The Joffre Lakes, with their vivid blue color and location set in the backcountry wilderness of beautiful British Columbia, make for the perfect alpine lake day hike.
There are few places in the world where you can reach landscapes like you can on a 1h30m hike to Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes.
The jaw-dropping colors of the three glacier-fed lakes surrounded by the dark greens of the forest and silvery reflections of the Matier Glacier will simply leave you in awe.
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Mother Nature definitely puts on a show here, which is why the Joffre Lakes hike inside Joffre Lakes Provincial Park attracts thousands of avid hikers and campers each year to marvel at the sight.
In this trail guide, I’ll detail everything you need to know about the Joffre Lakes Trail including how to obtain a day pass, camping permits, trail difficulty, hiking time, plus what to expect at each of the three Joffre Lakes.
✨ Read more about the Joffre Lakes hike in British Columbia, Canada! ✨
The Ultimate Joffre Lake Hiking Guide
What to Know About the Joffre Lakes Trail
Before you set out to hike to the three lakes in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, here’s what you should know!
🎫 Joffre lake Day Pass
You will need to reserve a free Day Pass online to hike the Joffre Lakes Trail before you arrive at the trailhead, as there is no cell coverage here. The Day-Use Pass is BC Park’s new Pilot Program to put a cap on the number of visitors on the Joffre Lakes hike during peak hours.
“Starting June 17, 2022, free day-use passes are required to visit three of our busiest parks – Garibaldi, Golden Ears, and Joffre Lakes. Passes are available to book starting at 7 am, two days in advance of your planned visit.”BC Parks
To snag your Day Pass, go to reserve.bcparks.ca/dayuse/ and select ‘Book A Pass’ under Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.
Each person in your hiking group needs to have a Day Pass, except for children 18 and under whom are accompanied by an adult. You can reserve up to four trail passes at a time.
Parks staff will be on-site to check your digital pass during peak hours. Take a screenshot in case you can’t get back into your email for proof of reservation. I hiked Joffre Lake on two separate occasions; in the morning and in the evening. A Parks member checked my reservation in the morning (arrival 8 AM) but not in the evening (arrival 5 PM).
As stated above, Day-Use Passes reservations open at 7 AM and are reservable up to 48 hours in advance. So if you want to hike Joffre Lake over the weekend, then be ready to reserve your passes the Thursday prior at 7 AM. Weekend passes go extremely fast, so don’t delay!
⏰ Joffre Lakes Hike Time
There are three lakes to see in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park!
The first, Lower Joffre Lake, is only a 3-minute jaunt from the parking lot. Start here to see the glacier from a distance. This is the same glacier you’ll be facing once you reach Upper Joffre Lake!
From here, the real hike to Middle Joffre Lake begins. This stretch of trail is mostly at an incline and will take most hikers around 1h30m to complete at a steady pace. We were going quite fast and reached Middle Lake in about 50 minutes. More trail details are below!
Finally, hiking to Upper Joffre Lake from the parking lot will take about 2 hours (if you were to not stop for breaks in between). In reality, you will take many pauses to catch your breath and also to take in the jaw-dropping views of Middle Joffre Lake.
Hiking to Upper Joffre Lake from the Middle Lake adds an extra 15–30 minutes — and yes, it’s definitely worth the effort to see all three!
In total, plan at least 4–5 hours roundtrip to hike the Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lakes. The total hiking distance for Joffre Lakes is just about 10km (5.8 miles) roundtrip.
🥾 Trail Difficulty
Is the Joffre Lake hike hard? The hike to the Middle and Upper Lakes is not brutal, but it’s not exactly a breeze either. I definitely caught my heart pumping fast on the large stair section on the way to Middle Lake.
The trail features 350m of elevation gain and takes you on a heart-pumping journey through the forest with scenic mountain views. While the trail does ease up at times, it’s pretty much a constant, steady climb.
🏕 Camping at Upper Joffre Lake
If you want to go backcountry camping at Upper Joffre Lake, you’ll need to reserve a backcountry permit well in advance, especially if you want to camp at Joffre Lakes in the summer. Note: You don’t need a Day-Use Trail Pass if you are overnight camping.
