Aptly named after a Cree expression for ‘awe and wonder,’ Yoho National Park encompasses 507 square miles of dazzling Canadian Rocky summits, massive icefields, cascading waterfalls, and lush forest.
The park, which sits on the western slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in British Columbia, is bordered by Kootenay National Park and Banff National Park. Together, Yoho and nearby Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay national parks, as well as Mount Assiniboine, Mount Robson, and Hamber provincial form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The UNESCO World Heritage designation acknowledges the park’s extraordinary natural beauty and cultural, historical, and scientific significance. In fact, Yoho protects several of the Burgess Shale sites, which contain some of the Earth’s most meaningful and complex fossil deposits. These remarkable, 500 million-year-old fossils represent an ecosystem that existed for only a short period after the first explosion of multicellular life on earth.
Several thousand years ago, the Kootenay and Shuswap people were the first humans to travel through the rugged landscape that is now known as Yoho National Park. In 1858, the first Europeans explored the valley of the Kicking Horse River by climbing the Kootenay and Vermillion watersheds. However, it wasn’t until after the construction of the transcontinental railway, that Yoho would become a popular tourist destination. In fact, it took the Canadian Pacific Railway several years to find a reasonable route through the park’s unforgiving topography.
The park was originally established in 1886 as Mount Stephen Park Preserve. In the same year, the Canadian Pacific Railway opened Mount Stephen House in the tiny township of Field to motivate travelers to visit the park. Over the next several years, iconic lodges and attractions were opened throughout the park, including the Emerald Lake Lodge, Lake O’Hara Lodge, and Wapta Lodge Bungalow Camp. The park would be expanded three more times and, along with Glacier National Park, Yoho would be named Canada’s second national park.
Today, Yoho National Park protects the upper watershed of the Kicking Horse River, more than 100 named summits (28 of which exceed 9,000 feet in elevation), 61 lakes and ponds, and contains over 200 miles of hiking trails. Tourists travel from around the world to snap photos of iconic Bow, Waputik, and Ottertail Range summits like South Tower, Mount Goodsir, Mount Stephen, Mount Balfour, Mount Burgess, Wapta Mountain, The President, and Cathedral Mountain, or visit aquamarine alpine lakes like Emerald Lake and Lake O’Hara. The park is also known for its impressive waterfalls, like Laughing Falls, Twin Falls, and one of Canada’s highest, Takakkaw Falls.
Arguably the best hike in Yoho, the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit combines four alpine routes – Wiwaxy Gap, Huber Ledges, Yukness Ledges, and All Soul’s Prospect to form a strenuous, but jaw-dropping alpine trek. Glistening turquoise lakes set amid impressive hanging valleys and soaring peaks can be appreciated from several overlooks and viewpoints along this 7-mile footpath. Reaching this trail can also prove to be difficult. Lake O’Hara can only be reached via a reservation on a Parks Canada bus or by walking an additional 7 miles along an access road. Bus reservations are incredibly competitive, so if you can’t snag a ticket, expect to add an additional 14 miles to your day.
Emerald Lake is one of the most beautiful hiking destinations in Yoho National Park. The lake, which was inadvertently discovered in 1882 by a mountain guide, is the park’s largest lake and houses both Michael Glacier and the world-famous Burgess Shale deposits. The lake’s stunning jade waters are perfect for an early morning paddle and its mountainous backdrop, which includes stunning summits like Mount Burgess and Wapta Mountain, can be appreciated from several overlooks along a 2.5-mile footpath that circles the lake.
The Wapta Falls trail is an outstanding family-friendly trek that travels along the relatively level forest floor to the stunning 180-foot Wapta Falls. There is a small lookout at the top of the falls, but adventurous visitors can scramble to the base of the falls to get a closer look. There is also a large mount in front of the falls that provides an awesome view of the entire waterfall – just be prepared to get soaking wet!
Beginning at the thundering Takakkaw Falls, the Iceline trail climbs up the eastern slope of The President to the Iceline Shelf and skirts an exposed alpine tundra beside several large glaciers, including the renowned Emerald Glacier. Hikers can expect sweeping views toward the Daly Glacier, as well as commanding views of the Cathedral Crags, Takakkaw Falls, Yoho Glacier, and Little Yoho Valley.
Located in the Kicking Horse River Valley, Field sits within Yoho National Park and serves as the perfect basecamp for adventurers looking to explore the park. Field isn’t a particularly large city, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in charm. Surrounded by the illustrious Canadian Rockies, Field is just a short drive from popular Yoho attractions and trails like Takakkaw Falls, the Spiral Tunnels, and Burgess Shale, as well as the infamous Icefields Parkway. This tiny historic town isn’t exactly teeming with services, but it’s an excellent option for visitors that are looking to escape the crowds found in nearby Lake Louise.
A quintessential Canadian Rocky resort, The Emerald Lake Lodge sits on the shores of Yoho’s most iconic lake – Emerald Lake. Surrounded by illustrious summits, the lodge offers visitors an opportunity to wake up to breathtaking vistas and incredible mountainscapes. The lodge was built of hand-hewn timber, features massive stone fireplaces, and includes an elegant dining room. Emerald Lake Lodge is just 14 miles from neighboring attractions and trails, including the Lake Louise Ski Area and Lake Louise.
Cathedral Mountain Lodge is the perfect getaway for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a little extra luxury. The lodge, which features 31 rooms in 23 luxury log cabins, is located in the heart of Yoho National Park and is a short drive from Lake Louise. Cathedral Mountain Lodge is known for its award-winning dining and locally inspired dishes. Not to mention, this Rocky Mountain getaway is one of the top-rated accommodations in the park. So, if you’re not looking to rough it in the Rockies, you might want to check out this seasonal lodge.