Glacier lakes, mountain views and accessible hiking — who could ask for anything more from a weekend away? Originally from Ontario, I transplanted myself to British Columbia years ago and have fallen head over heels in wanderlust with my new home. With epic beauty calling from every corner of the province, you can’t help exploring. I stumbled upon the Joffre Lakes while scrolling through Instagram, and immediately put them on my bucket list. By making my basecamp at Nairn Falls Campground, just outside of Pemberton, I could complete a dayhike there during a weekend getaway from Vancouver.
Shot at Joffree Lake – August 9th 2015
All three Joffre Lakes (Lower, Middle and Upper) are glacier fed and are a vivid turquoise hue. This striking colour comes from sunlight reflecting off particles of glacial silt or “rock flour” suspended in the water. The resulting blue-green hue is so deeply saturated it looks as surreal in photos as it does to the naked eye.
As you reach the Upper Lake, the Matier Glacier comes into sight, forming a spectacular backdrop to the postcard-perfect scene.
If you’re in a rush, the short, easy walk to the lower lake is quick and rewarding. But try to make time to pull on your hiking shoes and head for the upper lake. With its uphill grind, the section from the Lower to the Middle lake is the toughest, but once you get to the Middle lake, you are rewarded with views like these:
The one-way distances are:
- Lower Lake – 200 m
- Middle Lake – 3 km
- Upper Lake – 4 km
- Campground – 4.7 km
I decided to make my trip a dayhike and ended up hiking past the campground to touch the water from the melting glacier above. I have to admit I was slightly envious of the more heavily-laden hikers who brought up their camping gear to spend the night in the backcountry. But it does mean I have a new experience to try on my next visit — something to look forward to.
The 26 wilderness campsites sites are first-come, first-serve, and offer a pit toilet, and a food storage unit to keep your grub safe from critters. With no cell signal to distract you and no city light pollution to mar the darkness, these sites are heaven-sent for star gazing.
Note: If you are coming up to camp, arrive early as campgrounds fill up quickly on weekends. You will need a permit during certain times of the year. You can obtain one and learn more on the BC Parks website. While you can pay your backcountry fee in advance, it doesn’t guarantee that a spot will be available.
When I pulled into the parking lot, there were only a few vehicles. Stepping out of the car, I was greeted with crisp, damp air mixed with the smell of fog, evergreens and morning freshness. What an inspiration to hit the trail! As I grabbed my pack and started the hike, I had the view all to myself. Pretty incredible for a spot that’s only three hours from Vancouver and just past the popular Sea-to-Sky Highway route connecting Vancouver to Whistler.
(Later in the day, the parking lot does fill up, with the overflow accommodated on the shoulders of the highway. And the trails do get busy, especially near the lakes. So it’s worth the effort to get there early, not only for ease of parking, but to enjoy a less crowded, more wilderness-like experience.)
When you get to the Middle Lake, take time for a quick swim if it’s hot (the water is freezing, but how often will you have the opportunity to swim in a glacier lake?) Alternately, tightrope across a log or at the very least, dip your hand in and feel the water. The Middle Lake is also a natural stopping spot for a snack and rest before continuing on the Upper Lake. I didn’t see any point in rushing my hike as I had the whole day (yet another reason to arrive early in the morning, so you can take in the beauty at a relaxed pace).
This hike is suitable for beginners with no serious mobility issues. By taking extra breaks and icing my foot in the lake a few times, I was able to complete it even with a pre-existing, semi-healed bruised foot. Don’t give up, but also don’t overestimate your ability.Once at the Upper Lake, there are a couple of options: you can take in the views and explore, or continue to the campsite and beyond. On the far side of the campsite, you can hike to the waterfall and, if you have the skill, venture up to the glacier. I sat by the melting glacier river and took in the view for well over an hour, my fingers dangling in the river as it flowed to the Upper Lake. I could have spent hours there, but the descent was calling. Going downhill can be a workout for your knees; here again, having the time to take things slow is the key to enjoyment and success. I stopped off at the Middle Lake to take in its beauty one last time before making my way down to the Lower Lake. The trail was now busy with people grabbing a quick look before getting back on the road, a vivid contrast with my solitary morning arrival. Back at my campsite, I put the dinner curry on to simmer, and popped open a beer to toast a day of stunning water views. The Joffre Lake visit was one of the highlights of my summer. If you are in the area, be sure to take it in. If you’re not in the area, consider a change in your itinerary — this is one seriously must-do hike.