Hiking Slesse Memorial Trail

Slesse Memorial Trail has been on my bucket list for a while, but the access road is a little bit dicey so we’ve been waiting for the right opportunity. In late September, me, Seth, and Brandon decided to make a go at it.

Slesse Memorial is a 12km out-and-back trail located off Chilliwack Lake Road. After having driven the access road, we wouldn’t say that you have to have 4WD to get to the trailhead, but high clearance would definitely be an asset. You won’t get there in a car, but potentially in an AWD SUV. Personally, I wouldn’t take my Hyundai Tucson out there because I’m not comfortable driving in terrain with water bars, but Brandon thought you could probably make it there in one if you wanted to try.

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Either way, we had no trouble getting there in Brandon’s 4runner. The nice thing is it’s not a long access road. Cheam Peak is located in the same area and it took us about an hour to drive 9km on that road – the access to Slesse probably only took us around 15-20 minutes. There’s a small parking lot at the end and there are two branches from there. One branch continues on in the same direction as the road coming in, and the second branch is on the left and continues up a rocky narrow road. The second branch that goes up continues on to Mount Rexford and my GPS indicated that we needed to continue up that road about 600m and then take a right branch onto the old Slesse Memorial Trailhead. I say “old”, because Brandon’s GPS showed a second trail leaving on the straight branch out of the parking lot, which we later learned is the “new” trailhead.

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I recommend taking the newer trailhead (the right of the two forks). Either will get you there and they do meet pretty early on the trail, but the newer trailhead is slightly shorter, easier, and more well maintained. We missed the old trailhead on our first pass and had to double back to find it tucked in the woods.

The first half of the trail meanders through the forest and isn’t very difficult. There are some tree roots to step over, but it’s not overly technical. Shortly before the memorial plaque, you pop in and out of the woods and get a few glimpses of Mount Rexford across the valley. We went in late September and the trees were just starting to change colour. We were a bit too early for full colours, so I’d recommend early October instead.

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The memorial plaque is located around the halfpoint of the hike and has a beautiful view looking up towards Slesse Mountain. The trail is called Slesse Memorial Trail because a commercial jet crashed on the side of the mountain in Dec. 1956, killing 60+ passengers and crew. The plane was flying from Calgary to Vancouver when it disappeared and it wasn’t actually found until 5 months later when a climbing crew accidentally spotted it on the side of the mountain. Due to the challenging locating, the bodies were never recovered. You can’t see the crash along the trail (at least we didn’t), but some of the debris has been collected at the top of the trail. I’m not sure at what point this was done, but these days there are signs indicating not to do this.

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We came for the view versus the memorial, but it was very interesting and we spent a lot of time thinking about it, making it a bit more of a somber hike. After the plaque, the trail gets a lot steeper. I thought we might need to do some way finding on the trail, but it’s easy to follow, just steep. There were a lot of old blueberries along the trail, so I could see it attracting bears, but on this occasion the berries only attracted Sadie. She discovered them growing there and wouldn’t stop picking and eating all the berries! It was very cute.

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In all it took us just over 3 hours to get to the top. It’s an interesting trail because it doesn’t go to the top of the mountain, but rather the base of it. A lot of the mountains in this area are forested, but Slesse is sheer rock with no vegetation growing on it. It’s very steep, so I’m sure it attracts climbers, but for hikers, the trail ends at the base of the mountain. There’s a beautiful 360 degree view and you can climb up a bit further if you’re feeling adventurous. There’s a long flatter section of rock, with a glacier coming down one side and the sheer rock face at the back. I say “flatter” because the rock is still a lot steeper than it looks. Me and Brandon explored up a bit further, which has a gorgeous view looking back towards Rexford.

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Be careful where you explore though, it was a surprisingly hot day for late September and the glacier was on the move while we were there. At one point there was a very loud rumbling and we watched as a big snow patch at the bottom of the glacier slid down part of the mountain. So we stayed away from that section and explored directly under Slesse, where there was still a bit of snow, but much less and not as steep.

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The steep uphill section does make for a slow descent on the way back. We left around 2pm because we didn’t want to get stuck hiking in the dark. We inched our way down the top section, but were able to pick up the pace a bit once we got to the flatter bits. It’s a pretty narrow trail, so it can be a bit tricky passing people. We only saw 2 other people on the way up, but passed a handful of people on our way down.

