Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies! It’s easily accessible and should be on everyone’s bucket list for the Rockies.

Emerald Lake is a popular year-round destination in British Columbia (close to the Alberta border).

Summer offers breathtaking views of the teal-coloured lake with panoramic views of the mountains, several hikes, and a canoe rental onshore. You can go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing around the frozen lake in winter.

It’s also much less busy than its popular neighbours in Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in Banff National Park. It’s a short drive from Lake Louise Village with a paved road off the Trans-Canada Highway.

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Whether you’re visiting Banff or Jasper National Park, I highly recommend putting their neighbour Yoho National Park on your Canadian Rockies itinerary. Yoho National Park is an underrated destination and provides a welcome quiet break from its busy neighbours.

This blog post includes all info about Emerald Lake in all seasons, including hikes in the area, nearby accommodation options for camping & hotels, the best time to visit, and additional tips about Yoho National Park & beyond!

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Read our comprehensive Adventure travel guide to Yoho National Park for more activities and tips for visiting.

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

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How to get to Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is in Yoho National Park in British Columbia (close to Alberta/British Columbia border). It’s 39 km west of Lake Louise, 12 km north of Field, and 65 km east of Golden.

There’s no public transport in Yoho National Park, so you would need a car to visit.

After you pass the small town of Field on the Trans-Canada Highway, follow the Emerald Lake/Natual Bridge sign. Once you’re driving on Emerald Lake Road, it’s only 10 km to Emerald Lake.

Emerald Lake Road winds through the trees with occasional mountain views. The first sign you see is Natural Bridge which is worth the visit. It’s a bustling waterfall carving its way through the thick limestone rocks.

Emerald Lake from Lake Louise

If you’re travelling from Lake Louise, the drive to Emerald Lake takes about 35 minutes. You drive on Trans-Canada Highway for 29 km until you see a sign for the lake.

Along the way, you see a sign for Takakkaw Falls, the 2nd highest waterfall in Canada. It’s another great spot in Yoho National Park, and I highly recommend visiting. Please read our guide to Takakkaw Falls so you’re prepared (the road to the falls is open seasonally).

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake from Field

Town of Field is about 15 min drive away. Heading west on Trans-Canada Highway, you will see a sign for Emerald Lake shortly.

Emerald Lake from Golden

Golden is about 50 minutes away. The drive is pretty straightforward, head east on Trans-Canada Highway, heading east until you reach the Emerald Lake sign.

Fun facts about Emerald Lake

  • Emerald Lake lies at an elevation of 1,300 meters (Moraine Lake is at 1,884 m and Lake Louise at 1,600 m)
  • The first person to discover Emerald Lake (outside of indigenous communities) was a Canadian guide Tom Wilson in 1882.
  • Tom Wilson named this lake Emerald Lake, although it was after another lake he also named Emerald Lake. The first lake is now officially called Lake Louise.
  • The surrounding mountains are called President Range, after the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake has a mesmerizing teal/green colour. Like other glacial lakes in the Rockies, the colour is due to the rock flour from the melting glaciers. Depending on the sun’s rays, they reflect the colour differently, and you might see the lake teal on one visit and green on the next.

When arriving at Emerald Lake, there’s a small free parking lot. Due to Emerald Lake’s increasing popularity, the parking lot is full early, and cars are left to park along Emerald Lake Road. If you don’t want to walk anywhere from 200 to 1000 meters to the lake, plan to arrive in the morning instead of mid-day.

If you’re renting our Smile Campervan, you can cook a meal at the parking lot and enjoy it at nearby picnic tables with a view of Emerald Lake.

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Things to do at Emerald Lake

  • Canoeing – the most popular activity for a good reason. The views are spectacular, and the colour of Emerald Lake looks unreal. It’s a more budget-friendly option to Moraine Lake or Lake Louise)
  • Hiking
    • Emerald Lake Loop is the most popular one, as it’s only a 5 km walk around the lake.

