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Guide to Yoho National Park

In the heart of the Canadian Rockies, you'll find Yoho National Park, a breathtaking destination for nature lovers and adventurers. Named after a Cree expression of awe and wonder, Yoho National Park lives up to its moniker.

Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park in British Columbia, Canada

Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park in British Columbia, Canada

The travel experts at Canadian Train Vacations help visitors to Canada plan their vacations. Many of our itineraries include time exploring the Rockies. In this comprehensive guide, we provide everything you need to know to have the ultimate experience in this pristine wonderland.

History of Yoho National Park

Created in 1886 as Canada's second national park, Yoho National Park is a gateway to millions of years' worth of natural history. In the park you can see important geology and fossils of our planet. 

The park’s landscape consists of mountains, open valleys, lakes, and waterfalls — covering over 1,313 square kilometres (507 square miles) of wild, untouched nature.

Geographic and Ecological Overview 

So where exactly is Yoho National Park? It's located in eastern British Columbia on the western slopes of the Canadian Rockies and shares borders with Banff National Park to the east and Kootenay National Park to the south. 

Its unique topography features dramatic contrasts, from green valleys and deep blue lakes to towering mountain peaks capped with glaciers. 

Yoho National Park is home to several ecosystems, including sub-alpine forests and alpine meadows, sustaining an incredible biodiversity of flora and fauna. This varied habitat welcomes a host of wildlife, including grizzly bears, moose, elk, cougars, and a diverse array of bird species. 

It has a subarctic climate, with temperature patterns varying with the changing seasons — from long and snowy winters to mild and pleasant summers. 

[Read: Banff National Park Travel Guide ]

Burgess Shale and its Fossils

One of the main treasures of Yoho National Park Canada is the rich repository of Burgess Shale fossils. Discovered in the early 20th century, this fossil field paints a vivid picture of life on earth some 508 million years ago. 

What makes this part of the park so special is the impressive preservation quality of the Burgess Shale fossils. It is one of the best examples of soft body preservation of marine organisms in the world. The Burgess Shale Fossil Beds hold a catalogue of ancient sea creatures, with many fossils still having their soft body parts, such as eyes and gills preserved. 

If you're visiting the park and want to see these fossils, Yoho National Park offers guided tours to two sites: the Walcott Quarry and Mount Stephen fossil fields. 

You can only check out these areas on a guided tour. This helps protect the delicate fossils and ensures you get the most out of your visit. 

What to Expect When Visiting

A wooden bench in front of Takakkaw Falls, a tall waterfall

Expect an immersive experience in one of nature's grand playgrounds when you visit Yoho National Park. You'll be captivated by the beautiful landscapes and mountain peaks, pristine turquoise lakes, cascading waterfalls, and abundant wildlife. 

Exciting outdoor activities include hiking, camping, and sightseeing, make Yoho National Park of Canada a must-visit for every traveller.

[ Explore: Best Canadian Rockies Train Tours in 2024/25 ]

Best Time to Visit 

As for the Yoho National Park weather, the area is a treat no matter when you go. 

However, the best time to visit Yoho National Park is from July to September

During these months, you can expect comfortable weather, which is great for outdoor activities. Plus, all the park facilities and services are up and running then. 

  • Spring: You can witness beautiful wildflower blooms. 
  • Summer: This is the ideal time for hiking, camping, and more. 
  • Autumn: Get ready for stunning foliage colors. 
  • Winter: If winter is your cup of tea, the best time for skiing and snowshoeing is from late December up to late March. 

#1 Travel Tip: Pack your binoculars

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Between the wildlife and the impressive scenery, you’ll want to have binoculars or a travel monocle.

