National Parks

Yoho National Park

Hikers and mountaineers will not be disappointed with the 28 peaks over 3000m within the park as well as Lake O’Hara, an awe-inspiring subalpine lake surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks and hanging valleys.

Chantal
12 minute read

Yoho National Park is located in southeast British Columbia on the west side of the continental divide. The park is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, a collection of mountain parks famous for their dramatic glacially-carved landscapes, wildlife, and remoteness. Yoho is a much quieter alternative to its neighbour to the east Banff National Park.

The park is named for a Cree expression of awe and wonder, which is accurate because these parks can only be described as sublime. Yoho is home to the Burgess Shale UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can find fossils that are over 500 million years old. Visitors can choose from a variety of guided hikes to see these fossils and learn about the area’s geological history along the way. Hikers and mountaineers will not be disappointed with the 28 peaks over 3000m within the park. Also, you must visit Lake O’Hara, an awe-inspiring subalpine lake surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks and hanging valleys.

Best Time to Visit Yoho

Spring

The spring season lasts from April through June. Temperatures begin to warm in April but can still drop below freezing. May and June bring warmer weather with highs of 13-17°C (55-63°F) respectively and lows around freezing. Campground and day-use areas reopen in mid-May. Many hiking trails are still snow-covered and pose an avalanche risk until late June. These months are the best time to spot emerging wildlife. 

Yoho national park

Summer

The summer season lasts from July through August. Temperatures average around 13°C (55°F) but can warm up into the low 20’s (70’s). All facilities and hiking trails are likely to be open during these months. Staff recommend that you make reservations as summer is a popular time for tourists to visit the park.

Autumn

The fall season lasts from September through October. Campgrounds and day-use areas close for the season in mid-October. September may have high temperatures up to 15°C (59°F) but the weather cools quickly and October only has highs of 6°C and lows of -3°C (27°F). Fall is a great time to visit the park because there are fewer people, and temperatures are ideal for hiking.

Yoho national park
Emerald Lake

Winter

Winters in Yoho are long, lasting from November into March. The temperatures stay below freezing until March and can drop as low as -14°C (7°F). The park remains open with limited facilities all winter for visitors who want to enjoy the snow-covered trails and frozen waterfalls. 

Visitor Centers

It’s always a good idea to start any National Parks trip with a stop at a visitor centre. Here you can speak to park rangers, plan activities, or purchase a daily or annual pass. Pick up gifts, maps, books, brochures, and backcountry permits, or view exhibits on the area’s natural and cultural history. 

Yoho National Park Visitor Centre – Trans-Canada Hwy, Field, Columbia-Shuswap A, BC

Kicking Horse Pass in Yoho National Park

Getting To / Around Yoho National Park

The best way to travel to Yoho is by personal vehicle. There is no public transport to or within the park.

From Calgary AB:

Drive west from Calgary International Airport (YYC) 223km (138mi) for 2 hours and 30 minutes via Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W to arrive at the Yoho National Park Visitor Centre in Field.

From Edmonton AB:

Drive southwest from Edmonton International Airport (YEG) 468km (290mi) for 4 hours and 30 minutes via AB-2 S and Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W to arrive at the Yoho National Park Visitor Centre in Field.

From Vancouver BC:

Drive northeast from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) 776km (482mi) for 8 hours and 30 minutes via BC-5 N and Trans-Canada Hwy/BC-1 E to arrive at the Yoho National Park Visitor Centre in Field.

Things to Do and Main Attractions

Hiking/Backpacking

Short Hikes & Walks

Emerald Lake Trail is a family-friendly hike around the beautiful shores of Emerald Lake. Wapta Falls Trail is a forested trail that leads to the largest waterfall on the Kicking Horse River. The Walk-in-the-Past Trail takes you through a lush forest accompanied by interpretive signs. The signs detail the construction of the Spiral Tunnels and the historic pieces of a narrow-gauge locomotive left behind.

