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This guest post was written by Pat McChristian from The Flashpacker Chronicals
The Canadian Rockies are home to several national parks, each as beautiful as the next. Some are easier to access and closer to Calgary (the major entry point), so they tend to be more crowded. But, if you are willing to venture a bit further west along the scenic Trans-Canada Highway, Yoho National Park delivers both beauty and solitude.
I first visited YoHo when my children were 8 and 11-years old. The spectacular beauty made quite an impression on my young children. So much so that when my daughter was in her mid-twenties, she convinced me to break my rule of one and done vacations for another visit to the area.
Everything You Need To Know About Yoho National Park
- Everything You Need To Know About Yoho National Park
- Top Activities in YoHo National Park
- Best Places to Hike With Kids in Yoho
Best Time to Visit Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is in British Columbia…in Canada…where it gets cold. The best time for a visit (if you aren’t planning on skiing) is between mid-June and mid-September. We planned our most recent trip for the end of August, after college kids had returned to campus and most families were home finishing up their back-to-school shopping. This gave us the ideal experience with as few other tourists as possible.
Where To Stay Near Yoho National Park
Accommodation options near most wilderness parks are limited and often expensive; the area around Yoho is no exception. Your lodging preference can have a large impact on how much you enjoy your trip, so be sure to do your research and make your reservations well ahead of your travel dates.
There are not a lot of lodging options near Yoho, but here are a few Airbnb’s you can book if you plan ahead.
Costs to Enter Yoho National Park
To enter any of the parks you need to purchase a pass, which you can do online, at the park gates or any visitor center. Be sure to purchase a pass that covers the number of days you will be utilizing the parks. If you are planning on spending more than 7 days in Canadian Parks, an annual pass is a great investment. A one day pass for adults is $10 or an annual pass is $69.19. Youth 17 and under are free.
What to Pack for Yoho National Park
Packing only the essentials is, well, essential, so keep everything else to the bare minimum. Depending on your preference for how to see the park, your packing essentials may vary. No matter what you choose, remember you will likely be crammed in your rental car with kids, food and luggage for the long distances that separate places in the wilderness – the less squished the better. No need to bring anything fancier than jeans and t-shirts to this area.
Photography in Yoho National Park
The Canadian Rockies are a traveler photographer’s dream, and although our pictures are stunning I wish I knew then what I know now about photography and the proper equipment. If you’re a casual photographer or already a professional this is one trip where your full suite of photography gear will be worth bringing.
Hiking in Yoho National Park
Hiking can be a wonderful experience if you are properly prepared; quite the opposite, if you are not. Of prime importance is proper footwear that is properly broken in (check out our review of the best hiking shoes for kids). And really good hiking socks that won’t slip around and contribute to blistering (we like these since they have a lifetime warranty). Even with great boots and socks, it’s best to have moleskin and band-aids along for the ride. Encourage everyone in your party to stop immediately if they feel any discomfort in their boots so that bunched socks can be straightened, and laces tightened or loosened before the damage is done. Hikers with blisters are not happy hikers.
Your hiking ensemble should include lightweight, wicking layers (which can be easily washed in a sink and dried overnight on a towel rack), thin gloves and a hat for chilly mornings and evenings, and a warm layer and rain gear for changing weather conditions. A hat to keep the sun off your head is also a good idea and a neck gaiter that can magically transform itself into a headband, neck warmer or face mask.
Be sure to have water bottles and backpacks or hip packs appropriate for each hiker. Spread out the other essentials among your group: small containers of lip protection and sunscreen; gel shots (for when you need a boost to get up the next incline); bug spray (we did not have issues with bugs, but you never know); pocket knife (handy for cutting apples and cheese); tissues and a plastic bag (for bathroom emergencies – be sure to pack everything out); water filtration kit (great on long hikes where you can’t carry as much water as you might need); and first aid supplies for minor scrapes, bumps and bruises.
What about bears at Yoho National Park?
