The Yoho National Park offers an abundance of panoramic vistas, alpine lakes, and a series of natural Canadian landmarks hidden in plain sight just off of the Trans-Canada Highway. You'll be trekking through lush gorgeous alpine, next to the prehistoric geology of the Burgess Shale Walcott Quarry, along the age-old glaciers of British Columbia's President Range, up and over Whaleback mountain to twin falls, and then ending on a high note at the second largest waterfall in Canada, Takakkaw Falls. This backcountry camping route is a testament to the landscape that the Canadian Rockies has to offer.
First, Prepare yourself as planning is everything with this Hike. Make sure that you reserve your campsites ahead of time and plan your provisions accordingly. You'll need to acquire a backcountry permit as well which you can purchase with your campsite reservations. More information on Yoho National Park Backpacking can be found on their website here: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/bc/yoho/activ/arrierepays-backcountry.aspx
This hike can be done in 3 days but can be stretched out longer with some day Hikes or a night at Little Yoho Campground as a midpoint to Twin Falls Campground. Also take warm lightweight clothing with you as the nights can get pretty cool even in August. Most of the trails are fairly well marked with signs at each junction point. I would also recommend this route for the trip instead of starting at Takakkaw because the ascents though quite high are over fairly quickly.
Backcountry Campgrounds: 2 nights Lake Yoho 1 night Twin Falls
Day One: Burgess Pass to Yoho Lake Distance: 14.1km (8hrs) Elevation Gain: 930m Elevation Loss: 360m
The trail head starts at the Burgess Pass parking lot just east of the Field visitor centre turn off. Be sure to have a valid Parks Canada pass because your vehicle will be there for a few days.
The first day is pretty tough. The first leg of the hike to the top of Burgess Pass is a 930m elevation gain across 7.3km. Most of this trail is covered in alpine. Though, you will see a few glimpses of Field and the mountains across from the Trans-Canada Highway. Off in the distance for the first hour or so you'll hear the bustle of cars passing by and a few trains as they head to and from Golden. About two-thirds of the way to the top you'll arrive in a small moss laden meadow with a couple of small boulders for a nice snack rest or lunch stop. Once you arrive at the top of the pass, take a rest. Depending on your pace this is a good place to take a quick power nap. You'll get a nice vista of Emerald lake and Emerald Glacier from the pass. You'll also get a good vantage point of the trail just underneath the Walcott Quarry heading to Yoho pass. There are also a couple of short detours to some lookout points if you're interested. One off to the west with a better vantage point of Emerald Basin and surrounding area and another on the highest point of the Burgess Pass.
From the pass continue on the trail that heads west towards Burgess Mountain. This is the Wapta Highline trail. This portion of the hike is much easier as it's mostly downhill. Watch your footing as some of the spots along the trail get a bit thin and can be treacherous with a fully weighted pack. You will first reach a large warning sign showing the restricted Walcott Quarry. Take a good look as you don't want to take the wrong trail. (NOTE: Access to the quarry to see and learn about fossils is only allowed with a Parks Canada guide and the area is protected by alarms and cameras.) Follow the trail until you arrive at a fork. The trail to the right is the restricted trail. It leads upwards along the Burgess mountain face into the Walcott Quarry. Take the left fork as it will lead you just below the restricted area. If you're lucky, you may see some fossils and interesting geology along this trail as well. You'll also have a great view of Emerald Glacier and its waterfall that feeds the lake below. Once you arrive at the Yoho pass it's a short jaunt North East through a well-maintained trail to the campground. The campground is quite well maintained, with a bear pole for food storage, some picnic tables, a grey water area, and an outhouse far from the lake. Yoho Lake is a pristine alpine lake. The waters are crystal clear and in august are warm enough to swim in. This lake will also serve as your water source. It can get cold at night at this elevation so ensure that you're prepared for sub-zero temperatures even in August.
Day Two: Emerald Lake Day Hike Distance: 11km (4.5hrs) Elevation Gain: 525m Elevation Loss: 525m
This is a pretty easy hike and plays as a good respite from the previous day as well as preparation for the following day's journey. First, head back to Yoho pass. Once there follow the Yoho Pass trail down towards Emerald Lake. You'll be descending through alpine towards the Emerald Falls. There are some pretty good vantage points of the falls once you arrive at the switchbacks. Keep following the train down towards the basin. Once you arrive at the bottom it's a pretty straight hike towards the lake. You'll find a number of bridges along the route to help you traverse across any running water. Once you arrive at the lake, enjoy the tranquillity of the blue glacial fed waters. There's also a loop around the lake where you can see all kinds of different vegetation. Once you're ready, head back up the train the same way that you came down.
Day Three: Yoho Lake to Twin Falls Distance: 22.2km + Look out points (11hrs) Elevation Gain: Part One 450m, Part Three 325m, Part Four 145m Elevation Loss: Part One 175m, Part Two 150m, Part Three 425m, Part Four 145m
The hardest day of this trek is before you. Ensure to get up early to pack up your things and take plenty of water. Part one of this hike starts at the bear pole of Yoho Lake Campground and will take you across the Highline Trail to the start of the Iceline trail. This trail is not well maintained so you may run into some fallen trees, thin trail spots or a little bit of overgrown brush. There is a bit of an ascent here but once you get up, you'll get some great views of Takakkaw Falls from an angle that most tourists will miss. There are also some eagles in the area so be on the lookout. Continue up the trail until you arrive at your first junction point. You'll see a sign that points you in the right direction for Iceline Trail.
