Would we see bears?
We were planning to hike Joffre Lakes. We (especially George) had bears on the brain. And really, that’s understandable once you know that we live in British Columbia, Canada – and the mountains happen to be bear country.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s start with a few facts about the Joffre Lakes hike.
Hike Joffre Lakes – Location and trail stats
Where is Joffre Lakes located?
The Joffre Lakes are three stunningly beautiful turquoise lakes in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.
Visiting them is an easy day trip from Whistler; they’re about a one-hour drive away, up Highway 99 North. The Joffre Lakes trail is one of the best hikes near Whistler.
The hike also makes a good Vancouver day trip. But the extra driving from Vancouver means a longer day (about a 2½-hour drive each way between the Joffre Trail parking lot and Vancouver).
Distance to Joffre Lakes:
Joffre Lakes trail stats:
Best time to go:
You can only really hike the trail in the summer months (from about late May to late September). In winter, there’s snow. Spring and fall have snow or slush.
Okay let’s get back to our bear story now – and what it’s like to hike Joffre Lakes.
Bears in B.C.
We’ve had too many bear experiences to be complacent.
We once had an unexpected up-close-and-pretty-scary (but thrilling in retrospect!) encounter with first two, then four grizzlies when bear-viewing at Knight Inlet on Canada’s British Columbia coast.
And we’ve spied black bears in Whistler. They often wander right through the town. (Whistler, you may know, is a mountain resort, famous for its great skiing.)
A few years ago, we even saw a black bear ambling down the driveway beside our then-house – this right in a residential neighborhood on Vancouver’s north shore.
A neighbor later told us, unfazed: “Oh that bear! He lives just over yonder!” (pointing to another neighbor’s place).
But we really didn’t want to bump into bears on this Joffre Lakes hike. So while driving from Whistler to Joffre Lakes, we decided to veer off into the village of Pemberton to buy a bear bell.
Do bear bells work?
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 hike the Joffre Lakes trail.”
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…
Hiking trails near Whistler
Back on the road after Pemberton, there’s not another soul to be seen.
We’ve never been concerned (er, scared?) getting to other hiking trails near Whistler, as there have always been other people around. But it’s a lonely drive this 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?
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.
Normally we’d be crushed to discover that seemingly everyone else in the world also wanted to get away from it all on the exact same wilderness hiking trail.
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.)
Hiking Joffre Lakes – the experience
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 Lake hike is a popular one. (It’s one of our favorite hikes.)
In fact, it’s rated tops on the list of things to do in Pemberton (no surprise, coz Pemberton is a postage-stamp-size town).
And while it’s actually not in Whistler, it’s close enough that if you’re staying in the resort town and are looking for one of the 10 best hikes in Whistler, Joffre Lakes ranks right up there on that list too.
The three lakes on the 6+ mile (10 km) hike are cleverly named Lower, Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes :-).
The hike up is a moderate incline (a steady uphill rise – with the potential for slipping when going downhill).
The trail has been upgraded considerably in recent years.
You now hike up 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!
New Joffre Lakes trail conditions
If you hiked the Joffre Lakes trail before 2013, you might feel a tinge of regret. The old trail, which we hiked once, felt more like nature totally untamed. We recall balancing on log bridges and scrambling over the moraine of rock boulders.
But while the new trail is more manicured, it still gives you plenty of a nature fix.
And if the Joffre Lakes trail is new for you, let’s be clear. It’s a lovely, spectacular hike!
And at Upper Lake at the top, you see Matier Glacier looming above you.
Weather at Joffre Lakes
Tip: Pack a light windbreaker, even if it’s a hot summer day.
The weather at Joffre Lakes changes dramatically with the altitude. 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.
See here for the hourly, daily and weekly weather forecast for Joffre Lakes.
Joffre Lakes map
We have Google to thank for the following map showing the three Joffre Lakes… Zoom out for driving directions.
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…
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Photo credits: 9 to 11 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase