If you’ve spent any time on Instagram in the last couple of years then you’ve probably come across the Joffre Lakes hike. With a water colour that rivals the best in the Rockies, these three lakes - just a 2.5 hour drive from Vancouver - have become incredibly popular. It’s easy to see why when you get there, they are simply spectacular and there’s something for everyone, from a short 10 minute walk to the first lake to a more challenging and scrambly route up to lake three.
Sadly though, we’re going to have to start with a rant.
The trash problem - don’t be one of those people
We hate to say it but we were disappointed to see how some people were treating this area. It is the first park in Canada where we came across a fair bit of trash - this is not good in any location, but in bear country it’s dangerous.
We saw a bin overflowing in the car park and instead of people just putting the trash in their car when they saw it was full, they just left it all around the bin. People were buying coffee and fast food from hours away and dumping the leftovers at this beautiful place. This is not just disgusting, but potentially a killer for bears.
If bears become too used to human food they will become a pest and end up having to be shot. Please visit this area responsibly and leave it pristine for the next visitor and for the wildlife that call it home.
Phew. Anyway, onto the nicer stuff and everything that’s great about Joffre Lakes.
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The Joffre Lakes Hike
Joffre Lakes hike stats
Distance: 3.9km each way (to lake three)
Elevation: 359 metres
Type of trail: Out and back trail
Time taken: 2.5 hours total (both ways)
The hike to the first lake
The walk to the first lake is easy. The sign says 15 minutes but that would be slow going. It’s on a wide, well maintained dirt path which is almost entirely flat. The lake itself is beautiful and if you catch it at the beginning or end of the day when the water is stillest you should get a beautiful reflection of the mountains too.
If you can brave the freezing temperature there are steps down into the water where you could go for a swim.
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The hike to the second lake
The hike to the second lake is definitely more of an endeavour and we were surprised at just how many people were doing it considering how steep it is. It’s considerably further than the first lake at 2km from the car park and is fairly steep throughout.
Having said that don’t be put off by the trail signs noting the timings - unless you are almost moving in pigeon steps they are way off.
You’ll start through the forest on a great dirt path - watch out for bears here as we saw a black bear beside this early part of the trail - we almost couldn’t believe it given the number of people going up and down the track!
It isn’t long before the path gets steeper and there are more rocks and tree roots - not a problem on the way up, but a little slippery in parts on the way down.
The forest is pretty and there are some good views as you get a little higher but the sheer number of people on the trail detracted from it a bit - for this reason we’d recommend heading there as early as possible. We went a few hours before sunset on a weekday and the crowds were crazy.
There is little relief on the uphill trail for the most part but overall it doesn’t take too long before you see your first glimpse of the second lake and you head downhill for a few minutes to get to the shore. The water is just staggering and we preferred it to the first lake.
If you continue heading along the now flat path around the lake you will come to the famous fallen log in the lake. This is the popular Instagram spot and there is often a queue to take photos.
The log is a little slippery but that didn’t seem to stop most people from performimg yoga moves on it! It’s definitely a cool photo spot but I wouldn’t want to stop here in the middle of the day.
We took photos after we had visited the third lake and just before sunset when almost all the crowds had already left which made it a lot more fun!
The hike to the third lake
Virtually no one seemed to head up to the third lake and their loss is your gain! It’s absolutely beautiful, secluded and quiet. An absolute gem and the only place to find serenity in Joffre Lakes unless you are there very early.
I’m not sure why most people don’t go because it’s not much further at all from the second lake. The path does get significantly rougher but it’s not difficult. It’s uphill without being terribly steep but you need to watch your footing a lot more as some of it is very rocky.
The very last section to get to the lake itself requires clambering over boulders for around 100m.
It’s not too difficult and there are no drop offs so you don’t need to worry about falling which is what usually freaks me out if there is any scrambling. Once you get to the lake shore you can relax your feet in the ice cold glacial water if you dare - I didn’t last long but it was very refreshing!
From the turnoff just before the boulders at the lake you can actually carry on to a campsite. It didn’t look much further but we knew we were already losing the light so we didn’t go for it. I imagine there might be more lovely views, please let us know how it is if you get that far!
The descent is not too difficult, from the third lake it’s a case of just watching your footing a bit but it isn’t slippery. The majority of the descent from the second lake is pretty good too but there are a few slippery sections, and after rain I imagine it would be even more so.
It’s not too difficult though and you can make great time back to the car park if you don’t take too many photos!
Essential info about the Joffre Lakes hike
The hike to Joffre Lakes isn’t too hard, but if you aren’t a regular hiker you will want to give yourself plenty of time to make it to the second lake (we recommend 3-4 hours for the whole hike and time to appreciate the views). The trail is very good for the most part, but there is a long section where it becomes tree roots, rocks and quite steep. If you’re not used to the steep hikes in Canada, you will want some time to catch your breath.
Whilst you won’t need hiking boots, you should wear comfortable shoes to do this hike. It’s not like some of the mountain trails in Canada, but it isn’t a flat paved walk either!
Parking at the Joffre Lakes hike
Parking here is difficult, especially if you plan on arriving in the middle of a weekend! Whilst the car parks here are large, the trail is so popular that it fills up incredibly quickly. If you don’t arrive early enough you’ll be forced to take the park & ride which has lengthy waits.
Our recommendation is to start really early or late as this is when the car park is at its emptiest. We arrived three hours before sunset and there were a few spots (as well as enough time to do the hike).
Bear safety on the Joffre Lakes hike
Unexpectedly this was the only trail in all of Canada where we actually saw a bear, and it was by far the busiest! It’s only black bears that live in this area, no grizzlies, and they tend to be quite shy and likely won’t pay you any attention.
Still it’s always important to be aware, especially if you are visiting early and late in the day without many other people around. We carry bear spray but locals always tell us that the black bears very rarely cause any problems for humans on hiking trails
Best time to do the Joffre Lakes hike
You can hike to Joffre Lakes at any time of year but in the winter months there will likely be significant snow and the lakes will be frozen. That has its own appeal but it will be more tiring than hiking when the trail is clear. It’s best to check weather conditions before you set off so you know whether you need to carry any traction devices.
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Are you planning a trip to British Columbia? Is the Joffre Lakes hike on your list of things to do? Let us know in the comments below!