Exploring the Top Attractions of Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park extends over part of the Rocky Mountains, adjoining both Banff and Kootenay National Parks. It encompasses some magnificent and extremely varied mountain scenery, with snow-covered peaks, beautiful lakes, thundering rivers, and waterfalls. In 1985, Yoho was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Park's two main areas of interest are the Yoho Valley and the valley of the Kicking Horse River. The Trans-Canada Highway passes through the park making access very easy, with viewpoints at scenic spots and side roads that branch off the highway to major places of interest.
Perhaps the most stunning sight in Yoho is the turquoise colored Lake O'Hara. The mountains surrounding the lake are home to some fabulous hiking trails leading high above the lake and providing outstanding views. On the shore of the lake is the Lake O'Hara Lodge and a campground, but access to the area is limited.
A bus services the lake, but there is a quota limiting the number of passengers allowed into the area each day. Advance reservations are required. Visitors can also choose to walk the 13 kilometer road into the lake, and there is no limit on access for those approaching by foot. Biking is not allowed. Limited campsites are available at the lake; reservations must be made in advance through the park office. Reservations for the lodge should also be made well in advance; generally a year from the time of arrival.
Hiking at Lake O'Hara
Most people come to Lake O'Hara for the hiking. There are numerous trails, ranging from a simple 2.8-kilometer trail around the shoreline of the lake to alpine routes that require more skill and a full day to hike. Some of the most popular routes include the Lake Oesa Trail, Opabin Plateau Circuit, MacArthur Pass, and the Linda Lake Circuit and Morning Glory Lakes, all of which are moderate to easy hikes. Some of the highlights of hiking in this area include waterfalls, upper alpine lakes, and a great sense of solitude due to the restricted number of visitors allowed at Lake O'Hara. Trails are sometimes closed due to grizzly bears in the area or other hazards.
Takakkaw Falls is one of the highest falls in North America, plunging a dramatic 254 meters over a rock face. Visitors can stand near the base of the falls and look straight up, feeling the mist from the spray as it hits the bottom. The waterfall is fed by the Daly Glacier, part of the Waputik Icefield.
Takakkaw Falls can be reached by taking the Yoho Valley Road off the TransCanada up to the parking lot near the base of the falls. The views even from the parking lot are spectacular, but visitors can easily walk up to the stream at the base for a full view of the water falling down from above. Alternatively, for a higher perspective, the Iceline hiking trail leads up the mountainside opposite the falls for a spectacular view over the falls and beyond to the glacier. This is a moderately strenuous day hike, but worth the effort for the view.
Emerald Lake is, as the name suggests, a beautiful emerald color mountain lake at the foot of the glacier-capped mountains of the President Range. A lovely resort lies along the shoreline with a restaurant that is open to guests and visitors. Several splendid hikes begin at Emerald Lake, among the most attractive being the Lake Circuit, the climbs to Yoho and Burgess passes, and the Hamilton Lake trail.
Emerald Lake can be reached by taking an eight-kilometer-long road that begins about two kilometers south of the town of Field. A little way along the road is a remarkable natural bridge, beneath which the river squeezes through extremely resistant rock.
Burgess Shale Fossil Beds
The Burgess Shale Fossil Beds to the east of Field have proved to be extremely important in the field of paleontology. Fossils more than 530 million years old (Cambrian; especially trilobites) recovered from these unique, undisturbed beds have yielded major insights into the development of life on earth. The Burgess Shale Fossil Beds were discovered by Charles Walcott in 1909 and are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fossil beds reveal a time period when this area was near the equator.
It is possible to hike into Burgess Shale as part of a guided tour. Check at the Yoho National Park office for information on guided hikes and to inquire about restricted areas.
Kicking Horse Pass and the Spiral Tunnels
Kicking Horse Pass crosses over the continental divide and is known for the Spiral Tunnels created for the Canadian Pacific Railway Line. The original line went over what was called "The Big Hill" and was at one time known to have the steepest gradient of any rail line in North America. As a result, accidents were a problem. Eventually spiral tunnels were created to decrease the gradient. There are plaques along the highway discussing the engineering involved in the process of building the railway.
An observation area about nine kilometers west of the 1,625-meter summit of Kicking Horse Pass provides a good view of the daringly engineered section of track with its two spiral tunnels (modeled on the St. Gotthard rail tunnels in Switzerland). There is also an Upper Spiral Tunnel viewpoint with excellent views of the railway tunnels.
The old bridge on the "Big Hill" was once part of the original CPR track over Kicking Horse Pass. Today, the bridge is simply a tourist attraction. The climb up to Kicking Horse Pass from the east begins at the border between the two provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.
Before the western entrance to Yoho National Park, a side road branches off, ending after five kilometers at a dead-end. From here, a trail leads to the beautiful and roaring Wapta Falls where the Kicking Horse River cascades down over a wide rock step.