On a rainy winter’s day in Vancouver, there are few things you can do in the open air. But jump on the Sea to Sky and head north for a couple of hours, and you’ll find a winter wonderland and outdoor playground just waiting to be explored.
Hiking at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park in the summer is amazing. The lakes are a stunning turquoise blue and if you dare brave it, the glacial meltwater is the perfect refresher after a long day of hiking.
Hiking at Joffre Lakes in the winter, however, is something else. While the three lakes are of course frozen over, this only makes for the perfect photo opportunity and a view that will literally take your breath away.
The 11km trail (round trip), perfect for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, meanders through the dense forest and open air and guides you past three beautiful glacier lakes. With the trees weighed down in snow, the landscape illuminated by the sparkle of the winter sun and a sheer silence that fills the valley, the surroundings are simply breathtaking.
The hike isn’t particularly strenuous, aside from the short but steep 400m elevation, and in the winter it’s easily doable with a good pair of hiking boots. You can expect to reach the Middle Lake in about 1h/1h15 at a steady pace, and allow another hour to reach the Upper Lake which sits at the foot of the glacier.
For the best photos, try to go on a clear day with blue skies. It was amazing to hike up there whilst it was snowing, but the fog and clouds meant that the glacier peak wasn’t all that visible. However, we still made the most of the snow and the little birds seemed to enjoy joining in too!
When it comes to winter activities, there always the question of what to wear. Bundle up, and most importantly, choose the right kind of layers. Remember that the temperatures will drop to below freezing up there, but your body will warm up fairly quickly once you get hiking. A good, breathable base layer is essential to keep you warm but also allow any sweat to evaporate from your body.
Combined with a good mid-layer (such as an insulated jacket), a waterproof outer shell and a decent pair of snow pants, that should be enough to keep you warm. Make sure to take extra layers (for both the hike and the drive home), a wooly hat and a good pair of insulated gloves, as it can get bitingly cold once you stop moving. For shoes, a pair of hiking boots will be fine as long as they’re waterproof with decent grip.
Joffre Lakes sits 1 hour north of Whistler, and around 2h 45 from downtown Vancouver. It’s a fairly easy drive up the Sea to Sky/Highway 99, but make sure to map your route in advance as you’ll likely lose phone signal once you get north of Pemberton.
The car park will probably be buried under a blanket of snow anytime from November onwards, so you may have to park on the roadside and you’ll definitely need the right car to get you up there. We used Modo’s great car sharing service and hired a Jeep Renegade for the day, which was kitted out with winter tires, snow-mode and 4-wheel drive to get us up the mountain safely. If you’re planning to camp out overnight, make sure you take a shovel with you too just in case you need to dig your way out (which is quite likely)!
If you’re looking for an escape from the city, exploration through the backcountry and of course, a beautiful photo opportunity, look no further than a winter hike at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. Learn more about the Modo car-sharing service at www.modo.coop.