The Burgess Shale
Burgess Shale Hike Fact Sheet (PDF, 262 KB)
Is there a limit to the number of people on the guided hike?
Yes. The Burgess Shale is regarded as one of the world’s most important animal fossil sites. To help protect this sensitive resource and maintain a quality experience for all visitors, group size is limited to 12 people.
Are reservations required for the guided hike?
Yes. Reservations are required for all Parks Canada guided hikes to the Burgess Shale fossil beds. You may reserve your spot starting January 3. There are no restrictions on the number of spots you can reserve.
Is there a standby policy?
Yes. Visitors wishing to join a hike on a standby basis may do so by arriving at the hike meeting location prior to the start of the hike, although there is no guarantee that a place will be available. If spots are available, they will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.
What if I need to cancel my booking?
Cancellations with a full refund can be made before 10 a.m. five days before the scheduled hike. Reservation changes and cancellations are subject to a $8.80 fee per transaction. Call us or email. Due to high demand, Parks Canada requests that booking modifications be made with as much advance warning as possible. Parks Canada reserves the right to retain hiking fees in the case of no-shows.
Can I collect fossils?
No. To ensure the protection of this important natural resource, removing fossils from Burgess Shale locations is strictly prohibited.
Can I hike on my own to the Walcott Quarry or Stephen Fossil Beds?
No. To protect this valuable resource, access to the fossil beds is restricted to guided hikes. The Burgess Shale fossil sites receive the highest level of protection we can provide while still giving visitors the chance to visit them.
Are the two trips very difficult?
Yes. Both hikes are very steep and take between 7 – 10 hours return. They are not suitable for children under the age of 8, people with health problems or people who are uncomfortable with exposed, steep trails.
Can I wear running shoes?
We recommend sturdy footwear that protects and supports your feet and ankles.
Is there a bulk purchase price?
Yes. Groups that reserve all twelve available spaces at the same time for the same hike receive a 10% discount on fees.
What is the Burgess Shale?
The Burgess Shale refers to layers of fossil-bearing rock in Yoho National Park on Fossil Ridge between Wapta Mountain and Mount Field. It is distinguished, in part, by the presence of extraordinarily preserved soft bodied organisms (imagine a fossil of a jelly fish!). These fossils were created over a period of about 200 000 years during the Cambrian era and were brought to the attention of researchers in 1909 by Charles Walcott, an American scientist, paleontologist and Secretary to the Smithsonian Institution. The exquisitely preserved soft bodied fossils are world renowned and draw many visitors to Yoho National Park each year.
Why is the Burgess Shale special?
The Burgess Shale fossils are very important to scientists for three main reasons: their great age, their exceptional preservation, and their great diversity. Learn more in the Parks Canada Resource Centre or from the Virtual Museum of Canada.
How old are the fossils?
The fossils are estimated to be 505 million years old, from the Middle Cambrian time period, making them some of the oldest fossils of complex animals in the world.
How big are the fossils? What do they look like?
Fossil size varies considerably from smaller than a dime to larger than your hand.
Why is the Burgess Shale a World Heritage Site?
The Burgess Shale sites' global significance was recognised in 1981 when they were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of the unique and well preserved fossils of soft-bodied marine organisms that lived in Cambrian seas 505 million years ago. The bizarre animals preserved in the shales represent a complete ecosystem that existed for only a very short time after the first explosion of multicellular life on earth. The Burgess Shale is now part of the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.
Where can I learn more?
The Virtual Museum of Canada's Burgess Shale Exhibit explores the history and science of the Burgess Shale, hosts a comprehensive fossil gallery, and also an animated tour of the Cambrian seas that once occupied what is now Yoho National Park. An excellent primer. The Virtual Museum of Canada's Burgess Shale exhibition was created by Parks Canada and the Royal Ontario Museum.