Yoho National Park Backcountry Guide © Parks Canada Click here
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YOHO National Park protects a landscape unique to the rugged west slopes of the central Canadian Rockies. This guide provides basic information for backcountry visitors. For more information or advice please contact the park.
Your stewardship is vital to maintain the integrity and beauty of this special wild place. Please practice minimum impact and observe these key regulations:
- Pack out all garbage including food waste, diapers, tampons and sanitary napkins.
- Do not feed or approach wildlife - this harms their health, alters their natural behaviour, and may expose you to danger.
- Keep your pet on a leash at all times.
- Rocks, fossils, horns, antlers, wildflowers, mushrooms, nests and all other natural or historical objects in a national park are protected by law. Leave them in their natural setting for others to discover and enjoy.
- Angling requires a National Park Fishing Permit .
- Read this guide, other pertinent park brochures or web pages, and guide books.
- Obtain a topographical map.
- Contact a Parks Canada information centre for current information and to obtain permits. A current trail report is posted on the Yoho National Park web site.
- Be aware of park regulations that affect you.
- Know your physical limits. Safety is your personal responsibility. Be prepared for possible hazards and always exercise caution.
- Ensure that you have adequate food, water, clothing and equipment for your trip. Consider your need for these important basics: first-aid kit, map and compass, flashlight, bear spray, fire starter, knife, sunglasses, whistle and a biviouac shelter.
- If you are planning an activity that you feel is hazardous, you may choose to complete a Voluntary Safety Registration . Backcountry travellers should be prepared for at least one day more than their planned trip. Inform friends or family of your itinerary.
- Read the brochure: Bears and People - A Guide to Safety and Conservation on the Trail .
- Boil or filter drinking water.
- Mountain weather is unpredictable. Be prepared for rain or snow at any time, particularly at higher elevations. Freezing temperatures are not uncommon above 1500 metres, even in summer.
Respect the Environment
- To dispose of human waste where no facilities are provided, select a spot at least 70 m (seven bus lengths) away from trails, campsites and water sources. Dig a shallow hole with a stick or heel of your boot. Cover the hole with soil or rocks afterwards. Pack out used toilet paper or burn it if the fire hazard is
- Do not wash yourself or your dishes in streams and lakes - carry the water to your campsite and wash there. Minimize use of soap; even biodegradable soaps are pollutants. Strain out the last bits of food waste and pack them out. Dispose of grey water on land, well away from water sources and campsites.
Access to the fossil beds on Mt. Stephen and Walcott's Quarry on Mt. Field is restricted to protect the fossils. Guided hikes to these areas are offered during the summer. Alpinists who are climbing Mt. Stephen or travelling through Duchesnay or Dennis Passes must obtain a permit to pass by the restricted area.
To protect an important wildlife movement corridor and increase security for grizzly bears, the McArthur Creek Valley from McArthur Pass to the Ottertail Valley is closed from May 1 to August 15 annually. After August 15, the valley is open to limited human use; a permit is required to hike this unmaintained route.
Horses can be used in the Amiskwi, Ottertail, Otterhead and Ice River valleys, and on the Emerald River trail. Check ahead at the park information centre for current information and regulations.
In Yoho National Park, former fireroads have been converted to trails. These are the trails in the park where biking is permitted. Please ride with care, bike bear-aware, and give right of way to hikers and horse parties.
- The Alpine Club of Canada operates cabins at Lake O'Hara (Elizabeth Parker Hut), Abbott Pass (Abbott Pass Hut), Little Yoho Valley (Stanley Mitchell Hut), and on the southwest corner of Mt. Daly (Scott Duncan Hut).
- Twin Falls Chalet (seasonal): 403.228.7079
- Lake O'Hara Lodge: May-October/February-April: 250.343.6418; Other months: 403.678.4110
- Hostelling International operates Whiskey Jack Hostel near Takakkaw Falls (mid-June to mid-September).
Anyone planning an overnight trip into the backcountry by foot, mountain bike or horse, at any time of year, must have a Wilderness Pass. There is no charge for children 16 years of age and under. You can purchase a Wilderness Pass from Parks Canada visitor centres or Parks Canada's office in Calgary. An annual Wilderness Pass, valid for one year from the date of purchase, is also available. Random camping is permitted in Amiskwi, Otterhead, Ice River, and Porcupine valleys. Camps must be set up at least 3 km from the highway, 100 metres from water, and 50 metres from the trail. There is a three-day maximum stay for one spot. Climbers on routes that cannot be completed in one day require a Wilderness Pass to bivouac.
Backcountry campsites can be reserved three months in advance of your first day of stay. A non-refundable fee applies. Contact the Field Visitor Centre. Group size can be no greater than ten people, including guides and leaders.
Lake O'Hara Campground
Parks Canada operates a 30-site backcountry campground at Lake O'Hara from mid-June to early October. Reservations are required and accepted three months in advance by phone only. Contact the Field Visitor Centre for details and information on off-season camping.
Campfires are not permitted in Yoho's backcountry. Campers must use portable stoves.
To reduce your campsite's attractiveness to bears and other wildlife, all food, garbage, toiletries and cooking equipment must be suspended from the food storage cables provided at designated campgrounds. Prepare meals away from your tent.
IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY, CALL 911
OR Satellite Phone: 403.762.4506
Cell phones range is limited in the mountains.
Short Hikes (1 to 2 hours)
Wapta Falls (elevation loss 30 m) - 2.3 km trail, each way
The 2 km gravel road skirts Leanchoil marsh. From the end of the road follow the level trail to where the Kicking Horse River drops 30 m. * Note : The trailhead is not marked on the Trans-Canada Highway for westbound traffic as there is no left turn lane here. Continue 3 km to the west entrance of the park, turn and come back.
