Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is one of the Canadian Rockies’ finest lakes and a resplendent place to visit. It’s the largest lake in Yoho National Park and is surrounded by the President Range.
Visiting the lake on a summer day is one of the finest natural scenes in all of 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 of the TransCanada highway that sees thousands drive past Emerald Lake every day.
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 and form a natural amphitheater of the grandest scale with towering peaks and forested banks.
To see the color at its peak you’ll have to arrive in summer as the melting glaciers high above the lake deposit a rock flour (fine rock ground by moving glaciers) into the lake which causes the lake to refract light in the brilliant color. You have a plethora of activities to enjoy the lake, but the two most popular are leisurely hikes along the shoreline or a gentle canoe across the surface of the lake. If you already have plans to travel around Banff and the Canadian Rockies this is a stop well worth the visit and only twenty minutes away from the more famous Lake Louise.
An easy walking trail that is 5.2 km (3.2 mi) around the lake is a gentle grade that is appropriate for families and those looking for an easy hike. During the winter, Emerald Lake is a popular destination for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and backcountry ski. It also happens to be a stunning sight in the winter months almost equal to the summer.
A walk through the forest here is well worth it as the lake holds a small microclimate more indicative of a rainforest found on the coast. This is due to the natural amphitheater that traps in moisture causing heavy amounts of rain and snow, so don’t be surprised to catch the lake on a cloudy day.
Pristine natural wilderness surrounds the mountain and visitors regularly spot ground squirrels, marmot, bald eagles, bears, loons, and the occasional moose. Visiting the lake is far less of an ordeal than visiting Moraine or Lake Louise, but it can still get very busy in the summer months.
However, this can be easy to escape on a short walk as most 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 days visitors hang around, this is a great advantage to staying at the Emerald Lake Lodge.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Emerald Lake?
You can visit the lake at any time of the year as it operates as a year-round destination. The winter months carry feel at times like a storybook and carry plenty of beauty. However, the summer months are by far the most popular and when the vast majority of visitors will want to time their visit to Emerald Lake and the Canadian Rockies. To have a better understanding of the seasonal weather read our post on the best time to visit nearby Banff National Park.
Emerald Lake remains frozen from around half the year from November to June, which is slightly better than other lakes in the Canadian Rockies. If you have plans to see the lake unfrozen at the most vibrant color plan to visit around July. As it gets later in the season the rock flour from the glacial melt falls to the bottom of the lake so the color in the lake is less vibrant. In addition, to the season sunlight plays a large factor in the vibrance of the lake visit on a sunny day for peak color.
If you’re seeking a quiet spot to snowshoe or cross-country ski a visit to the lake in the winter is extraordinary. The small micro-climate means there is an abundance of snow during the months of December to March. While the lake does freeze over the heavy levels of snow make it impossible to skate so you’ll need to head to nearby Lake Louise. If you’re into backcountry skiing the Emerald Lake Slide Path is one of the most famous runs in Yoho National Park.
Parking at Emerald Lake
There is one public parking lot at Emerald Lake that fills up very fast in the summer months. While it’s nowhere near as bad as the nearby Lake Louise, parking can be a problem 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.
At times this line of cars can stretch back as far as a kilometer which adds some walking and time to the visit. As of now, Parks Canada has not limited the parking situation, but if it gets much worse they make take similar measures as other lakes in the Rockies.
Emerald Lake Lodge has a private parking lot that is around a kilometer before the lake. At the parking lot for lodge, there is a telephone to call the lodge and request a pickup.
Canoes At Emerald Lake
It’s tough to find a more spectacular scene to paddle through as you look out to surrounding mountains and forests around Emerald Lake. No need for fancy edits on your photographs the water in Emerald Lake like Moraine Lake is truly that radiant turquoise blue. Canoe rentals are charged by the hour. For most, an hour provides sufficient time to paddle to the middle of the lake and grab a few photographs along the way. If you have hopes to paddle the breadth of the lake plan for around two hours.
Canoe Rental Costs
- Location: Emerald Lake Dock
- Canoe Cost: $70 first hour
Canoe Rental Times
Last canoe out is one hour before close, arrive well before the close time to ensure you will be able to rent a canoe.
