Everything you need to know about Yoho National Park in Canada – the best hiking trails, where to stay and tips from an expert!
Yoho National Park: Banff’s Less Famous Neighbour
“Have you heard of Banff National Park?”
“Yes, of course! I loved it/am desperate to go there”
“Well, have you heard of its neighbour, Yoho National Park?”
The conversation pretty much always goes the same way. Eeeeverybody has heard of Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, but it still surprises me that not more people have heard of the park directly next door, Yoho National Park.
Many Canadians I have asked about it have never heard of it and even people that have been to Banff National Park have never heard of it!
It completely baffles me why one park is so famous while the other is virtually unknown.
Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park rivals the beauty of Banff’s Lake Louise. Just like Banff, Yoho boasts stunning mountain scenery, a picture perfect alpine village, raging rivers, loads of wildlife, and bright blue lakes.
Additionally, Yoho National Park is home to the second highest waterfall in Canada – Takakkaw Falls, a world renowned fossil site – the Burgess Shale, and the Lake O’Hara Alpine area, which a lot of people say is the most beautiful spot in the Rocky Mountains.
So why? Why aren’t people flocking to Yoho like they are to Banff?
I honestly don’t know the answer to this question. It is one of life’s great mysteries.
I mean, Banff is famous for a reason – it is jaw-droppingly beautiful, but I think that Yoho offers just as much to the visitor as Banff and you get the added bonus of not having to fight through crowds to enjoy it.
And for someone like me that doesn’t like crowds, this is a win-win.
Where Is Yoho National Park In Canada?
Located on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, Yoho National Park encapsulates the whole Rocky Mountain experience within its almost 319,000 acres of land.
Located entirely in the province of British Columbia, the park borders Banff National Park and the province of Alberta along the continental divide.
In the middle of the park is the small town of Field, home to a vibrant and close-knit community of 200. This is the only settlement in Yoho National Park and although there are a couple of places to eat, a post office and a gas station, there isn’t much else.
The Yoho National Park Visitors Centre is located just off the highway as you turn off for Field.
I was lucky enough to live in Field for six weeks during late summer/early autumn 2015 and ever since leaving, I have been plotting my return.
Not that you could blame me. Yoho is a Cree expression of awe, and that says it all really.
Things To Do In Yoho National Park
There are so many things to do in Yoho National Park!
This mighty waterfall is reason enough to visit Yoho National Park. It is the second highest waterfall in Canada dropping a whopping 384 metres to the valley floor below. Takakkaw Falls is named for a Cree word meaning ‘the magnificent’ and it certainly is.
The 8km drive out to the Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park from the highway is pretty awe-inspiring in itself, especially when the trees turn a lovely shade of gold in the fall.
Just as beautiful as Lake Louise but just lacking the world-wide fame, Emerald Lake is not really emerald at all, but rather an electric aquamarine that has to be seen to be believed.
It is the largest of 61 lakes in Yoho National Park and is home to the high-end Emerald Lake Lodge, which is located on a small peninsula that juts out into the lake.
A lot of hikes originate from here and it is the perfect spot to paddle out in a canoe or to just sit by the water with an ice-cold beer.
Burgess Shale Fossil Beds
For all you fossil enthusiasts out there, I am guessing you have probably heard of the Burgess Shale Fossil Beds in Yoho National Park. It is a world renowned fossil site with some of the best examples of soft body preservation of prehistoric marine organisms in the world.
To visit the fossil beds you can join a guided tour which can be booked through The Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation.
Lake O’Hara Wilderness Area
Lake O’Hara is a pristine wilderness of glacial lakes, waterfalls, and sub-alpine forest, located within the already stunning Yoho National Park.
It can only be reached by a limited shuttle service or by walking along an 11km gravel road to restrict visitor numbers.
It has been said that Lake O’Hara and the surrounds is the most beautiful part of the Rocky Mountains and once you visit, you can definitely see why.
Spaces on the shuttles sell out almost immediately and go on sale in April each year for the coming summer. You can find out more details about reserving the shuttle on the Parks Canada website.
The luxury Lake O’Hara Lodge also operates their own bus service which you can catch if you are staying with them.
A picturesque spot on the Kicking Horse River, where the strong force of the water has carved a bridge into the ancient rock, creating a waterfall underneath. It’s an easy stop off the road to Emerald Lake.
