A day trip to Yoho National Park in British Columbia is a must-do if you are visiting Banff or Lake Louise. Yoho National Park is part of the Canadian Rockies UNESCO Heritage Site, with spectacular scenery and fun things to do.
While you could easily spend several days exploring Yoho National Park, you can see the major highlights in a day.
Read on to discover the best sights and activities for a day trip to Yoho National Park!
We’ve described a sample itinerary for your day trip to Yoho National Park, assuming you begin your trip in Lake Louise.
If you are doing the trip from Banff, factor in an additional 45 minutes to one hour at each end.
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SAMPLE ONE DAY ITINERARY FOR YOHO NATIONAL PARK
9.00 a.m. Depart Lake Louise
9.15-9.35 a.m. Lower Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint, Trans Canada Highway
10.00-10.30 a.m. Natural Bridge over the Kicking Horse River
11.00-3.00 p.m. Emerald Lake (including lunch)
3.20-3.45 p.m. Town of Field
4.15-5.15 p.m. Takakkaw Falls
6.00 p.m. Arrive Lake Louise
The itinerary above assumes you will do both the full hike around Emerald Lake as well as one hour in a boat or canoe on the water.
If you prefer a shorter day, you can pick one or the other. We opted to take a boat out for an hour and then walked a part of the trail before sitting down to lunch.
You’ll get better photos of Takakkaw Falls if you visit in the afternoon, but you can choose to visit the falls in the morning, then visit Field and do lunch, and end with the Natural Bridge and the lake.
And if you are up for an early wake-up call and leave a couple hours earlier, you can add beautiful Wapta Falls to your day.
Lake O’Hara is another popular Yoho National Park destination, but requires reservations that are allotted by random draw. We’ve described it below, in the event you want to visit and are able to snag a reservation and are okay with just visiting for a couple of hours!
Why visit Yoho National Park?
Yoho is a Cree word that means “awe.” And awe is exactly what you will feel when you visit this magnificent park in the Canadian Rockies.
Yoho National Park is located in the province of British Columbia, along the western slopes of the Rockies.
Established in the year 1886, Yoho National Park is the smallest of the four contiguous parks that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay are the other three.
Although Yoho National Park is small, it is not lacking in awesomeness. It features tall craggy mountains, gorgeous green forests, wonderful waterfalls, and stunningly beautiful lakes.
For travelers who love being outdoors among the wonders of Nature, Yoho National Park is an inviting playground. It has an intimate feel and accessible scenic highlights.
Yoho is also less visited than Banff and Lake Louise. So if you want to get away from the crowds, especially in the high-season months of July and August, plan a day trip to Yoho!
THE BEST THINGS TO DO ON A DAY TRIP TO YOHO NATIONAL PARK
Let’s take a closer look at the outlined highlights for your day trip to Yoho National Park! Each offers stunning photo ops, so keep your camera ready.
1. Look for a train at the Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint
The Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint is located right off the Trans Canada Highway, the road you will take from Banff or Lake Louise into Yoho National Park. The viewpoint comes up about five miles east of the town of Field.
The Spiral Tunnels are considered an engineering feat that solved a vexing dilemma for the Canadian Pacific Rail Company.
The tunnels were completed in 1909, and created a safe way for trains to navigate the steep gradient at the Kicking Horse Pass: a 1,000-foot drop to the plains below.
Spiral Tunnels consists of two enormous sets of tunnels running in loops through the mountains. Going around the loops takes much longer but is a much safer way to come down the steep mountainside.
From this viewpoint, you can see the Yoho Valley and the Lower Spiral Tunnels going through Mt. Ogden. If you are lucky enough to be at the viewpoint when a train is passing through, you will love watching it go through the loops.
If the train is a long one, you can see it going in at the top and coming out at the bottom at the same time, making it look like there are two trains!
We waited about fifteen minutes but sadly did not see a train, although in the summer one is reported to pass through every fifteen minutes.
It’s a pretty viewpoint though, so allow for 15-20 minutes to read the interpretative plaques at the viewing platform and hope a train comes through!
There is another viewpoint on Yoho Valley Road from where you can view the Upper Spiral Tunnels that pass through Cathedral Mountain. It’s on the way to Takakkaw Falls, which you will view later in the day.
