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15 Things you NEED to Know before Visiting Joffre Lakes, BC

15 Things you NEED to Know before Visiting Joffre Lakes, BC

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You’ve probably come across the bright blue waters of Joffre Lakes on your Instagram feed; it’s famously beautiful!

So many people come to this part of Canada specifically to hike to Joffre Lakes and I don’t blame them. It’s one of the best things to do in B.C. and in my opinion, they’re the most spectacular lakes in the whole region!

But as with any famous lake in Canada (such as Moraine Lake), there’s a lot to know before you go. Trust me, you’re not the only one planning a visit, and things can get a little hectic if you don’t plan ahead.

So, if you’re itching to visit Joffre Lakes – this blog post will help you out. I’ve included everything here, from where it’s located, to how to successfully hike the trail, to whether or not you can swim in the lake. It’s basically all of the questions you thought you needed and a few extras you never knew were so important!

About Joffre Lakes

Bailey and Daniel pose for a photo at Middle Joffre Lakes
A rare photo of both of us at Middle Joffre Lake!

Joffre Lakes is not one lake but three, which are called Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lakes. Each one is more beautiful than the next! You can see all these lakes from the Joffre Lakes hiking trail, a 9.4-kilometer (5.8 miles) round-trip hike that is rated as moderate. In fact, this is one of the best hikes in Canada, thanks to the scenery along the route – think icefields, snow-covered mountain peaks, and gushing river streams.

Joffre Lakes are famous for their bright blue waters. This beautiful color comes from glacial silt or rock flour, from the ground-up rock as the glacier formed thousands of years ago, and it’s the sunlight reflecting on the surface of the lake that gives these lakes their Gatorade-blue color! If you visit in summer, you’re likely to see these lakes at their brightest and bluest, thanks to the sunny days and melting glaciers.

The Joffre Lakes trail is located within Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, which was created to protect the lakes and the surrounding landscape. This means provincial park rules apply to the trail and is one of the reasons it’s important to plan ahead.

I’ve hiked this famous hike numerous times and have come up with a few top tips to ensure you have the best hiking experience!

1. Where is Joffre Lakes?

Joffre Lakes is located in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, a 25-kilometer/15.5-mile drive from the small town of Pemberton. The next closest town is the tourist resort of Whistler, which is where most people choose to spend the night before hiking Joffre Lakes. Whistler is just under an hour’s drive away (61.6 kilometers/38.2 miles).

The closest city to Joffre Lakes is Vancouver, a 2.5-hour drive (182 kilometers/113 miles) via the Sea to Sky Highway.

Related read: Visiting Whistler? Check out all the best things to do in Whistler in the summer!

2. How long is Joffre Lakes Trail?

Joffre Lakes Trail views of the valley and mountains as a lady walks up the trail
On our way to Middle Joffre Lakes!

The entire hiking trail at Joffre Lakes is 4.7 kilometers (2.9 miles) one way all the way to the campsite on the far side of the 3rd lake. Hiking up and back down, will take most people between 4 to 6 hours. As mentioned, there are three lakes to be seen along this trail – Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lakes.

The first lake (Lower Lake) is just a 5-minute leisurely walk or 200 meters from the parking lot. This lake is gorgeous but still the least beautiful of all the lakes.

The second lake, or Middle Lake, will take 1 to 1.5 hours to walk just over 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the parking lot. It’s worth noting that many visitors choose to turn around after reaching Middle Lake, as it’s considered the prettiest of the three lakes. That’s because it’s here at Middle Lake you’ll find the Instagram-famous log floating in the lake.

The third and final lake (Upper Lake) is a 1.5 to 2-hour hike or 4 kilometers (2.4 miles) from the parking lot and just 30 minutes from Middle Lake. Most people turn around here after enjoying the views of the lake. However, this is not the end.

The trail continues around another kilometer or 20 minutes to the campsite on the far side of the 3rd lake. This is a beautiful spot to visit. So, in my opinion, it’s well worth completing the entire trail. This is also where the campsite is located if you are camping.

What I will say about this trail is that it’s scenic for pretty much most of the way. There are some tree-covered sections, but you’re typically only on these forested sections for no longer than 20 minutes.

Some of the best viewpoints along the way include the fabulous view of the three glaciers (Matier Glacier, Stonecrop Glacier, and Tazil Glacier) from Lower Lake and the magnificent valley views on the trail between Lower and Middle Lake.

Related read: Enjoy the road trip from Whistler to Kamloops and all the bets places to stop!

3. Is the hike to Joffre Lakes difficult?

People hiking on the Joffre Lake Trail
There are some steep sections like this!