Reservations for backcountry camping at the Upper Joffre Lake campsite can be made 2 months in advance. However, specific campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Remember, backcountry camping means you need to pack in and pack out everything! While there are pit houses, secured meal/picnic shelters, and bear hangs for your food at the Upper Joffre Lake, there are no other services — this is the backcountry after all!
🐻 Wildlife in Joffre Lake Provincial Park
Grizzly bears, black bears, mountain goats, deer, and little pikas reside in Joffre Lake Provincial Park. While a bear encounter may be rare on the popular Joffre Lakes Trail, you should carry bear spray and know how to use it.
🍃 Leave No Trace
There are no garbage bins along the hike to Joffre Lakes. Please pack out what you pack in, stay on designated trails, and keep a distance from wildlife! Let’s protect our parks!
If you need to use the restroom, there are pit houses at the trailhead with toilet paper. There is one outhouse at Middle Joffre Lake and there are a couple at the campsite at Upper Joffre Lake as well.
🦟 Don’t forget the bug spray!
If you are someone who can walk away from a cloud of mosquitos unbitten, congrats. But for most of us Muggle-borns, we need to use mosquito repellent. I use the natural mosquito spray and balm by Murphy’s and can vouch for it!
Lower Joffre Lake Hike (Easy)
The Lower Joffre Lake is extremely easy to get to and it’s worth taking the 3-minute detour to see it before continuing on your hike to the other two. While there isn’t much of a shore area to enjoy the views, you do get a beautiful introduction to what’s to follow at Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes.
Middle Joffre Lake Hike (Moderate)
The longest part of the hike, the trail to the Middle Joffre Lake will take roughly one hour at a brisk pace. If you’re going at an easier-going pace, expect it to take around 1h30m.
The trail starts out pretty flat but gradually climbs up through the forest. The trail is fairly dynamic with rocks and roots to step over. There is one section that does get a bit steep and requires you to go up large steps, but nothing too difficult. Take as many breaks as you need! After about 35–40 minutes, you’ll pass the river flowing down the mountainside. This is a great spot to fill up a LifeStraw Water Filter Bottle or a Katadyn hydration pack.
Beyond this point, the trail pans out to a rocky section donning amazing views of the surrounding forest and mountains. There’s a final steep, curvy section but if you look to your right you’ll spot the Lower Joffre Lake encircled by the green of the trees in the distance. Stop here for a quick photo to catch your breath!
From here, Middle Joffre Lake is about 10–15 minutes away — you’re almost there! The trail flattens out a bit, and as it does you will glimpse vivid turquoise blue peaking through the trees ahead.
The first viewpoint you’ll have once you reach Middle Joffre Lake is truly amazing and jaw-dropping. If you go later in the morning, there will definitely be a crowd. However, if you go early in the morning (departure 7 AM) or later in the evening (departure 5 PM), you will pretty much have the shoreline all to yourself (briefly), as we did.
Continue across the wooden bridge to reach the second part of the Middle Lake. This is where you’ll see the long tree seamlessly floating on the top of the water — the perfect spot to jump into the glacier-fed lake (if you dare!) and to take epic photos. We jumped in and it was C-O-L-D. Go prepared with a towel and a spare change of clothes so you can stay warm and comfortable to continue the rest of the hike to Upper Joffre Lake.
The best time to take photos at this popular spot at Middle Joffre Lake is when the sun is shining on the water later in the morning or afternoon. Out of the two times that we went during the summer, the evening (6 PM) was better for experiencing this incredible location with only a couple of other passers-by. The sun dipped down behind the mountain around 6:40ish PM in early August, so plan accordingly.
Upper Joffre Lake Hike (Moderate)
The Upper Joffre Lake will reward you for making it to the top. Here, the stunning and imposing Matier Glacier will mesmerize you. This view of the glacier, together with the sparkly turquoise lake water and the sound of the falls from the glacier-melt gushing down the cliffside, makes for an unforgettable moment.
Since the Upper Joffre Lake is only 15–30 minutes from the Middle Joffre Lake, you should definitely make the extra effort to get there. The hike leaves the Middle Joffre Lakeshore and takes you on a beautiful and cool ride up the forest.
