Yoho National Park is located along the western slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in the province of British Columbia. The eastern end of the park sits on the Continental Divide where water flows east via the Bow River towards the Atlantic Ocean and west via the Kicking Horse River and Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. This is also the border between the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, Yoho is on one side and Lake Louise is on the other.
The park was first established in 1886 mainly for tourism and the money it could bring in. Today tourism is still a significant feature of the park but its main function it to preserve the landscape of the Rocky Mountains in its wild and natural state.
Yoho is the smallest of the contiguous parks of Banff, Jasper and Kootenay. The name Yoho is from the Cree language, it translates to “awe”. The park has an intimate feel and although it may be tiny it’s packed with spectacular snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, raging rivers, glacier lakes, camping facilities and over 400 km’s of hiking trails.
The most notable highlights of Yoho are Takkakaw Falls, one of Canada’s highest free falling waterfalls, the Natural Bridge over the Kicking Horse River, Emerald Lake for it’s deep turquoise green colour, Lake O’Hara and it’s surrounding area for it’s hiking trails offering stunning views of mountains and glacier lakes, Burgess Shale one of the world’s most important fossil sites and the viewpoint for the engineering marvel of the Spiral Tunnels.
Like the other Rocky Mountain parks Yoho is home to a variety of wildlife. There are large animals such grizzly and black bears, cougars, deer, coyotes, wolverines and lynx. One of the most abundant animals in the park is the mountain goat. The best spots to see mountain goats are at the turnoff to the Yoho Valley near the town of Field and from the Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint. The park is home to over 200 bird species both small and larger birds of prey like eagles and hawks. The waterways act as feeding and resting grounds for waterfowl.
When to Go To Yoho National Park
When considering a visit to Yoho the best time of year in the park depends on what your interests are. It is accessible year-round but is most popular between mid-May to early October. This is the same time period that Parks Canada services are offered in the park and when most campgrounds and day use areas are open. The months of July and August see the bulk of visitors.
In May the valley bottom starts to green up. The Yoho Valley Road that leads to Takkakaw Falls is open from late June to mid-October (weather permitting). The higher trail passes are generally snow free by mid-July. Wildflowers reach their peak near the end of July and in September the sub-alpine larch trees show their golden colours. Winter in Yoho lasts from November through March. It’s a popular destination for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
How Much Time To Spend In Yoho National Park
If time is limited a day will suffice to see some of the main highlights of the park but you can easily devote much more time. If you plan to access the Lake O’Hara region, take a guided tour of Burgess Shale, or do some of the high elevation trails or partake in any other kind of activities you can easily spend 3 to 7 days in the park.
Yoho makes the perfect day trip destination to add onto a stay in Banff National Park. It’s just 28 km’s west of Lake Louise. You can reach the park border within 15 minutes from Lake Louise and under an hour from the town site of Banff.
Highlights Of Yoho National Park
Lower Spiral Tunnel Viewpoint
8km east of Field (5 minutes) (Closed in winter from October to April) Located off the right hand side of the Trans Canada Hwy 1
The Spiral Tunnels are a master of railway engineering. From the viewing platform you get views of the Yoho Glacier and valley and the lower spiral tunnels that go through Mount Ogden. At the site there are interpretative displays with facts and history about the building of the railway through the Canadian Rocky Mountains. You’ll hear a whistle blow when one is leaving the town of Field. There’s a second spot where you can view the Upper Spiral Tunnel in Cathedral Mountain. It’s a pull off located 2.3 km’s along the Yoho Valley Road.
The Natural Bridge
4km west of Field (5 minutes)
The Natural Bridge is a must stop en route to Emerald Lake. It’s located 1.6km from the start of Emerald Lake Road. It was created by the strong torrents of the Kicking Horse River that eventually undercut through a solid piece of rock.
11km from Field (15 minutes) Located at the end of Emerlad Lake Road
This lake was named for its beautiful deep emerald colour. It’s a popular place for canoeing, hiking and sightseeing. There’s an easy walk around the lake that is 5km in length and takes approximately 1.5 hrs. to complete. The left hand side of the trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible. Canoe rentals are available at the dock near the parking lot.
By mid-day the parking can be full leaving people to park down the side of the road. Walk across the bridge to towards the lodge. People hanging out everywhere from the tour buses. Walk towards the lake trail and lose most of them within minutes.
