Will you see bears on your Joffre Lakes hike?

In ADVENTURE, CANADA & US by Janice and George26 Comments

joffre lakes hike

Would there be bears on our Joffre Lakes hike? We (especially George) had bears on the brain. And really, that’s understandable if you know that we live in bear country.

We once had an unexpected up-close-and-pretty-scary (but thrilling in retrospect!) encounter with first two, then four grizzlies when bear-viewing with a group near Knight Inlet Lodge on Canada’s British Columbia coast. (You can thank Rob Hurson for the great grizzly shot above.)

Black bears are often spied wandering around Whistler (a mountain resort we like, just over an hour’s drive from our home).

A couple of years ago, we even saw a black bear ambling down our own driveway from the garden to the street – this in a residential neighborhood right on the north shore of Vancouver.

A neighbor later told us, unfazed: “Oh that bear! He lives just over yonder!” (pointing to another neighbor’s place)

Joffre Lakes - hike

We can’t tell you how many black bears we’ve seen like this in Whistler – and even right by our home in Vancouver! photo Jitze Couperus

But we really didn’t want to bump into bears on this hike. So while driving from Whistler to the Joffre Lakes hike, we decided to veer off into the village of Pemberton to buy a bear bell.

Now if you don’t know how bear bells work, listen up. The tinkling sound of the bell is supposed to warn any bears in the area of your approach. In theory, they’ll be scared off.

Cynics joke, though, that in reality they work differently – announcing “Hey bear! Dinner is waiting!


Here’s how it went at the Pemberton hunting and fishing store we popped into

George:We’d like to buy a bear bell. We’re going to Joffre Lakes.

Big burly store clerk:Yeah, you should get one. That’s where bears like to hang around. Want to buy some bear spray too? Only $39.99 and it could save your life.

Janice:No thank you. We’ll just end up spraying ourselves!

Big burly store clerk:Funny you should say that. They used to call it ‘bear repellent.’ But then a lot of people sprayed themselves with it, thinking it was like ‘insect repellent.’ Imagine the ouch! And they smelled like pepper for days afterward. So now it’s called bear spray.

George:Hmmm. Maybe we’ll get a second bear bell.

Big burly store clerk:You can never have too many bear bells. Hey, you know how you can tell a black bear’s scat from a grizzly’s? The black bear’s scat has berries in it. The grizzly’s also has broken bits of wrist watches and bear bells.

This guy was on a roll…

People to the rescue

Back on the road after Pemberton, there’s not another soul to be seen. It’s a lonely drive on a weekday, just our car on this lonely strip of highway. We’re surrounded by mountains and forest. If we were bears, we’d love to live here. Maybe we should have bought the bear spray?

Joffre Lakes

Each of the three Joffre Lakes is supposedly more beautiful than the last (this is Middle Lake) – photo McKay Savage

So, imagine our surprise when we turned into the Joffre Lakes parking lot – it was busy! Fancy honking big camper-vans (the type with flatscreen TVs, satellite dishes, WiFi and every other thing you obviously need to “escape” city life). Jeeps and SUVs. Even tour-style buses. (No idea where they materialized from.)

Normally we’d be crushed to discover that seemingly everyone else in the world also wanted to get away from it all on just the same wilderness hike. But this time around, we were delighted to see other people about. Any bears lurking nearby would have long since gotten the hint and moved off, we figured.

So we quickly stowed away the bear bells dangling from our backpacks. (No point inviting dirty looks from other hikers trying to enjoy a little peace and quiet in the great outdoors.)

Beautiful Joffre Lakes hike

After our initiation into bear bell lore, our actual hike felt like a pleasant walk in the park.

By now you’ve already deduced that the Joffre Lakes hike is a popular one. In fact, it’s the number-one rated activity in Pemberton (and one of our favorite hikes). It’s 10 km (6.2 miles) roundtrip and passes three very beautiful, popsicle blue lakes – cleverly named Lower, Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes :-).

Joffre Lakes hike

Look at the color of the water! photo Brigitte Werner

The hike up is a moderate incline (a steady uphill rise – with the potential for slipping when going downhill).

Upgraded considerably in the past couple of years, the hike is now a well-maintained gravel-and-dirt path, punctuated by built-in steps at all the right places and solid bridges over streams.

We always marvel at the great work the park rangers do in the wilderness!

If you hiked the trail before 2013, you might feel a tinge of regret. The old trail, which we hiked once before years ago, felt a bit more like nature totally untamed. We recall balancing on log bridges and scrambling over the moraine of rock boulders. The new trail is more manicured, though it still gives you plenty of a nature fix.

Joffre Lakes hike - trail

See how well-maintained the Joffre Lakes hiking trail is?

Joffre Lakes hike - Middle Lake

Your reward after the uphill slog is Middle Lake, and then Upper Lake.

And if the trail is new for you, let’s be clear. It’s really a lovely, spectacular hike!

Tip: Pack a light windbreaker. It’s quite the climate change from bottom to top. It was summery warm at the bottom for us, but cool and crisp at the top.

We’re not finished with our bear tale though

We did meet one bear.

It was a wooden sculpture the nice parks people carved by a bridge just before you get to the Upper Lake. The kind of bear we don’t mind bumping into in the wild…

Joffre Lakes hike - carved wooden bear

George is happy to hug this bear…

The (bear – he he) facts

  • Joffre Lakes hike:  Located in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.
  • Elevation gain:  400 metres (1,300 ft) – expect somewhat of an uphill slog from the Middle to Upper Lake.
  • Trail length:  10 km (6.2 miles)
  • Time:  Allow 4 hours roundtrip – this includes sharing your lunch with chipmunks while gazing at Upper Lake.
  • Will you see real bears on your Joffre Lakes hike?  Unlikely! (If our experience is any indicator…)

Have you spotted bears in the wild?