- May to June: 10am – 5pm
- July to August: 9am – 7pm
- September: 10am – 5pm
Emerald Lake Lodge
Emerald Lake Lodge is a famous establishment in the Yoho National Park and for that matter the Canadian Rockies. The historic lodge dates back to 1902 and was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway. There are 24 cabins for rent and the lodge has an outdoor hot tub, two restaurants, a kayak/canoe rental dock and a gift shop.
The lodge is all about nature and a tremendous place to disconnect as they offer no TVs or WiFi in the rooms and there is 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 views of the lake. The lodge is open year-round, but rates in the summer are far higher than in the winter.
Camping Near Emerald Lake
There is no camping around Emerald Lake. However, there are a number of nearby front country and backcountry campgrounds in Yoho National Park. 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. The closest campgrounds to Emerald Lake are the Kicking Horse and Monarch campgrounds that are located directly off the TransCanada.
The Kicking Horse Campground is the nicest campground with facilities that include hot showers, flush toilets, fire pits, and a sanitation dump. Reservations are required for the Kicking Horse Campground from June 18 to September 18. However, there is not much privacy at the campsite asides from a few so it’s best for RVs and Campervans. There is sort of an overflow campground, Monarch Campground, next to the Kicking Horse that does not require reservations, but it is limited on 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 a number of carts that can carry your camp gear. Not far the Takakkaw Falls campsite is the backcountry campsite laughing falls which is 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 at the lake on foot, but plan your return to camp.
Front Country Campsites
|Kicking Horse||Yes, (June 18 – September 18)||Water, flush toilets, Showers, firepits, sani dump||$28.00|
|Monarch||No||Overflow camping, potable water, sry toilets, sani dump||$17.99|
|Takakkaw Falls||No||Potable water, dry toilets, bear bins, firepits||$17.99|
|Hoodoo Creek||No||Potable water, dry toilets, bear bins, firepits||$16.05|
Fishing on the Lake
You’re permitted to fish on the lake on your own or you can hire out a guide out of nearby Golden. Fishing is popular in region as you can fish on the Kicking Horse River and or Lake O’hara. Emerald Lake is of course a fantastic lake to for scenery to fish and the most frequent fish caught are Brook Char and Rainbow Trout. To fish in the park you are required to have a Park pass, fishing permit, and be aware of current regulations. This means you know fishing limits and can identify the various fish within the park. No live bait fishing is allowed in the park.
Kids under the age of 16 are allowed to fish on their accompanied pass, but their catch is included within the permit holders’ daily limit. For the most up to date fishing information please reference Park Canada’s website as it changes seasonally.
Fishing permit price:
- Daily – $ 9.80
- Annual – $ 34.30
Emerald Lake Hikes
There are a number of great hikes and scrambles around Emerald Lake. It’s a really wonderful area to take to the trails and enjoy stunning views of glaciers, craggy peaks, wildlife, rainforest, and waterfalls. Weather can be a bit unpredictable so come prepared for a wet hike with hiking boots and a shell jacket. There are also a number of great scrambles in the area.
Popular hikes around Emerald Lake
- Emerald Lake Loop – An easy hike that goes around the lake shoreline that is appropriate for families.
- Emerald Lake Trail / Emerald Basin – Similar to the loop trail, but it makes a detour 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. Moderate difficulty.
- Emerald Triangle – Jaw-dropping hike that climbs up to Yoho Pass. Then 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 one of the most popular hikes in all of Yoho National Park. It offers some stunning views of waterfalls and you can come up close to the terminals of glaciers. Difficult hike.
Holidays at Emerald Lake?
The Lake is always busy in the summer, but you should take note of 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 – 1st Monday of May.
- Canada Day – July 1st
- Heritage Day Weekend – 1st Monday of August.
- Labour Day Weekend – 1st Monday of September.
Yoho National Park Hikes
Of course, there are so many more hikes in Banff and tons of exploring. Looking for the best Yoho hikes? We rank our favorite hikes around the park and share all of the details in this guide to experience the best in the park. You’ll find on these hikes in Banff high alpine passes lined with wildflowers, jagged peaks topped by glaciers, and a healthy dose of turquoise blue lakes.
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