Joffre Lakes Backpacking Trip

My first trip to Joffre Lakes was in 2015. Then I didn’t go again for 6 years, only to return twice in 2 years!

Joffre Lakes is one of the most popular and well known hikes in BC. It’s for a good reason – it’s jaw-dropingly gorgeous and easily accessible – but the crowds have definitely been a deterrent for me in visiting frequently. However, my friends from Toronto were visiting and they wanted to go there for their first ever backpacking trip, so I agreed to go with them since I’ve never actually backpacked there before.

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Joffre Lakes now has a day pass system – so you can’t visit the park at all without either a day pass or an overnight pass (which are limited). This helps a lot with the stress of parking, but there is still an impressive amount of people in the park every day, even with the pass system. Overnight passes are hard to get – me and Philippa logged on at the same time to try and get them – I lucky enough to score 2 tent pads on my device, but even with 3 devices of their own, Philippa and Justin didn’t get any. Fortunately we had all we needed, but it gives you an idea of the competition for tent sites on a Saturday Night. I definitely recommend going on a week day if you’re able.

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I won’t talk too much about the actual trail because I’ve written about it in my post about day hiking here. I’ll just say that as beginners, I do think this was a good trail for Philippa and Justin – it’s not too long or difficult, and it has washroom and bear cache facilities, which make things a lot easier. 

Brandon joined me for the trip and drove us all up to the trailhead early on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, we realized at the trailhead that Philippa and Justin had forgotten their lunch in the fridge, but I always carry a spare meal, so we decided to go anyways and they ate that. It was a gorgeous sunny day for it – definitely hotter than I prefer, but that’s how summers in Vancouver seem to be these days, so I’ve gotten pretty good at staying hydrated and no one suffered too much with the heat.

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We stopped at the second lake for lunch and went for a quick dip in the freezing cold water, and then continued up to the third lake. This is where my account of the lake will diverge from my last post. When I visited last year, we just hiked to the base of the third lake, but if you’re camping overnight, you have to continue around the edge of the lake to the other side, where there are a bunch of campsites under the glacier. I’d never backpacked at Joffre before, so I was excited to check out the campground. Plus, one of the big benefits to staying overnight is that crowds are greatly reduced in the evening and you get to enjoy the view for much longer.

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We chose a campsite along the edge of the lake and set up our tents. I was keen to go for another swim, so me and Brandon decided to take our thermarests out into the lake this time, since it’s so cold. We did this at Assiniboine to great success! However, I’ve since replaced my sleeping pad with a smaller one and unfortunately, it’s not really big enough anymore! I floundered around on it for a while, with lots of screaming about the cold water that kept swallowing me up, before Justin went and got his pad for me instead (which is actually my older, bigger pad that he was borrowing). So we all tried them out in the water for a bit, and while they do insulate against the cold, you have to lie perfectly still on them lest you disturb the water and cause your limbs to go numb. So maybe not our best idea!

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Instead, Brandon and I had the idea to hike up towards Matier Glacier for supper. Lien did the Matier Glacier hike last year and told me you could see all three lakes once you get high enough. There was still snow at the base of the glacier, so we didn’t plant to go the entire way, but we figured if we hiked up to the top of the moraine, we might be able to catch the view for supper. 

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The hike to Matier Glacier is entirely a scramble up one of the old moraines. I didn’t find it too challenging, but it is pretty steep. It had cooled down, so we pushed up for about a half hour, but as it got steeper, Philippa got uneasy about having to go back down, so we pulled off to the side and found the flattest place we could to eat (not very flat at all, but we made it work)! Philippa and Justin had a mix of freeze dried meals to sample and Brandon made his legendary thai curry chicken for us. We were hoping for a sunset, but the sun goes down behind the mountains, so we just enjoyed golden hour instead. 

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It’s definitely worse hiking down the moraine than up, so it took us a while to go back. There’s a lot of loose rock that makes it slippery, so I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners. Philippa didn’t like the descent, but she still did a great job on it and her feedback for beginners is to go down sideways and focus on small steps! Nonetheless, they made it down and used their new skills when they went to Panorama Ridge a week later.

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It was starting to get dark by the time we got back to the campsite, so we got ready for bed early. We were all super tired after the early start and I wanted to get up in the middle of the night to shoot the stars. I think I was asleep before 10pm! I had my alarm set for 1:30am, but I ended up waking up to pee just before midnight and decided to get up then. Brandon decided to join me and we spent about 45 minutes playing around with our cameras and got some lovely shots of the milky way! I brought my tripod on this trip, which always makes for a more enjoyable experience.

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We managed to sleep in until after 7, but once the sun hit the tent it was time to get up. We had a lazy breakfast and then packed up the tents to start the hike back down. We had a little break again at the second lake, but decided to save our swim for the first lake. I loved this idea because I wanted to swim in all 3 lakes and liked the opportunity to wash my body at the end of the hike. All the lakes are quite cold, but they definitely get warmer the further away from the glacier you get. 

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So overall, a very successful trip! Even though me and Brandon have been to Joffre Lakes several times, we loved exploring it through new eyes with Philippa and Justin. I’m definitely not in a rush to go back, but I am always enthusiastic about hiking with anyone who loves adventure. I do think Joffre is a great option for beginners and wish you luck in getting permits to this beautiful location. Just remember to treat it with respect. Leave no trace and pack out all your garbage!

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