Emerald Lake in Canada: 20 Things to Know (Yoho, British Columbia)

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is one of the finest lakes in the Canadian Rockies and a resplendent place to visit in British Columbia. It’s the largest lake in Yoho National Park, one of the most stunning BC Lakes, and surrounded by President Mountain Range.

Visiting the lake on a summer day is one of the finest natural scenes in the Canadian Rockies, a mountain range far from being short of incredible vistas. Access to the lake is surprisingly easy, as it’s just a few kilometers off the TransCanada highway that sees thousands drive past Emerald Lake daily.

Guide To Emerald Lake

Where does Emerald Lake get its color?

Emerald Lake In The Summer With Canoes

It’s pretty easy to figure out where Emerald Lake gets its name as the glacial waters refract light in a vibrant display of color. The color alone would be enough to move you, but the surrounding landscape leaves you speechless. The President Range mountains surround the lake, forming a natural amphitheater of the grandest scale with towering peaks and forested banks. It’s easy to see why it’s our favorite lake in the Canadian Rockies!

The lake’s color is due to the melting of glaciers above it. When the melting glaciers deposit rock flour (fine rock ground by moving glaciers) into the lake, it causes the lake to refract sunlight in a brilliant color. As a result, the lake’s most brilliant colors are on sunny summer days in July and August.

Things To Do At Emerald Lake

Natasha Takes A SUP Along Emerald Lake On Warm Summer Day

There are many activities to enjoy the lake, but the two most popular are a leisurely hike along the shoreline or a gentle canoe ride across its surface. If you already have plans to travel around Banff and the Canadian Rockies, this is a stop well worth the visit and only thirty minutes away from the more famous Lake Louise. An easy walking trail that is 5.2 km (3.2 mi) around the lake is appropriate for families and those looking for an easy hike.

A walk through the forest here is well worth it, as the lake has a small microclimate that is more indicative of a rainforest found on the coast. This is due to the natural amphitheater that traps moisture, causing heavy rain and snow, so don’t be surprised to catch the lake on a cloudy day.

Wildflowers Along Lakeshore Of Emerald Lake In The Evening

Pristine natural wilderness surrounds the lake, and visitors regularly spot ground squirrels, marmots, bald eagles, bears, loons, and the occasional moose. Best of all, visiting the lake is far less difficult than visiting Moraine Lake or Lake Louise, but it can still get hectic in the summer.

However, you can easily escape the crowds with a short walk. Most visitors congregate around the bridge near the parking lot that leads to the Emerald Lake Lodge. Early morning and late evening are particularly magical on Emerald Lake, as few visitors hang around. This is a great advantage to staying at the Emerald Lake Lodge.

Cameron And Natasha Ice Skating On Emerald Lake

Although visitors will miss out on the lake’s brilliant colors in the winter, it’s still worth visiting. Its snowy atmosphere and dramatic peaks make it a stunning sight in winter. A gorgeous winter day is almost equal to summer. It’s also a great spot for snowshoeing, cross-country, and backcountry skiing. We’ve even managed to sneak in an ice skate on the lake, but conditions have to be just right (some years, it’s never possible to skate on the lake).

When Is The Best Time To Visit?

Emerald Lake Lodge

You can visit Emerald Lake any time of the year as the lake and lodge never close. Due to the lake’s shining colors, it’s not much of a surprise that most visitors visit in the summer, and we can’t blame them.

Winter is still a pleasant time to visit, and it’s a very quiet experience. We rarely have issues parking in the main lot in winter. To better understand the seasonal weather, read our post on the best time to visit Banff National Park.

Summer

Emerald Lake remains frozen for around half the year from November to June, slightly shorter than other lakes in the Canadian Rockies. If you plan to see the lake unfrozen and at its most vibrant color, plan to visit around July or August.

As the season progresses, the rock flour from the glacial melt falls to the bottom of the lake, making the lake less vibrant. In addition to the season, sunlight plays a large factor in the vibrance of the lake. For peak color, it’s best to visit on a sunny day.

The most magical times to visit the lake in the summer are morning or evening. However, the color disappears as the light is low on the horizon.

Winter

If you’re looking for a quiet spot to snowshoe or cross-country ski, a visit in the winter is extraordinary. The small microclimate means there is abundant snow from December to March.

