Layers upon layers of white… Winter comes way too early in Yoho National Park of Canada.
Last updated: January 2, 2024
Visiting Yoho National Park in Winter
Unlike its nearest neighbor, Banff National Park, Yoho feels empty during the winter season. No, the park is not closed. Many winter lovers start flocking to Yoho as early as mid-October.
Some, dreaming of catching the last glimpses of elusive vibrant colors of resplendent lakes, embark on hiking journeys while the trails are only lightly dusted with snow. Others wait a week or so before venturing to Yoho National Park with snowshoes and skis and let real winter activities start.
Where Is Yoho National Park?
Yoho National Park often ends up on winter itineraries of outdoor adventurers traveling to Banff National Park. Located approximately 10 kilometers west of Lake Louise, it’s an easy add-on to go off the beaten path and explore locations overlooked by the majority of Alberta’s visitors.
Yet unlike its famous counterpart, Yoho escapes the Alberta kingdom. Nestled near the Alberta/British Columbia border, it unfolds its natural wonders in southeastern British Columbia along the western slope of the Continental Divide of the Americas.
When Does Winter Start in Yoho National Park?
I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that the winter starts early in Yoho National Park. By the time we reached the area at the beginning of November, a few inches of snow covered the ground. Some of the side roads, still unplowed, were closed. It was recommended to proceed into the winter wilderness of Yoho National Park with caution.
The winter conditions last in Yoho from mid-October through late March. Yet wait until mid- or late December to have the best skiing and snowshoeing experiences. The skiing season usually ends in late March.
Can You Drive in Yoho National Park in Winter?
Yoho National Park is intersected by the Trans-Canada Highway. The main road is frequently plowed and controlled for avalanches. Thus even in the winter, you can easily reach some of Yoho Park’s striking landmarks, such as Emerald Lake and the Wapta Falls Trailhead.
Many more natural attractions are accessible only by hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing during this time of the year. Needless to say, with the harsh Canadian winter in full swing, it may be quite challenging to get to some of these off-the-popular-route destinations in Yoho Park.
TIP: Before you go out into the wilderness, be sure to always check for avalanche conditions. Avalanches are frequent visitors in Yoho in the winter and can be deadly.
Can You Hike in Yoho National Park in Winter?
With snow abundantly covering the entire area, hiking in Yoho during the winter months can be testing, but not impossible. Some favorite trails still maintain their “well-trodden” conditions thanks to hundreds of feet plodding along them every day. All you need to do is to follow these “pioneers’” footsteps and enjoy Yoho National Park in a pair of water and slip resistant winter shoes.
Yet you should not always count on these easy trails.
The winter in Yoho is snowy. So bring snowshoes and skis. Properly equipped for the season, you will have more success in reaching waterfalls, most of them frozen by now, and making it all the way to the park’s secluded lakes.
Are There Avalanches in Yoho National Park in Winter?
Regardless whether you hike, snowshoe, or ski in Yoho during the winter season, be sure to check for avalanche conditions before hitting a trail. Thousands of avalanches occur in the park every year. Triggered by wind and snow, they rake over the mountains in a speedy and deadly dangerous manner.
Furthermore, make sure somebody knows where exactly you’re heading to and approximate what time you should be back. The winter in Yoho National Park is beautiful and unpredictable. Enjoy it with caution!
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN YOHO NATIONAL PARK IN WINTER
1. Soak up Winter Scenery at Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake is one of the most popular landmarks to visit in the park throughout the year. The area allures Yoho’s visitors with the vibrant color of the lake surrounded by majestic mountains.
The intensity of the water hues starts to fade by mid- or late fall that marks the beginning of the coldest season. Thick fog obscures the Yoho’s mountains most of the winter days. But even in this less than flattering state, the lake looks splendid.
This section of Yoho National Park becomes irresistible when the lake freezes over. Many new “trails” open up. Instead of hiking along the shore, you can walk across the lake and explore its different sides in less time.
TIP: Proceed across the lake with caution, though. Be sure that the ice is at least 10 cm (4 inches) deep before setting your foot on it.
Location: Nestled at the end of Emerald Lake Road that is accessible from the Trans-Canada Highway, the crown jewel of Yoho National Park is an easy place to reach by car even in the winter. A small parking lot sits in front of a narrow, two-lane bridge. Only employees and guests of Emerald Lake Lodge are allowed to drive beyond this point. The rest of Yoho Park’s winter visitors must walk or ski.
2. Stay at Emerald Lake Lodge
One of the best places to stay in Yoho National Park in the winter, Emerald Lake Lodge sits right on the shore of the aforementioned lake. The cozy chalet-style buildings tucked on a private island inspires you to experience the Canadian winter in an old-fashioned way.
Time seems to stop at the lodge. More than 80 comfortable guest rooms bear echoes of the past. No cell service and only basic WiFi in the main lodge are some of the main reminders to disconnect from your busy life and dive deeper into the winter wonderland of Yoho Park.
Needless to say, the area is dotted with many hiking and skiing trails that run through the Canadian alpine forest and open some of the most magical wintry views.
3. Hike to Hamilton Falls
One of the most alluring hiking destinations near Emerald Lake Lodge is Hamilton Falls. Succumbing to the bitterly cold Yoho’s weather, the waterfall freezes during the winter months. Hiking is still possible, but may not be as enjoyable as snowshoeing.
