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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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. 


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. 


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.


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.


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. 


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!


Snowshoeing Joffre Lakes

This post is a bit dated and has been a long time coming, but it was a fun trip and with Family Day coming up, it seemed like an appropriate time to write about it, so here we go! I’ve day hiked Joffre Lakes twice in the summer and I snowshoed it once in the winter of 2017 with Emily and Brandon during the Family Day Long weekend.


I’m not sure if Joffre Lakes is considered avalanche terrain or not as it’s not mapped on Avalanche Canada, but at the time I had read that it was pretty safe up to the second lake, so that’s where we decided to go. I’d read there was more risk going up to the third lake, so we decided against going that far and I would advise avalanche equipment and training if you go beyond second lake. Now that I’m a little wiser, I’d probably prefer to have avalanche safety equipment for the whole trail, but as I can’t remember the details of the terrain, make sure to do some additional research before visiting.


Fortunately we didn’t run into any problems in 2017 and were smart enough to check the avalanche bulletin before we visited. Emily wasn’t living in Vancouver at the time, but she came to visit me to go skiing and after a few days at Whistler, Brandon joined us for a little long weekend adventure around the Pemberton/Lillooet area. Our first stop was Joffre Lakes.


I don’t remember getting a particularly early start in the morning, but we had no trouble finding parking at the trailhead and the trail was relatively empty – some of the perks of visiting in the low season. We had a few false starts on the trail because Emily was trying to figure out what to wear and we ended up making a some adjustments. If you’re new to snowshoeing, which we were at the time, it can be a bit tricky because you want to stay warm without overheating. I like to pack my snow pants for when I stop to eat lunch, but I don’t like hiking in them. This means that you need to have a good pair of water resistant pants instead and wear high boots or gaiters to keep your legs from getting wet from the kickback of the snow on your snowshoes. These days I hike with long underwear, water resistant pants, and high boots.


One of the things I love about Joffre Lakes is that the first lake is only minutes from the parking lot, so you’re immediately rewarded with a gorgeous view! There’s less to see on the trail after that in the winter and I mostly remember being in the trees – although on the way down you get a beautiful view looking out over the surrounding mountains when you pass through the boulder field. There were quite a few people ski touring, so you just have to watch out for them as a snowshoer since they move so much faster (downhill anyways). While Joffre isn’t a particularly long or challenging hike in the summer, it is a bit steep in the winter, so I remember being pretty tired by the time we hit the second lake.


We had good weather when we visited, it was a bit overcast, but not so much that you couldn’t see the view. So we set up on the lake when we arrived to have our lunch. Unfortunately, it was a bitterly cold day, which was not improved by being out on the open lake. We got really cold, really fast. Even with snow pants, we had to bundle up immediately and Emily recalls it as being the coldest she’s ever been. I’m not sure if we were doing something wrong because I can’t ever recall being as cold in the snow as we were eating lunch at Joffre. It was particularly bad for Emily – I think she may not have had a sit-upon and been sitting right in the snow in her snow pants, so she did not want to stick around.


So unfortunately, we didn’t have long to enjoy the view before we were packing up again to keep moving. It was a good lesson in preparedness though. I don’t think we were overly underprepared, but it was a good reminder how inhospitable the wilderness can be. There’s no way we would have survived a night out there if something had gone wrong. So always bring lots of extra layers in the winter, as well as I’ve started hiking with a small stove and pot so that I’m able to make hot drinks to help stay warm. Items like a bivvy sack or an inreach can also save your life if you get stuck somewhere.


We warmed up again once we started moving and it was a quick hike back down to the bottom. We ended up spending the night in Lillooet (which has the most beautiful view of Seton Lake) and returned to Pemberton the following day. We’d been hoping to visit Keyhole hot springs, but a semi truck jack knifed on the road on the way to the springs, cutting off traffic in both directions, so we opted to cut our losses and did a bit of snowshoeing in the Pemberton area and Nairn Falls instead. Fortunately we weren’t stuck on the other side of the semi truck, in which case, make sure you have survival gear in your car as well because you never know how long you could be there!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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