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.
Snowshoeing is often referred to as the fastest growing winter sport in North America! While we have no proof to support this (we don’t really like to spend our weekends counting snowshoers) it kind of makes logical sense. Snowshoeing is an inexpensive activity, which requires only some warm clothes, a moderate level of fitness, no lessons, a pair of snowshoes and some snow!!
Why give Snowshoeing a go at Mt Seymour?
For the powder junkies amongst you the thought of giving up the opportunity to be tearing down a mountain at high speed scaring the life out of beginners doing pizza wedge turns in order to go walking on the snow might sound ludicrous! However, have an open mind for a few moments and consider the following as to why you might want to make the 30 minute drive from Downtown Vancouver to Mt Seymour Snowshoe Centre….
– The trail passes for snowshoeing are relatively inexpensive at around $9 per day at Mt Seymour when compared to the cost of a full day lift ticket!
– You only need snowshoes and some warm clothing to participate, no need for fancy “go-pros” or carbon fibre skis made from recycled NASA rocket ships. We managed to pick up a beginner pair of glorified tennis rackets at Sportchek for around $70 in the January sales. If you don’t have your own you can always rent from Mt Seymour at a price of $27 per day which includes your trail pass.
– While your average downhill skier or rider would suggest their day is tiring, they clearly have not tried snowshoeing where gravity is not your friend! A 5 minute trudge uphill is a serious workout which certainly strengthens your legs and core!! Mt Seymour has around 10km of well-marked trails ranging from green, through blue to black.
– There are no barriers to entry such as needing expensive lessons to know what to do – if you can walk in a straight line you can go snowshoeing!
– There is low injury risk when compared to other winter activities such as downhill ski racing, ski jumping and the Skeleton Bob!! The trails at Mt Seymour are groomed and well-marked so you should not be able to get lost, even if the weather is inclement! Saying that you should remember you’re in a winter environment so you need you to carry water, snacks and a spare layer or two in case you happen to have an accident with a tree well!
– The groomed trails offer a great way to enjoy the mountains, beautiful forests and frozen lakes in a safe environment. The more hardcore of you can progress to showshoeing in the Back Country. Out of Mt Seymour car park there is the well-trodden Dog Mountain trail which is not maintained by Mt Seymour but has the added bonus of being completely free!
– It’s a great social activity where you don’t have to learn a new language to participate. There are no rails to grind, no biffs to incur, liplayers to avoid or jampiece shredders to applaud. It’s a great activity to enjoy the mountains and catch up with friends and family while getting fit!
– Mt Seymour also offers Twilight, and Chocolate Fondue Snowshoe guided tours if you fancy something a bit different!
– Bring snacks as there is nothing to eat on the trails except some forest floor fodder (but only if you are Survivorman or Bear Grylls) . However, at the end of the day the Mt Seymour Day Lodge serves up a choice of burgers, fries, chilli, coke, coffee, cookies…..basically everything you need to restore your sapped energy levels!
– Be warned that the last trail back to the car park is just under a km uphill so keep something in the tank to get back or you could look a little silly trying to jump on the magic carpet ride with the kids just to avoid the hill (the thought did cross our minds!!)
– When you get your trail pass stick it to a metal clip on your coat, not on your back as you will look like an amateur who has no idea what they are doing!
– And finally when going downhill don’t lean back….as you will soon find yourself moving rapidly downhill on your backside cleaning out any fellow snowshoers in your path!
So all in all, a cheap and fun way to enjoy the mountain, and a great way to get fit too!