Yoho Valley Road
Yoho Valley Road is located off the Trans Canada Highway approximately 4 km’s east from the town of Field. The 13.7km scenic road runs through a deep valley and offers beautiful views of mountain peaks, glaciers, waterfalls and rivers. Near the 3km mark there is viewpoint looking at the Upper Spiral Tunnels that pass through Cathedral Mountain. The next stop of interest is called the meeting of the waters where the powerful Kicking Horse River is joined by the Yoho river. At the end of the road is the parking area for the plunging Takkakaw Falls.
The Yoho Valley Road is only open from mid-June to mid-October. It’s a steep, narrow road with a set of intense hairpin switchbacks that make the drive very interesting. A sign at the bottom of the switchbacks has an instructional illustration showing how to do a reverse maneuver that is necessary for longer vehicles to navigate the tight turns. If you have a trailer or 5th wheel you can temporaritly park it in a lot across from the Monarch campground.
The word Takkakaw is a word from the Cree language translating to something similar to “magnificent” and they certainly are. They are perhaps one of the most impressive sights accessible by car in Yoho National Park. The falls are 384 (1260 feet) tall. They have one of the highest free falls of water in Canada at 254 meters. A unique feature of Takkakaw Falls is the way they are projected outwards from the cliff wall through an opening that makes the water come out almost perpendicular to the wall.
From the parking lot a short trail leads over a bridge on the Yoho River to the base of the falls. The trail is a short easy stroll that is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. You’ll hear the powerful roar of the falls the second you open your vehicle door at the parking lot. As you get near the falls the sound becomes almost deafening and the closer you get the heavier the mist. Protect your camera!
If you are wanting more than the short walk to the base of the falls there are longer day hikes and multi-day backpacking trails in the area.
The Burgess Shale is a world heritage site that has the fossilized remains of over a hundred different marine animal species dating back to 515 millions years ago. These Cambrian-age fossil seabeds are on the slopes of Mount Stephen and Mount Field at an elevation of 2336 meters (7662 feet)
To protect the fossils they can only be accessed through guided tours offered by the Yoho Shale Geoscience Foundation. All hikes are by advance reservation only and kept to a limit of 15 people. The licensed guides provide a valuable interpretation of the Burgess Shale and the parks other natural features.
If you can’t do the Burgess Shale guided tour there are fossil specimens on display at the park information center in Field.
Lake O’Hara Region
The summer access to the Lake O’Hara area is limited in order to protect and preserve the delicate alpine environment. It can only be accessed by foot along an 11km gravel road or by reserving a seat on the Parks Canada bus. Getting a seat on the bus is not an easy task. The bus runs from approximately mid-June to early October. Reservations can be made online or by calling Parks Canada. The day use bus tickets book up for the entire season almost instantly! There is camping available a short distance from Lake O’Hara where you book a campsite and a bus ticket, they book up almost as quickly.
Lake O’Hara is just one of the magnificient lakes in the region of the park. Trails from Lake O’Hara lead to Lake Oesa, Opabin and McArthur. Mountain goats, hoary marmots and pikas are often spotted by hikers. Wildflowers can be seen starting in late June and mid-July and the larch trees turn to their golden colour usually in the 2nd and 3rd week of September.
Town Of Field
The small historic town of Field is situated just off the Trans Canada Hwy within Yoho National Park. It’s the parks only settlement and where the visitor center is located. The first hotel in Field was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886.
You can wander around the town admiring the beautiful views and character homes. Field can be the perfect base to explore Yoho National Park, there are over 20 homes that have been converted into B&B’s and guesthouses.
The Truffle Pigs Bistro is a real treat of a place to stop for a meal with a creative and locally sourced menu along with a funky decor to match the name.
Other Points of Interest In Yoho National Park
22km west of Field (30 minutes)
The trail head for Wapta Falls is accessed by driving a 2km gravel road off the Trans-Canada Highway near the south end of the park. The easy 2.4km trail leads to the 150 meter wide falls (the full width of the river) and drop 30 meters.
Most of the trail is fairly level, a moderate but gradual climb begins in the forest. Allow 1.5 to 2 hours return trip. There’s a view looking at the river and the top of the falls. If you go a bit further you can get to the viewpoints at the lower part of the falls for a different perspective. Mosquitoes can be an issue at times, wear bug spray or cover up.
The trailhead is not marked on the Trans-Canada Highway when heading westbound because there is no left turn lane. Continue past for 3km’s to the west entrance of the park and turn around and come back.
22km west of Field in the Hoodoo Creek Campground
At the western end of the park hoodoos have been formed by water erosion that has left behind balance boulders on tall pillars of glacial till. The 1.6km trail starts in the campground. It’s a steep hike.