Photo Credit: TravelwiththeSmile.com

Day Hikes

The Iceline Trail via Little Yoho is a long but rewarding hike to view the glacial moraines in the subalpine. Take in the incredible glacier views before your descent into Little Yoho Valley, through meadows, and past Laughing Falls. The Hoodoos Trail is a short steep climb up a dry and exposed trail to the hoodoos – tall pillars of glacial debris. Take a guided conservation hike to Paget Fire Lookout- a strenuous 7km (4.3mi) hike in backcountry terrain suitable for ages 8 and up.

Multiday Hikes

The Little Yoho Valley Hike is a two-day forested hike that leads into a stunning hanging valley left by the retreating glaciers. Camp at Laughing Falls or Little Yoho backcountry campgrounds, or the Stanley Mitchell Hut. The Whaleback Mountain Trail typically takes two days. It is a circuit through the alpine with views of the Yoho Valley and Twin Falls. Look out for goats and cross a seasonal suspension bridge. Strong hikers can access the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National park via Goodsir Pass. The Rockwall Trail is a 3-4 day trip traversing multiple alpine passes, creek crossings, meadows, a lake, and the famous “Rockwall”. 

The Burgess Shale

Take a guided hike in the Burgess Shale to Stanley Glacier, Mount Stephen, or Walcott Quarry and see trilobite, brachiopod, and sponge fossils. Your guide will teach you about the area’s geological history along the way. All guided hikes are available by reservation.

Photo Credit: TravelwiththeSmile.com

Red Chairs

For an added challenge on your adventures, try to find the Park’s Canada red chairs! The park has placed sets of red Adirondack chairs at various viewpoints throughout the park. Some will be easy to find and others will involve more of a challenge, but the scenic locations will be worth the effort! 

Climbing

The Rockies are full of remote and challenging climbing routes. There are hundreds of peaks and glaciers that will certainly be rewarding to the mountaineer and alpine climber but they are not to be taken lightly. Parks Canada recommends that climbers spend some time on the Rockies’ classic traditional rock routes such as those on Mount Yamnuska east of Banff before attempting any of the range’s more remote and challenging alpine routes. Throughout the Rocky Mountains National Parks there are many sport climbing routes ranging in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.14.

Cycling

There are trails for both mountain biking and road cycling throughout the park. Mountain bikers can travel on old fire roads. The Kicking Horse Trail and the Old 1A Highway are flat and winding trails that are family-friendly. Road bikers can try the Yoho Valley road to Takakkaw Falls or the Emerald Lake Road among others.

Emerald Lake

Fishing

A national park fishing permit is required when angling in Canada’s national parks. You can purchase a permit at the park visitor centres. 

Interpretive Programs

Park interpreters may set up activity tables or travelling displays around the park to interact with visitors. All ages can visit the Kicking Horse Campground Amphitheatre throughout the summer to learn more about the park’s natural and cultural history at the evening programs.

Winter Activities

Many trails are groomed and maintained throughout the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Remember to check-in at the visitor centres for advice on the best and safest places to go.

Wildlife

The amazing diversity of wildlife found in the Rocky’s contributed to the United Nations creation of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. Visitors may spot small mammals such as marmots, beavers, ground squirrels, or pikas. You may be lucky enough to see moose, elk, and deer travelling through the valleys. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep are an icon of the Rocky Mountains. Less commonly seen animals include wolverines, cougars, wolves, lynx, and bears. 

Nearby National Historic Sites

Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin – Stay a night in a cabin built in 1922 by Swiss mountain guides using stone from the surrounding mountains. The cabin is accessed by a technical mountaineering and glacial travel route.

Cabin built from stone in Yoho National Park
Photo Credit: pc.gc.ca

Kicking Horse Pass – While driving the Trans-Canada you will cross Kicking Horse Pass, the highest point of the highway. Stop at the Spiral Tunnel pull-off viewpoint. Here you can see where the train tunnels enter the mountain and exit at a higher elevation. Interpretive signs will explain how this engineering feat opened up British Columbia to the rest of Canada in the 19th century.

Train going into Spiral Tunnels in Yoho National Park
Spiral Tunnels at Yoho

Twin Falls Tea House – Built in the heyday of the Canadian Pacific Railway as trains were first able to access this incredible landscape in the early 1900s. The historic log building can be seen by hikers beside Twin Falls and now operates as a seasonal retreat.

