5 Days in the Canadian Rockies (Part 3): Yoho National Park & the Icefields Parkway

For the third and final installment of my Canadian Rockies series, I’m sharing photos from the places that don’t really fit into the rest of the trip. While Banff is probably the most well-known (and thus touristy) national park of the Canadian Rockies, there are several others in the area that are often missed. Jasper, Kootenay, Glacier, Kananaskis Country… I want to see them all! But if you only have one extra day, canoeing on Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is the perfect way to spend a couple hours on a sunny morning. Its location relative to points of interest on the Icefields Parkway makes it a great add-on before you drive up towards Jasper on Highway 93. You can take in three stunning lakes in one day – no strenuous hiking required 🙂

Yoho National Park: Emerald Lake

Stay

We set off for Yoho first thing after making breakfast at our hostel in Golden, BC – the Dreamcatcher Hostel. The Dreamcatcher is about 1.5 hours from Banff, and a main reason people stay there is for its centrality to four different national parks. Even though it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, the hostel itself was cozy and by far the cleanest of all the hostels we stayed at. The staff were super helpful, and it didn’t hurt that there were two giant fluffy, loveable dogs ambling around the hostel! I’m not saying that’s the main reason Dreamcatcher shot to the top of my list… but I’m also not denying it. 😉

Eat

There are a couple restaurant options in the town of Golden, but we walked to the grocery store for breakfast and to pack lunch for the road. There’s a “petro station” (gas station) next to the grocery store; ask the hostel staff for the discount card for 10 cents off per gallon or something like that! After filling up (on food and gas), we were on our way to the glittering teal water of Emerald Lake. The edge of Yoho is actually super close to Dreamcatcher, but Emerald Lake is a little less than an hour driving.

Kayaking on Emerald Lake

Play

Canoeing was something I knew we couldn’t leave Canada without doing. Being further from the tourist traps of Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, the prices and crowds at Emerald Lake were a lot more manageable. We had a short wait and there weren’t too many other people on the water at once. It felt like our own little world. After taking our sweet time and switching seats while out on the water even though they told us not to (shhh), we barely made it back to shore in the designated hour. Because of the way the wind was pushing the waves, paddling back was much more difficult than going out!

We had a snack at the edge of the dock, enjoying the sunshine before hopping back in the car to drive along the Icefields Parkway. The Parkway – or Highway 93 – is one of the most beautiful drives in Canada, if not North America. It connects Lake Louise and Jasper National Park over 144 miles of mindblowing panoramic views. We didn’t make it all the way to Jasper or the Columbia Icefields though, due to time constraints.

icefields Parkway: Bow Lake

Bow Lake Icefields Parkway

People sometimes see Lake Louise as part of the Icefields Parkway drive, but as you might be able to tell from my Lake Louise post, I think it deserves at least a day or two. Our first stop roadside stop from Yoho was the viewpoint for turquoise Bow Lake. The lake is the headwaters of the Bow River, fed by the Bow Glacier. You see a pattern here?

Bow Lake icefields parkway

The contrast of these bright yellow flowers (dandelions?) against the blue of the glacial melt made me so happy! The colors of these glacier lakes really don’t get old! Next stop: Peyto Lake. (The two are very close to each other, not even 10 minutes.)

Icefields Parkway: Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake
I did absolutely nothing to this photo in post-processing. I did have to give some teenagers the death-glare to get them out of my photo, though. It was worth it.

To get to this view, it’s a short (15-ish minute) hike uphill from the lower parking lot. Be prepared to share the view with tons of tourists! It was so blue it looked fake, but the color comes from suspended glacial rock flour (silt) that flows from the Peyto Glacier in the summer.

Peyto Lake Summit Icefields PArkway

Michelle and Hui wanted to scramble down some rocks to get a closer view. Meanwhile, I happily hung out with a sweet old golden retriever chilling at the top of the viewpoint. It was a good couple of days for me in the doggo department 🙂 The next point of interest along the Icefields Parkway, Sasketchawan River Crossing (say that 3x fast) was quite bit further north. We were due back in Banff that night, so we turned around and headed south.

On the way, we noticed a line of cars parked on the side of the road. People were outside of their cars looking at something in the forest. At the last minute, I pulled over to see what the commotion was about… TOO LATE!  I ran back to the spot and just missed the bear; I saw a flash of its tail and the rustling of the trees as it retreated back into the forest. I WAS SO DISAPPOINTED!!! A little further into the drive, we saw another couple of cars parked on the highway (it’s a frequent occurrence in Canada…). This time, I pulled over immediately. There was a little black bear meandering around in the trees maybe 150 meters away at the edge of the forest. Alas, he too disappeared shortly.

To be honest, I’m still kind of disappointed with my wildlife sightings for being in Banff for 5 days. I think I probably spent too much time doing stuff in touristy areas and not enough time hiking through less-traveled trails. I had my heart set on seeing a grizzly or a black bear closer up (like from the safety of a car)! Bear sightings are supposedly more frequent up in Jasper though, where it’s more wild. I’m determined to come back and see a grizzly and a moose next time! Wildlife disappointments aside, this trip was incredible overall and I can’t recommend adding the Canadian Rockies to your bucket list enough. I felt like I was cheating on Switzerland a bit, but I’m definitely completely spoiled for beautiful water and mountain views now!

In case you missed my first two posts on where to eat, play, and stay in the Canadian Rockies:

  1. Banff
  2. Lake Louise & Moraine Lake

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