As with all other parks of the Canadian Rockies , you don’t need to travel deep into the backcountry to view Yoho National Park ’s most spectacular features—many are visible from the roadside. The sights below are listed from east to west, starting at the park boundary (the Continental Divide).
The joy that Canadian Pacific Railway president William Van Horne felt upon completion of his transcontinental rail line in 1886 was tempered by massive problems along a stretch of line west of Kicking Horse Pass. “Big Hill” was less than five kilometers (3.1 miles) long, but its gradient was so steep that runaway trains, crashes, and other disasters were common.
Nearly a quarter-century after the line opened, railway engineers and builders finally solved the problem. By building two spiral tunnels down through two kilometers (1.2 miles) of solid rock to the valley floor, they lessened the grade dramatically and the terrors came to an end.
At this viewpoint along the highway, interpretive displays tell the fascinating story of Big Hill, with distant views to a tunnel entrance.
Fed by the Wapta Icefield in the far north of Yoho National Park , the Yoho River flows through this spectacularly narrow valley, dropping more than 200 meters (660 feet) in the last kilometer (0.6 miles) before its confluence with the Kicking Horse River. The road leading up the valley passes Kicking Horse Campground , the park’s main campground, and climbs a very tight series of switchbacks (watch for buses reversing through the middle section).
The road ends 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) from the main highway at Takakkaw Falls, the most impressive waterfall in the Canadian Rockies . Meaning “wonderful” in the language of the Cree, Takakkaw tumbles 254 meters (830 feet) over a sheer rock wall at the lip of the Yoho Valley, creating a spray bedecked with rainbows. It can be seen from the parking lot, but it’s well worth the easy 10-minute stroll over the Yoho River to appreciate the sight in all its glory.
Three kilometers (1.9 miles) west of Field is the turnoff to famous Emerald Lake. On your way out to the lake, you’ll first pass another intriguing sight. At Natural Bridge, two kilometers (1.2 miles) down the road, the Kicking Horse River has worn a narrow hole through a limestone wall, creating a bridge. A trail leads to several viewpoints.
One of the jewels of the Canadian Rockies, this beautiful lake is surrounded by a forest of Engelmann spruce, as well as many peaks over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). It’s covered in ice most of the year, but comes alive with activity for a few short months in summer when hikers, canoeists, and horseback riders take advantage of the magnificent surroundings.
Emerald Lake Canoe Rentals (250/343-6000) rents canoes and small boats for $30 per hour, $45 for two hours, or $70 all day.