The Breathtaking National Park Right Next To Banff That Too Many People Skip

Canada is an expansive country known for its abundance of natural beauty. It is the northernmost country on the North American continent, and due to its location, many parts of the country have long, cold winters and short, gorgeous summers. Visitors can enjoy exploring 37 national parks and ten national park reserves scattered throughout Canada. In total, they encompass about 129,863 square miles of Canada's epic wilderness.

Of the national parks in Canada, Banff and Jasper are two of the most popular, with Banff being the most-visited park in the country. Known for stunning views of the Canadian Rockies, pristine glacial lakes, and transformation into a picture-perfect winter wonderland for skiing in the cooler months, they attract visitors from around the world. Banff received over four million visitors in 2023, and Jasper gets about half of that. Both parks are expansive and offer plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with nature, but they can also be quite crowded, meaning accommodations are limited and pricey, especially during peak tourist season. While Banff and Jasper get most of the attention, there is a third, lesser-known national park in the area that has managed to remain under the radar. Yoho National Park is located just 45 minutes away from Banff, but it only receives about half a million visitors per year. It offers a more secluded escape into nature without the big crowds and shimmering ski resorts you'll find in its neighbors.

Canada's Hidden Gem

Even though Yoho National Park is in the same mountain range as Banff and Jasper, it's in the Canadian province of British Columbia, just over the border from Alberta, where the other two are located. Yoho National Park was established in 1886, just a year after Banff became Canada's first national park. It is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay, and is among the most beautiful places in Canada to visit. Long before becoming a national park, indigenous Ktunaxa and Secwépemc peoples lived there and used the land for hunting, fishing, and gathering.

The park covers over 300,000 acres. Its name is an indigenous Cree expression that translates to "awe," and the landscape is indeed awe-inspiring. Yoho is majestic, with rugged mountain peaks extending endlessly toward the sky, thick forests, shimmering lakes, rushing rivers, and gorgeous waterfalls. Throughout the park, there are more than 249 miles of hiking trails. With its blue-green water, Emerald Lake is a beautiful destination within the park. There is an easy loop trail surrounding it that provides some epic views. The 3.2-mile Emerald Lake Loop trail doesn't have much elevation gain, so it's accessible for most hikers. Waterfalls worth visiting include Laughing Falls, Takakkaw Falls, Twin Falls, and Wapta Falls. Camping, paddlesports, and hiking are all popular pastimes, while skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing are excellent winter activities.

Planning your trip

For the ultimate expedition into the Canadian Wilderness, consider planning a trip that allows you to experience Yoho, Banff, and Jasper together. Budget a few days at each to get a taste of all the natural beauty each offers. You will need a National Park Pass to visit, and if you plan to explore all three parks for multiple days, the yearly pass could be an excellent option. For about $55, you can have unlimited access for one year in all of Canada's national parks. A daily pass to Yoho is about $8 per adult.

The nearest major airport to Yoho is Calgary International Airport. From there, you can rent a car starting at $10 per day. Make sure to research and plan your route to see if you'll need a 4x4 vehicle or snow chains, if you're visiting in the cooler months. The area gets a lot of snow from December through late March, and the accommodations around Yoho range from rustic lodges to private mountain cabins. Emerald Lake Lodge is an excellent 4-star option with room prices starting around $200 per night.

The best time to visit Yoho National Park is between July and September when the weather is warm. If you're willing to brave some chillier temperatures, the shoulder seasons are also beautiful, and the crowds won't be as significant. In the spring, you'll enjoy lovely wildflowers in bloom, and autumn offers some of the best views of fall leaves changing color.