About five minutes in, the roar of the Holloway Falls invites you closer to cool off in its wispy, refreshing spray.
The trail from here to the top is very rocky and a bit of a (fun) scramble over rock steps and roots, so make sure to wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes or hiking boots. My Danner hiking boots were perfect for this trip!
Once you reach Upper Joffre Lake, you can explore around the rocks for various viewpoints or continue to the backcountry campground on the opposite side of the lakeshore. If you look closely, you’ll spot a few tents perched by the water and the campground’s washrooms building in the distance below the glacier.
As you take out your picnic lunch or afternoon snack, remember to Leave No Trace and do not feed the birds or the pikas that reside in the area. The birds, in particular, cannot digest human food.
The trip back to the parking lot is easy-going as it’s mostly downhill. However, that said, the knees can get a bit wobbly; using lightweight trekking poles can help take off the pressure and stabilize your footing.
Best Time to Hike the Joffre Lakes Trail
Now that I’ve hiked the Joffre Lakes twice, once in the morning and once in the evening, I want to describe each experience a little more in detail below.
If you set out early enough, the morning hike is great if you’d like to be among the first to reach the lakes. The downside of going in the morning is you’ll be heading back around noon when hundreds of hikers are just setting out. The popular photo spot can also get extremely crowded, with everyone waiting for their chance to walk on the tree and get that once-in-a-lifetime photo.
The evening hike was more pleasant, but we were running against the clock this time. Luckily, we made it to Middle Joffre Lake in time for the golden hour; there was hardly anyone around, just one other couple was playing around on the tree. It gave Paul and me ample time to take photos and set up the tripod to take a video of us walking across the tree and jumping in! The downside of going in the evening was having to rush our visit to Upper Joffre Lake because dusk was falling fast once the sun went down behind the mountains.
☀️ In sum, a morning hike to Joffre Lakes gives you more time to explore and lounge about with the color of the lakes at their peak. An evening hike removes the crowds but puts the pressure to hike a bit faster to reach (and enjoy) the Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes before sundown.
FAQs About the Joffre Lakes Hike
Can You Swim in Joffre Lakes?
Yes, you can swim in Joffre Lakes but be warned — these glacier-fed lakes are COLD! While there are those brave enough to take multiple dips, one jump in was enough for us. It felt amazing afterward, though! Besides, when are you going to get to jump in a lake this beautiful again?
Do You Need Hiking Boots to Hike Joffre Lakes?
You can get away without hiking boots. You don’t need any expensive boots or gear to hike Joffre Lakes, but I do recommend wearing comfortable closed-toed shoes. The hike is about 4 hours roundtrip, so you should feel confident in whatever you wear. There are rocks and roots to scramble over, so keep that in mind.
I wore my Danner Vertigo 917 (which is a light hiking boot) and they were perfect. That said, I’m comfortable hiking in my Allbirds trail runners, however, those would’ve probably felt less supportive and more slippy on the rocks going down.
Can you go to Joffre lakes without a day pass?
No, you can’t visit and hike to Joffre Lakes without a Day-Use Pass. Joffre Lakes Provincial Parks requires a free Day-Use Pass which you can reserve up to 48 hours in advance of your planned hike. You can reserve your pass and learn more here.
Are there bears in Joffre lake?
Yes! Both grizzly bears and black bears live in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. It’s wise and responsible to carry bear spray in case of bear encounters.
Is there cell service at Joffre Lake?
There isn’t any cell service or data coverage at Joffre Lakes, including at the trailhead parking lot. Make sure to plan ahead, notify someone of your hiking plans, get a day pass, reserve camping permits, and prepare for your trip before you arrive at the trailhead.
Is Joffre Lake worth visiting?
All three of the Joffre Lakes are absolutely worth visiting! In fact, I think Joffre Lakes has become my favorite alpine lake hike in BC and Alberta. They even rival the lakes in Banff National Park (and that’s saying something!).
If you have any more questions or concerns about the Joffre Lakes hike, drop a comment below! I hope this trail guide helps you plan and prepare for your trip. Please enjoy those spectacular mountain and teal lake views for me! Also, come back and tell me if you decided to JUMP IN! 💦
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