Would there be bears on our Joffre Lakes hike? We (especially George) had bears on the brain. And really, that’s understandable if you know that we live in bear country.
We once had an unexpected up-close-and-pretty-scary (but thrilling in retrospect!) encounter with first two, then four grizzlies when bear-viewing with a group near Knight Inlet Lodge on Canada’s British Columbia coast. (You can thank Rob Hurson for the great grizzly shot above.)
Black bears are often spied wandering around Whistler (a mountain resort we like, just over an hour’s drive from our home).
A couple of years ago, we even saw a black bear ambling down our own driveway from the garden to the street – this in a residential neighborhood right on the north shore of Vancouver.
A neighbor later told us, unfazed: “Oh that bear! He lives just over yonder!” (pointing to another neighbor’s place)
But we really didn’t want to bump into bears on this hike. So while driving from Whistler to the Joffre Lakes hike, we decided to veer off into the village of Pemberton to buy a bear bell.
Now if you don’t know how bear bells work, listen up. The tinkling sound of the bell is supposed to warn any bears in the area of your approach. In theory, they’ll be scared off.
Cynics joke, though, that in reality they work differently – announcing “Hey bear! Dinner is waiting!”
Here’s how it went at the Pemberton hunting and fishing store we popped into
George: “We’d like to buy a bear bell. We’re going to Joffre Lakes.”
Big burly store clerk:“Yeah, you should get one. That’s where bears like to hang around. Want to buy some bear spray too? Only $39.99 and it could save your life.”
Janice: “No thank you. We’ll just end up spraying ourselves!”
Big burly store clerk: “Funny you should say that. They used to call it ‘bear repellent.’ But then a lot of people sprayed themselves with it, thinking it was like ‘insect repellent.’ Imagine the ouch! And they smelled like pepper for days afterward. So now it’s called bear spray.”
George: “Hmmm. Maybe we’ll get a second bear bell.”
Big burly store clerk: “You can never have too many bear bells. Hey, you know how you can tell a black bear’s scat from a grizzly’s? The black bear’s scat has berries in it. The grizzly’s also has broken bits of wrist watches and bear bells.”
This guy was on a roll…
People to the rescue
Back on the road after Pemberton, there’s not another soul to be seen. It’s a lonely drive on a weekday, just our car on this lonely strip of highway. We’re surrounded by mountains and forest. If we were bears, we’d love to live here. Maybe we should have bought the bear spray?
So, imagine our surprise when we turned into the Joffre Lakes parking lot – it was busy! Fancy honking big camper-vans (the type with flatscreen TVs, satellite dishes, WiFi and every other thing you obviously need to “escape” city life). Jeeps and SUVs. Even tour-style buses. (No idea where they materialized from.)
Normally we’d be crushed to discover that seemingly everyone else in the world also wanted to get away from it all on just the same wilderness hike. But this time around, we were delighted to see other people about. Any bears lurking nearby would have long since gotten the hint and moved off, we figured.
So we quickly stowed away the bear bells dangling from our backpacks. (No point inviting dirty looks from other hikers trying to enjoy a little peace and quiet in the great outdoors.)
Beautiful Joffre Lakes hike
After our initiation into bear bell lore, our actual hike felt like a pleasant walk in the park.
By now you’ve already deduced that the Joffre Lakes hike is a popular one. In fact, it’s the number-one rated activity in Pemberton (and one of our favorite hikes). It’s 10 km (6.2 miles) roundtrip and passes three very beautiful, popsicle blue lakes – cleverly named Lower, Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes :-).
The hike up is a moderate incline (a steady uphill rise – with the potential for slipping when going downhill).
Upgraded considerably in the past couple of years, the hike is now a well-maintained gravel-and-dirt path, punctuated by built-in steps at all the right places and solid bridges over streams.
We always marvel at the great work the park rangers do in the wilderness!
If you hiked the trail before 2013, you might feel a tinge of regret. The old trail, which we hiked once before years ago, felt a bit more like nature totally untamed. We recall balancing on log bridges and scrambling over the moraine of rock boulders. The new trail is more manicured, though it still gives you plenty of a nature fix.
And if the trail is new for you, let’s be clear. It’s really a lovely, spectacular hike!
Tip: Pack a light windbreaker. It’s quite the climate change from bottom to top. It was summery warm at the bottom for us, but cool and crisp at the top.
We’re not finished with our bear tale though
We did meet one bear.
It was a wooden sculpture the nice parks people carved by a bridge just before you get to the Upper Lake. The kind of bear we don’t mind bumping into in the wild…
The (bear – he he) facts
- Joffre Lakes hike: Located in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.
- Elevation gain: 400 metres (1,300 ft) – expect somewhat of an uphill slog from the Middle to Upper Lake.
- Trail length: 10 km (6.2 miles)
- Time: Allow 4 hours roundtrip – this includes sharing your lunch with chipmunks while gazing at Upper Lake.
- Will you see real bears on your Joffre Lakes hike? Unlikely! (If our experience is any indicator…)