- Hidden gem filled with natural wonders
- Canadian historic site
- Lodge has a fabulous hot-tub + it’s dog-friendly
Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is an adventurous place to visit in winter. Stop at the impressive ‘Natural Bridge’ in the deepest darkest parts of winter you can walk under the bridge. Historic Emerald Lake and Valley offer visitors many beautiful views and wonders, even in winter.
Emerald Lake turn-off is located 1km east of the town of Field, BC. There is a parking area for lodge guests 8km down the Emerald Lake Road. If you aren’t staying at the lodge you can still visit the lake, continue down the road for another 1-2 km to a small parking area. Parking is limited and may be busy at peak times.
Our first time visiting Emerald Lake was mid-winter 2017, during a very cold snap with more days under -30c than usual. Driving from Canmore, we stopped at the Takakkaw Falls entrance to walk our dog Tusk (full access road is closed in winter). After some careful observation, we noticed multiple ice-climbers on the massive sheet of ice hanging above the railway tracks. We watched them repel down the ice wall before continuing on our adventures.
We stopped at Yoho National Park’s ‘Natural Bridge’ at the Emerald Lake turn-off. The power of the Kicking Horse River carving its way through ancient rock is impressive. We were surprised to discover a rare opportunity, it was cold enough for us to walk on the thick ice under the Natural Bridge! An exhilarating deep winter experience not often afforded to visitors.
Walking on a frozen river takes experience, daring and courage we had to walk passed open water, the river flowing under the ice, to get to the Natural Bridge. The area inside the ‘bridge’ felt like an ancient cave, as we approached we were enthralled by the loud thunder of the Kicking Horse River roaring underneath us. It was a unique and memorable experience, but also kind of scary! Let’s just say that Tusk was not keen on sticking around too long!
Emerald Lake Lodge
Waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to Emerald Lake Lodge we observed a Pine Marten searching for food. It was very amusing to watch him until he jumped up into the underside of a parked car! The shuttle bus driver shared some of Emerald Lake’s fascinating history with us as we drove across the bridge and up the hill to the lodge. The historic lodge is located on what feels like an island, although it is actually connected on the far side via a trail.
It’s hard to find a better Rocky Mountain location than Emerald Lake. In summer, the lake is a stunning turquoise blue exclusive to glacier fed lakes. This stunning valley is surrounded by large mountains: The President, Wapta Mountain, Mount Field, Mount Burgess and Mount Carnarvon. Even though you are relatively close to the #1 highway (10 km), it feels as if you are in the middle of the rugged Canadian backcountry.
“Emerald Lake is considered by artists who have visited it as one of the most exquisite spots in the Canadian Rockies.”
Emerald Lake is an important part of Canadian history
In 1886, thanks to the recently built Canadian Pacific Railway, the area known today as Yoho National Park was declared a national reserve. During this golden age of climbing, Swiss mountain guides helped groups ascend the region’s numerous peaks. Yoho is located on the west side of the continental divide, rainfall that falls here flows to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans respectively.
The original ‘chalet’ was constructed in 1902, by 1904 it was expanded due to its popularity; by 1909 Emerald Lake was a destination in its own right. The site was the Canadian Pacific Railway’s first log tourist lodge. In 2002 Emerald Lake Lodge celebrated its centennial.
While Emerald Lake has historic value, it also has significant geological value. Burgess Shale above the lake features extraordinary fossil beds twenty million years old! When they were originally discovered the fossils challenged religious doctrines around the age of the planet.
“The rocks of the Burgess Shale hint at the existence of earlier forms and processes of life that may cast into doubt the pre-ordained inevitability of our existence as a species.”
We were only at Emerald Lake for 24 hours but the whole trip was a non-stop Canadian adventure!
After checking-in we went for a walk across part of the very frozen Emerald Lake. There’s a sweet heritage cabin on the lake, which acts as a gift shop and offers rentals of cross-country skis and snowshoes. There were plenty of people out on the lake enjoying the area’s recreational opportunities. Halfway on our walk across the lake we were horrified to see a person-sized whole in the ice off to the side of the trail!! The lesson, always stay on the main trail.
There are a few different accommodation options at Emerald Lake Lodge, they have some beautiful cabins; our room was comfortable with a fireplace and two armchair, as well as little patio with a view. The historic feeling main lodge houses two dining options, as well as a lounge. We really loved their hot-tub; it’s large and ultra-modern looking with stainless steel.
The next morning we took Tusk for a hike on some of the trails behind the lodge. We found and followed some big cat tracks, maybe a bobcat, lynx, or cringe a cougar… to a freshly killed rabbit. Exciting, and equally terrifying, we high-tailed it back to the comfort and safety of the lodge.
It’s so easy to disconnect at the lodge with no TVs and no Wi-Fi, except in the lounge at the lodge. We didn’t miss it, in fact it kept us outside exploring longer, to the point of near exhaustion! The views from the frozen lake were so beautiful we, or rather Chris the photographer, had to experience it in all lights; at dusk, twilight and dawn. I’ll admit, it was worth it, as it always is.
We saw a moose!
The biggest treat of trip was surprisingly on the drive home, on Emerald Lake Road. We were fortunate enough to see a sweet young female moose chopping away in deep snow!! This was my second time seeing a moose. My first was seeing a mother and baby swimming on a lake in Jasper National Park!
Top 3 Tips
- Avalanche Safety: From November through June avoid the avalanche slide path clearly marked on the left bank of Emerald Lake. Do not walk, ski or snowshoe on or below this slide path.
- Always stay safe when walking on frozen lakes. Check with locals to confirm that the ice conditions are suitable before venturing out. Never walk on ice alone, or at night.
- Leave technology behind, embrace the lack of TVs and Wi-Fi by spending as much time as humanly possible outdoors, enjoying the splendor of this incredible area.
Yoho was a really fun trip. The shuttle bus driver let me get on the bus! We did a lot of walking around in the cold. Walking out on the lake was fun, so was watching all the people cross country skiing. I wasn’t a huge fan of the fireplace but the balcony was fab!