Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, known for its turquoise lakes and views of magnificent peaks, was my first glimpse into what kind of Outdoor spaces I could access from Vancouver.
It was also my first Parkbus volunteer run from the city. Early Saturday morning, Nick (our Vancouver Parkbus volunteer coordinator) and I each took a bus full of passengers from the streets of Vancity to a whole other world in nature.
The drive up alone was stunning, as we passed gorgeous views of sparkling blue waters to grand, snow-capped and tree-covered mountains. Now I understood why this route was called the Sea to Sky Corridor.
I just couldn’t get over the majestic scenery we were being treated to. If you had told me we were turning back after the drive to Joffre Lakes, I would have been happy!
But hey, we weren’t here for a bus tour! It was time to lace up our hiking shoes and take on the popular Joffre Lakes hiking trail for more spectacular views.
From the parking lot, there’s no mistaking where to begin the hike. The only thing awaiting you here are two pit toilets and the trailhead.
Don’t forget to pack some snacks and water before take off!
Lower Joffre Lake (First Lake)
The sign at the trailhead informed us that it would be 15 minutes to the first lake (Lower Joffre Lake). Depending on how quickly you walk, it’ll probably be closer to 5-10 minutes.
Nick and I got our first glimpses of the infamous turquoise waters of the Joffre Lakes (and, of course, oohed and aahed before snapping a couple of photos).
A group of hikers were also admiring the scenery, taking pics or relaxing on some benches. It was a beautiful sight, but apparently the second and third lakes boasted even nicer views — so, onward we went!
From Lower Joffre Lake, another sign informed us that it would be 2.5 hours to get to the second lake.
Don’t let this fool you! Nick and I made it in half the time. (If I was by myself, I would have definitely been a bit slower though!)
The signs seemingly post such long times for the most novice of hikers. I believe that the Joffre Lakes Trail map lists the times from the trailhead more accurately:
• First lake: 5 mins
• Second lake: 1.5 hrs
• Third lake: 2 hrs
Of course, always plan for more time, because no doubt you will be stopping every so often to enjoy breathtaking views, or just pausing to catch your breath on some of those climbs!
Middle Joffre Lake (Second Lake)
Aside from a few moments of reprieve (i.e. flat trails), it’s all uphill from the first to second lakes at Joffre!
When you think the climb is going to end (“This has to end, doesn’t it?”), it just keeps ascending. Mentally prepare yourself for a serious buns-of-steel workout.
We saw a few people stopped on the sides of the trail, taking a rest before going further. One person was keeled over, looking quite sick. (Not to worry, most people were marching up the trail with no problems).
I was getting pretty winded at one point though, and told Nick: “Just go without me!”
But he was leaving no Parkbus Ambassador behind, and cheered me onward and upward!
We wondered if one reason I was out of breath was that I hadn’t yet acclimatized to the altitude. Lower Joffre Lake sits at 1,240 m and the trail ascends to an elevation of 1,535 m at Middle Joffre Lake.
While it was nothing like the “very high” altitude I had encountered in the Andes mountains, “high altitude” is apparently considered to range between 1,500 and 3,500 metres elevation.
At 1,500 metres, you likely won’t experience symptoms like nausea or headaches that come at much higher altitudes. But I can see how certain people — like me — could get shortness of breath.
Just something interesting to consider! Fortunately though, the tightness in my chest went away as the hike continued.
Before you actually arrive at Middle Joffre Lake, you’ll catch glimpses of the stunning, turquoise blue waters through the trees as you make your way down the trail.
Here’s where you get excited in anticipation for the next incredible lake view.
The BC Parks website explains where Joffre Lakes’ exquisite, turquoise colour comes from:
“Their striking, saturated blue colour is caused by “rockflour” – or glacial silt – that is suspended in the water and reflects green and blue wavelengths of sunlight.”
Once in front of the lake, you’ll forget all about the pain and your burning buns!
It doesn’t matter how many incredible photos you’ve seen beforehand. You’ll still find yourself gasping: “Omigod, where am I?” when faced with those glacier-laden peaks, sub-alpine forests, and, of course, that turquoise blue water.
Take a few moments to soak it in, then — if time permits — keep on going to the third lake!
A less-mentioned highlight of the Joffre Provincial Park hiking trail is Holloway Falls, a raging waterfall located between Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes.