While the lake does freeze over, the heavy snowfall at the lake makes it almost impossible to ice skate. We caught the lake on one of the two days in 2023 when it was possible to skate on the lake, right before a snowfall.

We recommend heading to nearby Lake Louise if you want to ice skate, as the Fairmont maintains an ice rink in the winter. If you’re into backcountry skiing, the Emerald Lake Slide Path is one of the most famous runs in Yoho National Park.

Access To Emerald Lake Road

Emerald Lake In November Before Freezing

Emerald Lake Road has no seasonal closures, meaning you can access the lake year-round. The Trans-Canada Highway is also open through Yoho National Park. Highway 1 may close due to avalanche risk in extreme weather. However, the closures rarely last longer than a few hours.

Parking At Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake

The one public parking lot at Emerald Lake fills up quickly in the summer. While it’s nowhere near as bad as the nearby Lake Louise, parking can be a problem at Emerald Lake around midday. By mid-morning, the parking lot is full in the summer, and you can park along the road that leads up to the lake.

This line of cars can sometimes stretch back as far as a kilometer, adding some walking time to the visit. Currently, Parks Canada has not limited the parking situation, but if it gets much worse, they may take measures similar to those of other lakes in the Rockies.

Emerald Lake Lodge has a private parking lot about a kilometer before the lake. In the parking lot, there is a telephone to call the lodge and request a pickup. The shuttle service is free for guests staying at the lodge.

Canoeing

The Boathouse At Emerald Lake

It’s tough to find a more spectacular scene to paddle through as you look at the surrounding mountains and forests around Emerald Lake. Canoe rentals are charged by the hour and allow three people per canoe. For most, an hour provides sufficient time to paddle to the middle of the lake and take a few photographs. If you hope to paddle the entire breadth of the lake, plan for around two hours.

You can pick up canoe rentals at the Boathouse Co. It’s one of the best spots in the region as it’s one of the most affordable rates compared to canoeing on Moraine Lake or Lake Louise. Private watercraft are no longer allowed on to Emerald Lake due to the threat of Whirling Disease.

Canoe Rental Costs

  • Location: Emerald Lake Dock
  • Canoe Cost: $90 per hour (there is no 30-minute rate)
  • There are no reservations for the canoes. They are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  • Dogs are allowed in the canoes
  • 3 People MAX per canoe

Canoe Rental Times

The last canoe out is one hour before closing. Arrive well before the close time to ensure you will be able to rent a canoe.

  • 7 days/week 10am-6pm (Last canoe out at 4:45)

Emerald Lake Lodge

A Snowy Emerald Lake Lodge
Emerald Lake Lodge in February

The Canadian Pacific Railway built the historic Emerald Lake Lodge in 1902. It has 24 cabins for rent, and the lodge has an outdoor hot tub, two restaurants, a kayak/canoe rental dock, and a gift shop. It’s the only lodge in the area, with the next closest accommodation options being in nearby Field, Golden, and Lake Louise.

Emerald Lake Lodge Cabin In Fall

Emerald Lake Lodge is all about nature and a tremendous place to disconnect. There are no TVs or WiFi in the rooms and no cell phone signal, so bring a nice book to read in the evenings. It’s a secluded lodge in the wilderness that offers sublime lake views.

The lodge is open year-round, but rates in the summer are far higher than in the winter. The lodge needs a lot more maintenance and care for the summer rates they charge, but if you are dead set on waking up Emerald Lake, it is your only option.

Food at Emerald Lake

Cilantro Cafe at Emerald Lake

There’s one main restaurant for visitors to enjoy at Emerald Lake during the day. Cilantro is a small cafe serving up sandwiches, coffee, and pastries. Though you are really paying to eat in one of the most spectacular lakes in the world here. There’s also dining available at the Mount Burgess restaurants at Emerald Lake Lodge. It’s open for breakfast and dinner, and reservations are recommended.

Camping Near Emerald Lake

Yoho National Park

There is no camping around Emerald Lake. However, several nearby front-country and backcountry campgrounds exist in Yoho National Park. The Kicking Horse and Monarch campgrounds are the closest campgrounds located directly off the TransCanada.

The Kicking Horse Campground is the nicest campground, with hot showers, flush toilets, fire pits, and a sanitation dump. Reservations are required from May 19 to October 9. However, besides a few, there is not much privacy at the campsite, so it’s best for RVs and Campervans.