Katherine Foxcroft
Product Manager, Tours and Vacations

Activities and Attractions

Couple canoeing on Emerald Lake with views of the mountains in Yoho National Park near Field

If you're looking for things to do in Yoho National Park, it has numerous fun activities and must-see spots. Here are some of the top ones: 

  • Hiking: Explore a variety of trails, leading to amazing views, lakes, and waterfalls. 
  • Camping: Try spending a night under the stars at one of the park's camping spots. 
  • Stunning lakes and waterfalls: Explore the Emerald Lake and Lake O'Hara, renowned for their crystal-clear, turquoise waters. Let the trails take you to the powerful Takakkaw Falls and Wapta Falls — connect with nature, unwind, and take some perfect pictures. 
  • Photography: The rich biodiversity and landscapes, beautiful sunrise and sunsets, and the radiant night sky provide endless opportunities for taking extraordinary shots. 

Visitor Guidelines and Facilities 

To make sure you have a smooth visit, use the facilities and follow the guidelines provided by the park. Here's what's available: 

  • Visitor Centre: Grab a park map and get directions. The centre also has displays and info about the park's history and attractions. 
  • Facilities: Campgrounds, picnic areas, washrooms, and parking lots are available at convenient spots throughout the park. 

Following the park rules and guidelines helps keep the place clean and safe for everyone. Make sure to clean up after yourself and keep a respectful distance from any wildlife you encounter. Enjoy your time exploring Yoho National Park! 

Hiking Opportunities 

Explore Canada's natural landscapes — from well-marked trails filled with beautiful green forests to challenging terrains leading to stunning mountain views. 

Popular Trails and Day Hikes 

Some of the notable hiking trails in Yoho National Park include: 

  1. Emerald Lake Lakeshore Trail: An easy 5.2 kilometres (3.2 miles) round-trip hike around the stunning Emerald Lake, requiring roughly 2 hours. It offers incredible mountainous views. 
  2. Odaray Mountain: A difficult but rewarding 11.8 kilometre (7.3 miles) trail that offers panoramic views of Lake O'Hara and the surrounding peaks. 
  3. Abbott Pass Hut and Lake Oesa: A challenging trail so make sure you're prepared and stick to a group if possible. It's about 11.8 kilometres (7.3 miles) long and navigates steep terrains towards the historic Abbott Pass Hut. 
  4. Wapta Falls: An easy, family-friendly 4.6 kilometres (2.9 miles) round-trip route. It takes about 1-2 hours with an elevation gain of 30 metres, leading to the wide and impressive waterfall. 
  5. Sherbrooke Lake: A moderately challenging hike with a distance of 6.2 kilometres (3.9 miles) round-trip — offering mind-blowing lake views within 3-4 hours. It has an elevation gain of 165m. 

#2 Travel Tip: Invest in local guidebooks

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When visiting the National Park visitor centres, pick up guides to the local flora and fauna. It adds a whole other level to your exploring when you can identify the plants, trees, and wildlife that you will see.

Blog Author - Athena McKenzie
Athena McKenzie
Content Manager

Mountain Goats and Other Wildlife 

If you're a wildlife enthusiast, you'll appreciate the varied fauna within Yoho National Park. The park is a habitat for: 

  1. Moose: These large mammals thrive in the park's wetlands and river areas. Moose have long legs, a large hump on their back, and are known for their impressive antlers. 
  2. Grizzly Bears: Recognizable by their muscular build, humped shoulders, and dished face, these powerful predators can be found roaming remote parts of the park. 
  3. Elk: With their majestically large antlers, buff-coloured rump, and thin legs, these herbivores are usually spotted throughout the park and are particularly active at dawn and dusk. 
  4. Cougars: These are elusive, tawny-colored big cats, with very long tails, and white/cream chins, undersides, and inside of legs. They can be difficult to spot but are known to inhabit various areas within the park's boundaries. 
  5. Hoary Marmots: These small, furry, ground-dwelling creatures are often seen in rocky areas and alpine meadows of the park. When feeling threatened, they give off a loud, distinctive whistle sound. 

