Would we see bears?
We were planning to hike Joffre Lakes.
But 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.
Contents: Hiking Joffre Lakes
Joffre Lakes hike – Location and trail stats
Do bear bells work? – A funny story
Hike Joffre Lakes – The experience
Last words on the Joffre Lakes trail
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:
- 38 miles (62 km) northeast of Whistler
- 113 miles (182 km) northeast of Vancouver
Joffre Lakes trail stats:
1,300 ft (400 metres) – Expect somewhat of an uphill slog from the Middle to Upper Lake.
6.2 miles (10 km) roundtrip
Allow 4 hours roundtrip – This includes sharing your lunch with chipmunks while gazing at Upper Lake.
Best time to go to Joffre Lakes:
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 Maps to thank for this map showing the three Joffre Lakes and the hiking trail… 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…
The (bear – he he) facts
Joffre Lakes trail: Located in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.
Will you see real bears on your Joffre Lake hike? Unlikely! (If our experience is any indicator…)
Distance from Whistler: The trail parking lot is 62 km (38) miles from Whistler. Drive north on Highway 99. The parking lot is just past Pemberton on your right.
More information: See the Joffre Lakes Provincial Park website.
Other great hikes in Whistler?
We also love the short, easy walk to Brandywine Falls.
For more of the best hiking trails in Whistler, see here.
Get the British Columbia hiking guides
See these guides on hiking in British Columbia on Amazon. (Oh, and just so you know, as an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)
Have you hiked the Joffre Lakes trail?
Do you have your own bear tale to tell?
Let us know in the Comments section below. (You can also see comments from other readers.)
Experience more of British Columbia!
Parksville area | From swimming at warm shallow beaches to caving to spying the goats on the roof, you’ll love these crazy fun things to do in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
Victoria | Lace up your sneakers and check out these easy scenic walks in Victoria.
Vancouver | There’s nothing nicer on a sunny Vancouver day than to go bicycling around Stanley Park. Conveniently-located bike rentals make it easy to get in the saddle and go for a ride.
Telegraph Cove | Whale watching? Grizzly bear viewing? Kayaking? You bet! There are lots of fun things to do in Telegraph Cove for adventure lovers.
Tofino | When the weather is wild and bad, head to Tofino for storm watching!
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Photo credits: 8 to 11 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase
About the authors
Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.
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Monday 13th of March 2023
You obviously never really hiked a lot in the Kootenays - extreme bear country! Picking huckleberries is just as risky as hiking into a bear there. Do what I’ve done ever since my Uncle Len taught me - he'd hike away to pick berries carrying a bottle of wine, a sausage and yes, every heard of a transistor radio? Your bear bells are just an attractant. You know. Like here come the cows for the main menu. Bigger groups, lots of talking, or you listen to a talk show or music on your transistor radio - and you won’t have a bear problem. (Unless one of you is stupid and brings their dog on the hike. That’s another thing that invites danger.)
Janice and George
Tuesday 14th of March 2023
Very funny :-). Your Uncle Len sounds like a wise man. Thanks for reading and sharing...
Wednesday 7th of October 2015
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.
Tuesday 28th of July 2015
That's my kind of walk! Such beautiful scenery and I'd love to see a bear in the wild one day - not too closely though!
Saturday 25th of July 2015
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 my bear tales won't be published for a few weeks yet. I feel so lucky to have been given this chance to visit Canada! Longing to return one day.
Janice and George
Saturday 25th of July 2015
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
Monday 20th of July 2015
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!
Janice and George
Wednesday 22nd of July 2015
Love this! Bells of St. Joffre! Better name for this post :-). Glad you liked it...