Situated on the western side of the Continental Divide, Yoho National Park is one of the smallest parks in the Canadian Rockies, covering only 1,313 square kilometers, but is not small on adventure. The amount of amazing things Yoho has to offer is in the name itself, as Yoho is a Cree expression of awe and wonder. A beautiful product of the ice age, Yoho is a landscape of high mountain peaks, flat valleys and cascading glacial waterfalls.
James Hector, a member of the Palliser Expedition, first explored the area in 1858, and the area was finally established as a park in 1886. When the route for the Canadian Pacific Railway was switched from Yellowhead Pass to the Kicking Horse Pass, the area of Yoho Park became more and more well known. Charles Walcott uncovered a fossil bed in 1909, that is now known as the Burgess Shale and was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
Yoho’s location on the west side of the divide causes it to receive more precipitation than areas opposite, but that’s not meant to rain on your parade. Copious rainfall just means more green meadows, abundant forests and powerful rivers. A paradise for alpine explorers, you won’t need to pack your bathing suit as Yoho National Park only has an average high of 20 degrees Celsius in the hottest months, so make sure you pack a jacket!
Yoho National Park is home to many popular Rocky Mountain locations, all well photographed and explored. With constant precipitation and cool weather year round, you’ll find a variety of plants and animals that thrive there. To heat up your Yoho National Park adventure, we’ve found some of the most iconic and memorable Canadian Rockies adventures!
1. Lake O’Hara
Known for its incredible blue green waters and brilliant surrounding mountain backdrop, Lake O’Hara is a must-see Yoho National Park adventure. The lake itself is at an elevation of 2,020 metres and the best vantage point is another 500 metres higher. You can access the view point by bus or by an 11 km hike – either way you’ll have a top notch panoramic view. There is an impressive campsite boasting 30 tent pads and the ever popular lodge at the lake for those wanting to spend their days exploring the trails around the lake, such as the 11.8 km Alpine Circuit, Odaray Prospect Point, Ross Lake Trail, the Big Larches Trail, Cataract Brook Trail, Cathedral Basin Trail, the Lake O’Hara Shoreline Trail and many more. Not only well known for its impressive Rocky Mountain scenery, the area is also a popular place for alpine skiers in the winter. Whatever the adventure, Lake O’Hara is here for it all.
2. Emerald Lake
Easily one of the most popular lakes in Canada, let alone in the Canadian Rockies, Emerald Lake is a pool of breathtaking, scenic adventures. Aside from the stunning vegetation and sparkling emerald green waters, Emerald Lake also offers a multitude of activities everyone can enjoy. You can chose to admire the lake on the quick hour-long trail loops or rent a canoe or rowboat if that’s more your drift. Fishing is very popular in the summer, and while the beautiful waters may look inviting to take a dip in, be warned, they are very cold!
From the parking lot of Emerald Lake itself, you can start along the Emerald Lake Nature Trail for some more adventures. The Burgess Highland Trail climbs up to the Yoho Pass towards the Burgess Pass and back down to Emerald Lake, the Emerald Basin guides you right along the western shores of the lake to a natural amphitheatre hosting hanging glaciers and avalanche chutes and the Hamilton Falls Trail is a simple 1.5 km walk from Emerald Lake to a scenic waterfall. A popular destination for families, couples and adventurers, your trip in Yoho National Park won’t be shining until you’ve seen Emerald Lake.
3. Takakkaw Falls
With a free-fall of 254 meters and a total drop of 992 feet, it’s easy to see why Takakkaw Falls is named after the Cree expression “it is magnificent.” The falls are one of the highest waterfalls in all of Canada and are fed their azure blue waters by Daly Glacier on the Waputik Icefield. Because they are fed from a glacier, the falls vary in flow depending on the amount of melt. There are many unique features that set apart this magnificent waterfall from the rest, but the best part is there are two red Adirondack chairs laid out for you and a partner to enjoy the impressive sights of Takakkaw Falls.
