Yoho National Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 and is often overlooked due to its more popular neighbor park, Banff. However, Yoho is full of hidden wonder that many don't realize until they've researched the park or visited: It's home to the Burgess Shale archeological site, which is a fossil bed that's estimated to be between 512 and 520 million years old. Deep in the Rocky Mountains, the specimens found in this fossil bed belong to the Middle Cambrian Epoch, and it's been preserved as one of the most significant fossil beds in the world.
More than 60,000 specimens have been found in its formation, also making it one of the most ecological diverse of the fossil beds still in existence. A majority of those specimens contain ancient marine life that was preserved due to mud slides from the Laurentian shelf. This solid layer of earth has provided archeologists and scientists with a wealth of information about the wildlife that existed millions of years prior, but it's also home to some of the most diverse living wildlife, as well. The park itself spans 507 square miles and the land is wholly untamed, which is one of the reasons hikers come from all over to experience its natural, untouched beauty.
Hiking In Yoho National Park
As you may have guessed already, Yoho is home to many, many hiking trails. These range in skill level from easy to difficult, with hikes varying in length from a couple of miles to multiple day hikes. There are several hikes that lead to stunning waterfalls, one of which is the trail to Wapta Falls and is considered 'easy.' It takes a maximum of two hours to complete depending on how long hikers take their time once reaching the falls, and will give way to incredible views of the mountainous backdrop in the distance. This waterfall is also considered to be in one of the most scenic places in the park as it's the most payoff for the least effort, and features stunning Rockies views. It also doesn't have a very steep elevation, making it good for beginners who don't have Alpine or high-elevation hiking.
Some of the steeper treks will take hikers to summits in the Canadian Rockies, with trails becoming even tougher as the rock scrambles become the norm and flat trails slowly begin phasing out. Climbing or scrambling experience is often recommended for the more challenging trails, and safety items such as bear spray, a GPS locator, snacks, and flashlights are often recommended. The views from the mountain summits are absolutely beautiful, but trail safety should always be a concern for those who are less experienced in higher elevation hiking. Additionally, Yoho does sit further to the west, meaning the park sees more rainfall than the other surrounding parks - that means that waterfalls are in abundance, but so is inclement weather depending on the elevation change.
For those wanting to witness the true magic of the falls in Yoho, a short walk to Takkakaw Falls is definitely a must-do. The waterfall itself is the tallest freefalling falls (try saying that five times fast) in the country and sit at a height of 1,260 feet. It's easily accessible from the parking lot and the trail allows visitors to get fairly up-close and personal with the mist from the freestanding waterflow in front of them. They can be reached via Yoho Valley Road, which runs through the town of Field and features stunning views of the valley. Emerald Lake is another beautiful attraction at Yoho and it takes roughly and hour and a half to encircle the entire thing, and the walk is well-worth it to get a look at this gorgeous aquamarine lake.
Visiting Burgess Shale
The fossil sites for the Burgess Shale can be found on the slopes of Mount Stephen and Mount Field. Their elevation sits at 7,662 feet and are only accessible through guided tours but with an elevation such as this, visitors will be happy to have an experience group around. The hikes themselves are done by the Yoho Shale Geoscience Foundation and must be booked in advance as the group tops out at 15 people max, but it's worth it for a solid education and experience. Along the hike, visitors will learn about the fossil bed and what has been found there, in addition to having the chance to witness this geographical history up close. For those who can't make a hike, the alternative option is to check out the park information center, which is located in Field, and visitors can instead observe four specimens that have been put on display there.