Yoho National Park is Banff’s ‘off the beaten path’ next-door neighbor. Take a trip here this winter and you’ll find peaceful trails to enjoy with your family - without the large crowds that you’d normally encounter at nearby Lake Louise. Ski or snowshoe across one of the most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies at Emerald Lake, ski into Lake O’Hara and spend the night at a cozy backcountry cabin, or snowshoe to Wapta Falls and experience a frozen winter wonderland few visitors to our Rockies will ever experience.
Yoho National Park is located in British Columbia, but is only a short drive past the village of Lake Louise on the TransCanada Highway as you head toward the town of Golden. Affordable accommodations can be found in the small town of Field (30 minutes from Lake Louise) where you’ll also find the Park Visitor Centre if you need more information about the National Park and surroundings.
Yoho Winter Spotlight No. 1: Emerald Lake Lodge and Trails. My family spent a weekend at Emerald Lake Lodge last January and it was the first true highlight of the New Year. It was a magical trip I knew we’d always remember as a family, and a place we’ll definitely return to.
Highlights of Winter at Emerald Lake
Spend a Weekend at Emerald Lake Lodge. You can enjoy accommodations in a lakeside cabin, just steps from one of the best outdoor hot tubs in the Rockies. When staying overnight, you can ski or snowshoe right out the front door of your cabin to explore the beautiful cross-country trails around the lake. Other highlights for my family were the decadent dinner we had at the lodge, morning brunch with our now favorite cinnamon pancakes, and afternoon drinks in front of the fireplace in the lodge’s family-friendly lounge (a great place to play board games while warming up après ski or hike).
Snowshoe the Emerald Lake Loop. This 5.3-kilometre circuit is great for families as there are no hills or challenges to contend with. Snowshoe rentals are available on-site, and you can easily pull young children in a sled when they tire of walking. The loop is generally packed down and easy to walk on.
Ski Across Emerald Lake and Continue on the Emerald Alluvial Fan Loop. A short, easy ski across the lake leads you to the 5.3-kilometre Alluvial Fan Loop, one of the most beautiful cross-country ski trails near Calgary (and one of my top five favorite winter trails). Again, rentals are available on-site and this trail is relatively flat. It is groomed and trackset for easy skiing.
Hike Up to Hamilton Falls to Witness a Frozen Waterfall. This short hike is roughly a 2.5-kilometre return, but you’ll definitely work for your views with the steep climb. The trail is easy to hike with snowshoes or in just your boots when it is packed down. We enjoyed this short outing Sunday morning after packing up to head home from Emerald Lake.
Stop to Visit the Natural Bridge. This parking lot is located just off the highway at the turnoff for the Emerald Lake road, and is a popular stop in winter. When the river is frozen, you can sometimes walk right under the natural bridge as well (please exercise extreme caution and judgment if it is safe or not to walk under the natural bridge).
For more information on Emerald Lake and Emerald Lake Lodge, visit crmr.com/emerald.
Yoho Winter Spotlight No. 2:Lake O’Hara and the Elizabeth Parker Hut. It’s near impossible to get into Lake O’Hara in the summer months due to the daily quota system, the popularity of the campground and backcountry hut, and the fight for spaces on the bus that drives up to the lake. In winter, it’s relatively easy to reach this gorgeous area, though, for families who are able to ski or hike the 12 kilometres up the summer road (in winter). This road is generally well packed down and easy for traveling on. Families can tow young children in Chariots or sleds, and the road is never overly steep.
Highlights of Winter at Lake O’Hara
Day-Tripping to Lake O’Hara. For families with older children and teens, you can ski into the Lake O’Hara Lodge for lunch, enjoy a delicious meal including fresh bread, soup, salad, and dessert, and then ski out (mostly downhill). For pricing and hours (you’ll want to make sure the lodge is open before making the long trip in), visit lakeohara.com.
Overnight Adventures at Lake O’Hara. Look into mid-week availabilities and you might still be able to get spaces in the popular Elizabeth Parker Hut, maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada. This hut sleeps 20 people in winter and offers a fairly soft introduction to winter camping. Mattresses are provided for sleeping in communal rooms (bring your own sleeping bag), and you’ll find a kitchen with most dishes and supplies that you should need. For full information, visit alpineclubofcanada.ca/huts/elizabeth-parker-hut.
Family-Friendly Touring around Lake O’Hara. Most areas around the lodge and the hut take you into avalanche terrain pretty quickly, but you can ski or snowshoe around the main lake or explore around nearby Mary Lake (sticking near to the shore and staying away from slopes at the end of the lake).
Other Popular Areas to Explore in Yoho National Park this Winter
Wapta Falls. This trail is located farther into the park toward Golden, and is a 8.6-kilometre return in the winter (you can drive part of the way in summer). It is an easy snowshoe trail where you’ll first follow the closed summer access road for 2 kilometres, and then switch to a rolling trail through the forest. Some people also enjoy skiing into the falls, but it is recommended that you take your skis off for the final hill down to the viewpoint.
Affordable Accommodations in the town of Field. If you can’t quite afford a weekend at Emerald Lake Lodge and don’t want to ski into the backcountry to spend the night, the good news is there is affordable lodging in Field. The Fireweed Hostel comes highly recommended and has private rooms for families along with a communal kitchen and living area. Information on the Fireweed Hostel can be found at fireweedhostel.com. Other accommodations can be found at field.ca/accommodations.
Winter Safety Precautions When Touring Yoho National Park
It’s highly advised that you check with a local visitor centre before heading out onto any trails in Yoho National Park in winter. Many of the trails mentioned in this story can have avalanche danger given the right conditions. The rental shop at Emerald Lake Lodge can provide you with current conditions for that area before you head out across the lake.
Also, many popular areas of the park that you’d visit in summer (Takakkaw Falls, for example) are not accessible or recommended to visit in the winter. For more information, visit the Yoho National Park’s website at pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/bc/yoho/activ/pistesdhiver-wintertrails.
Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to a spunky eight-year-old. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.
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