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

    • To escape the crowds, try Emerald Basin, a 9.2 km roundtrip hike through the forest and along the ridge above a stream. You end up at a beautiful meadow with wildflowers and waterfalls.

Once you’re opposite the Emerald Lake Lodge, you can see the view of Mount Burgess behind the lodge, which was once the scene pictured on the 10-dollar Canadian bill.

  • Snowshoeing & cross-country skiing – Trails around Emerald Lake are greatly appreciated in winter as you can snowshoe or cross-country ski either around the lake or across the frozen beauty.

Canoeing at Emerald Lake

There are several outhouses by the lake and a gift shop with canoe rentals. The gift shop offers beautiful gifts from local artists (unlike the made-in-China souvenirs you see in Banff). Going through the gift shop, you arrive at the canoe rental spot.

Emerald Sports Boathouse rents canoes for up to 3 people for 90 Cad/hour. One hour is sufficient to paddle unless you want to explore the perimeter. In that case, rent the canoe for 2 hours. It’s worth it to paddle beyond the usual crowd, as there’s usually wildlife to observe on the shore.

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Canoe rental usually opens mid-May for the season and operates daily from 10 am to 6 pm (the last canoe rental is at 4:45 pm).

Canoes are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis with no reservations available. You can take a dog or your kids in the canoe as well. The minimum weight for a kid is 9 kg, as that is the smallest PFD they provide.

Stand-up paddleboarding at Emerald Lake

If you saw any of our lake posts on the blog or follow us on Instagram, you know we love stand-up paddleboarding. We paddled on most lakes in Banff National Park and also paddled on Emerald Lake.

Since there’s no rental of stand-up paddleboards at Emerald Lake, you need to have your own. I recommend arriving before 10 am, and you can have the whole lake yourself.

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Amenities at Emerald Lake

There are several outhouses between the parking lot and Emerald Lake.

The Cilantro Café is just across the small wooden bridge over Emerald Lake. The Cilantro Café is open seasonally from 11 am to 5 pm. They offer daily soups, chilli, pizza, burger, fries, and drinks.

Emerald Lake Lodge offers two restaurants for fine dining – Kicking Horse Lounge offering drinks, and Mount Burgess, offering elk, bison, caribou, seafood, and pasta.

There’s no cell signal or Wifi at Emerald Lake.

Emerald Lake in winter

Emerald Lake is very enjoyable to visit in winter. Whether you stay at Emerald Lake Lodge, in Field or Lake Louise, plan to visit mid-day when it’s warmer.

There are several winter trails around Emerald Lake for walking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing:

  • Hamilton Falls – a 900 m long trail to frozen Hamilton Falls
  • Emerald Lakeshore – 5.2 km loop around the lake; the trail starts on the lake in winter to avoid an avalanche path
  • Classic Emerald – a 1 km trail through the forest leading to Emerald Lake
  • Alluvial Fan Loop – a 4.3 km loop starting as Classic Emerald, leading past the lake, and then looping back around the lake

All trails are signed once you step on the frozen lake. There’s also a well-trodden path across the lake where we saw families with strollers.

Emerald Lake in winter in Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake in winter in Yoho National Park

Camping near Emerald Lake & Yoho National Park

We always recommend staying in the campgrounds to have the most freedom and enjoy nature to the fullest while staying on a budget. Check out our Smile Campervans, your home on wheels in the Canadian Rockies.

  • Monarch Campground

The closest campground to Emerald Lake is on Yoho Valley Road (on the way to Takakkaw Falls). It’s a basic campground open May 4 to September 18 for a fee of 18.75 CAD/night. Only first-come, first-serve sites are available. If you plan to camp here, I recommend getting a site first thing in the morning and then exploring. Because of its proximity to many attractions, it’s often full by the afternoon.

  • Kicking Horse Campground

The Kicking Horse Campground is on Yoho Valley Road (on the way to Takakkaw Falls). Both reservable and first-come, first-serve sites are available. This scenic campground is open from May 18 to October 9 and offers sites by the river, in the forest or a meadow. The campsite fee is 29.25 CAD/night, including hot showers and flush toilets.