Look for the trail to Hamilton Falls and Hamilton Lake at the south end of the main parking lot at Emerald Lake. The trail itself is rather short, only 0.8 kilometers one way. Approximately 30 meters of elevation gain is what makes this winter hike slightly challenging
4. Stop at the Natural Bridge
If you drive to Yoho from Lake Louise in Banff, keep your eyes peeled for a turnoff on your left along Emerald Lake Road. Located about 7 kilometers south of Emerald Lake, the Natural Bridge is another easy-to-reach destination in Yoho National Park in the winter.
The Natural Bridge is in essence a stunning rock formation on the Kicking Horse River just west of Field. Connected at the top, the massive rocks keep a dignified distance at the bottom. Water flows through the aperture like under a bridge.
The unplowed road to the Natural Bridge was closed during our recent visit. Considering how fast the day was coming to an end in the Yoho’s mountains in the winter, we couldn’t spare any time for this short hike.
TIP: Locals, however, insist that the place is absolutely worth the effort. But be careful, in the winter when the snow obscures many trenches, getting too close to the bridge-like formation may not be worth the risk.
5. Snowshoe, Hike, or Ski to Lake O’Hara
Famous for the luxurious emerald color of the water and shielded by the iconic Canadian Rocky Mountains, Lake O’Hara is one of the prime destinations to visit in the area between mid-June and early October. In the winter, this stunning natural jewel of Yoho National Park can be reached only on foot.
The beauty of the renowned lakes separated by narrow stretches of land is irresistible. Visitors from all over the world flock to the area to take in all this splendor throughout the year.
To prevent Lake O’Hare from overcrowding, Parks Canada has implemented a no-private-vehicle policy. A shuttle takes visitors to the alluring shores during the peak season. During the winter and spring months, hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing are the best ways to reach the lake.
The distance is great, 11 kilometers one way. It may take the entire day to trek from the Lake O’Hara parking lot to one of the most beautiful sites of Yoho Park during the late fall-winter season.
TIP: Lake O’Hara sits in avalanche county. Be sure to check the weather forecast or get a local guide before hiking to or around Lake O’Hara in the winter.
6. Visit the Town of Field
Natural opulence of the park overshadows the humble appeal of the unincorporated community of Field in summer. In the winter, though, the only town in Yoho National Park, it allures as a temporary refuge from the elements.
The best place to replenish your energy before setting off on the next snowy adventure is the Truffle Pigs Bistro and Lodge. The place is located at the end of the main street and can’t be missed.
7. Hike or Snowshoe to Frozen Wapta Falls
At 18 meters high and 107 meters wide, Wapta Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in British Columbia. During the winter months, this massive giant of Yoho National Park, now locked in ice, becomes the epitome of seasonal transformation.
The Wapta Falls Trailhead sits along Wapta Falls Road, 1.8 kilometers away from the junction with the Trans Canada Highway. You can easily reach the waterfall along the 2.3-kilometer (one way) trail most of the year.
In the winter, the hike to one of the most stunning sites of Yoho National Park may present some challenges in the form of deep snow. Wear high boots if you don’t want your feet to get wet. And since you are looking at about 50 meters in elevation gain, you may want to add microspikes to your winter attire.
Time: The hike to Wapta Falls in the winter can take up to 2-3 hours.
Map: The Best Things to Do In Yoho National Park in Winter
How Long Do You Need in Yoho National Park in Winter?
For a quick winter excursion to see the snowy and frozen wonders of Yoho, one day is sufficient. Skip longer hikes. Instead stick to easy-to-reach landmarks, such as Emerald Lake, the Natural Bridge, and Wapta Falls.
If cross-country skiing and venturing off the beaten path in Yoho during the winter season is on your radar, aim for a minimum of a 2-3-day trip. Hiking in snow can be challenging. The unpredictable weather and occasional avalanches may further slow you down.
So plan your winter trip to Yoho with enough time to explore the park without exhausting yourself and an open itinerary. The weather has the final say in the Canadian Rocky Mountains during the winter season after all.
Entry and service fees are charged at the entrance to Yoho National Park. A day pass is valid until 4:00 p.m. the following day. Yoho National Park admission also covers entrance fees to Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay National Parks.
If you plan to make a few winter trips to Yoho National Park or the nearby parks within one year, you may want to get Parks Canada Discovery Pass. The pass covers admission to all national parks of Canada for one year from the day of the purchase.
TIP: Some Airbnbs may lend you the Discovery Pass during your stay. Be sure to discuss it with your host prior to your arrival.
- Adult: $10.50
- Senior: $9
- Youth (17 and under): Free
- Family/Group (up to 7 people arriving in a single vehicle): $21
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
- Adult: $72.25
- Senior: $61.75
- Family/Group: $145.25
Where to Stay in Yoho in Winter
Your options are limited if you want to stay in Yoho National Park during the winter season. Some of the best places to experience the winter wonderland from within include Emerald Lake Lodge and Lake O’Hara Lodge.
More lodgings to call home away from home in Yoho in the winter can be found in the towns of Field and Golden.
If you plan to explore the winter magnificence of Yoho National Park during a day trip, you can base in Banff or Canmore. The mountain towns are located 50 and 60 minutes, respectively, from Yoho.