Emerald Lake (minor elevation gain and loss) - 5.2 km circuit
A self-guided nature trail, this scenic hike is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers from the parking area to the bridge at the back of the lake (4.6 km return).
Hamilton Falls (minor elevation gain) - 1.6 km return
The trail starts at the entrance to Emerald Lake parking area.
Centennial Trail (minor elevation gain and loss) - 2.5 km circuit
Begins at the bridge by Kicking Horse Campground on the Yoho Valley Road.
Walk-in-the-Past (elevation gain 90 m) - 4 km return
From the trailer circle in Kicking Horse Campground, cross the Yoho Valley Road and follow the trail to an abandoned, narrow-gauge locomotive used to build the Spiral Tunnels.
Point Lace Falls and Angel's Staircase - 4.4 km return
Starts at Takakkaw Falls campground. minor elevation gain.
Half Day Hikes (3 to 4 hours)
Mt. Hunter Lookout (elevation gain 400 m) - 7.2 km return
to Upper Lookout - 12 km return
Park at the *Wapta Falls turn-off on the Trans-Canada Highway, and carefully cross the highway. The trail climbs steadily through montane forest to two former fire lookouts.
Hoodoos (elevation gain 455 m) - 3.2 km return
A steep, dry trail to capped pillars of glacial debris starts at the creek, between loops F and T in Hoodoo Creek Campground. Signs advise on the hazard of falling trees due to a 2005 prescribed burn.
Emerald Basin (elevation gain 225 m) - 9.2 km return
Walk to the far end of Emerald Lake for the turn-off to Emerald Basin. After a short, steep section the trail levels. It ends in a natural amphitheatre of hanging glaciers and avalanche paths.
Sherbrooke Lake (elevation gain 165 m) - 6.2 km return
From the Wapta Lake picnic shelter, the trail climbs moderately to a lake surrounded by steep slopes.
Great Divide (elevation gain minimal) - 6 km return
Bike or walk to the Great Divide on the original road through Kicking Horse Pass. (no longer open to vehicles)
Ross Lake (elevation gain 100 m) - 3.2 km one way
Watch for the Ross Lake junction at 1.9 km on the Great Divide route. Turn right for a gentle climb to a tiny rockbound lake.
Paget Lookout (elevation gain 520 m) - 7 km return
Follow the trail to Sherbrooke Lake for 1.4 km. Take the right hand fork at the junction for Paget Lookout.
Full Day Hikes (5 to 8 hours)
The main trailheads for day hikes and backcountry camping are located at Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls Campground and Whiskey Jack Hostel. Many trails connect, giving numerous options for starting and finishing points, and circuit hikes.
Hamilton Lake (elevation gain 850 m) - 11 km return
From the entrance at Emerald Lake parking area, follow the trail past Hamilton Falls on a steady climb to a classic alpine lake.
Yoho Pass (elevation gain 530 m) - 12 km one way
Follow the Emerald Lake trail around the lake to the Yoho Pass junction. The trail traverses a gravel outwash plain, climbs through the pass to Yoho Lake and descends to Whiskey Jack Hostel near Takakkaw Falls.
Emerald Triangle (elevation gain 880 m) - 19.7 km circuit
Follow the Yoho Pass trail to Yoho Pass, then travel south along the Wapta Highline trail to Burgess Pass. Descend the switchbacks to Emerald Lake and your starting point.
Iceline (elevation gain 695 m)
via Little Yoho - 20.8 km circuit
via Celeste Lake - 17.5 km circuit
The trail starts at Whiskey Jack Hostel and climbs through a large avalanche path onto a bench. Hikers descend to the Yoho Valley by taking the Celeste Lake trail, or follow the trail signs to the Little Yoho Valley.
Wapta Highline (elevation gain 660 m)
to Field - 18.5 km one way
to Emerald Lake - 19 km one way
Start as for the Iceline, but take the fork to Yoho Lake and Yoho Pass. In Yoho Pass, take the left fork along the flank of Wapta Mountain to Burgess Pass, then down the switchbacks to Emerald Lake or the town of Field.
Yoho Valley Trailhead, one way
to Laughing Falls (elevation gain 60 m) - 3.9 km
to Twin Falls (elevation gain 300 m) to chalet - 7.9 km
to Yoho Glacier Moraine (elevation gain 250 m) - 8.4 km
Laughing Falls is passed en route to Twin Falls. Strong parties can continue to the top of Twin Falls and over the Whaleback trail for incredible views. Ask staff at the Yoho Visitor Centre if the bridge is in before you take this route . Returning to Takakkaw Falls via the Whaleback and Laughing Falls is a 20.1 km circuit.
Little Yoho Valley (elevation gain 520 m) - 9.3 km one way
Follow the Yoho Valley trail to Laughing Falls, turn north at the junction and ascend the switchbacks.
Lake O'Hara (elevation gain 400 m) - 11 km one way
A quota limits the number of visitors using the public bus service into Lake O'Hara; there are no restrictions on the number of people who wish to hike the 11 km access road (bikes not permitted). Reservations are required to take the bus to Lake O'Hara for day use and camping. The bus operates from mid-June to early October. You may reserve up to three calendar months in advance of your visit, by telephone only .
to McArthur Creek Campground (elevation gain 285 m) - 14.9 km one way
to Ottertail Falls - 17.7 km one way
to Goodsir Pass (elevation gain 1015 m) - 23.9 km one way
Trailhead is located on the Trans-Canada Highway 8.4 km west of Field. This trail links with The Rockwall in Kootenay National Park.
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