2. View the Natural Bridge Over the Kicking Horse River
The second stop on your day trip to Yoho National Park is a unique natural attraction on the turn-off to Emerald Lake. It is called the Natural Bridge over the Kicking Horse River (Iove that name!), and comes up about one mile into Emerald Lake Road.
The natural opening in the wall of rock has been created by the erosive action of the water pounding against the rock for years and years.
If you visit in the spring or early summer, you will see (and hear) the water gushing in a torrent through the bridge, almost like a waterfall.
Framed by the mountains and emerald green forests, the bridge makes for a beautiful picture. There is a man-made actual bridge over the river that you can cross to see the Natural Bridge from different perspectives.
The middle of the bridge is a great place to take photos. Interpretative displays at the site explain the processes at work here.
There are no actual walking paths, but you can walk over the flat rocks on the side to get close to the river behind the Natural Bridge.
Allow about 30 minutes to walk around and admire the views, and, of course, take lots of pictures.
3. Go hiking and/or boating at Emerald Lake
Undoubtedly a must-visit spot in Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake is simply breathtaking.
The lake is almost completely encircled by mountains, so it’s an intimate setting for the jewel-green body of water.
On a sunny day, the water is a scintillating emerald green, in keeping with its name. The amazing green color is the result of fine particles of glacial sediment suspended in the water.
Picturesque Emerald Lake Lodge, on the edge of the lake, is the subject of numerous photos on Instagram. It looks especially beautiful lit with a warm glow on a winter evening, when everything around is covered with a thick blanket of snow. A true picture postcard scene!
You can walk all around the lake. It’s a little over three miles of walking trail, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, forests, and water.
You can also take a rowboat or canoe out on the water and get a different perspective of the beauty all around you. We loved our time on the water at Emerald Lake!
Allow about 4 hours: two hours to do the walk around the lake, one hour on the water and one hour to have lunch. You can enjoy a picnic lunch on the lakeshore, or opt for a sit-down meal at one of the two restaurants at the Lodge.
You can also choose to have lunch in Field, about six miles away, before continuing on to Takakkaw Falls. There are restrooms at the lake.
READ MORE: Jewels of the Canadian Rockies: Must-Visit Lakes near Banff!
4. Discover the charming town of Field
The little mountain town of Field is located just off the Trans Canada Highway. Like the town of Lake Louise, Field has a stunning location: it is located in the Kicking Horse Valley, in the midst of tall mountains.
The town is tiny, with a few gift shops, a gas station and a couple of places to eat. Only about 170 people live in Field, and they lease their land from Parks Canada, which manages the town site as part of Yoho National Park.
Allow 15-20 minutes to stroll around, unless you plan to have lunch here.
5. Be awed by the beauty of Takakkaw Falls
Drive back towards Lake Louise on the Trans Canada Highway and take the turnoff for Yoho Valley Road to arrive at Takakkaw Falls, the final stop on your day trip to Yoho National Park.
Yoho Valley Road is a gorgeous drive, about 8.5 miles long, with views of mountains, glaciers, rivers and forests. Just under two miles into the road, you will see the viewpoint for the Upper Spiral Tunnels.
The road is narrow and winding, with a series of scary switchbacks. At the end of the road is the parking lot for Takakkaw Falls, the second highest waterfall in Canada.
Takakkaw is a Cree word meaning “magnificent,” and the adjective definitely suits this waterfall! It plunges over a sheer wall of rock more than 1,200 feet to the bottom, about 850 feet of it in a free fall.
You can hear the roar of the water in the parking lot! The waterfall is fed by the Daly Glacier at the top, and is at its thundering best in early July, when the snow melt is at its peak.
From the parking lot, take the trail and cross the bridge over the Yoho River to the bottom of the falls. The sound of the water is very loud, and the spray very powerful, so prepare to get wet!
Allow about an hour to enjoy the falls, walk around, and take photos.
And that brings you to the end of your day trip to Yoho National Park. Head back towards Lake Louise on the Trans Canada Highway. If you like, you can stop off at the Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint one more time, if you didn’t see a train in the morning!
6. Hike to Wapta Falls
The Wapta Falls, created by the Kicking Horse River, are located southwest of Field, about a 25-minute drive from the town. At almost 500 feet wide, and close to 100 feet high, the falls are gorgeous, and absolutely worth giving up some sleep to see.
