Photograph by Michael Melford, National Geographic
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Falls trickle into Lake Oesa in Yoho National Park.
Photograph by Michael Melford, National Geographic

Yoho National Park

Location: British Columbia
Date Established: 1886
Size: 318,519 acres

A Cree exclamation of awe, yoho applies perfectly to this park’s big peaks, expansive glaciers, and impressive waterfalls. Add Yoho’s famous fossils and it’s easy to see why this park in the Canadian Rockies is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although many of its highlights are accessible by road, Yoho is also a hiker’s dream and a railway buff’s delight.

Park Facts

Water and Ice Yoho National Park protects the upper watershed of the Kicking Horse River, a steep, unruly tributary of 33 miles. Much of the water comes from the Yoho River, ice cold and milky with rock flour from its source at the Wapta Icefield. Many other glaciers feed the Yoho and the Kicking Horse, which thunders over Wapta Falls before rushing through a steep-walled canyon to the Columbia River.

Park Drives Trans-Canada 1 and the Canadian Pacific Railway follow the Kicking Horse through the heart of the park. Precipitous peaks sporting epaulettes of glacial ice rise more than a mile above the transportation corridor. The highest point in the park is South Goodsir Tower, with a summit elevation of 11,686 feet. A side road leads to world-class Takakkaw Falls. Swollen with glacial meltwater on summer afternoons, the falls plunges 1,250 feet to the floor of the Yoho Valley. Other roads lead to appropriately named Emerald Lake.

Fossils Among this spectacular terrain lies the Burgess Shale, a layer of half-billion-year-old rock that holds paleontology’s most valuable fossils. Specimens are on display at the park information center.

How to Get There

From Calgary (the closest airport), follow Trans-Canada 1 west for 125 miles to the small community of Field, near the center of the park.

From the south, take Hwy. 95 to Golden, then turn east onto Trans-Canada 1 and follow it 36 miles to Field.

When to Go

Yoho is accessible and enjoyable year-round. The western valley floors green up in May, and by mid-June the side roads are open. By mid-July the higher trail passes are snow free, and later in the month the alpine wildflowers reach their peak. In late September, subalpine larch rewards visitors with a showy band of gold at the tree line. Winter in Yoho, which lasts from November to March, offers Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ski touring, and world-renowned waterfall ice climbing.

How to Visit

Give yourself a full day to take in the roadside views and enjoy some easy walking. Emerald Lake makes a fine morning destination, with a stop at Natural Bridge en route. Have a stroll at the lake, then head back to Trans-Canada 1, catch some lunch in Field, and keep going east to the Yoho Valley Road for a drive to jaw-dropping Takakkaw Falls, at its best in the late afternoon.

—Text adapted from the 2011 National Geographic book Guide to the National Parks of Canada