Janice and George Signature


  1. I hiked to Lake Garibaldi on a week day in late July, and there was a black bear on the trail in the morning. It’s also a very popular hike.

  2. What a stunning place and cracking photos. I went to Canada last month for the first time, to Victoria, Vancouver and the Great Bear Rainforest staying at Great Bear Lodge. A once in a lifetime experience and we saw 4 bears. The last one was huge and came to within about 10 metres of us. I’ve started writing about the trip on my blog but me bear tales won’t be published for a few weeks yet. In the meantime do check out my pics http://on.fb.me/1MsXpbw Feel so lucky to have been given this chance to visit Canada. Longing to return one day.

    1. Author

      You have some great Canada pics on your Facebook link! Love the eagle photo… And what an experience that must have been to see four “spirit” bears (rare white Kermode bears) in the Great Bear Rainforest – we hear it’s a special place

  3. Loved this little tale of Bells of St. Joffre! I guess the most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to run faster than the bear if one chases you – you just have to run faster than your husband!

  4. Ha! Your prep with bell and spray reminded me of a similar hiking experience we had in the Chugach outside Eagle River, Alaska. Like you, I figured the bear bell might as well be attached to a chuck wagon in the bear’s mind. I was especially nervous because due to a bicycling injury, I wasn’t moving very fast. We pulled into the parking lot and it seemed as though the entire population of Anchorage was there. No bears, thankfully. We were told if it’s a grizzly, you must stand perfectly still. I wondered if peeing your pants counted against that??

  5. A story well told, I had quite a snicker with the store clerk. Imagine how many times he’s said those words! We used to carry a pot and wooden spoon when we’d hike in the woods in Northern Ontario. Only saw bears from afar, usually in the blueberry bushes. We would also bring a long stick to tap in front of us for the rattlesnakes. Those I saw up close and personal regularly on the rocks. Sends shivers down my spine just thinking about them…

    1. Author

      Now, rattlesnakes we don’t have much experience with. Reckon we wouldn’t want to step onto one of those! Your comment reminds us that there’s a great rattlesnake presentation at Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos, B.C. During the summer, they have a daily presentation where they handle different snakes and talk about what to do if bitten, etc.

  6. We had a real bear experience in Yosmite, but didn’t use spray. We (and many other campers) scared the beast away by banging on pots and pans.

  7. Such a great story – I was chuckling so much at the conversation with the store clerk! I’d love to do a hike like this one day. I actually only came to learn recently about the prevalence of these bears in Canada as I’m sad to say, it’s still a country I’ve never travelled to and really makes me want to visit! I can’t believe you once had a bear on your driveway!

    1. Author

      Canada is a great country :-). But it’s really BIG, so it’s hard to visit the whole country in one go. You have to pick the special places. Of course, we’d suggest that you have to put Vancouver plus Vancouver Island or the Gulf Islands on the must-visit list.

  8. I have seen a few bears on hikes but was really only scared one time. That was when I saw 2 cubs and wondered where the mama was. I survived, though!

  9. When we travelled in the USA and Canada in 2006, we were always excited to see bears. I counted our sightings and, if my memory serves me correct, we saw a total of 19. But there are 2 sightings that stay in my memory as clear as yesterday:
    A grizzly mum with her 2 cubs by the side of the Dempster Highway in The Yukon.
    A grizzly mum and her cub feeding on salmon in the Chilkoot River at Haines
    And you also brought back memories of our visit to Joffre Lakes on that trip – we only walked to the lower lake because we got there late in the day – but we had it to ourselves because everyone else was hiking the trail. My memory is of tranquility and beauty.
    North America has some amazingly beautiful places.

    1. Author

      If you saw the Lower Lake, you know what we’re talking about then :-). And how great you had so many bear sightings (safe ones) on your North America visit!

  10. Beautiful photos of the Joffre lakes. Good you didn’t run into any bears on your hike! I love walking in the mountains, but I am afraid of bears. They’re magnificent to see from the car or a safe distance but not up close on a trail. We’ve got bear spray, but should get bells too, to prevent an encounter one step sooner.

  11. My interest was piqued by your blog title since I grew up on a street called Joffre, named after the French marechal of that name. I was wondering (and still am) whether there was any relationship with Joffre Lakes. I got distracted by the story about your bear bell puchase, which I found quite entertaining and funny. Great post!

  12. We are one of those people that hiked that trail before 2013 so we are sad to hear that it is much more manicured now, even more reason for the trail to be so busy. We really prefer the rough and natural type of trail. All the same, Joffre Lakes Trail is a totally beautiful hike. The scenery is fantastic and when we did the hike it was in September and there weren’t a pile of people around. When we were by ourselves we just made sure to talk loud and every once in a while bang a large stick against a tree to make some noise to keep the bears at bay.

    We did see a mother grizzly and two cubs this spring when we were in Yellowstone National Park. They were by the road on the other side of a stream/river at a nice distance to be able to see them well but far enough away that we weren’t a threat.

    1. Author

      Sounds like we share the same taste in hiking trails… But, yes, the scenery around the three lakes really is a stunner! So it’s probably not fair for us to nitpick because the trail is now easier to hike :-).
      And what a treat to see the grizzlies by the side of the road in Yellowstone! Usually you’d expect them to be further away from roads and people habitat.

  13. Couldn’t wait to get to the end of your story . . . would like to read more bear stories . . . beautiful pictures . . . lucky you to live so close to nature.

  14. A tale well-told! I was in suspense until the end. From the looks of that picture, I’m glad you didn’t run into any grizzlies at Joffre Lakes except for that carving.

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