Field is a quintessential alpine village that is almost too picture-perfect for words.
Located in the heart of Yoho National Park in a valley surrounded by mountains, Field is home to 200 lucky locals and is the only settlement in the park.
It started life as a railway town a little over 100 years ago and still has strong links to the railroad today, with the Canadian Pacific Railroad Bunkhouses being located here.
With loads of accommodation options, delicious eateries, access to hiking trails, a historic cemetery and even a pond to swim in during the hot summer months, Field is definitely worth a visit.
Twin Falls Tea House
The rustic Twin Falls Tea House was designated a National Historic Site in 1992, commemorating the early National Park architecture along with its role in early tourism in Yoho National Park.
The Tea House is set in the Little Yoho Valley and can only be reached by an 8.5km hike each way from the Takakkaw Falls Parking Lot.
The Tea House in its current form was built in the 1920s and has no electricity or running water. Tea and light food options are served to hikers from noon to 3pm in summer, but only if they have supplies.
You can also stay at the Tea House in one of the four accommodation rooms available.
Hiking In Yoho National Park
Despite living in Yoho National Park for six weeks and hiking whenever I had free time, I still only managed to do less than half of the hikes on offer, but the ones I did complete were pretty awesome.
Here are some of the best Yoho National Park hiking trails:
Trailhead: Behind Whiskey Jack Hostel near Takakkaw Falls or from Emerald Lake Parking Lot
Best for: Gorgeous views of Emerald Lake and waterfalls
Coming from Takakkaw Falls, the hike begins with steep switchbacks through thick forest before levelling out and passing the tranquil Yoho Lake.
The trail then descends past gushing waterfalls to an alluvial fan and then along the shores of otherworldly Emerald Lake.
Trailhead: Parking Lot across from Wapta Lake, 11km east of Field
Best for: An easy hike to a beautiful lake
The hike to Sherbrooke Lake is an easy one through alpine forest, finishing at a glacial lake with a glorious shade of blue. I did this late in the season so it snowed lightly on the way up which only added to the experience.
Field Stone – Section of Mount Burgess Trail
Trailhead: Parking Lot on opposite side of the highway from Field, about 1km east.
Best for: A quick hike from Field with great views of town
One of the few hikes you can do from Field and great if you are staying there and don’t have a car. The trail is steep and travels through dense forest to a large stone known as ‘Field Stone’ that overlooks town.
This trail continues on to Burgess Pass and the summit of Mount Burgess.
Trailhead: Takakkaw Falls Parking Lot
Best for: An easy hike through the forest to a waterfall
Relatively flat and following the river the whole way, the Laughing Falls trail is a forested hike with mossy groundcover that leads to a waterfall at the confluence of the Yoho and Little Yoho rivers.
I like this one in fall for the bright red leaves and red berries that grow on low bushes along the path.
Emerald Lake loop
Trailhead: Emerald Lake Parking Lot
Best for: A pleasant stroll around Yoho’s most magnificent lake
It may be easy but it is a stunner. With lake views the entire way around and through lush forest, the Emerald Lake loop is definitely worth doing.
Iceline via Celeste Lake
Trailhead: Takakkaw Falls Parking Lot. Begins behind Whiskey Jack Hostel and ends at Parking Lot.
Best for: Enjoying the best of what Yoho National Park has to offer.
Waterfalls, glaciers, spectacular views, alpine meadows, rocky terrain and thick forest – this hike has it all. The Iceline trail was absolutely my favourite hike that I did in Yoho National Park.
You can add another 3km on to this by continuing on to Little Yoho Valley instead of descending at Celeste Lake. It started snowing so I decided against this but I have heard that the alternative is wonderful.
Trailhead: Hoodoo Creek Campground, 23km west of Field
Best for: Crazy looking rock formations
Short but steep, this trail is dry and exposed. It leads to hoodoos, which are capped pillars of glacial debris that look an awful lot like …, well, what do you think they look like?
Abbott Pass in Lake O’Hara (overnight hike)
Difficulty: Very Difficult
Trailhead: Lake O’Hara. See details on reaching Lake O’Hara under main attractions above
Best for: The adventure of a lifetime and the chance to stay in the second highest permanent structure in Canada
This hike is definitely not for the unfit or faint of heart! I really didn’t know what I was letting myself in for but I have no regrets: it was one of the most epic adventures I have ever experienced.