The Iceline Trail is full of runoff creeks, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls fed by the glaciers that line the President Range. Be sure to wear sunscreen as the sun will be at your back the entire time. There are plenty of photo ops along the way, as there is very little to no alpine along the trail. There are also some small shale butes that make for some good lookout points along the way. Just before Iceline Summit, you'll arrive at the Junction that can take you to Celest Lake. If you're looking to shorten your trip this would be the trail to take. Otherwise keep following the Iceline Trail until you arrive at the Iceline Summit. This is the highest spot on the Iceline trail and gives a great vantage point of the Little Yoho Valley, Whaleback Mountain, and the Yoho Valley. Unfortunately, you won't be able to see Twin Falls from here as it's hidden behind the Whaleback. From here, you will get a great view of the Whaleback Trail switchbacks that you'll be climbing in just a few hours time. This is also a great spot to have lunch or a snack. Most of the upcoming trail is all downhill.
Carry on beyond the Iceline summit. The trail will take you past a couple smaller lakes, another large glacier partially covered by scree, and back into some lush alpine meadows where you'll be greeted by a plethora of ground squirrels. There's also a great bouldering rock just beside the trail. As you get down into Little Yoho Valley, you'll see the Alpine Climbing Club hut as well as the Warden station. Just before you cross the river to the hut, you'll pass the junction to Kiwetinok Pass. if you're staying at Little Yoho, this would be a great day hike to Kiwetinok lake. You can fill up on water in the Little Yoho River if you need to as well.
Once you're ready, follow the little Yoho Valley Trail just past the hut to the Whaleback Trail Junction. This hike is a gradual downhill and follows the Little Yoho River where you'll come to a bridge that makes a decent photo op. This water is fed by many run-offs from the surrounding lakes and glaciers from the little Yoho area.
When you're ready, make your way to the Whaleback Trailhead. The signs are well marked and the trail starts just below the junction heading North West up the mountain. You'll know because the switchbacks start right away. These switchbacks are tough with a fully weighted pack. They start long at first and get shorter as you ascend. Watch your footing as the trail is quite thin in spots with plenty of exposure. The trail is also adorned by some loose scree rock held up by natural timbers. Ascend two by two and watch for your mates as they cross some of the sketchy parts of the trail. Once you make it to the top, the hard part is over. Bask in the vista's that whaleback has to offer. There's also a monument for a fallen skiier at the top. Here you'll get a good view of the waters that feed the Twin Falls. The descent is mostly down hill and makes up about 3/4 of this leg of the trail. You'll arrive at a seasonal bridge that crosses over the top river just above the Twin falls. This is a great spot for a rest and photo op. If you're brave, you can make your way to the top of Twin falls for a vantage point of the historic teahouse below. Otherwise, there are some open spots between the treeline along the trail to the view below.
The last part hike to Twin Falls Campground is mostly downhill. Just be careful as there are many roots sticking out of the ground. There is a short climb that takes you safely through the area to your final descent from Whaleback Mountain as the area is riddled with hidden cliffs. If you're using the Gem Trek Lake Louise & Yoho map, a large portion of the trail will be off of the map. There are some steep and thin switchbacks on the descent. At the bottom of Whaleback Trail, you arrive at the Historic Yoho Valley Teahouse. From here, it's a short jaunt downhill to the Twin Falls Campground just over a kilometer down the path. You'll arrive fairly late in the day depending on your pace and the number of stops that you make. If you're lucky, there are two tent spots in the rocky area just beside the river. The ground is smooth and level enough for a couple two man tents and makes for a relaxing sleep with the water rushing through the night.
The Twin Falls Campground also has a bear pole and picnic tables set up beside the river. The outhouse is just over the bridge along the path.
Day Four: Twin Falls to Takakkaw Falls Distance: 7.1km (2hrs +) Elevation Gain: Negligible Elevation Loss: 145m
The final stretch of your journey is just ahead. This leg is mostly downhill heading South East with some minor ascending (maybe 25m-50m and gradual at most). You start this trek early or late depending on how much time you want to spend at Takakkaw Falls. The later in the day, the more tourists there will be. There are also plenty of side trips along the way. Your first stop will be Laughing Falls. Here you can walk right up to the falls. Take a dip if you like but enjoy the power of the water close and personal. The trail is mostly covered in Alpine and will continue to get wider as you get close to Takakkaw. Most of the sights are well marked as plenty of tourists come along this way to visit the Yoho Waterfall chains. Along the way you'll also see Point Lace Falls and Angel Staircase. Continue down the trail to Takakkaw Falls. You'll first pass through the Takakkaw Falls Campground. It's a fairly large site with a mix of Fire Pit ready spots. Many families camp here as they offer a good mix of camping services including a Group Fire pit area. Once you pass through the campground area you're almost there! You'll first arrive at the parking lot. There's plenty of bustle here with many people coming to see the falls. You can drop off your packs here or continue to the Takakkaw Falls trailhead.
To get to the Takakkaw Falls, head down the paved path along the river. You'll cross the river just a few minutes past the picnic tables and outhouses which will take you straight up to the falls. Once you cross the bridge it's just up the path with plenty of side trails that bring you close to the water. If you're brave, you can climb up the scree to the base of the falls.
If you have some energy left, there are also plenty of Boulders in the rock field below the cliffs of the Takakkaw Falls for some good Bouldering!
Trans-Canada Highway #1 past the Yoho Valley turnoff just east before you arrive at Field British Columbia. The Burgess Pass parking Lot.
ATTENTION: Split your vehicles or have someone pick you up at Takakkaw Falls Parking lot on the final day.
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