Snowshoeing is often referred to as the fastest growing winter sport in North America, for lots of good reasons. It’s an inexpensive low risk activity, which makes for a great workout and requires only some warm clothes, a moderate level of fitness, no lessons, a pair of snowshoes and some snow!!
To find out the Top 5 beginner snowshoe trails in the Canadian Rockies click here….
Old Man Winter has a bad rep for delivering endless months of bitter cold, icy roads and countless hours of back breaking snow shoveling. However hidden behind these sinister acts, the old man is an artistic genius who has the power to create wintry magic and wonder with just the merest hint of an arctic outflow.
Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park is a fantastic example of winter’s creativity at work. Situated just a 40 minute drive along the scenic Highway 1A from Banff the canyon makes for a relatively easy winter half day hike.
The Hike (5.2 km return, 135m elevation gain)
Starting from the car park you head over the small Johnston Creek bridge past the Johnston Canyon Resort and into the forest. With glimpses of the surrounding snow-clad peaks the trail follows the canyon below to the Lower Falls 1 km away.
The best view of the Lower Falls can be seen by ducking your head and taking a quick trip through the natural cave to a cosy viewing platform!
The trail then involves a few switchbacks before you reach a breathtaking raised iron catwalk set deep in the canyon. Mind your head on the overhanging rocks!
With snaps safely secured head towards Johnston Canyon’s Mona Lisa – the Upper Falls. While views are great from the platform, you can demonstrate your climbing skills and head down onto the snow to get a closer look at the mini icebergs in the plunge pool. You may be competing for space though with ice climbers as this is a popular climbing spot!
- Bring ice cleats as the hike can be very icy! Our Yaktraxs worked well, while snowshoes are another option.
- Wrap up warm -the canyon is cold as it gets very little direct sunlight and remember cold airs sinks!
- Arrive early to get a parking spot as the hike can get pretty busy. If you don’t have your own vehicle Discover Banff Tours offers an “Icewalk” package with Banff hotel pick up and drop off.
Hopefully you will leave Johnston Canyon knowing that despite his dark acts Old Man Winter knows how to create a gallery for all to enjoy.
There are two ways to get from Lake Louise Village to Lake Louise itself in winter – the fast way in a car or the better way on snowshoes!
With 30cm of fresh snow on the ground we chose the scenic Louise Creek route (no 14) as that sounded way more fun!
Starting at the Lake Louise Village car park we headed under the railway bridge and across the Bow River Bridge.
The start of the 2.8 km trail (one way) is on your left immediately after the bridge. Within a few meters the road is left behind and a Winter Wonderland awaits!
After a few hundred meters you meet the first of many Louise Creek crossings.
The trail then starts its 200m elevation, which when breaking trail in 30cm of fresh powder is certainly a great workout! Remember snacks!!
However, there are always good spots to take a rest and just capture the magic of a snowy day in the Canadian Rockies!.
Eventually the trail flattens as you reach an intersection with the Tramline cross country skill trail (no 3).
Then it’s time to find a cosy lunch spot by the creek! On a cold day nothing is better than warm soup!!
The trail gradually makes its way up to Lake Louise, a crown jewel in the Canadian Rockies.
The fun part is heading back downhill on your newly-made trail finding new spots you missed on the way up!
Best to be quick though as the sun goes down earlier in winter!
What to do when it’s 3 degrees and raining in Whistler in the middle of Winter? Well firstly you don’t buy a lottery ticket as clearly it’s not your week. This type of weather is not the norm, but unfortunately the close proximity to the coast does mean the occasional frontal system comes through that is a little too warm to coat the Village in white.
If you want to enjoy playing in fresh snow you really only have 1 option, and that is to get as high as possible (in altitude). However, this does not mean that you have to join the crowds hustling for a prime spot on the Peak, Symphony, Harmony or 7th Heaven chairs to enjoy some fresh powder. Another option is to consider snowshoeing at Joffre Lake Provincial Park, which has a starting elevation of 1200m. The trail is a popular summer hiking route, but also makes for an excellent marked snowshoe trail (follow orange markers) in colder months.
