Middle Joffre Lake Pemberton, BC

The strenuous 6-mile hike to Upper Joffre Lake was absolutely worth it

Hiking to Upper Joffre Lake was the highlight of our trip to British Columbia. It wasn’t the first time we visited the area, so we knew we wanted to return. We started our trip with Vancouver and the coast, and while I enjoyed it, I couldn’t wait to drive up to Pemberton.


When we first visited it, in the early 200’s, Pemberton was a sleepy town, with few residents. We spent a few days there, staying in a B&B called The Farmhouse. It was a farm, in the middle of a field, at the end of a road leading nowhere else, but there.

The Farmhouse is no longer a B&B, so for our latest visit we picked a different one. This was in town, in a quiet neighborhood, overlooking the surrounding mountains. Though we didn’t spend a lot of time at the house, every night we sat on the veranda, enjoying the sunset and the gorgeous view.

Joffre Lakes

Upper Joffre Lake in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, BC
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, BC

Every day was an adventure on the trip, as we followed trails leading into pristine forests, rivers, and waterfalls.

One of our favorite hikes was the one to Joffre Lakes. This provincial park, established in 1988, highlights three of the most stunning glacier-fed lakes in the area: Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lake.

We remembered it from our last time though we only hiked to the Lower Lake. Our kids were young, we didn’t attempt long, vertical hikes with them. But now, with a twelve-year-old, we wanted to see the Upper Lake. Or at least the Middle Lake.

Joffre Lakes Provincial Park in the Summer

We drove to the park and found the area teeming with visitors. We noticed cars parked on the side of the road for at least a mile before the parking lot. I wanted to say “forget it”, there was no way I wanted to hike a crowded trail. However, it was later in the day, so we noticed people leaving. We decided to try to find a spot in the parking lot. If we couldn’t we would try another day. As we pulled in, we found a spot.

The parking lot felt like Grand Central Station. This was far from the way I remembered the area. A long line of people waited for the bathrooms we could smell as soon as we got out of the car. Still, since we were here, we decided to get on the trail.

The trail to the Lower Joffre Lake was so crowded; we had to walk behind others in a line. We moved as part of a mass of people towards it.

I might have recognized the trail if I saw it, but all I saw were crowds.

After getting stressed trying to get to the lake, we all agreed that we would come back early the following day. We knew from our host that the next day was the Ironman Triathlon, which meant the road between Whistler and Pemberton would be closed from early morning to sundown. As much as this annoyed the people who lived in Pemberton – they could not leave their town for a full day – we took advantage of it. It meant tourists from Whistler could not get to the trail, which meant no crowds.

We left early, before Pemberton’s roads closed and sealed off the town.

While we noticed a handful of cars in the parking lot – others had the same idea as we did – it was nothing like the previous day. After filling our Camel packs, we packed a few Cliff-bars and a handful of nuts and set off on the trail.

Hiking through Joffre Lakes Provincial Park

Views from the trail to Upper Joffre Lake
Views from the trail to Upper Joffre Lake

Since Lower Joffre Lake is an easy walk from the parking lot, we left it for last and took off on the steep trail to the Middle and Upper Lakes. According to the sign at the base of the trail, we would have to hike 11 kms to the Upper Joffre Lake. Just over 6 miles, this didn’t seem too long, except for the elevation gain of about 400 meters – over 1300 feet.

I was out of shape, from sitting inside most of the summer in the heat of the desert, so I had no hope of reaching the Upper Lake. Still, I started off on the trail, hoping to make it to the Middle Joffre Lake.

Since my husband walks so much faster than we do, we told him he should go ahead; We might not make it all the way to the Upper Lake. My 12-year-old daughter walked with me, at my pace. We planned to turn around as soon as we had enough.

Walking in the shade of trees, we enjoyed stunning views in every direction on the side of the mountain.