The sheet of water tumbling over the wide cliff is an awesome sight. The roar of the water is deafening, and the spray mighty. You may see a rainbow if you visit on a sunny day!
You have to hike to view the falls: the hike is about 3 miles (4.8km) round trip. The trail is well-marked and flat to the viewpoint to the Wapta Falls, making it family-friendly.
From the upper viewpoint, you can choose to continue down to the river level, to see the falls from below as well. If you are up for the uphill return, you will love the views from the bottom.
The trailhead is on an unnamed road just about 1.25 miles off the Trans-Canada Highway, and there is a good-sized parking area. This road is only open in the summer.
The road to the trailhead is not signed traveling west. You’ll travel a little further on the Trans-Canada Highway, then turn back to turn right at the sign for the falls. If you are using Google Maps, use directions to the “Wapta Falls Main Trail.”
Note that sections of the trail can be muddy, especially after rains, and there are exposed tree roots. Bug spray is a must, because the hike is forested.
7. Visit Lake O’Hara
We suggest only including Lake O’Hara if you plan to overnight in Yoho National Park, because Lake O’Hara is really an area, not just the lake, with many epic trails. Since vehicular access is restricted to park buses, getting in is extremely difficult.
On a day trip, you’d want to spend the time you have at Lake O’Hara. The trail around the lake is well-maintained and flat, and the views of the water, and the surrounding mountains, are beautiful. You may even see waterfalls dropping down the slopes after rains.
The 2.5-mile moderately challenging West Opabin Trail leads to the famed Opabin Prospect viewpoint. It’s an alternative trail to hike if you are up for the challenge, and leads to one of the most famous views in the Canadian Rockies.
From the viewpoint, you get fabulous views of Lake O’Hara and the adjacent Mary Lake, along with the surrounding mountains. It’s the perfect picture postcard.
The Lake O’Hara bus runs from late June until early October, although exact dates may vary by year.
8. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife!
Yoho National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, big and small, so see what you can spot on your day trip to the park. Black bear, grizzly bear, elk, moose, and mountain goat live here, as well as a host of smaller animals like the pika and the hoary marmot, a variety of birds, and insects.
We saw black bear and elk on our visit in late June. Your best chance of seeing animals is in the early morning or at dusk, although we saw black bear several times during the day, generally munching busily on dandelions.
Tips for your visit to Yoho National Park
Dress in layers. You are in the mountains, and the weather can change abruptly. Carry a waterproof windcheater if you plan to get close to the spray at Takakkaw Falls. Waterproof footwear suitable for hiking is recommended.
Take plenty of drinking water and stay hydrated through the day.
Pack sunshades and sunscreen. Also pack bug spray.
You need a park permit to enter Yoho National Park. The Discovery Pass is a single pass that is valid for a year and gets you into over 80 Parks Canada locations that charge an entrance fee.
Follow park regulations. For more information, click here. For a map of Yoho National Park, click here. Download the maps prior to your visit or keep printed versions on hand in case you lose cell coverage.
Call ahead just prior to your visit to check about closures. Yoho Valley Road and Takakkaw Falls are only open June through October, weather permitting. You will find contact information here.
Restrooms are available at Takakkaw Falls and Emerald Lake.
Where to eat in Yoho National Park
At Emerald Lake, the Lodge offers lunch in the Mount Burgess Dining Room as well as the Kicking Horse Lounge. Cilantro on the Lake offers casual fare and gets great reviews on Trip Advisor.
In the town of Field, try Truffle Pigs Bistro & Lounge. It gets wonderful reviews on Trip Advisor.
When to visit Yoho National Park
Summer is generally considered the best time to visit, with July and August being the most popular months.
Emerald Lake will be fully thawed, Takakkaw Falls and Yoho Valley Road will be open, driving will be easier and you can enjoy hiking and boating in the good weather that you can generally expect in these months.
We visited in late June and found it a wonderful time to be in Yoho National Park.
So there you have it: my suggestions for the best things to do on a day trip to Yoho National Park! Have you visited? What was your favorite spot in this beautiful park? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
If you haven’t visited yet, I hope I have inspired you to plan a visit! Yoho National Park is a true gem if you want a retreat into nature.
And if you are planning a visit to the Canadian Rockies, check out my other posts on the region in my Canada destination guide!
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Looking for other places to visit in Canada? Read my post on the top ten things to do for first-timers in the beautiful city of Vancouver!