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Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is a beautiful and serene nature park located in British Columbia. This Canadian Rocky Mountain park offers spectacular waterfalls, gorgeous lakes, and vistas rivalling those found in neighbouring Banff National Park to the East.
As much as we love to explore Banff National Park, it can get a little crowded at times. To escape the clamour of the crowd simply visit Yoho National Park.
Here are our top 5 places to visit in Yoho National Park in winter!
Visit Field, BC
Field is a cozy mountain town situated in the stunning Kicking Horse River valley in Yoho National Park. What started out as a settlement for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway has evolved into a thriving yet unpretentious tourism town.
Make sure to visit the Field Information Center for trail maps, weather forecasts, avalanche zones, and other pertinent information. You can also purchase Yoho National Park paraphernalia inside. The gentleman that occasionally mans the gift shop is a pleasure to talk to.
Walk through the charming small town and soak in the relaxed ambience. Admire the classic North American style homes and the splendid mountain views that abound.
The Natural Bridge
The Natural Bridge in Yoho is a natural limestone rock bridge over the Kicking Horse River. In winter the river freezes over and you can walk up to and under the natural bridge. Inside your eye is drawn to the blue frozen waterfall. Snow traces the outline of the individual rock layers of the walls of the natural bridge. It’s a captivating sight. You can also hear and partially see the water flowing behind the frozen waterfall. Try not to fall in!
Snowshoe, Ski, or Walk around Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake is a gorgeous lake set in a stunning surrounding. In winter, snowshoeing and cross country skiing is popular both on land or on the lake ice. The forest sees more traffic and the compact snow makes for an easier journey. For more exercise, the lake provides a bounty of deep powdery snow to tramp through.
The loop around Emerald Lake is a leisurely 5.3km. If you have more time we would strongly suggest incorporating the 4.2km Emerald Lake Alluvial Fan Loop that deviates from the main trail around the lake. It is a quieter trail, something we cherish after the bustle of the main loop. We felt humbled in the presence of the beautiful peaks towering overhead and marvel at the blue frozen waterfalls clinging desperately to the steep rock face.
Snowshoe Hike to Wapta Falls
Wapta falls is an easy and delightful half day snowshoe excursion in Yoho National Park. It is a 8.6km (5.3mile) return snowshoe or ski trip. The gate for the road leading to the Wapta Falls trailhead is closed through fall and winter so your journey will start by the highway. (Note that in fall there is space to park several cars. However in winter they may not clear the parking area of snow so you will have to park on the side of the highway.)
About 550m into the trail the forest thins out and you can catch a glimpse into the valley. Traditionally we like to take a short detour off the path and down into the valley to take in splendid views of the river valley and accompanying mountain landscape.
The first few kilometers from the highway are along the wide access road before connecting to the start of the trail. The official trail is hilly and narrow through thick forest. You won’t hear the waterfalls until you are almost above them.
We paused to admire the falls from the upper viewpoint then ventured down onto the frozen Kicking Horse River. Traversing over the ice we climbed onto the snow covered mound in front of the waterfall for a closer inspection of the falls. After a time we descended down the mound and snowshoed up a small neighbouring hill (situated on what was normally an island in the spring and summer) to capture the falls with the mountain backdrop.
Day Trip or Overnight venture into Lake O’Hara
This is a full day excursion or overnight trip for those with an extra day or snow enthusiasts! From the Lake O’Hara parking lot the path follows 11km or 6.8miles along the summer access road to Lake O’Hara.
It is possible to cross country ski a return trip in a day. If you’re snowshoeing forget about it and plan to overnight at the Elizabeth Parker hut or the Lake O’Hara Lodge.
We went snowshoeing in a group of three and found the first few kilometers to be the most tiring since we had to break trail from the (very) recent snowfall. It continued to snow all day but the snow was more compact further along the trail from skiiers and snowshoers on their return trip.
This trail is pleasantly peaceful and visually invigorating. The trees are burdened by the snow they catch in their arms. Rocks transform into snow mushrooms and other bulbous forms. The layers of the mountains are highlighted in white powder and demand your attention. Arriving at the destination, we find a frozen Lake O’Hara covered in deep powdery snow to be a serene scene.
Car: Yoho National Park is a 200km or two hour drive West of Calgary West along the TransCanada highway. We prefer to take the Bow Valley Trail (Highway 1A) until it joins with the TransCanada Highway as we find it to be more relaxed and it sees less traffic.
Bus: The greyhound stops in Field in Yoho National Park after stopping in Lake Louise. The bus line connects other towns along the TransCanada Highway.
Bike: The well maintained roads and mountain scenery make for an tiring but epic cycling journey.
Safety & Hazards
Avalanche road signs: There will be sections of the Akamina parkway where road signs indicate Avalanche Area No Stopping. Follow these instructions! By no means should you stop whether it is to photograph an animal or the landscape. You could be putting yourself and others at risk. Always pull over in a safe, visible spot before going shutter happy.
Backcountry access: Exercise caution and bring appropriate equipment. Arm yourself with an avalanche safety course if you plan on deviating off the main road or exploring the backcountry.
You must bring an avalanche snow shovel, probe, and beacon if you plan on entering avalanche zones in the backcountry.
Winter tires: When visiting in the winter, drive on winter tires. Renting a car with winter tires is more expensive but worth it. Road conditions are variable and you will want traction. The weather in the mountain can change quickly. If you can afford winter tires get the. Otherwise a combination of four wheel drive and mud and snow-rated tires are the next best option. Hire the best vehicle you can afford.
Yoho National Park Accommodation
Firewood Hostel – Charming backpacker’s hostel in the town of Field. Relaxed social atmosphere, spacious lounge, and well equipped kitchen. Field does not have a grocery store so make sure to buy supplies prior to your stay. For more amenities and services, you can base yourself in Banff or Lake Louise and make a day trip out to Yoho National Park.
Planning a Trip To Canada?
We never leave home without emergency medical and trip protection cover. We utilize travel insurance from World Nomads for short trips abroad. Protect yourself and your wallet from unexpected injury, sickness & theft abroad.
Winter Emergency Kit
Do pack a winter emergency kit to keep in your car at all times. If there is an issue with your car, if you get into an accident with another car, pole, animal or slide off the road and more it is imperative that you have the supplies to keep you warm and safe until help arrives.
What we recommend:
Snow shovel, Emergency roadside flares, Emergency warning triangles, First Aid Kit, Jumper Cables,Dual Snow Scraper/Snow Brush, Sleeping bag, Emergency blanket, Flashlight with extra batteries,Matches, lighters, candles, 2L of cat litter, sand, or road salt for traction.
Extra clothing: hats, mittens, socks, snowpants, thermal layers
Extra snacks: energy bars, granola bars, raisins, trail mix, small bottles of water (50cl)
Dress Appropriately for the Weather
The Canadian Rockies can have harsh winters depending on the year. Temperatures can dip to -30 degrees Celsius with wind chill making it feel like -40 degrees C. Its essential to dress accordingly to the weather. It could also be +20 degrees, sunny and blue skies with snow on the ground. Canadian weather system is flexible, you have to be as well.
We recommend waterproof jackets, snow pants or quick drying pants, warm boots, quick drying pants, and layers layers layers! Don’t forget about a toque for you head, a versatile buff, mittens and hand warmers. Shop our favourite Canada travel essentials!
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Have you been to Yoho National Park? What would you like to see and do? Let us know what you think in the comments below!