Waterfalls 

With Yoho National Park waterfalls, you'll experience jaw-dropping views and a refreshing experience of nature's pristine beauty. 

1. Takakkaw Falls: Canada's Tallest Waterfall 

Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park holds the distinction of being Canada's tallest waterfall, standing impressively at a height of 384 metres. 

The waterfall is just a short trail from the parking lot and creates a rushing sound as it cascades down the cliff. Plus, the trail is wheelchair and stroller-accessible, ensuring everyone gets to witness this spectacle. 

2. Wapta Falls: A Beautiful Waterfall in Yoho National Park 

The Wapta Falls stretches 150 metres wide, with a drop height of 30 metres. You can access it via a 2.4 km trail offering serene walks through lush forests. 

It's the largest waterfall on the Kicking Horse River and is famously known for the horse-kick incident. 

[ Read: Best Waterfalls in Canada ]

Lakes in Yoho National Park 

There's no doubt that the Yoho National Park captivates visitors with the natural splendor of its pristine lakes. These serene bodies of water offer a natural escape, leaving you craving for more. 

Emerald Lake: One of the Most Beautiful Lakes in Canada 

Emerald Lake is a true gem in Yoho National Park, distinguished for its striking emerald color. 

This beautiful shade is created by the sunlight reflecting off rock flour suspended in the water — a powdery substance worn off the glacier and ground into the water as it melts. The lake is surrounded by the towering President Range, offering a stunning backdrop to the beautiful wooden cabin resort within the landscape. 

Engage in a variety of enjoyable activities, including paddling along its tranquil shores in a canoe, going on scenic hikes along lakeside trails, or exploring the nearby Yoho Pass and Burgess Shale. 

And during certain times of the year (mostly September to April), you can witness an enchanting display of the Northern Lights, casting a dazzling glow over the lake. 

The Area Around Emerald Lake 

Emerald Lake Lodge provides a cozy, comfortable retreat among picturesque surroundings. 

Constructed with local, hand-hewn timber, the lodge offers huge stone fireplaces, game rooms, conference rooms, and even reading rooms. The on-site restaurant features delectable regional cuisine, while the Kicking Horse Lounge serves as a relaxed meeting space for guests to unwind after a day of adventure. 

Just steps from the lodge, visitors can rent canoes to explore the placid waters of Emerald Lake or set off on the range of hiking trails that start by the lake. For instance, The Emerald Lake Loop, a gentle 5.1 kilometre (3.2-mile) walk around the lake, offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains. Additionally, other nearby trails lead to scenic vistas such as Hamilton Falls, a spectacular waterfall worth visiting. 

Canoe rental prices fluctuate based on season and duration, but cost an average of $90 per hour. Here's the breakdown: 

  • Three adults: $30 each for the hour 
  • Two adults, two children: $45 each adult for the hour 
  • Other activities and attractions may involve registration fees or reservation requirements. 

For an unforgettable stay at the Emerald Lake Lodge, gather up-to-date information about pricing, availability, and any seasonal highlights from the lodge or park officials. 

Lake O'Hara: A Must-See Destination for Nature Lovers 

Lake O'Hara is another gem in Yoho National Park, calling out to all nature lovers. This must-visit destination boasts incredible natural features like hanging valleys and lush greenery, creating a serene atmosphere. 

A unique feature of Lake O'Hara is its extensive and well-maintained network of hiking trails. These trails cater to different fitness levels, providing everyone the opportunity to immerse themselves in the heart of nature. 

To limit ecological damage and provide convenience, Parks Canada operates a shuttle service. This service runs to and from the lake during the tourist season. 

A keynote for visitors: reservations are mandatory for this service. They must be made through the Parks Canada Reservation Service (1), or by calling 1-877-737-3783. Make sure to reserve as early as possible due to the high demand. 

Whether you're aiming for a day visit or keen on an overnight stay, you have options. At Lake O'Hara, you can set up camp at the designated campground. For more comfortable accommodations, consider staying at the rustic Elizabeth Parker Hut or the quaint Lake O'Hara Lodge. 

