Joffre Lakes: Hiking Canada’s Turquoise Waters
When I first decided to move to Canada, I did the obligatory google image search to see what might await me. You may have even done it yourself. If you haven’t, do it now. Once you scroll down past the maple leaves and country maps, the first picture of the Canadian landscape is a beautiful lake with stunning turquoise waters, flanked by a glistening white glacier. The picture you’re looking at is probably Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada’s most famous of the turquoise lakes. The unique colour of the water is caused by glacial erosion of bedrock which results in tiny particles of rock, known as rock flour. When rock flour runs down into a glacial lake, it turns the water that unbelievably vivid shade of turquoise; a far cry from the mostly murky waters of the United Kingdom.
I haven’t made it to Lake Louise yet (though it’s been on ‘the list’ every year!), but I did round off the last long weekend of the summer with a day trip to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, just East of Pemberton. It was a toss up between Joffre Lakes and Garibaldi Lake (just South of Whistler) and Joffre Lakes won due to it being one of the only dog-friendly provincial parks in the Whistler area (of course Dave hiked too). It was a three hour drive to Joffre Lakes and it started to rain as we pulled into the parking lot. We considered turning around and heading to the nearest coffee shop, but decided to push on and see how it went. I’m so glad we did. Lower Joffre Lake, the first of three, is easily accessible just a few minutes walk away from the car park. I couldn’t believe how little effort was required to see so much turquoise! Apparently, neither could one very brave camper who went for a swim in the mist. We decided against it (d’uh), and returned to the main trail.
The path up to Middle Lake was steep, wet and muddy. I spent every second that I wasn’t worrying about falling up the slope, wondering whether I was going to fall down the slope on the way back. My running shoes have zero grip and I thought I was too cool for those hiking poles. I tried to grab a large stick at one point but just ended up looking a bit like a very unstable Gandalf and ditched it. I got a good workout hiking uphill over the next 45 minutes, but it was worth it as we suddenly turned a corner and arrived at more turquoise. Middle Lake is actually the most stunning of the three, and the rain stopped just in time for us to really see it from the numerous viewpoints along the edge of the water.
We continued along the trail and followed a handwritten sign saying ‘New trail to Upper Joffre Lake – Parks Board :)’. It felt a lot like a scene from a horror movie where you yell at the idiot teens for being so stupid, but we decided to follow it anyway. Maybe it was the smiley face that did it. Luckily for us, the trail led not to a nest of crazed hillbillies but to a waterfall and some new wooden steps that had been built into the mud. The rest of the train was a mix of steps and rocky path, and we finally got our first glimpse of the Upper Lake about 20 minutes later. Some people had stopped to rest on the rocks right there, but we decided to keep walking along the trail in search of ‘that log’ which sticks out onto the water and is the perfect setting for a classic Facebook cover photo. We didn’t find the log (turns out it was at the Middle Lake and we saw it on the way back down – see bottom of post!) but we did stop to have a late lunch on a helicopter landing pad on the other side of the lake. The views of the glacier were stunning, and was creepy watching the mist roll into the lake.
It was about 4pm by this point so we decided to make our move back down to the car before the mist reduced the visibility any more. We needn’t have worried as what little sun there was had dried up most of the mud on the path so it wasn’t as damp or slippery on the way down (my Gandalf log wasn’t necessary). The hike to Upper Lake is 5km each way, and we made it back to the car 3.5 hours after we left – much quicker than the suggested 5 hours online. Dave was exhausted and fell asleep immediately, only to be woken up again when I screamed as a black bear cub crossed the road in front of us, just south of Pemberton! It was the first time I’d seen a real life bear (Grouse Mountain doesn’t count) and I feel much more Canadian as a result. Thirty minutes later we pulled into Whistler for a quick walk and a coffee to break up the journey. I was excited to show Dave around Whistler, and to get his tourist picture by the Olympic rings! I’m not sure he appreciated the importance of the event, but we’ll show him the photo when he’s older.
The best thing about Joffre Lakes was that you don’t have to put too much effort in to be rewarded with some really stunning views. I would class the hike as intermediate, in that we probably should have taken hiking boots and poles in the mud but we didn’t and survived. If that’s too much for you, the path to the Lower Lake is paved and you still get to see some of Canada’s famous turquoise waters. The dog-friendly policy was a bonus for us, and was a great way to start September.