Joffre Lakes trail is rated as moderate, which means that it’s suitable for those with a reasonable fitness level. It’s not a flat trail and there are some steep uphill sections. However, in total, you will only be gaining 370 meters (1213 ft) in elevation on this trail.

To me, the elevation gain is what gives a trail its difficulty, and without a larger elevation gain, the Joffre Lakes Trail cannot be classified as a difficult trail.

From the parking lot to Lower Lake is an effortless 5-minute walk. While hiking to Middle Lake is generally a leisurely walk in good weather conditions. There are several large sets of steps around the halfway point that can be quite a leg workout – but those who take their time will manage this section fine.

From Middle Lake to Upper Lake is the steepest section and can be pretty slippery, especially near the waterfall and on the bridges. That’s why it’s recommended to wear proper hiking boots for this hike!

4. Are dogs allowed in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park?

A lady at the edge of Middle Joffre Lake
Middle Joffre Lake
A person enjoys the view of Middle Joffre Lake
Middle Joffre Lake

Unfortunately, dogs and other domestic pets are not allowed in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.

Provincial Parks in BC often allow dogs to enjoy the trails and lakes as long as they are leashed. However, due to Joffre Lakes’ popularity, there were more dogs than usual using the trail. Unfortunately, not all pet owners (the vast majority do) followed the rules and dogs began running off lead causing a safety issue with bears in the area. On top of that, dogs off-leash can damage native flora as well as wildlife in the area.

This led to a ban on domestic animals in 2018.

5. When is the best time to visit Joffre Lakes?

Middle Joffre Lake, BC
Middle Joffre Lake, BC

Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is open to public access from May 1 to November 14 during the warmer months. With that said, the park is accessible year-round and it’s never completely closed, but it’s not advised to hike here in the winter due to avalanche risk.

The most popular months to visit Joffre Lakes are from June to September, as that’s when the lakes are at their brightest shade of blue. In my opinion, the best month to visit is August as this is typically when the lakes are the most photogenic!

As you can imagine, it gets jam-packed here during these months, so try to complete the hike mid-week and start early in the morning (before 7 am). Alternatively, you can start the hike later in the day during the summer (when most of the day-trippers will have left).

In the summer, it doesn’t get dark here until 9:30 pm, so starting your hike at 3 or 4 pm is a good option. I highly recommend getting back to the parking lot before dark though, as it’s a pretty tricky trail to navigate without daylight. Bring a flashlight just in case you take longer than anticipated. 

6. Is Joffre Lakes crowded?

A crowd of people on the Joffre Lake Trail
On the way back down after a quiet morning, there are lots of people on the way up!

Joffre Lakes is one of the most popular hikes in BC and can get extremely busy, especially during the summer (from June to August). The Lakes attract about 200,000 hikers every year, with approximately 75% visiting in the summer.

If you plan to do this hike in the summer, it’s best to go at off-peak times – for example, in the middle of the week and starting early in the morning, ideally before 7 am. Remember, sunrise in the summer here is at 5:30 am, so you can start as early as that if you wish. In fact, some hike up in the dark in order to reach the lakes at sunrise.

Hiking to Joffre Lakes in the winter is not recommended due to avalanche risk. Still, if you’re a confident hiker and have all the necessary safety equipment, you can hike here in the winter. It will be significantly quieter in the winter! But, it’s worth noting all three lakes will be frozen over in the winter. You’ll also need snowshoes.

Related read: Visiting in winter? Check out all the best things to do in Whistler in winter!

7. Is there parking at Joffre Lakes?

The parking lot at Joffre Lakes Trailhead
This is the main parking lot, the overflow is over the road.

There are three parking lots at Joffre Lakes – the main parking lot, the overflow parking lot, and the Cayoosh parking lot.

The main parking lot is the closest to the trail entrance, whereas the overflow parking lot is located 250 meters away. The Cayoosh Parking lot is 2 kilometers from the main parking lot, and there’s a shuttle service that operates from here every weekend from June 29 until September 29.

Obviously, most people want to park in either the main or overflow parking lots. However, due to the popularity of the hike, these are often full by 8 am in the summer (9 am during the week.) You may be tempted to park on the side of the highway, but this is not allowed and you will get towed!

My advice is to aim to make it to Joffre Lakes before 8 am on weekends and 9 am on weekdays. Although early, you can save the hassle of booking the shuttle from Cayoosh and hike the trail during the most beautiful part of the day.

If you’re not an early riser then you’ll need to plan to park at the Cayoosh parking lot. The shuttle from Cayoosh costs $10 per person on the day, or some seats become available online in advance. These advance-purchase seats (only a few are available) cost $7 per person. The $10 seats are first-come-first-served, so get to this parking lot early to nab a seat on the bus.

