We were on the hunt for open spaces and fewer faces, and Yoho National Park was top of mind. During isolation, where an idea of an adventurous outing was to mask up and head to the grocery store once a week, I thought back to all the spectacular places I’ve been able to visit during my work travels around BC.
I yearned for nature, for stunning vistas, for the sounds and scents of the forest. I also wanted to get John out of the Downtown core. As an essential worker, he hadn’t left the Lower Mainland or taken more than a day off since February. All of these factors combined to inspire me to head east. Go BIG. And you can’t really get bigger than the Rocky Mountains here in BC.
5 Things to See in Yoho National Park
The word Yoho is a Cree expression of awe – the perfect description for this stunning 1,313 sq km national park with its 28 mountain peaks which reach more than 3,000 metres towards the sky. [Kootenay Rockies]
Yoho National Park lies on the western slopes of the Rockies, right along Highway 1, with meadow valleys to glacier peaks, places to camp, hike, picnic and paddle. We were staying in Golden so we went to the furthest points in the park from our base, then made our way back throughout the day. Yes, we did this all in one day (although time permitting I’d spend much more time at each spot).
It’s called Emerald Lake but its glassy waters are a vivid turquoise. This is a very popular spot for hiking and canoeing (and Instagramming), with the Boathouse Trading Co. opening at 10:00am daily for first-come first-served rentals.
Check-in is outside on the dock, from behind a a plexiglass barrier, with hand sanitizer at the ready. All of the masked dock hands are busy cleaning paddles and life jackets, and there are additional COVID safety measures on signage, including one about how the staff cannot handle your personal items (I assume to move/watch bags or take a photo of your with your camera). Being out on the lake, surrounded by towering peaks from every angle, is pretty surreal. You can also hike the circumference (5.2 km, flat, gravel) to soak in the 360 views, from the jagged hillsides to soft marshland.
It’s a sign you pass on the way to Emerald Lake and I highly recommend you stop to view this wonder. Natural Bridge shows how the Kicking Horse River has carved its way through the landscape, shaping it over millions of years.
From Canadian Heritage Rivers: “The Kicking Horse River’s watershed contains features that provide evidence of the earth’s evolutionary history over a period of 600 million to 800 million years. The section of the river designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System consists of the 49 km headwaters section within Yoho National Park, along with the 18.5 km Yoho River, the Kicking Horse’s primary upstream tributary.”
The drive on Yoho Valley Road, after you turn off Highway 1, is pretty impressive on its own. With rushing rivers, meadows, and some gnarly switchbacks. Kudos to all the cyclists I saw on the route! At the end of the road you’ll be just 300 m from the second tallest waterfall in Canada: Takakkaw Falls.
Takakkaw Falls is one of many waterfalls in the valley, and the mist from its free fall of 254 metres can be quite refreshing on a hot summer day. There’s a quick trail from the parking lot that will take you to some great lookouts, including the base of the falls.
Among all this nature, there’s a man-made engineering wonder. On August 25, 1909 the Canadian Pacific Railway opened its new line over Kicking Horse Pass near Field, BC. The route featured two spiral tunnels, bypassing the former switchback with its 4.4% grades.
You’ll find a good lookout on the Yoho Valley Road up to Takakkaw Falls. We lucked out and saw a train making its way up through the tunnels when we stopped by. It reminded me of the Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad… but in real life (and much, much larger).
“The last time I was here I was unloading from my kayak at the rapids at the top of the falls and portaging through the forest, down that hill over there,” I kept saying to John. That’s what I did in 2015, the last time I saw Wapta Falls from above, and below.
This time we parked in a gravel parking lot, about 2 km off Highway 1 down a gravel road to the official Wapta Falls trailhead. From there, the hike into the falls is 2.4 km through the forest, along a knotty trail. You’ll pop out at the very top of the falls, overlooking the 150 m wide Kicking Horse River cascade. From the lookout you can head all the way down to the river. There are two paths: The one on the left is steeper and quicker, the one on the right is more gradual but longer. We took the left down, and the right up. You can get up to the edge of the turquoise river, perhaps splash a bit of water on the back of your neck on a hot day, and refresh for the return trip.
Plan your Visit
More to see: Hiking to the Burgess Shale fossil beds is still on my list. Hosted tours have been closed due to COVID but will hopefully be offered again in 2021. Tourism Golden has more activity ideas here, so does Kootenay Rockies Tourism. Summer is coming to an end but the fall colours in the park will also be spectacular!
Where to stay: We made Golden our home for this adventure. With six national parks nearby, our excursion into Yoho was the perfect day trip. Fuelling up with morning coffee and Brekkie Bagel at Bluebird, you can end the day with dinner at Whitetooth Bistro (and pick-up some take-home cans from Whitetooth Brewing). Staying up at Kicking Horse Mountain, our Lush Accommodations Lodge had a hot tub, which was really nice for a soak after all our paddling and hiking. More on that in my next post about Kicking Horse!
Follow Miss604 on Instagram for more stories and photos.