  • Takakkaw Falls Campground

Takakkaw Falls Campground is the best campground in Yoho National Park. It’s a walk-in campsite with a view of the 2nd tallest waterfall in Canada. It’s open from June 15 to October 9 for a fee of 18.75 CAD/night. Only tents are allowed (parking is about 500 meters from the campground, with trolleys available to carry your gear).

  • Hoodoo Creek

Hoodoo Creek Campground is furthest from Takakkaw Falls and other Yoho attractions. It’s open from June 15 to September 4 for a fee of 18.75 CAD/night.

  • A fire permit costs 9.50 CAD/day, and firewood is provided
  • Online reservation, modification or cancellation costs 11.50 CAD

The best places to stay near Emerald Lake

Budget pick: HI Whiskey Jack Hostel near Takakkaw Falls is open from late June till September but is currently under construction. (Sadly, there’s no hostel in Field)

Depending on which direction you’re travelling, you can choose from these options:

Value pick: Truffle Pigs Lodge

Truffle Pigs Lodge (our beloved bistro) also offers accommodation in Field. You can choose a single room, a queen room with a kitchenette, a double queen, and a family suite. All offer stunning mountain views!

Click here for current prices

Adventure travel guide to Yoho National Park - Field in Yoho

Luxury pick: Emerald Lake Lodge

Located on the gorgeous Emerald Lake shore, the lodge offers rooms with fireplaces, an outdoor hot tub, two restaurants, a private balcony, and stunning views.

Click here for reviews and the latest prices

Things to do near Emerald Lake

  • Takakkaw Falls are not to be missed if you’re in Yoho National Park!
  • Visit Natural Bridge (located on the way to Emerald Lake) – a year-round activity where you can see the tumbling and frozen waterfall in winter.

Adventure travel guide to Yoho National Park - Natural Bridge

  • See the Spiral Tunnel – the most difficult part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s track, where trains climb 300m in the tunnel. The viewpoint is only accessible from mid-May to mid-October.
  • Visit Kicking Horse Pass National Historic Site – learn about the background and importance of building the Spiral Tunnel
  • Mountain or road biking – check the Parks Canada website for options
  • Join a guided hike to Burgess Shale Fossil Beds – some of the oldest fossil beds in the world belong to UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • See the confluence of the Yoho River and Kicking Horse River
  • Hike the Iceline Trail – 18 km challenging hike featuring views of Takakkaw Falls from above, up-close and distant glaciers, several other waterfalls and pristine lakes

Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park

  • Hike to Sherbrooke Lake – a little-known gem in Yoho has a 6 km long trail with a breathtaking lake at the end
  • Hike to Wapta Falls – a short 4.8 km round-trip hike to cool off under the waterfalls
  • Hike to Laughing Falls – starting at Takakkaw Falls, this 8 km round-trip hike is easy with a stunning waterfall

Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park

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Best hikes in Yoho National Park

FAQ about Emerald Lake

Can you swim in Emerald Lake?

Yes, you can. It’s a bit warmer than Lake Louise and Moraine Lake due to lower elevation and overall different climate. But it’s still a glacial lake, so it’s cold, about 8C. If you visit on a hot summer day, the dip is well worth it!

Is the road to Emerald Lake open?

Yes, the Emerald Lake Road is open year-round. It’s paved and plowed in winter, so you can visit anytime.

When is the best time to visit Emerald Lake?

You can visit Emerald Lake year-round, although it’s undoubtedly more popular in summer.

I recommend visiting from July to September to see the most beautiful colour of Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake is usually frozen from November till April/May.

For more info about the weather in the Canadian Rockies, check out our guide Best time to visit Banff National Park.

Where to next?

Golden

This small and charming mountain town offers lots of fun outdoor adventures. You can check out our 3-day Golden itinerary or 30 fun things to do in Golden.

My favourites are:

Banff National Park

If you’re continuing east to Banff National Park, check out our Adventure travel guide to Banff National Park for activities and tips for visiting.