This insane hike starts at the incredible Lake O’Hara and ascends past smaller alpine lakes to a historic hut on the continental divide. The last section is a very steep scramble up loose rocks and boulders.
Helmets and walking poles are highly recommended.
Other Yoho National Park Hiking Trails
I didn’t get a chance to do any of these hikes myself but they have been recommended to me by friends. Next time for sure.
Trailhead: Emerald Lake Parking Lot
Best for: Getting a taste of the wilderness
My friend Paulina lived at Emerald Lake for three years and has done this hike a few times with her dog. It is a great hike through dense forest to a natural amphitheatre.
This trail does not see a large number of hikers so it is likely you won’t see another soul.
Watch out for bears here.
Trailhead: Emerald Lake Parking Lot
Best for: A stunning glacial lake surrounded by cliffs
My friend Katja recommended this hike to me. It is a steep slog to get up to the lake but it is a beauty and totally worth it once you get to it.
Encircled by cliffs and a brilliant shade of blue, a lot of people don’t make the hike up here so you can enjoy the peace and quiet the solitude affords.
Trailhead: Takakkaw Falls Parking Lot
Best for: Beautiful waterfalls and tea at a historic teahouse
Another hike recommended by Paulina, it travels along the river passing Laughing Falls to the even more impressive double cascade of Twin Falls.
The historic teahouse has a rustic charm and is a great spot for refreshments (if they are open) before turning back.
Lake O’Hara Hiking
Trailhead: Lake O’Hara
Best for: Discovering the Lake O’Hara wilderness, one of the jewels of the Rocky Mountains
I only got the chance to do the return hike to Abbot Pass but I have heard from many people about the beauty of the other trails in the area.
The hike to Abbot Pass incorporates the 6.4km return hike to Lake Oesa and I highly recommend that if you only have a day in the area.
How To Get To Yoho National Park
With the closest major airport to Yoho National Park being in Calgary, 200km/125 miles drive away, the best way to get to Yoho National Park is by renting a car from the airport or downtown and driving there.
If you don’t drive then it is possible to catch the Greyhound bus from Calgary to the nearby towns of Golden and Lake Louise. From there you would need to catch a taxi or hitch-hike.
Unfortunately the bus no longer stops in the park. You can also catch an overnight bus from Vancouver to Golden or Lake Louise.
There are accommodation options for every travel style and budget in Yoho National Park from primitive camping through to luxury Lodges.
There are four established campgrounds in the park: Monarch, Kicking Horse, Takakkaw Falls, and Hoodoo Creek. All of the campgrounds except Kicking Horse are basic with pit toilets and no other facilities.
If you want something a bit more luxurious, the Kicking Horse Campground offers flush toilets and showers. All front-country campsites operate on a first come, first served basis.
There is also numerous back-country camping available throughout the park. These must be reserved up to three months ahead of time with the Yoho Visitor Centre or the Lake Louise Visitor Centre.
You also must purchase a Wilderness Pass which can be purchased from any Parks Canada Visitor Centres.
Pretty much every second house is either a Guesthouse or a Bed & Breakfast in the town of Field, smack bang in the middle of the park.
You could also base yourself nearby in the towns of Golden or in Lake Louise. Here are a couple of well-run guesthouse recommendations, both owned by friends of mine:
Mount Stephen Guesthouse
I volunteered at the Mount Stephen Guesthouse in summer 2015 so I can say first-hand how great the two one-bedroom suites are because I cleaned them!
They are fully self-contained, quiet and centrally located in the little village of Field.
Right next door to the Mount Stephen Guesthouse is the lovely Hummingbird Suite, a fully self-contained one bedroom suite owned by my good friend Paulina and her husband Darren.
They both also work at the Emerald Lake Lodge so they know their stuff when it comes to working in hospitality. They recently opened the Hummingbird Suite and the photos I have seen look fantastic.
For the highest level of luxury in the park, your best bet would be to stay at one of the Lodges. There are a few lodges to choose from in the park:
- Truffle Pigs Lodge is centrally located in the town of Field and is home to a fantastic bistro of the same name that serves up some of the best food in the Rockies, along with their signature cocktail, the shaft.