The truth is, parking at Joffre Lakes is a nightmare and similar to parking at Lake Louise or Moraine Lake. Personally, I never have an issue but I’ll leave my apartment in Vancouver in summer at 4 am in order to get to the main parking lot before it’s full.

8. Bear safety in Joffre Lakes Provinical Park

A grizzly beary near Canmore
Please note, this bear was not seen in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.

Both black and grizzly bears inhabit the area around Joffre Lakes. In fact, the grizzly bear population here is considered to be critically endangered.

You will likely not come across any bears if you’re just here to hike. That’s because bears hate crowds and will probably stay far away from the trail. However, you still NEED to carry bear spray, make lots of noise, and never feed or try to approach a bear.

If you plan to camp here, it’s essential to be even more prepared and pack bear spray. As well as that, ensure any food items are safely packed away.

If you do come across a bear, you must remain calm – do not approach it. I found this bear safety guide very helpful!

9. Can you swim at Joffre Lakes

Daniel poses for a photo at Joffre Lakes after a swim
It’s so cold!
Three friends stand in the swimsuits with Joffre Lakes after a swim
But when one goes in, we all go in!

Yes, you can swim at Joffre Lakes if you’re feeling brave but beware, the glacial waters in these lakes is very cold. With an average water temperature of just 4 Celsius (39 Fahrenheit)!

If you plan to swim here, try to have a cold water wetsuit with you and a towel to dry yourself off after your refreshing dip. You need to be a confident swimmer to swim here as there are no emergency services in the area and very limited cell reception!

If you fall in the lake accidentally during cold weather, be sure to call for help. Hypothermia can happen in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. It’s also important to note that there is no cell service at Joffre Lakes.

10. How far is Joffre Lakes from Whistler and Vancouver?

The Sea to Sky Highway as seen from a drone
Welcome to paradise on the Sea to Sky Highway!

From Vancouverit’s a 2.5-hour drive (182 kilometers/113 miles), without stops via the Sea to Sky Highway. This stretch of highway is one of the most spectacular road trips in Canada and should not be rushed if it’s your first time.

Joffre Lakes is a 55-minute drive (61.6 kilometers/38.3 miles) from Whistler, via Highway 99. The drive takes you through the mountains along a well-maintained single-lane highway.

In winter, you MUST have winter tires on your vehicle and drive to the conditions from both locations.

Related read: Staying in Vancouver? Check out all the best things to do in Vancouver!

11. Where can you stay near Joffre Lakes?

Bailey poses for a photo at 2nd Joffre Lake in Canada
Bailey and Daniel take a photo together at 2nd Joffre Lake

It’s a long day if you plan to drive from Vancouver to Joffre Lakes. Thankfully there are several options for places to stay in both Pemberton and Whistler, both of which are less than an hour’s drive from Joffre Lakes.

Pemberton/Mt Currie

This is the closest area to Joffre Lakes just a 25 km/15.5 mi drive away. Pemberton is a small town with a few stores, restaurants, and Cafes. Below are the closest hotels to the start of the Joffre Lakes Trail.

The Hitching Post Motel – is located in Mt Currie, just 5 minutes from downtown Pemberton and has comfortable rooms as well as a large garden. A room here costs from $125 CAD per night.

Pemberton Hotel – this motel is located above a popular pub and tends to be popular with couples. Rooms here are surprisingly spacious and cost from $124 CAD per night.

Whistler

Whistler is probably the most popular area for hikers to stay before taking on Joffre Lakes. It’s further away, at a 55-minute drive, but there are many more hotels, restaurants, and activities on offer in this tourist haven. Here are the best accommodation options in Whistler with easy access to the highway to Joffre Lakes –

Summit Lodge Boutique Hotel – located on Main Street in Whistler Village – this stylish boutique hotel offers suites with a kitchenette as well as an outdoor pool and hot tub. A suite here costs from $233 CAD per night.

Riverside Resort – located on Mons Road, just off the main road to Pemberton this resort offers cabins and yurts to stay in. There’s also a campsite here. As well as that there’s a volleyball court, children’s playground, cafe, and small store. A one-bedroom cabin here is cheap and cheerful, starting at $103 CAD per night.

Pan Pacific Whistler Village – This beautiful hotel is a full-service, all-suite European-style hotel located within a five-minute walk from the Whistler Village chairlift. It features a breakfast buffet, complimentary wireless Internet access, and slope-side valet ski and bike storage.

You can camp at Joffre Lakes too – I’ve included all the information on this option below!

12. Can you camp at Joffre Lakes?

View from behind our tent of Bailey and 3rd Joffre Lake
Not a bad place to camp!
3rd Joffre Lake taken from the campsite
The perfect view does exist!

Yes, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is home to a backcountry campground!

