Thursday, February 02, 2017

Family Weekend at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

My family had an awesome opportunity to stay at the magical Emerald Lake Lodge recently in Yoho National Park, across the BC border near Lake Louise. We spent the weekend snowshoeing through beautiful soft powder and cross country skiing on one of the most beautiful trails we've ever skied. We hiked up to a frozen waterfall. visited a natural rock bridge we got to walk under into a secret hidden cave, enjoyed the amazing outdoor hot tub at the resort, and feasted on gourmet meals.  All in all it made for an incredible weekend we won't soon forget.

Incredible scenery at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Background on Yoho National Park 

Yoho National Park is located in British Columbia and is accessed via a short 10 minute drive from Lake Louise, Banff National Park.  It can also be accessed via the Town of Golden on the other side of the park. The small Town of Field is the “hub” for Yoho National Park and offers simple accommodations in guest houses, hostels, or B&Bs.  Nearby Emerald Lake Lodge, where we stayed, offers lakeside accommodations with gourmet dining and trails on site for skiing or hiking.

Snowshoeing across gorgeous Emerald Lake

Spotlight on Emerald Lake Lodge

Emerald Lake is a popular destination for both day trips and overnight trips with lodging at the luxurious Emerald Lake Lodge. Visitors to Emerald Lake Lodge enjoy ski or hike in/out lakeside cabins at a front country lodge you can access by vehicle. Think “backcountry lodge” that you can drive to.

A shuttle bus transports you and your luggage up to the main lodge from the guest parking lot. Once you arrive at the lodge, you’ll feel as if you have travelled back in time to an era where families planned winter ski vacations to the grand lodges of the Canadian Rockies, arriving by train or even wagon in the early days.

The view you'll first see when you arrive at Emerald Lake from the day use parking area

I still find the “character” of the lodge has not changed much since it was built in 1902 and I appreciate that cars have to park down below the lodge, keeping the pathways clear for guests to walk between their room and the main lodge. The only “wheels” you’ll see rolling around the property belong to the shuttle bus dropping visitors off at the main lodge. Beyond the main lodge building, access to all guest rooms is on foot unless you’ve requested a ride with your luggage with the bell boys in one of their small carts.

Lake front cabins at Emerald Lake

The main lodge building is home to a gourmet restaurant where you can feast on local Rocky Mountain cuisine that rivals the menus at any of the decadent restaurants in Banff or Calgary. There’s also a casual family-friendly lounge where you can order snacks and drinks while warming up by the fireplace after hiking around the lake. I personally could spend an entire weekend sitting by the fireplace playing games and drinking Irish coffee.

Lodge rooms at Emerald Lake Lodge

Whether you’re staying at Emerald Lake Lodge or down in the Town of Field, I recommend making a reservation at the lodge for dinner one night, stopping in at the lounge after you day hike at the lake, or popping in for a weekend brunch. The brunch buffet is amazing and my child is a huge fan of their cinnamon pancakes.

Hanging out in the cozy lounge at Emerald Lake Lodge

Dining at Emerald Lake Lodge with Kids:

  • Yes, the lodge looks all "fancy" but the dining room does have a kids' menu with amazing food that children will love. And the chicken fingers are a far cry from what you'll get at a fast food restaurant.

  • The weekend breakfast buffet is great for children, even if you choose to order off the menu as adults. The buffet has the traditional breakfast items kids will appreciate including pancakes, bacon, and cereal.

  • The lounge is very casual and great for an afternoon snack or cup of hot chocolate. We brought a board game into the lounge and hung out by the fire for an hour or so Saturday afternoon before dinner. You can also eat dinner in the lounge if you want something simpler than what you'll find in the dining room.

  • Dinner reservations for the dining room are highly recommended and you can make them in advance before you head out for your trip to the lodge. If you wait until you arrive, you might not get the seating time you want. Breakfast does not require reservations nor does the lounge.

  • We brought a cooler with us so that we could make our own lunches. This cut down on costs for the mid-day meal and allowed us to make simple sandwiches and snacks for the trail.

The main lodge building at Emerald Lake Lodge

Snowshoeing around Emerald Lake

Visitors to Emerald Lake will definitely want to start with a hike around the lake on the 5.3 km Emerald Lake Loop. It’s easiest to hike straight across the lake until you reach the far side (as long as the lake is well frozen) and then you can join the summer hiking trail for the remainder of the trip as you make your way back to the lodge completing your loop in a clockwise direction.

Snowshoeing Across Emerald Lake

If you tire of hiking through the trees at any point on your way back you can easily hop back out onto the lake and head cross country back to where you started from.

Snowshoe and ski rentals are available at the lake, and the circuit of the lake is easy on either cross country skis or on snowshoes.

Scenery doesn't get finer than this!

Another beautiful trail at Emerald Lake is the Hamilton Falls Trail which is approximately 2 km return with a small amount of elevation gain. We chose to just hike the trail without snowshoes because it was well packed down and the climb up to the falls was easier without snowshoes on our feet.

Trying to climb the ice at Hamilton Falls

I wasn’t expecting “much” from the falls but was pleasantly surprised by these small waterfalls. They are now on my annual “winter ice chasing list” and the hike was a lot of fun as a family.

