Yoho National Park may be small in comparison to its next-door neighbour, Banff National Park, but don’t let that dissuade you from visiting. In winter, Yoho National Park is a complete delight – a veritable winter wonderland and one of Canada’s most stunning parks, packed with mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, alpine lakes, and meadows.
In winter, there is plenty to do. Book a stay at Emerald Lake Lodge or nearby in Field and explore the area trails on snowshoes or cross-country skis. Snowshoe or hike to gorgeous Wapta Falls. Ski to Ross Lake or Sherbrooke Lake. And don’t miss a visit on cross-country skis to Lake O’Hara, where you’ll find a premier backcountry lodge and the Elizabeth Parker Hut.
This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you very much for your support.
Useful information for your trip to Yoho National Park in winter
- Before you visit Yoho National Park in winter, be sure to purchase a national park pass. The Discovery Pass is the most cost-effective way to visit the park. Its good for a year and it allows unlimited admission to over 80 other national parks or national historic sites.
- Pack cross-country skis, snowshoes, microspikes, and hiking poles so you can take advantage of all the activities in Yoho National Park. You can rent snowshoes and skis at Emerald Lake Lodge. You could also pick up rental gear in Lake Louise at Wilson Mountain Sports. They also sell winter clothing and gear.
- Some trails are best avoided as they cross avalanche paths. It’s up to you to stay safe outdoors. Check to see what Avalanche Canada has to say about risk in the backcountry.
- The best map for the trails in the park is Gem Trek Lake Louise and Yoho.
- Don’t count on a cell signal.
- Take all the winter clothing you think you’ll need as the closest place to get any is Lake Louise.
How to get to Yoho National Park
The best way to get to Yoho National Park in winter is to drive. Even if you could get there via a bus to Lake Louise and a taxi to Emerald Lake Lodge, you would be limited in where you could go. If you rent a car, be sure to get snow tires as the Trans-Canada Highway isn’t always a fun road to drive.
Recommended reading: How to Survive a Winter Drive: 15 Tips for Safety
It’s 225 km from the Calgary Airport to Field in Yoho National Park. Lake Louise is just a 27 km, 20-minute drive to the east. It’s 57 km and about a 45-minute drive to Golden. But beware of the upgrades happening on the Trans-Canada Highway that regularly shuts down the highway to and from Golden. Check for planned closings beforehand so you don’t get stuck having to drive the long route through Kootenay National Park.
Map of things to do in Yoho National Park in winter
- Click on the three dots in the top right hand corner to email a copy of the map.
Staying safe in winter in Yoho National Park
Let someone know where you’re planning to go and when you’re expected to be back.
Before you head out on any trails in Yoho National Park in the winter, check trail reports.
Always go prepared with the hiking essentials but in winter I’d also suggest you pack extra socks, a warm down jacket, hot drinks, and lots of high energy food.
Follow the guidelines for staying safe on outdoor adventures suggested by Adventure Smart.
Snowshoe or hike the Emerald Lake Loop
The 5.3-km Emerald Lake Loop is an easy snowshoe or winter hike that can be done in either direction. It’s perfect for families (you could pull the wee ones on a sled if necessary) or those who don’t get out very often. The Emerald Lake loop gets a lot of traffic, so it doesn’t take long to get packed down. There’s some grand mountain scenery to enjoy as you make your way around the lake.
It’s important that you know there is one avalanche chute that comes right down to the trail. It’s bookended with warnings, so it’s hard to miss. Stay away from the chute if the avalanche danger is high – particularly after a heavy snowfall. Either head out to the middle of the lake, providing it’s frozen or come back another time to do it.
Note: Check in with the rental shop at Emerald Lake Lodge for current conditions before you head out across the lake.
Snowshoe the Emerald Alluvial Fan Loop
After a large snowfall, John and I were the first out breaking trail on the 4.3 km Emerald Alluvial Fan Loop. It takes off from the Emerald Lake Loop from the far end of Emerald Lake near the bridge. It makes a loop, offering some seriously good mountain views along the way.
You can also cross-country ski the loop. In the past it’s been track set, but even if it wasn’t, it would be a worthwhile exercise to do it. It would be an easy ski and you could access it with the right conditions by skiing down the length of Emerald Lake.
Hike or snowshoe to Hamilton Falls
From the south end of the main parking lot, look for the trail signed to Hamilton Falls and Hamilton Lake. It’s a short hike – only 0.8 km one way to the base of the falls – but it’s surprisingly steep. It says just 30 metres of elevation gain, but it felt like more than that. Do it with snowshoes after a fresh dump of snow. Otherwise, hiking boots and perhaps a pair of microspikes will do the trick.
It’s a quick outing that you can knock off in 30 – 45 minutes, but it’s certainly worthwhile.
Visit the Natural Bridge
The Natural Bridge is easy to find. Drive 2.4 km up the road towards Emerald Lake Lodge from the Trans-Canada Highway, and you’ll find the parking lot on your left.
When I have visited in winter, it has never been sunny so all I’ve seen is a lot of white on white. Close-up photos of frozen water under the natural bridge are sometimes seen on Instagram, but you’ll have to make the call if its worth risking it. I think not.
Cross-country ski the Kicking Horse Trail
Pick up the Kicking Horse trail at the north side of the Natural Bridge parking lot. Ski down a fire road for about 2.3 km to a bridge over the Emerald River. In another 100 m cross another bridge over the Amiskwi River. Shortly after the bridge there is an intersection. The right-hand trail is the long Amiskwi River Trail that travels for 35 km to Amiskwi Pass.