Do I need to worry about bears when I visit Yoho? While we don’t tell people to worry about the bears, being prepared in case you run into a bear is incredibly important. Knowing proper bear safety and carrying bear spray is incredibly important.
Did I say bear spray? Yes, yes, I did. Bring it and know how to use it. Teach your children what to do if you see a bear and encourage them to talk loudly and sing out “hey bear” when rounding blind bends in the trail. When we were there, heavy bear activity closed some trails and created restrictions on others in Yoho and Glacier National Park (the Canadian Glacier park located an hour west of Yoho). At one trailhead, park rangers would allow only parties of four or more to proceed, and only if they had bear spray and pledged to stay closely bunched on the trail. We hiked all day, and while we saw plenty of signs that bears were in the area, we did not spy a single bear. Personally, I was disappointed; others in the group were relieved. You can check the park service website (www.pc.gc.ca) for the weekly bear report and updates on trail closures.
What is the best way to get to YoHo?
You’ll most likely fly into Calgary International Airport, which although accessible, is often an expensive flight for most US travelers. Being flexible on your dates and booking in advance is a great start to finding cheap flights into Calgary. Here are some common travel times to get to Yoho:
Distance From Calgary to Yoho National Park: 225km, approximately 2.5 hours drive time
Distance From Banff to Yoho National Park: 100km, approximately 1.25 hours drive time
Distance From Lake Louise to Yoho National Park: 45km, approximately 40 minutes drive time
Distance From Jasper National Park to Yoho National Park: 161km, approximately 2 hours drive time
Money saving tip:
Whenever we are on an outdoor-centric vacation, the grocery store is our first stop. We provision up as much as possible in the major towns near the airports before leaving for the wilderness where supplies are much more expensive and there are fewer options. We booked accomodations with a kitchen so we could make breakfast and dinner ourselves and saved us some money not having to constantly eat out.
We didn’t want to make the long drive to Golden after a long day of flying, so we opted to stay the first night in Kananaskis (an hour from the airport). The next morning we were up early and on the road by 8:00 am. This gave us the opportunity to drive the Trans-Canada Highway the following morning when we could enjoy the scenery in the daylight.
Our first stop was Moraine Lake in Banff National Park (a 2 ½ hour drive) to take in the stunning Valley of the Ten Peaks which surround this shockingly blue lake. We threw in a quick hike to stretch our legs and get a taste of what was ahead for the rest of the week. Our early start mitigated the chances we would get bogged down in tourist traffic or construction delays in the Banff and Lake Louise area.
Next stop, Yoho. We drove west for an hour and a quarter, arriving at Emerald Lake, so-called for its striking emerald-colored water.
Top Activities in YoHo National Park
1. Canoeing Emerald Lake
Despite being a bit expensive, canoeing in the park provides unbelievable views of the park and surrounding mountains for a unique perspective.
2. White Water Rafting the Kicking Horse River
After hiking most of our days in the park, we decided to give our feet a rest and our arms a workout by rafting the Kicking Horse River. We opted for a challenging, full-day adventure which included a wonderful, riverside-lunch midway through the day. The rafting itself was amazing with a trained local guide who led us through (and into) some frigid waters, challenging obstacles and tons of laughter. We cherished the change of pace from hiking and thoroughly enjoyed hearing the expertise and understanding of the area from our local guide. We would highly suggest rafting as part of your trip, especially if you’re in a group. Local raft companies offer all kinds of packages for any experience level or size group including full-day and half-day options and various levels of difficulty, from gentle family floats to heli-rafting.
3. Exploring Burgess Shale
An important archaeological site, the Burgess Shale area of YoHo offers some amazing preservation and is sure to spark the wonder and imaginations of kids of all ages. Guided tours are available if you book ahead.
4. Standing Atop the Yoho Natural Bridge
An easy add on to a day of exploring, the Natural Bridge offers insight into the power of water. Carving a waterfall straight through solid rock, the Natural Bridge is an awe-inspiring and photogenic stopping point and only a short walk from parking.