How to get to Joffre Lakes
The snowshoe trail is situated in Joffre Lake Provincial Park, about a 30km drive north of Pemberton on Highway 99. You will need a vehicle that is equipped to climb 600m up the Duffy Lake Road, which is often snow covered.
In Winter the main car park is not always ploughed so you may have to find a spot just outside. When we visited there was space for 6 well parked vehicles only.
The Snowshoe Trail Route
From the Winter parking area continue through the snow-buried parking lot, and at the far end, the parking lot turns right and you will see the trailhead sign.
The first Lower Joffre Lake is an easy and short 5 minute walk from the car park. Here you can see directly across the lake. It may be tempting to take a short cut across the ice following the path of others, but it does not save you much time, you might struggle to find the trail again, and you may end up in the lake!
Continuing along the trail you cross a small bridge and then slowly ascend from 1200m through a snow clad pine tree forest for around 1.5km. You may have to show some gymnastic skills if there are a few fallen trees blocking the path.
You will emerge out of the forest into a valley surrounded by massive pillows of snow, which is actually a boulder field. The views are amazing on a clear sunny day. This place also represents an avalanche chute so it is best not to hang around too much, especially if there has been recent heavy snowfall – be sure to check Avalanche.ca before you go.
After about 1km, the trail steepens significantly – take a deep breath and take your time as this section is challenging, especially given the rocks, roots and ice that may lay under foot. If you have walking poles, it is advisable to bring them along for this section.
The final few 100 metres is a nice flat stroll to the 2nd Middle Joffre Lake, which provide great views of the glacier.
Our total travel time on snowshoes from the car park to the 2nd Middle Joffre Lake was 1.5 hours for a 4km one way walk, which involved an energy sapping 400m altitude gain.
An additional 500m add on, is to push onto the 3rd Upper Joffre Lake but given the short daylight hours in Winter we decided to turn back rather than risk having to use our torches to guide us back!
Why Snowshoe at Joffre Lake?
- Unlike the lower altitude Lost Lake and Whistler Olympic Park snowshoe trails, there is no fee to snowshoe at Joffre Lake Provincial Park
- The snowshoe trail starts at 1200m (higher than Mid Station on Whistler Mountain), which is 600m above Whistler Village. This gives you a fighting chance to get out of the rain, and into the far more pleasant and fun snow line.
- Snowshoeing is great exercise – the 8km round trip to the 2nd Middle Lake which involves a 400m climb will certainly get your heart rate up – make sure you bring snacks!
- This trail is very quiet in winter (unlike Summer), and offers the opportunity to enjoy snow clad forest, glacier views, and 3 beautifully frozen lakes surrounded by the mountains.
Things to look out for
- The big danger of this trail is avalanches. You can clearly see avalanche chutes as you make your way along the path at the boulder field section. Make sure you carry appropriate equipment and check the Avalanche.ca website before you leave.
- You will have no phone signal in the park, and the are no emergency services available; you need to be properly equipped for self-rescue, and make sure you tell someone where you are going!
- Gravity is certainly on your side on the hike to the 2nd Middle Lake. However, this friend soon becomes your worst enemy on the return leg – take your time, use poles and if you need to, resort to the “bum slide” which can be quite fun if not very graceful!
- Near the Middle Lake are two narrow bridge crossings – make sure you have a well-placed snowshoe before proceeding as the fallen snow can create overhangs, and as one of our party discovered if you step on one of these it can result in a splash into the cold water below.
- Leave yourself lots of daylight and be prepared with lights as the Winters bring very early sunsets (4pm in December), especially in the mountain forests.
- If you don’t have you own snowshoes, you can hire these from the Spud Valley Outdoor Goods shop in Pemberton
- On the return journey home, Mt Currie Coffee house offers well deserved hot drinks and snacks, or you can just enjoy a brew on the bench overlooking the Lower Joffre Lake.