Snowshoeing in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is a hiking paradise in the summer and a skiing and snowshoeing paradise in the winter. About 1 hour and 20 minutes north of Whistler gets you to the Joffre Lakes trailhead. Located up on the Duffy Lake Road north of Pemberton, Joffre Lakes is well known for its incredibly surreal, turquoise water. In the winter of course all three of the Joffre Lakes are frozen over but the trail is popular with skiers and snowshoers between the months of November and early June (depending on snowfall). Though the trail is fairly well marked and almost always tracked out in the winter it is still possible to lose the trail after dark or or during heavy snowfall.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is centred around the three Joffre Lakes. All of them are beautiful on their own and each more beautiful than the last. Frozen over in the winter, you won't be able to marvel at the amazing turquoise colours the lakes, caused by light reflecting off of the particles of glacial silt suspended in the water. In the winter, with the lakes frozen and the trees weighed down with snow, Joffre Lakes takes on a serene beauty, with the low sun cutting through the trees and the forest brightly reflecting. The third Joffre Lake ends in a U-shaped valley where you will find the far side of the lake towering with glaciers relentlessly crushing down on the lake. The sun fills the valley and the silence is wonderful.
The trailhead and parking lot will be buried in metres of snow in the winter months, however a small parking area is plowed throughout the winter. There are plenty of signs, so even in snowy weather, you should easily spot them. From the winter parking area you will likely have to climb over a plowed, wall of snow and then continue through the snow buried parking lot. At the far end, the parking lot bends right and you will spot the trailhead sign.
The first Joffre Lake is just an easy and short 2 minute walk. Here you can see directly across the lake and beyond to your destination. The third Joffre Lake will be at the foot of the distant mountain you see in the V of the closer mountains. If you trust the thickness of the ice on the lake you can take a short-cut by walking across the lake and picking up the trail as it skirts the right side of the lake. This doesn't cut off much distance, however, and finding the marked trail may be tricky.
Continuing along the trail you slowly ascend through deep forest and across some small creeks. Past the far side of the first Joffre Lake you then cross a huge boulder field which can be tricky to cross when wet, snowy or icy. On a sunny day, this is a great place to stop and take in the view. All around you are massive pillows of snow resting on massive boulders buried far beneath. The mountains across the valley seem to glow impossibly white. It's here that you will notice that much of the hike will be in the shade. Partly because of the deep forest, but also because the trail is mostly on the hillside facing away from the sun. Because of this you will want to have lots of warm gear and some hot drinks or you won't enjoy the sights on the trail nearly as much.
Plenty of caution should be taken on this trail. Make sure you don't go snowshoeing to Joffre Lakes immediately after heavy snow. Pick a nice, sunny day and leave yourself lots of daylight and be prepared with headlights as the winters bring very early sunsets, especially in the mountains. The trail is sometimes steep as you gain 400 metres of altitude in just 5k, trailhead to the third Joffre Lake. On snowshoes expect to reach the third lake in about two hours.
On a sunny day the frozen lake is beautiful and almost warm feeling. However, as soon as the sun goes behind the mountains the temperature gets bitter cold so be prepared with very warm clothing on any snowshoeing adventure there. You do occasionally see people camp overnight at Joffre Lakes in the winter. The usual campsite area is buried in snow as it lays at the base of the mountains so people usually put their tents directly on the frozen lake. Extraordinary!
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is dog friendly although at least one sign indicates that they must be on a leash. Garibaldi Park does not allow dogs, making Joffre Lakes possibly the most beautiful, dog friendly hiking and snowshoeing trail in the Sea to Sky Corridor. The reason for the dog prohibition in Garibaldi Park is out of respect for the resident animals in the park. Dogs often chase, or get chased by bears, harass marmots and deer and inevitably defecate close to drinking water sources. Fortunately for your dog, this has never been problem enough to warrant prohibiting them and Joffre Lakes remains a dog paradise. There are other dog friendly hikes around. Nairn Falls Provincial Park on the drive to Joffre Lakes is also dog friendly as well as many of the hiking trails in the Callaghan Valley in Whistler. For a look at a list of easy dog friendly hiking trails in Whistler try here. And more challenging, dog friendly trails try here.
There are two outhouses at the parking lot/trailhead to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park as well as one at the third lake and camping area. Keep in mind that in the depths of winter these facilities may be tricky to access and possibly unusable. Therefore the closest toilet facilities are in Pemberton, several kilometres south of Joffre Lakes. At the main, highway intersection in Pemberton there are gas stations on either side of the highway as well as a McDonald's.
From Whistler, zero your odometer in Whistler at Village Gate Boulevard and follow highway 99 north toward Pemberton. At 32km you will arrive at Pemberton, an intersection, with a Petro Can gas station on your left and McDonalds to your right. Continue straight, through Pemberton. At 39km turn right at the sign to Lillooet. Follow this winding road, and soon you will pass Lillooet Lake on your right as the highway ascends steeply. You are only 20 minutes from the parking lot now. At 65km, you will see the large Joffre Lakes parking lot on your right (shown on the map below). There are several worthwhile stops on the drive to Joffre Lakes. Just five minutes from Whistler Village and you will drive along the edge of Green Lake. There is an excellent pullout on the right side of the highway at a great viewpoint over the lake. Wedge Mountain, Blackcomb Mountain, and Whistler Mountain lay beyond Green Lake. Another 15 minutes driving and you will see the sign for Nairn Falls Provincial Park. A short and easy 1.2 kilometre trail runs along the wild and crashing Green River to a viewing area on cliffs across from the falls. In the winter the park gates are closed, so you will have to just park at the edge of the Sea to Sky Highway, next to the gates and walk in. Continuing north on the Sea to Sky Highway, Pemberton is just another 5 minutes away. This cute town is your last chance for a coffee shop, grocery store, liquor store or gas station before Joffre Lakes. You will see two gas stations at the set of traffic lights, but if you want coffee, restaurants, etc, then turn left at these lights and you will find plenty of choices.
Camping is welcome year-round at Joffre Lakes. In the summer months, 24 camping areas can be found at the far shore of the third lake. These are very rustic camping areas with no facilities other than two outhouses. In the winter months this camping area becomes unusable due to its location being in the path of frequent avalanches. Concern about the avalanche terrain becomes your main campsite consideration in the winter along with the lack of suitably flat areas to put up a tent. Camping on the frozen, third lake is often preferred by campers this time of year. Keep in mind that winter camping is only suitable for the well prepared and experienced. There is no garbage pick-up in the park and campfires are prohibited year-round. With the exception of some weekends and the occasional weekday, you can expect to be the only camper on the lake. If you are equipped and can brave the cold, sleeping on the third Joffre Lake is an experience you won't soon forget.
The closest hotels and B&B's to Joffre Lakes can be found in Pemberton. The hotel options in Pemberton are not the greatest. The Pemberton Hotel and the Hitching Post Motel are very rugged(dirty and old) and somewhat expensive and lacking in amenities. The Pemberton Valley Lodge is fairly new though a bit pricey as well. If you are picky about your choice of hotels you may want to stay in Whistler as the hotels are generally nicer and the amenities are plenty. Pemberton does have quite a nice array of nice Bed and Breakfast accommodations. Most are nice, big and modern log cabin homes on farms. There seems to be quite a bit of competition here which is shown in the competitive prices A great way to compare prices, locations and amenities is through Booking.com. They guarantee the best possible price and have a dizzying array of places to choose from.