4. Natural Bridge
Yoho National Park is filled with ample amounts of natural Rocky Mountain beauty, but nothing is quite as earthly as Natural Bridge. Spanning over the Kicking Horse River, Natural Bridge is an extraordinary natural rock formation which can be viewed from many different vantage points. A short 3 km walk takes you from your car to the scene of a stunning remnant of what once was a waterfall. There are a few Yoho hiking, cross-country skiing and biking trails for you to enjoy from the lookout, or you can take off and explore the surrounding area on the Amiskwi Pass, Kicking Horse Trail, or Tally Ho Trail. But, your real connection with nature will be at the Natural Bridge.
5. Wapta Falls
Another place that will have you falling in love with Yoho National Park is Wapta Falls. The 30 metre high and 150 metre wide falls make for an impressively grand waterfall with tons of perfect trail vantage points. Only a 3.2 km hike round trip, the trail is not even a quarter of the adventure. With tons of foliage and dense forests surrounding you, your hike to the falls will be incredibly scenic. Because the falls have such a wide span, it’s hard to get quite the perfect angle to get the full view, but the trail leads you right down to the base of the falls where you will get the entire perspective and a full facial mist. A perfect balance of Canadian Rockies adventure and beauty, you won’t want to mist hiking to Wapta Falls in Yoho National Park.
6. Burgess Shale
One adventure you will definitely get a dig out of is an exploration of The Burgess Shale Formation. Burgess Shale is an exposed deposit in the Canadian Rockies which features preservation of the soft parts of fossils. While some of the bed is closed off for research stations, there are a number of guided hikes for you to do your own discovering. All hikes are quite strenuous and reach high altitudes, but with a trail leader with expertise in Earth Sciences you’ll be gaining more than just elevation. This 508 million year old fossil bed is one of the earliest beds containing soft-part imprints and is budding with adventure and a beautiful peak view.
7. Iceline Trail
Taking you along the edge of several glaciers in Yoho National Park, the Iceline Trail is very easily considered one of the most incredible hikes in the Rockies. Starting off at the Whiskey Jack Hostel on Yoho Valley Road, the moderate hike leads you past views of mountains, glaciers and waterfalls. The trail is only accessible in the summer and early fall, as you can imagine it gets quite icy and unsafe to travel in the winter. The 13 km hike will give you a chance to see Yoho in all of its glory, featuring every landscape the park has to offer, from thick forests to rocky glacial fields. A very cool Rocky Mountain hike, you won’t want to slip up and miss doing the Iceline Trail while in Yoho National park.
8. Sherbrooke Lake
An adventure a lot of people seem to drive right by in Yoho National Park, but not one to be missed, is the hike to Sherbrooke Lake. The 3 km trail is right along the Trans-Canada Highway, across from Wapta Lake, and is steep but has a top notch view that is well worth the climb. Sherbrooke Lake is surrounded by panoramic views of Mount Ogden, Mount Niles and Paget Peak and the stunning blue lake is a perfect place for a picnic or a nice refreshing dip. To escape the tourist traps and busier trails, take a hike to Sherbrooke Lake and you’re sure to find serenity.
9. Paget Peak
A short hike with a high elevation gain, Paget Peak is a scramble that leads to a tremendous view. Located near the Continental Divide, the views of Sherbrooke and Wapta Lakes from Paget Peak are ones you won’t want to tear yourself away from. From the abandoned fire lookout at the top you can see the north face of Mount Victoria, Mount Balfour and, in the distance, the Selkirk range, all amounting to one stunning view. Due to the steep incline, the best times to hike to Paget Peak are in the summer, but it can also be a very popular Rocky Mountain backcountry ski destination in colder months. Whether you head there in winter to ski the slopes or do nature’s stair master in the summer, Paget Peak will bring Yoho National Park to the top of your “to-do” list.
10. Lake McArthur
Though the lake itself is not that big at only 1.5 kilometers long, the incredible azure blue waters will have you wanting to stay and enjoy the view for an elongated time. The quick day hike of an 8 km round trip has an elevation gain of 310 m and takes you through meadows and mountain passes in the beautiful national park. Off of a busy road, the trail still remains fairly quiet and un-populated which will keep you at peace and make you feel like the stroll to Lake McArthur is a walk in the park.
Want help exploring this beautiful park and all it has to offer? Check out our Canadian Rockies Backroad Mapbook, or take us along on your GPS with our BC&AB Backroad GPS Maps or NEW Western Canada GPS Maps!