Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is a popular hiking destination located about an hour north of Whistler, on the Duffey Lake section of Highway 99. Part of this trail’s popularity can be attributed to it beginning at an elevation of over 1,200 meters, so it takes much less time and effort to get into high alpine terrain compared to other Sea-to-Sky hikes. It is one of the only half-day hiking trails in the Sea-To-Sky area that reaches such high elevation without the aid of a gondola or a four-wheel drive vehicle. The three beautiful lakes are also contributing factors to this trail’s popularity, as are the incredible waterfall between the second and third lakes, the pristine old-growth forest through which the trail wanders on the way up, and the incredible views of the Matier Glacier above.
From the parking lot you’ll find the first lake just 500 meters into the forest. The trail is wide, flat, and smooth crushed gravel, and it is easy and accessible. There’s a bench and a small beach area, and the Matier Glacier is already visible up above the upper lakes. A few meters prior to the beach a right turn leads around the west side of the lake through moss-carpeted old-growth forest and then begins ascending from around the far side. Parts of this trail section have been re-routed and rebuilt over the last few years using machinery, so that it is now wide and well-groomed almost the entire way up. One that was formerly a painstaking boulder-field crossing now has a smooth dirt path across it. The trail is mostly forested and climbs steeply at times for 3 kilometers up to the second lake, which is the smallest of the three. Here, the trail passes by a nice little beach spot on the east shore of the lake where there’s a fallen tree that makes a great diving board if you need to cool down after the climb. The water in the lakes is the same familiar bright blue that is typical of glacier-fed lakes and streams due to the high levels of suspended rock flour, and all three lakes are very cold.
About 600 meters after leaving the second lake you’ll come to a beautiful waterfall on the right-hand side where Joffre Creek cascades over a series of evenly-spaced drops like a staircase. The upper lake is just a few hundred meters further up the trail, and the trail follows its west shore for almost a kilometer around to the campground on the far side. This basic backcountry campground has 26 flat tent spots, bear-proof food storage containers, and a pit toilet. Fees are $5 per person, per night. A creek descends from the toe of the Matier Glacier and crashes down the rocks into the lake. There is ample room for casual explorations of the rocky terrain around Mount Matier along with potential scrambling and mountaineering missions in the vicinity.
The trail is approximately 5.5 kilometers one way (depending on how much exploring you do at the top) with over 350 meters of elevation gain, so it should take around between one and two hours each way. Ignore the estimated times on the trail signs; they are inaccurate. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed, and fires are not permitted anywhere in the park. The area is also popular with backcountry skiers in wintertime, and due to its high elevation you are likely to encounter snow on the trail well into the summer.
Note that backcountry travel has become increasingly popular in Joffre Lakes Provinicial Park, and many visitors are inspired to explore beyond their skills and abilities. Always be sure you have the proper training before setting off into the backcountry, where rescue can be dangerous and demanding for everyone involved. And remember to minimize your impact by practicing Leave No Trace.