Just a few stops you shouldn’t miss on your visit are:

Moraine Lake in August

Know before you go

National park entrance

When you enter any national park in Canada, you must pay an entrance fee. You have a choice of either a daily pass or a yearly pass.

  • 10.50 CAD per person for a daily pass, 21 CAD for a group/family
  • 72.25 CAD per person for a yearly pass, 145.25 CAD for a group/family

The yearly Discovery Pass is valid for all National Parks in Canada. You can purchase it at the gate when you enter the national park, in the Visitor’s Centre or online here.

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Hiking essentials for the Canadian Rockies

These are just a few of our hiking essentials. But we do carry a few more things. For the complete list or more details about any of these essentials, read our post Hiking packing list for summer in the mountains.

You need to carry water in a reusable Nalgene bottle, which I find is the most lightweight bottle, or you need to take a filtration system. In this case, all you need is a bottle with a water filter and fill it up when you arrive at the waterfalls. We always carry LifeStraw bottles on our runs, hikes, and backpacking trips.

  • Sunscreen

One of the best-rated sunscreens from EWG, which I use and highly recommend, is Thinksport and Attitude mineral sunscreen. Alternatively, you can pack a sunscreen stick to re-apply during the day without getting your hands messy.

  • Repellent

I don’t like DEET repellent’s smell or skin stickiness, so I make my own. It’s been effectively tested in the Canadian backcountry and smells incredible!

My recipe for DIY repellent – combine 200 ml Witch hazel, 5 drops of Lemon essential oil, and 5 drops of Eucalyptus essential oil and pour it into a glass spray bottle. Shake well before each use and spray on your skin or clothes a few times a day.

Alternatively, you can buy biodegradable repellent.

  • Bear spray

Bear Spray Repellent is an essential item in the Canadian Rockies. If you’re flying in, you cannot take it on an airplane, but it can be purchased in most outdoor stores or rented at your hotel. Make sure you know how to use it, and keep it close.

Despite popular belief, Parks Canada stated that bear bells are ineffective in deterring bears, and you should make noise while hiking to let bears know you’re there.

Hiking packing list for summer in the mountains - Banff National Park, Canada

  • Waterproof jacket

A windproof jacket is a must on any mountain trip. Double bonus if it’s waterproof with breathable fabric as well.

My jacket packs small as it’s from a light fabric, but it’s both windproof and waterproof. Because this shell jacket is an outer layer, you need a fleece or a down jacket for warm insulation.

  • Fleece or down jacket

I like to use my comfy soft fleece in spring and autumn when I know I’ll wear it most of the day. When I need to pack a light and small insulating layer into my backpack (especially in summer), I like to use a down jacket that’s lighter than fleece, packs into a little pouch, and uses very little space in my backpack.

  • Trail running shoes

My long-time favourite trail running/hiking shoe is Adidas Outdoor Kanadia. They have a waterproof membrane, excellent grip on rocks, and great foot support, and I use them year-round. Michal tried several trail shoes over the last few years, and his favourites for hiking are waterproof Salomon with a wider toe box.

Road closure in Yoho National Park

For trail closures due to wildlife presence or avalanche dangers in Yoho National Park, check out the report from Parks Canada.

Accurate road conditions for Alberta can be checked here and for British Columbia here.

Trail report for Yoho National Park

Before you head out, check current trail conditions on Trail Report from Parks Canada.

Bear Country

As always, you are in a bear habitat in the Canadian Rockies. You should always carry a bear spray (can be purchased at Visitor’s Centre or outdoor stores), know when and how to use it and make noise while hiking and running (so you don’t surprise any bears)! Carefully read these instructions on how to behave around them.

 

About Maya Steiningerova

Heyo, I’m Maya! An adventure athlete currently living near the Canadian Rockies with my partner in crime Michal. I love running in the mountains, jumping in the ice cold lakes, mountain biking and trying not so common activities, such as mountaineering. By showing that an ordinary person can live an extraordinary life, my hope is to inspire you to live an adventurous life and provide you with tips and tools for your own adventure.

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