The campground is located at Upper Joffre Lake and this is the only place you can camp in the park. There are 26 sites here, which offer privacy because they are located at different elevations.

The campsites USED to be on a first-come-first-serve basis, however, you are now required to book. Bookings can be made on the Discover Camping website, and you need to select backcountry camping. You cannot book more than 2 months in advance.

Once you have booked, you’ll need to print off two copies of this permit as you will need to show one to the Park Ranger and the second you must leave attached to your tent.

There’s also a drop toilet here and a bear-proof food storage unit. I should point out that it can get very cold here at night, even in the summer, so be sure to pack lots of warm clothes and a high tog sleeping bag. Also, BC Parks no longer provides toilet paper at the campsite.

Important to note – you can’t camp at this campsite from November 1 to April 15 due to avalanche risk.

IMPORTANT: Be very careful parking at Joffre Lakes overnight. Break-ins are happening in the area and we recently (July 3rd, 2022) had our car window smashed and a ton of our stuff stolen including fuel (gas). Please do not leave ANY valuables in your car – the thieves even targeted things like camping gear and alcohol. Try to park close to the road and in the main parking lot.

13. Do you need a pass to visit Joffre Lakes?

Middle Joffre Lakes Panorama
Middle Joffre Lakes Panorama!

Between July and October, a day pass is required to access Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. The pass is free and can be claimed from 7 am the day before you visit. It is one pass per person, but you can add up to 4 people to a booking.

You can access Joffre Lakes at any time of the day with this pass. However, it’s worth noting that if you want to access the lakes after 7 pm, no pass is required.

A day pass is not needed for overnight campers. In this instance, your backcountry booking is sufficient. You just need to carry it with you at all times on the trail or at least a screenshot of the email.

The day pass is a pilot program introduced in 2021. Keep an eye on their website for any updates for the 2022 summer season.

14. How do you get to Joffre Lakes without a car?

A lady stands on a rock at Upper Joffre Lake
Upper Joffre Lake with views of the glacier

If you don’t fancy driving to Joffre Lakes and want to avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot, then you can book a shuttle service here from both Whistler and Vancouver.

The Whistler to Joffre Lakes bus service runs all weekends and public holidays from June to September. The bus picks you up from the Whistler Creekside parking lot at approximately 9:20 am and drops you directly to the start of the Joffre Lakes trail. It will pick you up again around 5:30 pm where it dropped you off. Keep an eye on their website for updated pricing and times for the 2022 season.

The Vancouver to Joffre Lakes bus service operates every weekend and public holiday from June to September. You will be picked up from 1025 Dunsmuir Street, near Burrard Station in downtown Vancouver at approximately 8:30 am. You will be returned to the same spot at 8:30 pm that evening, so it’s a long day. Tickets for this service cost between $25 to $60 per person. It should be noted that these prices and timings are for the 2021 season, so be sure to check out their website for updated information closer to the season starting.

15. Are there tours to Joffre Lakes?

Beautiful views on the Joffre Lakes Trail
Beautiful views on the Joffre Lakes Trail

There are a couple of tour options to Joffre Lakes if you want to do the hike with an experienced guide. And what’s good too is that you don’t have to worry about driving there yourself or finding a parking space (which is like gold dust during the summer.)

This full-day tour picks you up from Vancouver and transfers you to Joffre Lakes, where you will take on a 5-hour hike with your knowledgeable guide. Lunch is provided and you can enjoy it at Upper Lake, with the most picture-perfect view imaginable. What I love about this tour is that it’s limited to just 5 people! Allow 10 hours in total for the tour.

Another great option is this full-day photography tour which departs from Vancouver. On your hike to Joffre Lakes, your guide (a professional photographer) will teach you how to take amazing photos, which are sure to make your friends and family back home jealous!

Your guide will also take some photos of you on his own camera, which he will email to you after your hike. This tour is 12 hours in duration and includes transportation. You will need to bring your own camera though! This particular tour costs $237 per person.

Related read: On a budget? Check out the best free things to do in Vancouver!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel take a photo together at Upper Joffre Lake
Upper Joffre Lake!

Joffre Lakes is worshipped for good reason, it is just so beautiful! But thankfully, the whole B.C. area is home to some of the best hiking trails in the world. I hope this detailed hiking guide has given you inspiration and tips for your upcoming visit to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park!

Joffre Lakes just has to be ticked off your hiking bucket list!

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also enjoy reading my other posts about camping in B.C. These are some of my favorites:

35 Epic Things to do in Whistler

15 Best Stops on the Drive from Vancouver to Lake Louise

Honeymoon in Whistler

21 Best Stops on the Drive from Whistler to Banff

15+ FUN Things to do on Malecon in Puerto Vallarta (Boardwalk)
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