The need to unplug often correlates with a desire to be immersed in pretty surroundings. This makes perfect sense. After all, being surrounded by breathtaking panoramas and pathways that lead to close encounters with earth mostly unsullied by the mark of human engineering makes it far easier to let electronic devices and outside pressures of the workaday world fall by the wayside.
British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, contains its fair share of areas whose majestic splendor can make you forget what your cell phone looks like. While its western half tends to attract a lot of attention, one of its best opportunities to unplug and take in nature, Yoho National Park, stands at its eastern edge. For those looking to escape, it’s a landscape worthy of heading away from B.C.’s shoreline.
Yoho National Park at a Glance
Yoho National Park was founded on October 10, 1886, shortly after Canadian Prime Minister John Macdonald passed through the Canadian Rockies on the freshly completed Transcontinental Railway. The park’s founding put it in good company – the country’s Glacier National Park was founded on the same day. The two parks represent the second- and third-oldest national parks in Canada, with only Banff National Park being the oldest.
Roughly translated, Yoho is a Cree expression for “whoa,” and there’s a good reason for this. Tucked into the Canadian Rockies’ western slopes, the park is home to breathtaking waterfalls, dramatic rock walls, and nearly 30 peaks measuring over 3,000 meters high. This rugged natural beauty provides a throwback to the way things were when Macdonald traversed Western Canada by train all those years ago; today, it represents the ideal antidote for plugged-in modern life.
The park itself is part of a quartet of contiguous parks split between British Columbia and Alberta - collectively, these parks are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Yoho bordered by Banff, which tends to get a whole lot more press. If your definition of unplugging also includes getting away from crowds, this is an important feature of Yoho, as it tends to be far less packed than its more famous cousin to the east.
Quick Facts About Yoho
If a slice of natural wonder exists, it probably can be found in Yoho. The park is home to:
- Western Canada’s third-highest waterfall
- 400 kilometers worth of hiking trails
- 28 mountain peaks of more than 3,000 meters
- 61 ponds and lakes
- The Burgess Shale – one of the world’s most important fossil locations
Things to Do in Yoho - Summer
Like most of outdoor Canada, the activities that you can do in Yoho National Park differ based on what season you visit. There is no right or wrong answer here. Whenever you go, you’re going to find plenty of ways to enjoy incredible beauty.
Let’s say you go in the summer. It would be a refreshing time to go, as Yoho’s average summertime temperature checks in at 13 degrees Celsius (or around 55 degrees Fahrenheit). This may seem a little chilly, but keep in mind that getting one with nature does require moving around a bit, so it’s a non-issue.
Hiking is a huge activity in Yoho – not too surprising, considering there’s roughly 4,100 km of hiking trails to explore. One of the more popular hikes you can take is the trek that takes you to Lake O’Hara, a sparkling body of water whose turquoise hue doesn’t seem real. If you don’t want to hike, don’t fret – you can take a bus to see the lake if you must.
Lake O'Hara isn't the only lake worth hiking towards. Emerald Lake takes minimal effort to hike to, although you'll want to allow yourself sufficient walking time, as it is the largest lake in the park. However, its beauty and serene charm make this a decided non-issue, as you'll be too busy enjoying the scenery to care.
Of course, you don’t have to merely walk around Lake Emerald to enjoy what it has to offer. You can hop onboard a canoe and paddle your way to the middle of sweet serenity. There are canoe rentals available in the park if you don’t have the equipment yourself.
Summer is also the perfect time to see Yoho’s majestic waterfalls tumble and cascade in their full glory. Wapta Falls is a brisk and easy 40-minute hike, and your effort will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful images the park has to offer. You can also drive your car up a winding 14 kilometer stretch of road and take a 10-minute walk across a bridge to witness the wonder of Takakkaw Falls.
Things to Do in Yoho - Winter
A lot of the places you can enjoy in the summer at Yoho also host plenty of wintertime activities. Seeing as how the average temperature during the winter months here is around -31 degrees Celsius (or about -24 degrees Fahrenheit), the type of activities you can do are a little different.
For instance, the loop that encircles Emerald Lake turns into a breathtaking snowshoeing path. It’s a family-friendly loop, one that’s bereft of tricky hills and packed down very well. Snowshoe rentals are available, as are sleds for when your young ones get tired.
Because Emerald Lake freezes over in the winter, you can easily ski over its surface. When you get to the other side, you’ll hit the Alluvial Fan Loop, a 5.3-kilometer cross-country ski trail that’s about as beautiful as they come. It’s also an easy snowshoeing trail if you prefer to leave the skis at home.
If you’re not opposed to taking a wintery hike, then a 2.5-kilometer journey to Hamilton Falls is an ideal opportunity for adventure. It’s a steep hike, but hitting the end of the trail gives you the opportunity to take in the unrivaled sight of a frozen waterfall. It has the power to instantly make you forget about the effort needed to arrive.
Visiting the Burgess Shale
The Burgess Shale was discovered in Yoho National Park in 1909. Since then, it’s become renowned for being one of the most important fossil-bearing deposits in the world. It’s certainly generous – some 60,000 unique fossils have been unearthed at the site.
Most of the fossils located in the Burgess Shale are arthropods. However, worms, sea cucumbers, and other animals associated with marine life have also been discovered. The fossilized critters are said to be anywhere between 525 and 545 million years old.
Guided science tours are available for the public, giving you the opportunity to experience Yoho’s beauty on a completely different layer. The hikes offered are seasonal, and they aren’t for the faint of heart. However, being able to see fossils in their natural state can connect you with the power of nature like nothing else.
How Much Does This Cost?
If you’re a family looking to unplug, Yoho is a beautifully cost-effective option. As is the case with other Canadian parks, admission to Yoho is free for children 17 and under. Adults cost $9.80, and seniors cost $8.30.
If you decide to camp at Yoho, fees range from $15.70 to $27.40 a night, depending on what campsite you’re planning to visit. Thee are additional fees to consider, such as fire permits, daily use permits, and grazing permits. Some of these fees are valid in the other three parks adjacent to Yoho, which is great if you’re planning on park-hopping.
There are also several cabins that may be available for rent just outside of Yoho if you want to unplug in comfort. The prices of these facilities depend on various factors, such as size, amenities, and sleeping arrangements. It’s typically a good idea to book these facilities well in advance of your trip.
Hiking to the fossil beds can set you back between $27.50 and $70.00. The specific cost depends on your age demographic, and what guided hike you're interested in taking. There are also group hike rates you can take if you're interested in unplugging in large numbers.
You should also keep in mind that there are several other incidental fees that you may have to pay during your Yoho excursion. These fees are commonly connected to equipment needed to enjoy some of Yoho's outdoor activities. These include canoes in the summer or snowshoes and skis in the winter.
Leave Your Devices Alone
A trip to Yoho will help you rejuvenate your soul in many ways. Its natural, rugged beauty will help you loosen your grip on the electronic devices that far too often dominate your life. The serene nature of Yoho’s splendor will coarse through your body, leaving you renewed and refreshed.
Better yet, Yoho offers you the chance to disconnect from large crowds, who are probably all clamoring to get into Banff next door. You won’t mind that you’re not joining them in the least bit. The slice of heaven on earth that is Yoho is filled with wide open spaces and not fellow travelers, and you’ll most likely love it that way.