An overflow campground, Monarch Campground, next to the Kicking Horse, does not require reservations. However, it is limited in facilities and right next to the highway. We would not recommend either campground for tents unless you’re in a pinch.

If you’re tent camping, opt for the campsite at Takakkaw Falls, which operates on a first-come-first-serve basis walk-in campsite. You’ll have to make a short walk into the campsite, but they have several carts to carry your camp gear.

Not far from the Takakkaw Falls campsite is the backcountry campsite at Laughing Falls, which could be a good option if you’re looking for a wilderness campsite without too much work to reach. From Takakkaw Falls, you can hike over the Yoho Pass to Emerald Lake, arriving on foot, but plan your return to camp.

You can also book three ACC huts or stay at the HI Whiskey Jack Wilderness Hostel. The hike from Takakkaw Falls to the Stanley Mitchell Hut is considered a classic, and it’s a popular spot for members to take their families.

Front Country Campsites in Yoho

CampgroundReservationsFacilitiesPrice
Kicking HorseYes, (May 31 to October 14)Water, flush toilets, Showers, firepits, sani dump30.50
MonarchNoOverflow camping, potable water, sry toilets, sani dump$19.75
Takakkaw FallsYes (June 20 to September 16)Potable water, dry toilets, bear bins, firepits$19.75
Hoodoo CreekNoPotable water, dry toilets, bear bins, firepits$16.75

Fishing

 Emerald Lake At Sunset

You can no longer fish any bodies of water in Yoho National Park to stop the spread of Whirring Disease. We suggest heading to Golden and the Columbia Valley if you want to fish. You can hire a fishing guide or fish on some of the lakes and rivers in the region around town. The most frequent fish caught are Brook Char and Rainbow Trout.

Can You Swim in Emerald Lake?

 Emerald Lake

Technically, you can swim in Emerald Lake. However, the water is freezing even during peak summer, and you probably won’t last very long. The water temperature in the Canadian Rockies lakes rarely gets warmer than 4-5° C.

Hikes Nearby

Iceline Trail
The Iceline Trail

There are several great hikes and scrambles around Emerald Lake. It’s a wonderful area to take to the trails and enjoy stunning views of glaciers, craggy peaks, wildlife, rainforests, and waterfalls. The weather can be unpredictable, so come prepared for a wet hike with hiking boots and a shell jacket. There are also many great scrambles in the area.

Popular Emerald Lake Hikes

  • Emerald Lake Loop – An easy hike around the lake shoreline appropriate for families.
  • Emerald Lake Trail / Emerald Basin – This trail is similar to the loop trail, but detours up the Emerald Basin, where the lake’s water source originates from glaciers high above. The trail can be a little muddy and full of roots, so it’s good to wear boots. It is moderately difficult.
  • Emerald Triangle – Jaw-dropping hike that climbs up to Yoho Pass. Then, it travels along the ridge below the peaks of Wapta and Mount Field. Difficult hike.
  • Iceline Trail – This hike is in the neighboring Yoho Valley but is among the most popular in Yoho National Park. It is difficult, offers stunning views of waterfalls, and lets you get close to glacier terminals.
  • Emerald Peak – Moderate scramble with an elevation gain of 1300 meters, but gives impressive views of Emerald Lake from above. Best reserved for those with scrambling and route-finding experience.

Holidays in the Rockies

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is always busy in the summer, but you should note the following holidays as it’s even busier. It’s really packed on Canada Day when everyone heads to the picnic area for a BBQ in the park.

  • Victoria Day Long Weekend – Last Monday preceding May 25 
  • Canada Day – July 1st
  • Heritage Day Weekend – 1st Monday of August.
  • Labour Day Weekend – 1st Monday of September.

Is There Cell Coverage?

There is no cell coverage at Emerald Lake. So put the work away and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Other Yoho National Park Hikes

Laughing Falls
Laughing Falls in Yoho

Of course, there are so many hikes in Banff and tons of exploring. Looking for the best Yoho hikes? We rank our favorite hikes around the park and share all the details in this guide to experience the best in the park. You’ll find on these hikes high alpine passes lined with wildflowers, jagged peaks topped by glaciers, and a healthy dose of turquoise blue lakes.