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Overall it was a nice hike. It was a lot more forested than I was anticipating, there’s a few peak-a-boo viewpoints, but not too many views until you reach the top. If you have the time to explore at the top though, there’s quite a bit of open terrain. We finished the hike around 5pm and still had lots of daylight left, but I’m glad we turned around when we did because the sun goes down over the mountains on this trail pretty early, so it was still quite dark hiking back through the trees at the bottom. I did really like the hike and would love to return and do more hikes in this area!

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Hiking Joffre Lakes

I’ve written about a lot of hikes, many of which are super popular. I found the time to write about Garibaldi Lake twice and I’ve written about Elfin Lakes a whopping 5 times, but somehow I’ve never found the time to write about one of Southwest BC’s most quintessential hikes: Joffre Lakes.

Joffre Lakes is a gem of a provincial park located about 30 minutes out of Pemberton on Duffey Lake Road. It’s a bit of a trek for a day hike from Vancouver, but every year swarms of people flock there to discover the brilliant blue glacial lakes for themselves. The park was closed through most of 2020 due to Covid-19 and re-opened in summer 2021 with a new day pass reservation system in place to manage crowds in the park. This is a free day pass that has been introduced in several of BC’s most popular parks to curb the flow of visitors. A lot of people are opposed to the day pass system and BC Parks has been widely criticized for it, but while I have many criticisms of BC Parks (mostly to do with their poor online system and cancellation policies), I have to admit I am a fan of the day passes. It keeps the crowds down and removes the stress of having to get up super early to ensure you find parking.

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The first time I visited Joffre Lakes was in 2015 and while I was astounded at the beauty of the park, I had to admit that the swarms of people definitely took away from the experience. I visited on a beautiful Saturday in August, so I know there would likely be less people on a weekday, but the park only has one major trail and it’s only 11km round trip, so it’s not a lot of space for people to disburse along the trail, even on a less busy day. There were literal greyhound buses toting group tours of up to 50 people along the trail, so it was hard to get a moment to yourself anywhere on the hike. That said, a lot of people only hike to the second lake, or if they do hike to the third lake, they stop at the head of the lake. If you hike around the back of the third lake, where the campsite is, I did find it to be much less crowded.

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When the park re-opened this summer, I thought it might be time to finally re-visit it since Canada is still mostly closed to international tourists. Emily and my parents visited during the first week of September and we decided to make the trek out there on a week day to hopefully find a bit of solitude on the trail. There’s no question that with the day pass, parking was much easier. I think they’ve added an overflow lot since my last visit and we had no trouble finding somewhere to park. It was still quite busy for a week day in September, but much less crowded than my first experience.

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Like I mentioned, the trail is only 11km round trip if you go all the way to the campsite (which lots of people don’t), and has about 400m of elevation gain. It’s a very well maintained trail, so it is good for beginners. There are 3 beautiful lakes located in the park, making it easy to customize your trip. The first lake is only about 5 minutes in along the trail, so it makes for a good pit stop if you’re just passing through and want to stretch your legs. From there, the trail continues up through a boulder field (the trail is backfilled though, so easy walking) with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. This is where most of the elevation gain is done along the hike and is the longest stretch between lakes.

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Eventually you pop out of the woods along the edge of the second lake, which I would say is the most popular of the three. The water is a gorgeous green hue and Matier Glacier is framed through the trees at the end of the lake. I’ve visited the park 3 times in total and always opt to eat my lunch at the second lake to bask in the views. On this occasion, I convinced my mom to take a quick dip in the water with me. I’ve swam in a lot of alpine lakes over the years and Joffre is definitely one of the coldest! It is numbing, so if you opt to swim, be prepared for a quick dip in and out.

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One of the other highlights of the second lake for me is that at the back of the lake there is a beautiful stepped waterfall cascading down from the third lake. It’s only a short hike between the second and third lakes, so I definitely recommend going up to the third lake, even if you opt not to hike around the lake to the campsite. The third lake has incredible views looking up at Matier Glacier.

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On this trip, we ended at the base of the third lake (which is a round trip distance of 8km), but on my first visit Seth and I opted to hike the entire way around to the campsite. If you continue past the campsite you can hike up onto the big rock overlooking the lake, which is my second favourite view in the park after the second lake. From there, the surrounding mountains come into view on the opposite side of the lake, making for beautiful photos.