Lake Louise: Iconic Rocky Mountain Views 

In nearby Banff National Park, Lake Louise is an iconic destination known for its panoramic Rocky Mountain views. The dramatic scenery, characterized by its crystal-clear, turquoise-colored lake and stunning mountain backdrop, makes it a must-see for all visitors. 

Lake Louise has several unique features and attractions that continue to mesmerize tourists: 

  1. Turquoise-Colored Lake: The glowing turquoise color of the lake, due to rock flour carried into the lake by meltwater from the surrounding glaciers, is an unforgettable sight. 
  2. Stunning Mountain Backdrop: Offering iconic views of the Canadian Rockies, the mountains frame the lake beautifully and provide incredible opportunities for photography. 
  3. Lake Louise Ski Resort: Known for its breathtaking views and vast skiing terrain, the resort is a hot spot for winter sports enthusiasts. 
  4. Hiking Trails: The area offers some of the best hiking trails in Banff National Park, appealing to all skill levels and offering vistas of glaciers, waterfalls, and wildflowers. 
  5. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise: This luxury resort on the lake's eastern shore gives visitors a chance to experience Lake Louise in style, featuring a spa, fine dining, and a range of outdoor activities. 

Whether it's by canoe on the waters of the brilliant turquoise lake, by foot on the surrounding trails, or from the comfort of the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise — get ready to be amazed by the stunning backdrop of Lake Louise. 

Access and Travel to Yoho National Park

Car driving on highway through the mountains in Yoho National Park

Reaching Yoho National Park is feasible from various nearby cities such as Calgary, Vancouver, or Banff. Here's a guide on transportation options: 

  • From Calgary: Yoho National Park is approximately a 2.5-hour drive from Calgary, primarily via the Trans-Canada Highway. 
  • From Vancouver: A slightly longer journey, it takes about 9 hours to reach the park from Vancouver. 
  • From Banff: Traveling to Yoho National Park from Banff is relatively short, taking roughly an hour by car along the Trans-Canada Highway.

Once you arrive at Yoho National Park, navigating within the park is achievable through various means:

  • Driving: With well-marked roads and signages, driving within the park is quite easy. However, during the peak season, parking can be a challenge due to high volume. Be sure to arrive early, especially if you plan to visit popular destinations like Emerald Lake or Takakkaw Falls. 
  • Shuttle Services: Parks Canada offers shuttle services to key destinations like the Lake O'Hara region. This is a great way to reduce environmental impact and remove the stress of driving and parking. Reservations are required. 
  • Guided Tours: Guided tours offer an enjoyable and educational way to explore the park. Various operators provide different types of tours including hiking, wildlife viewing, and cultural tours. 

Please check with Parks Canada for the latest travel advice and information before planning your journey. Make sure to adhere to their guidelines and enjoy the wonderful experience Yoho National Park provides.

Safety and Park Guidelines 

For an exceptional and safe experience in Yoho National Park, adhere to the recommended safety measures and park regulations (2) during all outdoor activities. 

1. Safety Measures for Outdoor Activities 

Wildlife Encounters: View wildlife from a safe distance of at least 30 meters for most animals and 100 meters for bears. Never feed or approach wildlife. 

  • Hiking Safety: Stick to marked trails and inform someone about your hiking plans. Be prepared with essentials such as a map, enough water and food, a fully charged mobile phone, warm clothing, and a first-aid kit. 
  • Water Safety: Rivers and lakes can look deceivingly calm but may have undercurrents. Be cautious near water bodies and if kayaking or canoeing, always wear a life jacket. 

2. Importance of Park Rules and Conservation Guidelines 

Adherence to park rules is not only vital for your safety but also critical for conserving the natural wonders of Yoho National Park. 