5. Camping in Yoho
If your goal in visiting YoHo is to reconnect with the outdoors, there is no better way than avoiding lodges of tourists than camping inside the park. Camping is available in the park from mid-May to mid-October and is largely available on a first come, first serve basis. There are only 150 campsites in the park (4 different campgrounds) so set up early to find a spot. Alternatively, reservations are available at Kicking Horse campgrounds.
6. Viewing The Northern Lights in Yoho
You don’t have to go to the Nordic lands to experience the Northern Lights. Canada has its very own viewings and YoHo National Park offers some of the best Northern Lights viewing in the country.
Best Places to Hike With Kids in Yoho
Hiking with children has so many benefits, not the least of which is giving energetic kids a free, healthy activity to do that totally tuckers them out by the end of the day. Hiking also instills in kids an appreciation of nature, hones their ability to not just look, but to really see, what is all around them; pushes their physical limits, filling them with new-found confidence when they reach the top of a trail they never dreamed they could climb. And nothing compares with standing in a valley with your children, staring up together at an impossible-blue sky hung over towering mountain peaks frosted in snow, sharing a moment of awe and wonder.
The Canadian Rockies are any hiker’s dream, from families to extreme, there’s something for everyone. With limited time there some research will go a long way to determining which hikes to do, here are our personal favorites for family friendly hikes in Yoho National Park.
Emerald Lake Hike
The Emerald Lake loop is an easy 5.3km hike of mostly flat and cleared terrain. The loop features some amazing views of the lake and the surrounding mountains as well as some great picnic spots by the water. We stopped for a bit to watch the canoers pass and enjoy the wide open space out over the water and incredible vantages of the surrounding snow capped mountains, avalanche slopes and glacial run offs.
As you make your way further along the hiking path, the trail begins to extend away from the visitors, and before long you feel like you are the only person to ever stand where you are, drinking in the majesty of the Canadian Rockies.
The Iceline Trail
Another Yoho trail we loved was the Iceline Trail. This high-elevation trail is considered one of the premier hikes in the park and offers some of the best views of the peaks, valleys, glaciers and waterfalls found in the entire park. A 13-mile loop, this hike presents more of a challenge with its steep climbs, variable terrain and oxygen-lacking elevation. Plan a full day to complete this hike.
Younger hikers might go part way and turn around – it will be important to assess the abilities of everyone in your party and plan your hikes accordingly.
An alternative for the very young is to visit Takkakaw Falls at the base of the Iceline Trail. Takkakaw Falls is a good hike for kids in Yoho and one of the most impressive features of the park that is accessible by car and a short trail walk (the trail is wheelchair and stroller friendly). You will hear the falls before you see them, and once in view, they are an imposing sight. They are 1,260 feet tall and project outwards from the cliff wall; you can take a path right up to the base and feel the mist on your face.
The hiking in YoHo is truly therapeutic and can be a strong experience for families and individuals alike. If you have already passed by the rush and roar of a glacial run-off stream, and the wind has stopped playing music with the branches in the trees, you can hear it. The sound most of us never hear in our urban and suburban lives. Complete. Utter. Silence. It is deafening. And it is magnificent.
After adventure filled days we re-stocked our food supplies at the local grocery in Golden and relaxed in a lovely log home we rented (the hot tub on the deck was just the thing for soaking our aching muscles). In the evenings, we would stand outside on the large deck and gaze at the millions of stars so clearly visible in the deep surrounding darkness. On more than one occasion over the years, I have awakened my children in the night, wrapped them in blankets and taken them outside to see the sparkling show in a national park sky, a show we never get to see at our suburban home.
We would all love to return to Yoho and its neighboring national parks. There are many more trails to hike and magnificent vistas to see. It is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled places we have ever visited.
And it is aptly named – Yoho is a Cree expression meaning awe and wonder.
Pat McChristian is a lifelong world traveler and regular contributor to The Flashpacker Chronicles. When not on the road Pat lives in Connecticut with her husband, Jeff. Follow her adventures along with the rest of the Flashpacker Co Network on their website: flashpackerco.com or on Instagram @FlashpackerCo.