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All in all, it took me about 5 hours return trip on both visits. It’s a beautiful park that’s 100% worth ticking off your bucket list, but I don’t think it would even rate top 10 on my list of trails overall. It’s just too crowded. If you choose to visit, please treat the area with respect – take all your garbage with you and make sure to leave no trace. Sadly the area often gets trashed due to its popularity and we want to preserve this beautiful park for generations to come!

The view from the back of the third lake – only photo from my 2015 visit

8 Great Hikes for Swimming

I love to swim! I’ll hike any trail, but I find hikes with somewhere to swim to be some of the most rewarding trails, especially on a hot summer’s day! A lot of the lakes in BC are fed by glaciers or snow-melt, which makes for a really cold swim, but over the years I’ve become a big fan of those quick, cold dips and will swim in almost any lake from May to October. That said, I’ve tried to focus my list on some of the warmer swimming spots, but we do live in Canada, so to be honest, they’re still all quite cold.

Just a few things to remember before you swim in any body of water. Practice Leave No Trace principles, which means don’t swim in lakes that are also used for drinking water and don’t alter the site in any way or move rocks to create pools. Remove sunscreen, fly spray, moisturizer, etc, before entering the water.

Without further ado, here’s some of my favourite swimming hikes!

Brohm Lake

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Brohm Lake is an awesome place to visit in the summer because there’s access to a ton of hiking trails and you can opt to go around the lake, up to the Tantalus viewpoint, or hike through the interpretive forest, finishing each hike with a dip in the lake. The only downside to this hike is that the lake is located right next to the highway and is popular for picnicking – so if you want to make sure you get parking on a hot day, arrive early!

Buntzen Lake

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Located in Anmore, Buntzen lake is a popular attraction for hikers, boaters, and picnickers. This is another location you need to get to early, but it’s a much bigger lake, so there’s more room to spread out. My preference is to hike down to the far side of the lake where there’s a smaller picnic area and wharf with a lot less people. You can either take the lakeview trail, which has minimal elevation, or the Diez Vistas trail, which climbs up over the lake and has beautiful views of Indian Arm. This is definitely a colder lake, but refreshing after a day of hiking!

Deeks Lake and Brunswick Lake

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Both lakes are located on the north end of the Howe Sound Crest Trail and are best done as an overnight trip. You can do them in a single day, but it does make for a lot of walking. Deeks is the first lake and a great place to swim, but if you’re willing to walk a few kilometres farther, Brunswick Lake is really the shining gem of the trail. Both are cold, but when the sun hits the water on Brunswick Lake, it turns the most brilliant shade of blue and looks like a tropical paradise!

Elfin Lakes

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I feel like most people don’t think about Elfin Lakes for swimming because they’re so small and completely fed by snow melt, but the last time I visited in the summer was a scorching day and I couldn’t get enough of lazing around in the water. Of the two lakes, swimming is only permitted in one – the other is solely for drinking water and swimming is not allowed. I recommend later in the season for this hike because the lake will heat up a lot by the end of the summer.

Alice Lake

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When I think of Alice Lake, I tend to think of it more as a frontcountry campground rather than a good place for hiking, but if you’re looking for a shorter hike that can end in a swim, this is a great one! It’s only a few kilometers to walk around the lake, but if you’re looking for something longer you can also extend it to do the four lakes trail loop. Similar to Brohm and Buntzen, get here early to secure a parking spot as you will be sharing the lake with picnickers.

Lightning Lakes

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This is another one that might surprise a few people because Lightning Lakes isn’t one of the warmest lakes, but on a nice day, I really love this lake. Definitely make sure it’s going to be sunny before driving out to Manning Park because it can be really cold and windy on an overcast day, but this is a great place for boating, swimming, and hiking on a hot day. Hike around 1st lake or 2nd lake (or both) and then finish with a dip in the water!

Cheakamus Lake

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I’ve only swam in Cheakamus Lake in May, so it was quite cold, but I imagine it probably warms up later in the summer. I decided to include it because it’s a great lake for either day hikes or overnight trips. There are two campsites, one at the foot of the lake and another halfway up, and both have beaches from which you can swim. It’s a big body of water, so it’s always going to be cold, but a great place to hang out and dip in and out of the water.

Lindeman Lake

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Lindeman Lake is another one I’ve only swam in May, but I really love this lake. It’s a short, but steep, hike in Chilliwack Provincial Park and you can swim at both the foot and head of the lake. It’s tempting to swim right when you arrive at the lake, but I prefer to hike up to the back of the lake and jump of the rocks into the water from there. It’s definitely another cold one, but has the most gorgeous views!