Do You Need a Parks Pass to Visit?

Emerald Lake Landscape

You need a National Parks Pass to visit Yoho National Park. You can purchase a Parks Canada pass at any park gate. Yes, Parks Canada employees check, and you can get a ticket if you don’t have one. You’ll hit a Parks Canada gate right after Canmore along the Trans-Canada Highway if coming from Calgary before entering Banff. Parks Canada pass prices are as follows:

Parks Canada Day Pass Rates
Pass TypeRate
Adult$11.00
Senior$9.50
Youth (up to 17)Free
Family/Group (7 Persons)$22.00
Day passes expire at 4 pm the following day.

You can buy them from Parks Canada, in advance, online. If you’re staying in the Rockies for over a few days, I highly recommend a Discovery Pass. A Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which gets you entrance to all Parks Canada destinations for the year, is only $151.25 for a family.

Again, day passes are $11.00 per person, so depending on how many days you are staying and if you have plans to go elsewhere like Banff, Waterton, or Jasper, you may want to consider the Discover Pass. Discovery Pass fees are as follows:

Parks Canada Discovery Pass Fees (Yearly Pass)
Pass Type (Yearly Pass)Rate
Adult$75.25
Senior$64.50
Youth (up to 17)Free
Family/Group (up to 7 Persons)$151.25
ULTIMATE Guide To Purchasing A Banff Park Pass (Parks Canada Pass)

How to Get to Emerald Lake?

Emerald Lake is only accessible by vehicle and by taking one road, Emerald Lake Road. The only other options involve long day-to-point hikes or backcountry trips over mountain passes.

  • From Banff: Reaching Emerald Lake via Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W from the town of Banff takes just over an hour.
  • From Field: Field is the closest town to Emerald Lake, just a 15-minute drive via Emerald Lake Rd.
  • From Golden: Golden is 56 min (64.9 km) via Trans-Canada Hwy/BC-1 E.
  • From Lake Louise: Lake Louise is just 30 minutes away via Trans-Canada Hwy/BC-1 W. You can easily combine Emerald Lake, Moraine Lake, and Lake Louise in one day.

There is no public transport to Emerald Lake. You will need a private car to explore Yoho, or tour that includes Emerald Lake in the itinerary, like this tour.

Don’t Forget to Stop at the Natural Bridge!

Natural-Bridge

If you’re heading to Emerald Lake, don’t forget to stop at the Natural Bridge on either your way in or out. The Natural Bridge is a stop-off point on Emerald Lake Road, but the turn-off is easy to miss, so keep an eye for it on your left as you head up to Emerald Lake. The natural bridge is exactly what it sounds like! A natural bridge made out of rock that was cut by the Kicking Horse River. It’s an unusual sight to see, especially in the winter!


Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

  • Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service connecting you from the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to Banff or Canmore.
  • Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip, we like to compare camper prices on Outdoorsy.
  • Cheaper Airfare: We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals and like to use travel credit cards to hack our way into free flights and hotels! Our favorite cards are the Capital One Venture X and Chase Sapphire, which both work well in Canada and have no foreign transaction fees.
  • Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!

↓ Join the community ↓

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About Cameron

Cameron is a resident of Canmore, Alberta. After traveling the world for six years, he settled down in the beautiful Bow Valley with Natasha. He has been featured as a travel expert with numerous publications worldwide and has spoken on several occasions about the power of travel. He has a passion for all things in the Canadian Rockies and loves to spend his time snowboarding, scrambling, camping, biking, and trail running. Conservation is a deep fundamental in his life, and he aims to inspire others to care about our natural world. You can learn more on the about us page.

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3 thoughts on “Emerald Lake in Canada: 20 Things to Know (Yoho, British Columbia)”

  1. hello
    My daughter and I are wanting a mother daughter get away for a few days. we are considering Emerald lake as an option. It looks stunning.
    Are there rooms available Oct 5 and 6th. If so what are the accomodations like?

    thanks in advance for the information
    Heidi

    Reply
  2. The big thing missing here is how to get there. A car is the only way? Is that what is implied by not mentioning it?

    Reply
    • You are correct. Most sights in the Rockies, besides a few of the main ones, are accessible only by car or private tour. But I will add this to the article for clarity.

      Reply

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