Aside from enjoying this magnificent display of nature’s power, this was a great spot to cool off at after hiking in the heat.
I had drank most of my 500mL water bottle before reaching the third lake, and I definitely knew I needed more for the hike down.
Luckily, I had some water purification tablets in my first aid kit. On the way back, I refilled my bottle at the waterfall (there may be some other accessible water sources along the hike), popped in half a tablet, and waited a few minutes for it to do its magic.
Just make sure your footing is secure when grabbing the water. (Okay, so Nick did the hard part and refilled my bottle for me!)
From here, the trail signs will tell you that it’s another 20 minutes to Upper Joffre Lake. Let’s go!
Upper Joffre Lake (Third Lake)
If you’ve made it to Middle Joffre Lake, the hardest part of the day is done. From here to Upper Joffre Lake, the estimated hiking time is 30 minutes.
(It is possible to make it in less time, depending on your speed and how crowded the trail is).
Although the lakes are what get the most attention, I also loved the scenery of the forests, mountains and Joffre Creek that we encountered along the trail.
So, instead of rushing to your final destination, don’t forget to also enjoy the journey along the way.
Heading to Upper Joffre Lake, you won’t experience the continuous ascent that you just endured (rather, conquered!) to Middle Joffre Lake.
However, this part of the route does have lots of roots strewn along the trail, as well as a very rocky path you will need to navigate just before reaching the viewpoint at the third lake.
Watch your footing and take your time. On busy days, you may need to let people pass before you can proceed.
The view at Upper Joffre Lake is just as stunning as the one at Middle Joffre Lake — some would say more so!
To be honest though, if you only get to the second lake, don’t feel like you’re missing out on something completely different at the third.
From here, you get another look at Joffre Park’s turquoise waters, as well as the Matier Glacier and Joffre Peak. It’s a beautiful panoramic scene of nature in all Her glory.
And yes, you will likely be sharing it with a lot of other people, especially during the summer season. Regardless, you’ll probably be too entranced by the view to care all that much about the crowd.
It’s a great time to pull out some snacks and refuel after an awesome workout. Chat with friends, take some photos, but don’t forget to also enjoy what’s in front of you without a screen blocking your view!
Returning to the Trailhead
Going down will likely take you less time than going up.
For one, you’ll probably have taken most of your photos for the day. Second, there’s always something about “going home” that seems to quicken the pace. Third, there will be no buns-of-steel ascents to deal with!
But keep in mind that going down steep inclines can take a toll on your knees, especially on this trail where there is no grip on the mostly smooth, sandy descents.
I overheard a couple of people on the trail comment that going down was harder in some ways than the hike up, for this reason. As someone with weak knees, I can relate!
You may want to consider using hiking poles to help keep some pressure off your knees.
Joffre Lakes Hiking Tips
Food and Drink: None available at the park. Definitely bring your own snacks and water. You will need to refuel and rehydrate on this hike.
Washrooms: Two pit toilets are available at the parking lot/trailhead. One pit toilet can be found near the second lake, and another near the third lake.
Sunscreen: At times, you might dip into the cool shade of the forest, but much of the time you are out on exposed trail. Put on that sunscreen and protect your skin from the blazing sun!
Phone Reception: There is no reception available at the park entrance or in the park. There are also no pay phones and no office from which you can make a call.
Trail Maps: You can download the Joffre Lakes trail map here. However, the trail is very well-marked and signs are posted along the way to help guide the way.
Camping: 26 wilderness campsites are available at Upper Joffre Lake ($5 per person/per night). There are no reservations (it’s first come, first served) — however, you do do need a backcountry camping permit, which you can pay for online before your trip here.
How to Get There: It’ll take you ~3 hours to drive from Vancouver to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. See the map to find out directions from your exact location. You can also ride Parkbus as another transportation option! See here for details on Parkbus runs to Joffre Lakes, including remaining 2017 dates and fares.
The Joffre Lakes hiking trail won’t disappoint with its spectacular views, both at its three lakes and throughout the hike.
While I typically prefer to enjoy The Great Outdoors in solitude (instead of with a huge crowd), this day hike is ideal if you want to get in a great workout, hang out with friends in nature, and not do much planning for an Outdoor adventure!
Have you done the Joffre Lakes hike? What thoughts or tips would you like to share about this trail?