Instead stay left and ski through pretty sections of forest to an open area with good views. You’ll also see the Kicking Horse River here. You can continue skiing for a couple more kilometres to reach the intersection with the Otterhead Trail. Stay left and continue for 0.5 km to reach the end of the trail at Otterhead River.
Ski 6.5 km back to the parking lot. The total elevation gain on the ski is just 60 m. The Kicking Horse Ski Club looks after the trails in the area. All donations are welcome.
Snowshoe or hike to Wapta Falls
Wapta Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the Canadian Rockies by volume, is a study in blue-green ice in winter. The hike or snowshoe to Wapta Falls is a must do winter activity if you’re in the park – though you’ll need to bring your own snowshoes to access it if there’s been a recent snow. The falls themselves are awe-inspiring, especially on a bluebird day when the snow sparkles like diamonds.
To access Wapta Falls in winter, park in a small lot by the highway and then hike or snowshoe in 4.4 km. There isn’t a lot of elevation gain – perhaps 30 metres. In total, plan on 3 – 3.5 hours for the return trip. There are some people that will cross-country ski to the falls but the final downhill section is too tight to turn so take your skis off and walk down. It’s slower in winter to hike because the trail is longer than the summer trail.
Visit the Lake O’Hara area on snowshoes or cross-country skis
The Lake O’Hara area on a bluebird day is one of the prettiest places in Canada to explore. But to visit, you will need to cross-country ski 11 km one-way (with an elevation gain of 440 m) along the Lake O’Hara Fire Road. Some skiers do that as a day trip – and it’s very doable, but it’s not for everyone. Lake O’Hara Lodge used to offer lunch when they were open but I’m not sure if that’s an option now. Pack some food and a hot drink in case it’s not an option.
If you’re after an overnight experience at Lake O’Hara there are two options.
Try to nab a stay at the ever popular Elizabeth Parker Hut. You can check availability and book online. In winter the hut sleeps 20 people but you’ll need to bring a sleeping bag and be cool with sleeping in shared rooms. There is a shared-use kitchen with most of the utensils and dishes you’ll need.
The other option is to book a stay at beautiful Lake O’Hara Lodge. It’s a far pricier alternative but a real treat as the food is fantastic and a guide is provided to take you cross-country skiing. That’s a good thing as much of the terrain around Lake O’Hara is in avalanche country.
Cross-country ski to Ross Lake
The ski to Ross Lake starts from the parking lot used to access the Lake O’Hara Fire Road though there is also a place to park by old Highway 1A, shortly after you cross the train tracks.
John and I started cross-country skiing on what is now called the Great Divide trail but was once Highway 1A. The trail climbs gradually for 2 km to reach a signed turn-off for Ross Lake. Turn right and climb gradually for 1.3 km to reach Ross Lake. Continue on the trail for another 3 km to reach the Lake O’Hara Fire Road. This section of trail is challenging. It’s true backcountry skiing – cue the five downed trees and deep, untracked snow.
Turn right when you reach the Lake O’Hara Fire Road and follow it for about 2 km back to the parking lot. It’s a 5-miute walk if you parked by old Highway 1A. All told it’s a 9 km loop with an elevation gain of 200 m.
Hike, snowshoe or ski up to Sherbrooke Lake
Sherbrooke Lake can be accessed from the trail behind Great Divide Lodge on the Trans-Canada Highway. The trail starts behind the lodge. It climbs up through the trees at a moderate angle. Around the 2 km mark the trail rounds the shoulder of Paget Peak and breaks out of the trees. Continue through more open terrain following the creek to Sherbrooke Lake.
This is a difficult ski but it would be fine as a winter walk or snowshoe – though in places it would be hard to avoid stepping in skiers tracks. It’s 6 km return with 180 m of elevation gain. You’ll need 3 – 4 hours to do it.
Where to stay in Yoho National Park
Emerald Lake Lodge is an ideal spot to spend a long weekend. With its fantastic location, you are just steps away from stunning snowshoe and cross-country ski trails. By sometime in 2023 their hot tub should be up and running again too. Enjoy a delicious meal beside the fireplace in the lounge or pony up and book a more expensive meal in the Mount Burgess dining room.
If you don’t want to spend the money on a stay at Emerald Lake Lodge, there is the option to stay in one of the many B&B’s in Field, the Canadian Rockies Inn and the Truffle Pigs Bistro & Lodge. There are also backcountry options – cue the Elizabeth Parker Hut at Lake O’Hara and Lake O’Hara Lodge – though it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation.
Your next option would be to stay in Lake Louise or Golden and visit Yoho National Park in winter as a day trip.
Where to eat in winter in Yoho National Park
There are only a few choices in winter but they’re good ones. We’ve had excellent meals at the Truffle Pigs Bistro in Field – and they’re taking reservations now which helps. Your only other option is to head up to Emerald Lake Lodge. You can eat in the Mount Burgess Dining Room (make a reservation) or more informally in the pub or fireside in the lounge.
Want to return to Yoho National Park in summer?
Yoho National Park is an extraordinary destination in summer, especially if you’re a hiker. Enjoy one of these incredible hikes from early July until the snow flies, sometime in early October. There are lots of camping options in summer too.
Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.