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The boundary of Yoho National Park is only 10 minutes away and all of this impressive park is within striking distance for day trips from Lake Louise. Yoho’s theme is “Rockwalls and Waterfalls.”
After leaving Lake Louise, the road descends quickly, but the mountains don’t get any shorter! Mt. Stephen looms overhead as the road finally levels out near the town of Field.
Falling water can often be seen on the sheer cliffs that surround you, but the grandmother of Yoho’s waterfalls is Takakkaw Falls. Found at the end of the Yoho Valley Road (40 minutes from Lake Louise), this impressive cascade is one of the highest named waterfalls in Canada. Again, we suggest going early or late to get the best light and a peaceful experience. You can walk right up to the base of the falls and feel the cool spray on your face. The falls originate as the meltwater of a glacier above and out of sight.
Note: Takakkaw Falls is not accessible from mid-October to early June. The road is not plowed.
The other major destination in Yoho is Emerald Lake (40 minutes from Lake Louise). The high peaks of the great divide capture the weather we receive from the Pacific Ocean. The clouds get hung up on the summits and moisture plummets down the steep mountain sides. Where the topography concentrates this water, you can find small patches of coastal rainforest — with western red cedar trees and devil’s club (look for the large plant with thorns and maple-like leaves). The west side of Emerald lake is one of these spots.
Interpretive signs along the lakeshore trail help you understand the wet and dry sides of the lake. You can’t help but notice the difference in the plants, the streams and the atmosphere. In early spring (late may and June), Emerald Lake is the first place to look for wildflowers. As the snow melts away, the shore becomes a riot of bright yellow glacier lilies. Hot pink calypso orchids are not far behind.
From the lakeshore you can find out more about the world-famous Burgess Shale. An interpretive exhibit tells the story of these unique and rare fossils, and, a telescope zooms in on the quarry where scientists study and excavate them each summer. You can visit this quarry and the Mt. Stephen Trilobite Bed with guided hikes from the Burgess Shale Research Foundation. Access is otherwise restricted.
In winter, Emerald is still beautiful and a fun place to take a walk, cross-country ski or snowshoe.
Food is available at Emerald Lake Lodge. Canoes, skis and snowshoes are available from Emerald Sports. Horseback rides available from Emerald Stables (250-343-6000).
Yoho is also full of train-related history. Check out our other itinerary for train buffs.
Get to the Burgess Shale
Visiting either of the Burgess Shale sites requires a full-day, strenuous hike. But it’s worth it! The thin band of shale is one of only two places in the world where the soft parts of creatures have been fully preserved in rock, in exquisite detail. Better yet, these fantastic animals date from very early in the evolution of life on the planet, making them a valuable scientific find.
Of course, access to the sites is restricted, so you must go with a guided group. Contact the Burgess Shale Research Foundation at 800-343-3006 or contact us.