Howse Pass – A hunting route for First Nations as well as a temporary trade route for Europeans between the Albertan plains and the Columbia River Valley.

Where to Stay in Yoho National Park

Frontcountry Camping

Kicking Horse Campground – The largest, and only reservable and serviced campground within the park. The campground is surrounded by fields, forests, a river, and dramatic mountain views. It is conveniently located only 4km (2mi) east of the village of Field where amenities such as gas, groceries, and the visitor centre are available. There are both riverside and forested sites as well as sites large enough to accommodate RVs. Sites are available from late May through mid-October.

Monarch Campground – Named for the historic Monarch mine shafts that the campground is located below. This unserviced campground has open, bright, sunny sites and views of Mt. Stephen & Cathedral Mountain. SItes are available on a first-come, first-serve basis from May through September.

Hoodoo Creek – A smaller, unserviced campground in a sunny meadow surrounded by towering mountains. This campground is a great starting point for the challenging hike to see the hoodoos as well as to walk to the historic Deer Lodge Cabin. Small RV’s are able to access this campground. Sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis from mid-June to early September. 

Takakkaw Falls – An unserviced, walk-in campground located at the top of Yoho Valley Road. This campground’s claim to fame is the stunning Takakkaw Falls as well as being the trailhead for many incredible hikes such as Laughing Falls, Twin Falls, Iceline, Whaleback, and Yoho Glacier among others. This campground operates on a first-come, first-serve basis from mid-June through mid-October.

Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park

More Frontcountry Camping

Lake O’Hara – Reservations for day trips and overnight trips are required to visit this subalpine lake in order to minimize impact and provide a high-quality wilderness experience to visitors. This mountain lake is surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks and hanging valleys. A network of well-marked hiking trails links the lakes. Visit Le Relais day shelter where you can get up-to-date information on trails and wildlife, purchase snacks and beverages, and learn about the cultural and natural history of the O’Hara Lake area. 

Lake O’Hara Lodge – The perfect place to relax after a day of hiking or skiing. The picturesque lodge offers fine dining meals paired with local wines, clawfoot bathtubs, and a stone fireplace. Open through summer and fall from mid-June until early October, as well as for the winter months from late January through early April.

Elizabeth Parker Hut – A historic log cabin set in an alpine meadow only 500m (1640ft) from the shore of Lake O’Hara. This hut is a perfect base camp for your group whether you are ski touring in the winter or backpacking in the summer. 

Backcountry Camping

There are five backcountry campgrounds within Yoho National Park – Yoho Lake, Laughing Falls Twin Falls, and Little Yoho which are in Yoho Valley, as well as McArthur Creek which is on the Ottertail River and connects to the Rockwall Trail in nearby Kootenay National Park. Each campground is equipped with tent pads, dry toilets, picnic tables, and either food storage cables or lockers.

Lodging

The village of Field has many guesthouses, chalets, hotels, lodges, and hostels.

Things to Remember While Visiting Yoho

  • Follow “Leave No Trace” principles.
  • Follow the speed limit and drive cautiously through the park to decrease wildlife collisions.
  • Amenities such as restaurants, groceries, and gas are available in the village of Field.
  • There is limited cell coverage in Yoho National Park. 
  • There is no public wifi available in Yoho National Park.
  • Pets are allowed on some trails in the park. They must be on a leash at all times for their safety and the safety of park wildlife. 
  • Be familiar with avalanche safety when visiting in the spring or winter.
  • Be prepared for a variety of weather conditions. Raingear and layered clothing are essential.
  • Respect wildlife from a distance: don’t feed or approach them or let them approach you.
  • Human food has a serious impact on wildlife. Don’t feed wildlife, keep camps free of all traces of food, store food in an animal-proof food locker, and place all garbage in an animal-proof trash can. Follow the ‘BARE’ campsite program.

Here are some other amazing places to see when you are visiting Canada and Yoho National Park.

RVing Jasper National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park

BC & Alberta National Parks You Must Visit

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