minutes. It’s a pretty spot, the calm waters encircled by pine trees and the snow-capped mountains standing starkly beyond. Some visitors stop here before ambling back to the car park.

The track to Middle Lake begins with a wooded section before opening up to great views. It’s here that the serious climbing begins, with steps and switchbacks leading up. You’ll reach the lake after around 45 minutes, and it’s a great place for a break. Here, the peaks feel closer, and a huge tree has fallen into the water – you can walk along its trunk for the chance to pose.

Reaching Upper Lake

From here, you’ll pass bridges and a waterfall before beginning the final climb, a rockier section that takes around 30 minutes. There’s a campsite on the far side of the lake, and it’s worth heading across here to get a full sense of your alpine surroundings, with the glacier above and meltwater flowing into the lake. You can swim here, although the water is usually seriously cold. Most folks are happy to just eat a picnic and bask in the views, before heading back down the trail.

Tips on hiking Joffre Lakes

The popularity of the lakes means they can get very busy – while there are deer, bears and mountain goats in the area, this isn’t a place for a solitary wilderness experience.

The car park fills up quickly, and if you arrive after 9am (especially at weekends) you may struggle to find a spot. Cars parked by the side of the road may be towed and ticketed, so a better bet, if you’re not heading here early, is to look into the shuttle bus. There are also direct buses from Vancouver in season.

You can camp at Upper Lake, and there are hotels, B&Bs and rental homes in Pemberton. Basing yourself in Whistler is another good option if you don’t fancy the long drive from Vancouver.

Other hikes near Vancouver

Joffre Lakes is a classic hike with awesome views, but it’s a serious day trip and it can get busy. There are numerous alternatives within reach of Vancouver taking in epic peaks and easy trails. You don’t have to go far, either, with the iconic Grouse Grind overlooking the city itself.

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