- Emerald Lake Lodge is located on the stunning Emerald Lake and offers an elegant dining room, numerous hiking trails at your doorstep and a hot tub to relax your weary bones after a particularly strenuous hike.
- Cathedral Mountain Lodge is located on the road up to Takakkaw Falls and offers accommodation in luxury log cabins, nestled in the mountains.
- Lake O’Hara Lodge is a backcountry lodge located in the pristine wilderness that surrounds Lake O’Hara. With goose-down comforters and claw foot tubs, a stay at the Lodge is an ideal way to experience the wilderness without forgoing luxury.
There are two hostels within Yoho National Park. If you are travelling by yourself, staying at one of the hostels is probably your best bet for meeting other travelers.
- Fireweed Hostel is a small, boutique hostel located in the town of Field. I volunteered here and I can attest to it being one of the best hostels I have ever seen. It feels more like a Ski Lodge than a hostel with a fully-equipped kitchen, a cosy lounge with fireplace and a wraparound deck with a BBQ and mountain views. There are dorms, private rooms and a two bedroom suite in the basement.
- Whiskey Jack Hostel is an HI Hostel and is located up by Takakkaw Falls. This is a wilderness hostel with much more basic facilities than the Fireweed Hostel (no electricity and no Wi-Fi). Dorm rooms are available.
The Alpine Club of Canada operates a handful of huts in Yoho National Park in Little Yoho Valley, Daly Glacier and in the Lake O’Hara wilderness. You can only book them in person or by phone. See their website for more details.
The best way to get around in Yoho National Park is by car as there is no public transport service.
If you don’t have a car and you are staying at Emerald Lake Lodge, Whiskey Jack Hostel by Takakkaw Falls, or in the town of Field, there are a few hikes that originate from these destinations.
Otherwise you will need to walk, hitch-hike or befriend someone else at your accommodation that has a car.
If you have a bike, this would also be a great way to get between destinations in the park.
Where To Eat And Drink
There aren’t a lot of options in Yoho National Park for dining so I would definitely recommend bringing your own food to cook for most meals.
In saying that, the food options that are available are pretty damn amazing so make sure you try these spots out while you are visiting the park.
- Truffle Pigs Bistro, located in Truffle Pigs Lodge in the heart of Field is pretty much unbeatable, offering some of the best meals and cocktails around. It was a two minute walk to my house so I frequented it a lot, either for dinner or a few (too many) drinks. You definitely have to try their famous bulgogi nachos which are full of tender pork belly and a delicious sweet & sour BBQ sauce. The mussels and the flatbread pizza are also very good. Wash it down with their signature cocktail the shaft, a dangerously good coffee concoction, or try their ginger beer which mixes one of the local beers on tap with a house-made ginger pulp. Sit at the bar to meet locals and other visitors – it’s a friendly place.
- The Siding is Field’s only other option for food and is a great spot for breakfast or lunch (it isn’t open for dinner). The burgers here are especially awesome.
- Cilantro at Emerald Lake Lodge has possibly the most beautiful setting of any restaurant in the mountains – it sits right by stunning Emerald Lake and is surrounded by lofty peaks. It is one of the best spots to sit on a sunny day, sipping a local honey beer and grazing on the bread basket with olive tapenade or one of their delicious pizzas.
Things To Know
- You can grab petrol in the town of Field, at Lake Louise or in Golden.
- There are no grocery stores in the park. The nearest large grocery store is in the town of Golden, 60km drive away from Field. There is a small supermarket in Lake Louise, 26km away, but it is very expensive. You can pick up basic food items from the shop connected to the petrol station in Field.
- Visit in fall for spectacular colours with a lot of trees turning a brilliant golden hue. The drive to Takakkaw Falls is especially spectacular at this time of year.
- There are a large number of bears in Yoho National Park so it’s a good idea to have bear spray, although this isn’t required. I had it and it made me feel infinitely safer.
- There is no liquor store in Yoho National Park but you can grab some beers and wines from The Siding in Field.
- There are ATMs located in The Siding Café and Truffle Pigs Lodge in Field
- If you are catching a Greyhound bus, make sure to book at least a couple of weeks in advance to get a great deal
- There are coin-operated laundry facilities downstairs at Truffle Pigs Lodge
Have I convinced you to visit? Let me know in the comments below!