Banff National Park in Canada is spectacular. Because of that, more people visit Banff than any other Canadian national park. But what if you could enjoy the Canadian Rockies with fewer people to get in the way? One of our best day trips from Calgary, Yoho National Park in Canada, is your solution. While Banff attracts millions, Yoho receives hundreds of thousands of visitors. The park’s name is your first clue explaining why you should visit. “Yoho” derives from the Cree equivalent of “Wow!” This park is quieter than Banff, but it definitely exudes the wow factor.
Fun Fact: Yoho is Canada’s second-oldest national park, after Banff. It shares the title with Glacier National Park in Canada.
To reach Yoho, drive the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) from Alberta across the Rockies into British Columbia (B.C.) to a quieter Canadian national park. Only a 45-minute drive from Banff, Yoho offers more solitude and fewer lines for you — with mountains, waterfalls, turquoise lakes, and a famous hotel. Escape the crowds; visit Yoho. Beyond the quiet, here are the best reasons to choose Yoho.
Express Awe And Wonder At Takakkaw Falls
Takakkaw Falls is the tallest waterfall of the Canadian Rockies and Canada’s second tallest. “Takakkaw” means magnificent. B.C. also boasts the nation’s highest waterfall, the 1,445-foot Della Falls on Vancouver Island.
The fall drops 1,224 feet from the Daly Glacier, but the drop isn’t all that renders it awe-inspiring. Many waterfalls drop straight down from their cliffs, but Takakkaw Falls doesn’t. Near the top, the rushing water enters a funnel. The funnel causes the water to spurt upwards in a splendid arch before it streams downward. When it lands, it smashes into a small splash pool, and then tumbles down boulders before entering the Yoho River.
The easy trail is less than a mile from the parking lot. Watch for a three-dimensional topographic map, which helps explain the terrain. With trekking poles, we picked our way through the boulders almost to the splash pool. We visited in the fall when the water flow was low. To see peak water flow, come in the spring.
After your hike, rest in the red chairs at the overlook.
If you’re up to a strenuous hike, take the Iceline Hiking Trail from the parking lot. The 8.8-mile trail leads to the Iceland summit above the treeline. At the top, view the Yoho River Valley.
Add More Waterfalls To Your Itinerary
Waterfall lovers should add Wapta and Laughing Falls to their itineraries.
Some call Wapta a mini-Niagara. Its 3-mile out-and-back trail is easy. During the summer heat, the soaking you’ll get from waterfall spray will be refreshing. In cooler seasons, you’ll want a weatherproof jacket.
The 5.2-mile out-and-back trail to Laughing Falls connects with trails leading to Takakkaw, Lace, Angel Staircase waterfalls, and Duchesnay Lake. One steep section pushes its rating to moderate.
Pro Tips: Yoho Valley Road has 30 to 40 minutes of tricky driving. The road winds through several hairpin turns and one-lane roads. Remember, on single-lane roads, the driver heading downhill yields to the one headed uphill. The park forbids trailers on the road and requires oversize vehicles to navigate the switchbacks in reverse. In the summer, arrive early to ensure a parking place. The road is closed from mid-October to mid-June because of avalanche risks.
Experience A Jewel At Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake is the largest of Yoho’s 61 bodies of water. Why is the lake so green? Glacial meltwater carries rock flour (glacial silt). Rock flour particles remain suspended in the water for long periods. Sunlight reflecting from the particles provides the color. Even though the water is emerald, it’s also clear. We could see the lake bottom and the reflections of President Range were perfect.
Fun Fact: The President and Vice President mountains in the range received their names from the Canadian Pacific Railway’s highest officers’ titles.
Circle the lake on the 3.2-mile loop. The trail is easy and partially accessible. Soak in the views on the park benches. Rent a red canoe and paddle on the tranquil lake. The quiet splash of the paddle and the pop of a fish breaking through the water will soothe your soul.
On a private island, Emerald Lake Lodge guests get to disconnect from their busy lives. The rooms don’t have televisions, and connectivity is limited. Who needs outside entertainment with views like that? You might even see a moose. Eat a café cheesesteak at Cilantro Café.
Pro Tip: At 4,000 feet, the lake remains frozen for up to 7 months of the year. Don’t plan to visit until at least July. The lake was still ice-free when we saw it in early October.