The Iceline Trail
The Iceline high-elevation trail is one of the premier hikes in Yoho National Park. It’s a full day hike that starts at the end of Yoho Valley Road. Allow 7 to 8 hours to complete the 18-21km loop that climbs high above the valley. It offers incredible views and passes by several glaciers.
Campgrounds In Yoho National Park
Yoho has RV, car and tent campgrounds that range in opening and closing dates from mid-May to mid-October. They all operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Between July and September you need to arrive early, most sites are full by noon. It’s especially busy on weekends. The maximum length of stay is 14 nights.
Kicking Horse Campground-4.2km east of Field via the Yoho Valley Road. 88 sites, kitchen shelters, fire pits and wood, toilets, showers, sani-dump, playground. This is one of the most popular sites to use as a base while exploring the park, suitable for RV’s and tents. It’s the only one with showers and flush toilets. It is close to the small grocery store in Field as well as being in good proximity to many hiking trails and Takakkaw Falls.
Monarch Campground-3.2 km’s east of Field. Monarch campground is also located near the beginning of Yoho Valley Road. 44 sites, kitchen shelters, sani-dump, pump water and dry toilets. It’s not quite as busy as Kicking Horse campground, it’s more primative and suited to tents or small camping vehicles.
- Takkakaw Falls Campground-13 km east of Field at the end of Yoho Valley Road near Takakkaw Falls. 35 sites, pump water, dry toilets, 2 kitchen shelters, fire pits and wood. This is a walk in tent campground, but it’s a short walk from the parking area and there are carts available for moving gear. It’s a good base for back-country hiking, including the Iceline Trail.
Hoodoo Creek Campground-23 km’s west of Field. 30 sites, 4 kitchen shelters, fire pits and wood, pump water and dry toilets
Whiskey Jack Hostel-At the end of Yoho Valley Road you’ll find the Whiskey Jack Hostel. A 27 bed dorm-style rustic accommodation close to Takkakaw Falls. Open from late June to September.
- Backcountry Camping
There are designated backcountry campgrounds at Yoho Lake, Laughing Falls, Twin Falls and Little Yoho that can be reserved up to 3 months in advance online and a wilderness park pass is also required through Parks Canada.
Lake O’hara Campground 13 km hike on the Cataract Brook Trail. 30 tent sites, toilets, firewood, bear proof storage, 2 kitchen shelters provided. Reservations must be done by phone. Yoho National Park, Lake O’Hara Reservations
Sample Full Day Itinerary For Yoho National Park
Spiral Tunnels – If you are heading west from either Lake Louise or the Banff town site the first stop is at the Spiral Tunnels viewpoint. It’s easiest to stop when heading west because it’s on the right hand side of the highway. Spend up to 20 minutes looking at interpretive displays and hoping to see a train go through the tunnels.
The Natural Bridge – When heading west you will come to the turn off for Yoho Valley Road next which takes you to Takkakaw Falls, but we recommend visiting in the afternoon when the viewing for the falls is best. Keep heading west on the highway and continue on past the town of Field and shortly after you will see the turn on your right hand side for Emerald Lake Road. Near the start of Emerald Lake Road stop at the Natural Bridge. Allow 15 to 20 minutes to admire the bridge and the surrounding scenery.
Emerald Lake – Continue on to the end of the road which will reach the parking area for Emerald Lake. Take as little or as much time as you want here. Allow up to 1.5 hours for the trail that circles the lake, or rent a canoe for an hour. Tip: In July and August the tour buses start showing up by 10:30am. You can have a more peaceful experience by being at the lake earlier.
Town Of Field – Return to the Trans Canada Highway and head back east towards the historic hamlet of Field. Take some time to explore the tiny town, have lunch at the Truffle Pigs Bistro.
Takakkaw Falls – Continue east to the turn off for Yoho Valley Road which will now be on your left hand side. Follow it to the end to Takkakaw Falls.
Head back to your original starting point in Lake Louise or Banff.
If you want to pack your own picnic lunch for this day trip there is a picnic area on the Yoho Valley Road leading to the falls as well as at Takkakaw Falls and at Emerald Lake and near the town of Field
Fees For Yoho National Park
Spending time in Yoho National Park requires a park pass in the same way that one is required for Banff, Jasper or Kootenay National Parks. If you already have a pass to spend time in the adjacent parks you can visit Yoho on that same pass. Understanding the Parks Canada Fees.
There’s also fees for camping sites and a wilderness pass is required for back country camping and for the Lake O’Hara bus reservations. Yoho Park Fees