Emerald Lake

July 21, 2021. A family-friendly walk around a gem-blue lake in Yoho National Park.

  • Region: Yoho National Park. Traditional territory of the Ktunaxa and Blackfoot First Nations
  • Distance: 5.4 km loop
  • Total Ascent: Minimal
  • Safety and Disclaimer

Emerald Lake is a great destination for anyone looking for an easy walk around a lake in beautiful mountain scenery. It gets very busy and the parking area is fairly small resulting in an overflow of cars parked in a designated area along the access road. There is an interpretive trail circling the lake with several signs along the way discussing the natural history of the area. Based on the order of the signs, the trail is meant to be travelled clockwise. It is a family-friendly destination – there are good toilet facilities near the parking area and the first half of the trail (if going clockwise) is smooth and level enough to be stroller-friendly.

Access is 1.6 km west of Field, B.C. along Hwy 1. There is a signed turn-off followed by a good-quality paved road that quickly makes its way to the lake.

The lake itself is a lovely turquoise colour. Several canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards were on the water when we visited. There was smoke clouding the air due to summer wildfires. That dampened the views a little, but we still had particularly good views of Michael Peak, The President and The Vice President (yes, those are the real names of the mountains). East of the lake is the massif which includes Mount Field, Wapta Mountain, Walcott Peak, and Mount Burgess. These are the environs of the famous Walcott Quary and the Burgess Shale. The character of the forest surrounding the trail is different on the west side of the lake as opposed to the east side – the reasons why are explained on the interpretive signs. The trail is more rough, root-strewn, and soggy on the east side after crossing over a bridge at the far side of the lake. If you’re pushing a stroller, stick to the trail on the west side of the lake. Walking out-and-back to the bridge will still be an excellent outing.

When we were done our walk we drove back down the access road and stopped at the Natural Bridge pull-out, just before getting back to the highway. This fascinating spot on the Kicking Horse River used to be a waterfall. There were cracks through the rocks forming the waterfall and eventually chemical and physical processes eroded those into wider channels. In time all the water flowed through the channels instead of over the falls, leaving behind a rock bridge.

Click on the pictures below for full-resolution images.

Looking east from the west side of the lake. Smoke obscures a lot of the detail on Wapta Mountain, Walcott Peak and Mount Burgess.
Looking south from the north end of the lake. The trail departs the lakeshore here and crosses a broad area of newly formed land created by the deposits brought down by glacier-fed streams. Interpretive signs here will help you learn the difference between a delta and an alluvial fan.
The peaks of the Presidents Range, north of the lake. Streams busily transport sediment and minerals down from the glaciers, slowly filling in Emerald Lake.
Coming up on the bridge at the far (north) side of the lake. Up to this point the path is quite level and smooth. Beyond the bridge the path is not stroller-friendly.
The eastern half of the trail features plank bridges, tree roots and uneven terrain. My youngest (9) very much prefers this sort of hiking terrain rather than smooth trails with spectacular views of distant mountains. I suspect a lot of younger kids feel that way.
Emerald Peak
Emerald Glacier can be seen to the left of centre, perched on the shoulder of The Vice President.
Shortly before completing a clockwise loop, there is a branch in the trail. One branch goes to the Emerald Lake Lodge and back to the main arrival area near the toilet facilities. The other branch narrows a little and climbs for a short distance, passes a pond, and then arrives at this bridge over Emerald River. This brings you right out to the parking area.
On our way back to the highway we stopped at the Natural Bridge pull-out. This used to be a waterfall with the water flowing over the “bridge” rocks. There were cracks through the rocks and eventually chemical and physical processes eroded those into wider channels through which all the water now passes. Eventually the bridging rocks will collapse and this will be a gorge.
The upstream side of the Natural Bridge. The water plunges down and through the rocks.

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