Famous for its towering rock walls, spectacular waterfalls, emerald/crystal blue lakes, Yoho National Park is definitely a must-see destination while in Canadian Rockies.
Situated within close proximity with Lake Louise, the park is easily accessible from Banff Townsite via Trans-Canada Highway. The total distance from Banff to Lake Louise takes about 37 min for a distance of 57.1 km.
Along the way, there are a few viewpoints, which you can stopover for some scenic view or quick rest.
Once at Lake Louise, instead of turning into the townsite, continue the journey along Trans-Canada Highway. If you are traveling early in the morning, you might be greeted with thick mist on the highway in Yoho region, so please drive carefully!
The first stop in the park will be Lake O’ Hara.
Lake O’ Hara – due to its fragile alpine environment, Lake O’ Hara is open only during summer and for a limited number of travelers to explore the area. From Trans-Canada Highway, a signboard on the left will lead you to Lake O’ Hara parking lot.
From here, you will need to take a pre-booked bus to enter the park. Bus time schedule and Reservation are available online. The bus ticket reservation is available only 3 months in advance, so be sure to plan ahead and grab it early to avoid disappointment. The bus ride will take about 20 – 30 min to reach Lake O’Hara. You can choose to hike and stay in the area for a couple of days or plan it as a day-trip. For day-trip, make sure that you take note of the bus timing. If you miss the bus, you will need to walk all the way out to the parking lot, which is quite a distance away.
For a day-trip, there are two hiking trails which you can consider: Lake O’ Hara Shoreline Trail: this is for the less adventurous travelers, with minimal elevation. Total distance around the lake is 2.8 km.
In order to catch the next bus, the only trail which I will recommend for more adventurous travelers will be Lake Oesa Trail. It is 3.2 km one way, so make sure that you plan your time properly.
You can find information about other trails from here.
Takakkaw Fall – Canada’s third highest waterfall, standing at a high of 254m from the base. From Lake 0′ Hara Carpark, turn left into Trans-Canada Highway till reaching the intersection with Yoho Valley Road on the right. Before visiting, do check on the road condition as it is closed during certain seasons.
The first viewpoint which you will come across on the right will be the Upper Spiral Tunnel Scenic Viewpoint. With the right timing, you might be lucky to see the train enter/exit the tunnels and cutting through the terrains from far. Driving along Yoho Valley Road can be quite intense for some inexperienced drivers, especially when there is an upslope hairpin section, and it doesn’t help when traffic comes in both ways too. It was my first time driving through a hairpin and was lucky enough that there were no heavy on-coming traffic to stress me out while conquering the hairpin.
Continue the journey till the end of Yoho Valley Road, which the Tekakkaw Fall parking lot is situated. There are plenty of benches along the trail, which you can sit down and enjoy the roaring sound of the waterfall. Crossing the bridge and walking further into the terrain will bring you up-close on the base of the fall.
Natural Bridge – From the exit of Yoho Valley Road, turn right into Trans-Canada Highway and travel south-west along the road till Emerald Lake Road on the right. Natural Bridge parking lot is along the way, making it a perfect quick stopover before heading to Emerald Lake.
Viewpoint in the area is connected with well-paved platform and bridge. It’s amazing to see how the water from the upper kicking Horse River rushing through the rocks into a lower level. The water is crystal blue in color, which makes the area like a leaking swimming pool!
Emerald Lake – situated a few miles north of Natural Bridge, Emerald Lake is another hidden gem of Yoho National Park, which offers abundant photo-taking opportunities as well as accommodation, dining and sports activities such as kayaking.
The glacial lake is truly emerald, surrounded by mountains, glaciers, avalanche slopes and the world-famous Burgess Shale fossil beds.
The trail to Emerald Basin is considered moderate, due to some steep sections along the way. For travelers who want to have a least strenuous hike, try the Emerald Lakeshore trail which circuits around the lake (2 hours). Due to time constraint, I didn’t manage to try out other hiking trails. You can find more information here.