Just Keep Going… On a Steep Trail

High above the Lower Joffre Lake , on the trail
The trail took us high above the Lower Joffre Lake

The trail started out level, but soon it was rising. I thought it would level off at least for a while at some point, but it kept getting increasingly vertical as we advanced. We noticed people coming down with huge backpacks; they had camped on the top of the mountain, by the Upper Lake.

At one point, we passed two young men with a huge metal suitcase. What in the world were they carrying up this mountain, we tried to guess? They passed us when we stopped for a break, and we forgot about them while trying to decide if we would turn around or keep going.

The view we glimpsed at times through the dense forest was gorgeous, with jagged peaks, glaciers and waterfall. But the trail was steep, and we saw no markers to tell us how much longer we had to go.

On the bottom of the hill, the signs said Middle Lake was 6 km away, so I took out my iPhone and tried to gauge the distance we walked using my health app. I figured it would be about three miles until we reached the lake, so I told my daughter it could not be far, we already walked 2.6 miles.

Let’s make it past the next bend, see what’s on the other side, I told her. She was the one who wanted to turn around; I thought it would be me.

We reached a spring by the trail, with cold and crystal-clear water flowing through it. A city-girl, my daughter was worried about drinking from it. I grew up close to mountains; I assured her it was safer to drink than our tap water at home. It was the best drink we had on the whole trip.

The Metal Suitcase

As we kept climbing and climbing, so vertical now that there were stairs on the trail, we heard a humming noise we could not place. As we got closer, we saw the same two men with the metal suitcase. They had opened it and assembled its content.

They were flying a drone above the treetops, taking video and pictures. Mystery solved.

What a great place to use one of those drones, I thought. The camera attached to their end was a high-tech one, and they didn’t mind us watching the images they were taking. They had some stunning photos to show for when they got home.

We Made it to the Middle Joffre Lake

Middle Joffre Lake Pemberton, BC
We reached the Middle Joffre Lake.

Not long after, we reached the Middle Lake. The clean, turquoise-blue water in the middle of the forest was out of this world. As we sat on log, admiring the pristine crystal-clear water and its surroundings, we felt the long, vertical hike was well worth it.

However, after a nice break, I was set to go all the way to the Upper Joffre Lake. According to a new sign, it was only another km away. Only half a mile. It would be a shame to come up so close, and turn around now. My daughter wasn’t interested.

However, I was hoping she’d change her mind after a long enough break, some snacks, and a drink. She was indeed ready to go after a while. As we were setting off on the rest of the trail, my husband came back from the Upper Joffre Lake.

He didn’t expect to find us there.

Relaxing on the shore of middle Joffre Lake
Relaxing on the shore of middle Joffre Lake

“I can’t believe you made it!” he said. “I thought you would turn around at the stairs, if not sooner”.

“No, we kept thinking if we made it that far, we might as well keep going.”

“It was farther than I expected though,” I added.

I also told him I was planning to go all the way to the top, but he didn’t need to go back, and our daughter could stay with him.

We agreed on that, and I took off.

Upwards to the Upper Joffre Lake

I walked only a few feet, when they were both behind me.

“We couldn’t let you go alone,” she said.

At that point, the trail turned into a rocky, even steeper hike. We were walking over huge boulders, trying to find the best way to climb without getting hurt. This was my daughter’s favorite part, though. She is like a mountain goat when it comes to climbing rocks, so she took off way ahead of us.

“Stop a few times, and wait for us to catch up,” I called after her, as she disappeared around a bend.

To be sure she stayed safe, I sent my husband after her. Yes, I was a slowpoke, but I didn’t need to slow them down.

The waterfall between the Upper and Middle Joffre Lakes
The waterfall between the Upper and Middle Joffre Lakes

They waited for me at the waterfall where we admired the water rushing from the Upper Lake into the Middle one. Then my little mountain goat took off again.

By the time I glimpsed the Upper Lake, I was alone.

I stopped.

The view took my breath away.

Upper Joffre Lake

However, the trail disappeared.