  • Respect Wildlife: Allow wildlife to move freely and undisturbed by admiring from a safe distance. 
  • Leave No Trace: Carry out what you bring in; never leave litter behind, as this impacts wildlife and the natural environment. 
  • Stay on Designated Trails: Sticking to trails helps protect fragile vegetation, prevents erosion, and keeps the park's ecosystem intact. 

3. Essential Tips for a Safe and Responsible Visit 

  • Plan ahead: Get valuable information from visitor centres, check the weather forecast, and take appropriate gear to suit the conditions. 
  • Act Responsively: Follow all posted signs or notices, respecting closures, restrictions, and advisories. 
  • Camp in Designated Areas: This helps to reduce the impact on the natural environment. 

By abiding by these guidelines, you ensure your safety and play a significant role in preserving the park's natural beauty for future generations. 

Accommodations and Lodging Options

Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park with a large mountain behind

In and around Yoho National Park, visitors have a variety of accommodations to choose from. Here are some places to stay in Yoho National Park to help you further connect with the area's natural beauty. 

1. Camping Sites 

Yoho National Park has several campgrounds offering rustic accommodations. These sites offer amenities like picnic tables, fire pits, washrooms, and access to nearby hiking trails. 

Campgrounds include Monarch Campground, Kicking Horse Campground, and Lake O'Hara Campground. Advanced reservations are recommended, especially during the summer season. 

2. Lodges 

For a more comfortable stay amidst nature, consider the lodge options available. The Elizabeth Parker Hut and Lake O'Hara Lodge offer unique, cozy accommodations in the heart of the park. 

Yoho National Park lodges prove an excellent choice for those looking for a more relaxed stay with access to modern comforts. 

3. Guesthouses 

Several guesthouses and bed-and-breakfast accommodations are available near the park, particularly in the towns of Field and Golden. These establishments typically provide a homely environment with private rooms, breakfast, and sometimes, kitchen facilities. 

4. Hotels 

Hotels near Yoho National Park, ranging from luxury to budget options, offer comfort and easy access to natural attractions. 

Notable picks include Emerald Lake Lodge and Cathedral Mountain Lodge (luxury), Chancellor Peak Chalets (mid-range), and The Fireweed Hostel (budget-friendly). 

Proximity to highlights like Takakkaw Falls and Emerald Lake enhances these accommodations' appeal. 

No matter what type of accommodation suits your preferences, book well in advance, as sites do fill up, especially during peak tourist season. Amenities may differ between each accommodation type, so be sure to review these while making your reservation for a comfortable stay. 

Adventure Awaits in Canada's Natural Wonders 

Experiencing Yoho National Park is like stepping into a living painting. Here you'll find dreamy mountain views, powerful rivers, serene lakes, and a brilliant array of flora and fauna. 

This place leaves you with amazing Yoho National Park photos for your vacation, and even better memories. 

So start planning your trip with Canadian Train Vacations today. Our team of local travel experts is ready to plan your ideal Canadian vacation, to ensure you have an amazing travel. 

Frequently Asked Questions

There are numerous incredible places to hike in Yoho, but the Lake O'Hara area is often regarded as one of the best, boasting several scenic trails.

The Ottertail Valley to McArthur Creek is one of the longest trails in the park, measuring around 32.4 kilometers.

Yoho National Park offers over 400 kilometers of trails, catering to all levels of hiking experience.

The Emerald Triangle trail has a significant elevation gain, rising about 880 meters over its 19.7-kilometre length.

Yes, some trails in Yoho National Park lead to backcountry camping sites, such as those found on the Lake O'Hara circuit and along the Iceline Trail. Remember to secure a permit for backcountry camping before setting out.

About the author: Katherine is Product Manager with Fresh Tracks Canada. Having worked in the Canadian travel industry for almost 20 years, she enjoys sharing her local expertise with visitors. She is based in Calgary and one of her favourite Canadian destination is the... Read more

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