Yoho National Park Overview
Yoho National Park is famous for its magnificent waterfalls, towering rock walls, eagle’s-nest vistas, and Thoreau-worthy solitude. While tourists flock to the more chic destinations of Banff and Lake Louise, Yoho National Park is a welcome respite from the crowds. The 324,000-acre park in southeastern British Columbia, approximately 124 miles west of Calgary, was preserved in 1886 when the Canadian Pacific Railway made it a stop on its path to bring mountaineers, hikers, artists, and nature lovers to the Canadian hinterland. Now part of seven national and provincial parks that make up the UNESCO Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, Yoho has gained international scientific glory as the site of one of the world’s most spectacular and significant soft-bodied animal fossil finds—the 505-million-year-old Burgess Shale.
Open year-round, entrance to Yoho is $9.80 adult/$4.90 children per day—the pass is good until 4 p.m. the following day for entry into Yoho and all of the surrounding parks (Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, Jasper, Waterton, and Banff). Families can buy a group pass that allows entry for up to seven people in a vehicle ($19.60). Leashed pets are allowed everywhere in the park except Lake O’Hara.
Hiking and Backpacking
Yoho is famous for off-the-beaten-path day hikes with spectacular scenery. From the two-hour walk (round trip) to Wapta Falls to the scenic hikes around Emerald Lake, there is something for everyone—from a short meander through pine forest to a challenging backcountry adventure. The aptly named Iceline Trail traces the rugged terrain high on the west wall of the Yoho Valley, stopping en route at a secluded backcountry campground in Little Yoho Valley. Lake O’Hara is an especially pristine destination since a limited number of people are allowed entrance each day. Access is via hiking a seven-mile fire trail, or by reserving a spot (several months in advance) on the private shuttle. In the winter, ice climbers flock to the park for its accessible frozen waterfall ice; there are also miles and miles of backcountry ski and snowshoe trails. In the summer, some trails are designated for mountain bikes, or bring a fishing pole ($9.80 per day/$34.30 annually for a permit).
Yoho has many well-maintained campgrounds, some with automobile access, others walk-in only. Fees run from $15.70 to $27.40 per night, depending on amenities. Campsites are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Leashed pets are allowed. Primitive camping in one of the park’s six backcountry campgrounds costs $9.80 per person (age 17 and older) per night. The sites provide tent pads and bear poles.
Fossil Bed Tours
In the early 1880s, workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway discovered trilobite fossils that attracted the attention of the Smithsonian’s head paleontologist. In 1909, the discovery of the Burgess Shale beds helped prove that the Rocky Mountains were once submerged under water. To protect this world treasure, Parks Canada requires visitors to be escorted by an authorized guide. The steep hikes to both of the accessible beds afford spectacular views of the Kicking Horse and Yoho valleys, as well as the opportunity to see the ancient animal remains. Parks Canada offers guided hikes to the Mount Stephen fossil beds ($55 per adult) and Walcott Quarry ($70 per adult) with advanced registration. The Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation also offers guided hikes to the Burgess Shale.
The whole park is basically a scenic drive, but a specific one that’s not to be missed is the drive to horsetail-shaped Takakkaw Falls, one of the highest in Canada. Take Yoho Valley Road from the Trans-Canada Highway to the day-use area. The road climbs through Engelman spruce and alpine fir forest, and past numerous (and impressive) avalanche slopes. There’s a fine spray of mist, and then—as you get closer—a blast of wind greets you at the base of the falls. Twelve hundred and fifty feet above the pool, at the top of the stark limestone cliff, is the massive Waputik Icefield and the headwaters of the Kicking Horse River. When the sun hits the water droplets, refraction splits the sunlight into a brilliant rainbow of colors.
Of the three main lodges in the area, two—Emerald Lake Lodge (from $109) and Cathedral Mountain Lodge on the Kicking Horse River ($200 to $400)—can be accessed by car. Emerald Lake Lodge is one of the original Canadian Pacific Lodges, built of hand-hewn timbers with giant-sized stone fireplaces. After a day of hiking around the jade-colored lake, wilderness and civilization meet in the lounge, with its Gold Rush-era oak bar that was salvaged from a Yukon saloon. You can hike or take the shuttle into the secluded Lake O’Hara Lodge, where meals are included in the price of the room ($595 to $865). There’s also a 30-site campground at the lake.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication