With its rugged landscapes, wildlife, a towering waterfall, fascinating fossil beds, numerous walking trails and aquamarine lakes, Yoho National Park is a less visited gem sandwiched between Kootenay National Park and Lake Louise. Named for the Cree term for amazement, Yoho makes for a wonderful one day excursion through the western slopes of the Rockies.
As if marking the entrance to the park, a nest of ospreysdelight a crowd of vehicles, nesting over a rustic bridge. Two youngsters with piercing eyes wait eagerly, demanding instant feed from parents scanning the lively river currents for tasty seafood treats.
From the famous lake and chateau of Lake Louise, the road tumbles into Yoho Valley past the unusual Spiral Tunnel Viewpoint. Late in the 19th century, creative railway engineers realized that the only way to climb the harsh tree-laden slopes of the Rockies was to construct a pair of spiral tunnels to dramatically lessen the gradient. While sighting a train is unlikely, there is an outside chance of seeing the engine emerging pointing in one direction and its trailing carriages entering the tunnel pointing the other way.
At the striking confluence of the silty blue glacier waters of the Yoho River and the clear waters of Kicking Horse River, take the spur road to spectacular Takakkaw Falls (Cree for magnificent). A short stroll from the carpark over a footbridge, the thunderous falls are heard before being viewed. Takakkaw Falls plunges over a cliff face, billowing plumes of white spray cannoning from the ferocious cascade, crashing an impressive 254 metres into a gushing milky blue current in the valley below. The interpretive sign points out that the falls are fed by glacial ice-melt and by winter, “the raging falls narrows to a ribbon of ice awaiting summer to set it free”.
Though no time to visit Burgess Shale on our one day journey (and only available through a supervised tour), the nearby rocky slopes of Mt Field host treasured Cambrian fossils from over 500 Million years ago. Freakishly, marine invertebrates were trapped among the sedimentary layers, buried with such haste that oxygen didn’t get to decay the boneless bodies – a priceless historic source for scientists.
Retracing back to the main Yoho highway and driving twenty kilometers to a second turnoff, Kicking Horse River has intriguingly carved a narrow passage for its torrential currents through dark rock leaving a narrow ribbon of rock as Natural Bridge.
Continue along the turnoff road to magical Emerald Lake, a startling jewelled lapis lazuli blue lake in an amphitheatre of verdant Spruce forests and towering peaks (see top photo). The lake can be explored via an easy five kilometer circumnavigation or paddling a rental canoe across the silky smooth waters.
The road continues west through picturesque country to the unremarkable town of Golden, more surprising for the herd of big-horn sheep grazing on the verge of the main road. Horns enveloping their ears like boxing guards, the sheep graze contentedly on the lush grasses oblivious to visitors wandering among them snapping happily.
Like Kootenay National Park, Yoho makes for a superb one day drive through superb alpine scenery sprinkled with lakes, waterfalls and wildlife.