On top of a cluster of boulders, a sign pointed in two different directions: one leading to the campsites around the lake, another one seemed to go directly towards the lake.

However, I noticed no trace of any discernible trail either way.

I was trying to guess which way my family went. A hiker came along and I asked him if both trails led to the water.

“They both do, but the one that leads directly to the water is hard to get through and most people take the longer one, towards the campgrounds,” he told me.

“Well, if most people go one way, my people will go the other way, following the less traveled path,” I thought, and stumbled towards the water, on the nonexistent path. Sure enough, there they were, along with a handful of others, trying to get a spot to sit by the water.

Upper Joffre Lake
Sitting with a handful of visitors on the shore of the Upper Joffre Lake

We stayed a long time, enjoying the cool breeze, the view of the glacier above, and the crystal-clear water. A few hours later, we started on our way back.

My Daughter Gets Lost

Karen took off, ahead of us, but I didn’t worry about her. She seemed so at home in that area; it didn’t even occur that I should worry. Still, I sent her dad ahead, to keep an eye on her, just in case. I didn’t want to feel like I was slowing anyone down.

I was hiking for a while when I heard

“Mom! Mom!” behind me, and recognized my daughter’s voice.

I stopped, stunned.

“How in the world did you get behind me?”

“You know that trail on top of the rocks, where it splits?”

“You went towards the campground!” I laughed, though I was terrified inside. How could I let her just take off?

“It isn’t funny, I thought I was lost.”

“Well, you should’ve listened when I told you to wait for us.”

I hugged her, and we walked together from then on.

“I thought you were with dad,” I added. “Good thing I didn’t know. How far did you go?”

“I kept going until I got to a building, where the bathrooms are. We didn’t pass any bathrooms on the way up, so I knew I took a wrong turn.”

“Well, I’m glad you figured it out and caught up with me. Your dad might worry when he won’t catch up to you,” I added.

“Nah, dad never worries, only you do.”

We caught up with her dad at the waterfall. Though surprised to see Karen with me, it turned out he wasn’t worried. Of course not.

“I was wondering how you got so far ahead that I couldn’t catch up with you,” he told our little one. “What did you do? Go the wrong way?”

“Yeah, I went to the campground, but then I realized it was the wrong way and turned around. Mom is such a slowpoke, I caught up with her.”

Marker on the Trail to Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes
On the way down we even noticed a mark on the trail.

We hiked down the rest of the way together. Going downhill was easier to keep the same pace.

Back in Pemberton for Dinner

It was dinner time when we got back to Pemberton. The road was open, and everything was back to normal as if the Iron Man competition didn’t even happen. We went back to eat to the Wild Pony where the waitress recognized us.

“Where did you guys spend the day?” she asked.

“We hiked up to Joffre Lakes.”

“Beautiful, isn’t it? I bet you didn’t have the usual crowds today.”

“We knew we could count on the road closure to keep most people away. How was the competition? Did you watch it?”

“No, we don’t care for it. We wish they didn’t bring it here, it disrupts the whole town. We voted against it for next time.”

I hope they’ll listen. As much as I admire the competition, and enjoyed the crowd-less hike, I had to agree, this town is not the right place for it. With only one main road in and out, Pemberton was cut off from the outside world for a full day.

By the time we left the town, we made a few friends and explored the area. When we said our goodbyes, we knew we would be back.

Other places we love in Canada

British Columbia and Pemberton are only some of our favorite places in Canada.

We also love the area in and around Banff National Park, another spot we returned several times. When we visit Banff, we usually stay in Canmore, and use the town as a starting point for daily adventures into the park.

When the kids were little, we searched for easy hikes to take in Banff National Park, enjoyable even for toddlers. Our favorite spots for viewing wildlife were along the Bow River Parkway. We drove the Icefield Parkway for views of glaciers.

Sometimes we stopped for a few minutes along the road, just to end up taking an unexpected hike to a glacier, like the time we hiked up to Bow Lake.

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