The day after we climbed Sulfur Mountain, my brother and I headed for Lake Louise, a 45-minute drive north of Banff. Lake Louise is arguably one of Canada’s most photographed lakes and the typical Rocky Mountains postcard image. Its turquoise color and its mountains and majestic glaciers as a backdrop make it a must stop for tourists.
However, as I said in my last article, spring is not the best time to visit the Rockies. Even though we were in late May, the lake was still covered with ice. I was expecting it (I had made some research about it in advance), but our great disappointment was to realize that the majority of the surrounding trails and secondary roads were also closed due to avalanche risk. So no hike to the mountain tea houses or to Moraine Lake as we had planned. We had to find a back-up plan.
We were actually happy to move away from the huge number of tourists around Lake Louise and head instead to the British Columbia border, about 10 kilometres away. We decided to spend the rest of our day at Yoho National Park, another great place to experience the Rockies.
We headed for Field, a small village in the center of the park where the tourist information office is located. There, we gathered information on places not to be missed. Here is a summary of our day trip at the park.
This is a mandatory stop for engineering and railway history enthusiasts. When British Columbia joined Canada in 1871, it was on the condition that the province be linked to the rest of the country via a railroad. It was decided to build this railroad using the Kicking Horse Pass (where the Trans-Canada Highway runs through Yoho today). The inclination of the slope, however, caused a lot of problems (the first train that crossed the pass derailed and killed three people).
An engineer eventually found a solution to counter the steep slope: spiral tunnels allowing the train to turn on itself in the mountain to descend more gradually. The construction was completed in 1909 and the tunnels are still used today.
There is a stop on the road (a few miles after entering the park from Alberta) to watch the tunnels off into the mountains. And luckily for us, a train was going through them just when we stopped there. Several interpretation signs explain the history and engineering behind the tunnels.
Yoho National Park protects the Kicking Horse River watershed that descends from a glacier to the north. The Natural Bridge site provides a good point of observation of the milky waters of the river. At this point, the river carved the more friable rock to create a natural bridge. A footbridge makes it possible to observe the rock formation and the tumultuous water from different angles.
The site is easily accessible via the Emerald Lake access road.
Emerald Lake is undoubtedly one of the jewels of the park. As the name suggests, it is of a beautiful emerald color, the typical color of glacial lakes. And unlike Lake Louise, it was fully thawed. And there was (a little) less tourists.
The lake is popular for its many recreational activities (you can rent kayaks or canoes, or stay in one of the cottages on its banks). A trail runs around the lake (about 5 kilometres of hiking). However, we stopped at the avalanche zone on the north side of the lake. There was still a lot of snow and although we could have continued our hike (after all, the snow did not stop us at Sulfur Mountain), we decided to continue our exploration of the park.
Takakkaw Falls … almost
Takakkaw Falls is, it seems, another must-see stop in Yoho National Park. At a height of nearly 300 metres, it is one of the highest falls in Canada. To get there, you have to take a secondary road from the Trans-Canada Highway. That’s what we did, but we eventually ran into a barrier. Another path closed due to avalanche risk! Let’s just say we were really disappointed…
So impossible to get to the falls … We decided instead to park near the barrier to go walk near the river. Or rather rivers, since it is here that the clear Yoho River meets the milky Kicking Horse River.
Failing to see the fall, we just walked along the Kicking Horse River. Like everywhere we went in the park, the scenery was breathtaking.
We eventually had to go back to Banff. We drove back on the Trans-Canada Highway to return to Alberta, beautiful images in mind and the urge to return one day to explore Yoho National Park more!