See Kicking Horse Pass, The Pass That United A Nation
To join the rest of Canada, B.C. demanded that the nation construct a transcontinental railroad. At 5,538 feet, Kicking Horse Pass is the highest point on the Canadian Pacific Railway and the TCH, and it’s the biggest obstacle to transcontinental transportation. The Continental Divide, which runs through the pass, marks the Alberta-B.C. provincial boundary. The railway’s original route over The Big Hill was the steepest gradient in North America, and that caused accidents. The TCH uses The Big Hill route.
To improve safety, the railway cut two spiral tunnels, each about 0.6 miles long. Watch trains enter and depart the Lower Spiral Tunnel from the viewpoint 4.5 miles east of Field, B.C. The Upper Spiral Tunnel’s overlook is 1.4 miles up Yoho Valley Road. Look for plaques beside the highway that explain the engineering marvel. The Spiral Tunnels are part of our Calgary to Vancouver road trip.
The Walk-in-the-Past Trail goes through a forest at the bottom of the pass. Look for the mauve interpretive sign. The trail takes you to an abandoned historic locomotive that helped build the tunnels. Pack a picnic.
Fun Fact: In 1858, Dr. James Hector was one of the first Europeans to visit Kicking Horse Pass. Hector’s horse kicked him in the chest and knocked him out. He was unconscious for so long that his comrades believed that Hector had died. They began digging his grave. He saved his own life when he winked at one of his companions. The pass takes its name from that incident. Queen Victoria knighted Hector in 1887.
Hold A 500-Million-Year-Old Fossil
Several tours take visitors to Burgess Shale fossils. The easiest goes to the Stanley Glacier, while more taxing hikes visit the Walcott Quarry and Mount Stephen. For a preview, Parks Canada has created a virtual tour.
Why is Burgess Shale special? Most dinosaur excavations find animal bones and shells. Burgess Shale fossils include soft-bodied animals that usually go unpreserved. Because of these fossils’ rarity, UNESCO designated the formation as a World Heritage Site. It’s now part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Canada’s Badlands features an excellent Burgess Shale exhibit. It’s one of our best Canadian places to experience dinosaurs.
Visit A Natural Bridge
Between Field and Emerald Lake, the Natural Bridge constricts the Kicking Horse River. Over time, a waterfall became the bridge. The water eroded the softer rock below the bridge as the flow joined the Amiskwi River. The overlook offers various bridge viewpoints. Interpretive displays explain erosion’s mechanisms.
After looking at the bridge, hike the easy 3.8-mile trail to the Meeting of the Waters, where the Amiskwi and Emerald rivers join the Kicking Horse. Look for deer, elk, moose, and other animals at the mineral lick.
Strike Recreation Gold In Golden
Six Canadian national parks surround Golden, B.C. — Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke, plus Bugaboo Provincial Park. Recreational opportunities galore await these parks’ visitors.
In Golden, visit the Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge, a paragon of mathematical perfection. Part of Golden’s walking trail, the 151-foot span crosses the Kicking Horse River. It’s Canada’s longest freestanding timber frame bridge.
With the Columbia Mountains mirrored in its surface, Reflection Lake bears an appropriate name. During your picnic, watch paragliders and hang gliders soar amid waterfowl.
We enjoyed talking with guests from around the world at Le Beausoleil Bed and Breakfast.
At The Wolf’s Den, we liked the cross-border pairing of maple bacon dry ribs, served with Carolina mustard dipping sauce. Eat the Tatonka bison burger and finish your meal with the Canadian maple syrup pie. We loved their Okanagan Falls wine selections.
Before we left Golden, we bought bottles of Okanagan Falls to bring home. If you follow our example and cross the U.S. border with alcohol, note the border patrol’s rules.
The visitor center in Field is adjacent to the TCH. Travel Alberta shares the center, which surprised us. We’ve never seen a visitors center that is in a different political unit.
Away from Field, cell service is limited. Look for picnic sites beside the TCH. Read about the park’s facilities and services and its mountain biking trails. In the winter, go skiing and snowshoeing in the park. Kicking Horse Ski Club grooms and maintains the park’s trails.
Warning: Park staff does not patrol Yoho’s winter trails.