Hamilton Falls, Yoho National Park

Playing on a snowy picnic table at the back of the Emerald Lake Circuit

Cross Country Skiing at Emerald Lake

If choosing to ski, you can continue past the end of the lake onto the Alluvial Fan Loop (4.3 km in distance from the back of the lake,) one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever skied in the Canadian Rockies.

Skiing the Alluvial Fan Loop, Emerald Lake

Note that this is a “ski specific trail” so if you choose to snowshoe it, please respect the ski trails and stay well to the side of all tracks. The same should be said for snowshoeing across the lake or at the back of the lake when you will be paralleling the ski trail.

Skiing across Emerald Lake

There are other ski trails in the area but most families will be happy to ski across the lake or to check out the Alluvial Fan Trail. Other trails can be found here on this full list of winter trails in Yoho National Park.

Stunning scenery at the back of Emerald Lake

Visiting Emerald Lake’s Natural Bridge

You’ll see a small pull out with a sign for the Natural Bridge as you drive up the road from the TransCanada Hwy to Emerald Lake. We’d never stopped here before so decided to finally see what all the fuss was about on a recent visit.

Standing under the Natural Bridge, Yoho National Park

I was completely blown away and surprised by how amazing this “tourist site” is in winter. The Emerald River was frozen so we were able to descend down to the river and walk under the pedestrian summer bridge that you’d normally use for viewing the natural bridge.

We even got to walk under the natural bridge which was surreal and definitely on our “must do again” list for future trips.

Standing on the frozen Emerald River as we walk to the Natural Bridge

Special Tips if Visiting Emerald Lake as a Family

I already mentioned some tips and suggestions above about dining at the lodge. Other than those ideas, here are a few more things to consider before you plan a trip to Emerald Lake Lodge.

  • Pack everything into as few bags as possible. We used a large hockey bag with wheels. You'll have to load everything into the shuttle bus to get to the main lodge building. From there, you'll have to either transport everything to your room on foot or load your gear onto a cart that will drive up to your room. Either way, you don't want to be traveling with ten bags.

  • Consider bringing a Chariot or Stroller if traveling with small children because it is a good walk between some of the lodge rooms and the main lodge building. The paths are cleared and easy for walking on but you'll still want something with big wheels rather than an umbrella or mall stroller.

  • Leave skis and snowshoes in your vehicle unless you really want to haul everything up to your lodge room. Then, before heading out to ski or snowshoe, take the shuttle bus down to the guest parking lot and drive your vehicle up to the main day use parking lot. Your family can meet you here and you'll be ready to head out across the lake for your day adventure. When done, load your gear back into your vehicle and take it back down to the guest parking lot. (I would recommend bringing boots up to your room though so that they are not freezing cold.)

  • Don't forget your swim suits for the hot tub. There are change rooms there so you won't need a house coat or sandals. Just change out of your winter clothing in the change room.

  • The lodge has several games but if you have a family-favourite game, bring it with you to play in the lounge after skiing or snowshoeing. There is also a games room on the upper level of the main building which has a large antique billiards table, board games, and plenty of room for kids to play with toys you may have brought with you. This is also a great place to hang out with friends if you travelled with another family.

  • The lodge rooms get chilly if you don't have the fireplace going at all times so bring slippers or warm socks for the cool floors. The bathroom floors are heated but the floors in the main room are not. I also recommend bringing warm pajamas and clothing for when hanging out in your room.

  • If you get a lodge room that's close to the main lodge building, you could bring baby monitors and hang out in the main lodge while the kids are sleeping. We didn't so had to hang out in the room by the fireplace trying to be as quiet as we could while our son fell asleep.

Kids will find plenty of snow to play in at Emerald Lake

Video of Snowshoeing Around Emerald Lake


Additional Resources for Trip Planning

Kootenay Rockies / Destination BC

Hiking around Peaceful Pond behind Emerald Lake Lodge

Disclaimer: We received complimentary accommodations at  Emerald Lake Lodge for a weekend so that I could gather content for this and other stories. As always all opinions and words are my own and this story is not sponsored. 

Parting shot: Emerald Lake Lodge at night


  1. I want to go! That looks amazing. Beautiful scenery and lovely accommodations.

  2. This is great thanks for sharing. I have booked to stay at the lodge end of this month and wondering if it is worth to buy snowshoes for the husband and myself just for this trip and haul my 7 YO n 22 month old with sledge. Or I should also get snowshoe for the older one, we have never snowshoes before though... As well, if we are buying snowshoes do we need to bother with shoe grips as I heard it's pretty icy out there. Which one do you thinks are better Investments for a young family like us? Thanks in advance. Elaine

    1. Hi, you don't need to buy snowshoes. You can rent at Emerald Lake. Then if you don't like snowshoeing, it won't be an investment where you already bought snowshoes. Best to try it first. You can also rent cross country skis there and I believe they have a ski sled for rent too. And as for ice cleats for shoes, no you won't need those. You'll either snowshoe or ski at Emerald Lake. If you choose to just walk across the lake, it's well packed down and you should do fine without any grips. And bring a regular sled if you want for pulling your child around the lake.