Emerald Lake is the most beautiful lake we have ever seen. The turquoise blue of its water, bordered by pine forests and snowy peaks, is one of the most characteristic images of the Canadian Rockies.
Maybe we are not objective when talking about it, but we spent the most magical night of our life here. From its shore, we enjoyed one of the most significant solar storms of the last decade in the form of Northern Lights dancing across the sky.
In this article, we present the complete guide of things to do in Emerald Lake.
WHERE THE EMERALD LAKE TURQUOISE COLOR COME FROM?
Undoubtedly Emerald Lake is the main attraction of Yoho National Park. And, mainly, the blue and turquoise color is the principal reason to make this lake considered as the jewel of the Canadian Rockies.
Most of the lakes that we will find in this area are full of water coming from the melting glaciers in the near mountains. During the winter the glaciers grow and move. This movement causes erosion in the rock created by the ice. The small particles torn from the rock are known as silt, and in spring, they are usually washed away with meltwater forming what is known as glacial milk.
When arriving at the lakes, the silt does not settle in the bottom but it remains in suspension for a long time, and when the sunlight hits the surface, we can see these characteristic colors.
Each glacial lake has a unique color, depending on the type of rock where the glacier is located. The Emerald Lake has a bright green/turquoise blue color.
BEST TIME TO VISIT EMERALD LAKE
If you want to know the best time to visit Emerald Lake and find this original turquoise color, you should take into account the time of thawing of the lake.
Emerald Lake is located at an elevation of 4265 feet, quite low compared to other lakes in the Canadian Rockies. It usually thaws earlier than most of the lakes, between mid-May and early June.
It is not only necessary that the lake is thawed to enjoy its intense color. If you visit it too soon, even though it is melted, it may still not have enough silt to enjoy it at its maximum splendor.
Conversely, with the passage of time, the silt of the lake decants, falling into the bottom of the lake and losing the light reflection. If you go too late (as of September), you may not see the turquoise color.
In addition to going in the best time of the lake’s thawing cycle, you have to consider the lighting. The sunnier the day, the more vivid the color will be.
HOW TO GET TO EMERALD LAKE
Emerald Lake is located in Yoho National Park, just 15 minutes from Field, the main town of the park and where we will find the visitor center. In this information center, they offer the Guide of hiking routes in Yoho National Park. Here you can see it attached. All the hikes that can be done from Emerald Lake are shown in this guide.
To get to Emerald Lake, you can drive the Trans-Canada Highway for two hours from Calgary, where many commercial flights arrive every day.
On the way, you will pass through Banff National Park, where you can see other glacial lakes such as Peyto Lake, Moraine Lake or Lake Louise.
Another way to get to Lake Emerald is from Vancouver. Also, taking the Trans-Canada Highway but in the opposite direction.
PARKING IN EMERALD LAKE
There are two parking lots in Emerald Lake. The first one we found on the road going to the lake, is only for those who are staying at the resort, the Emerald Lake Lodge.
If you are going to stay here, park your car in this parking lot and go to the cabin at the entrance. Once there, you will find a telephone so you can call the reception asking for the free shuttle to pick you up. Do not try to walk; it’s too far.
If you only go to Emerald Lake to spend the day, you should arrive early during the high season. The parking lot by the lake is quite small. In the morning, during our visit at the end of May, there were already cars waiting for a spot, so I can imagine that finding a parking spot during the summer must be a real challenge.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN EMERALD LAKE
Once we get to the lake, whether we go with our car or using the shuttle, the first thing we see is the small island of the Emerald Lake Lodge linked to the shore by a small bridge.
From here we can already enjoy the intense color of the lake. In this section, we will tell you all the things you can do in Emerald Lake and its surroundings.
CANOE AND KAYAK RENTAL IN EMERALD LAKE
On the left bank of the Emerald lake bridge, there is a small souvenir shop. In this same store, in addition to selling all kinds of gifts, they rent kayaks.
The price is not low, CAD 60, to rent the canoe for two people for 1 hour. However, it is worth it, since it is the best way to see the real size and brightness of Emerald Lake.
Emerald Lake is not only the prettiest, but it is also the largest lake in Yoho. It is true that we were not paddling all the time, but in an hour we did not have time to explore even half of the lake.
If you rent the kayak for one hour, my advice is that you go to the center and from there just enjoy the intense color around you.
Walking AROUND THE LAKE – EMERALD LAKE TRAIL
Another way to enjoy the lake is merely walking around the shoreline. There is a very accessible and straightforward path, even for wheelchairs. The Emerald Lake Trail goes around the lake on a 3-mile route that you can do in about two hours.
From this trail, you will have views both of the lake, as well as the mountains and glaciers surrounding the lake.
Keep in mind that in the spring there is usually a tongue of ice and snow on the left side caused by an avalanche. With the pass of the summer it melts, but at the end of the winter, it can be dangerous to cross this area as it is expected that the avalanche occurs from one moment to another.
When we went, in May, the trail was partially covered by this mass of ice.
This 7’5-mile round trip is one of the most difficult routes in Yoho National Park. It gains an elevation of nearly 3000 feet, with a neverending slope. It is essential to wear high-top boots so yo protect your ankles.
On the way, we will pass by the Hamilton Falls, just 0’6 miles from Emerald Lake and with hardly any elevation. From here the climb is steep until you reach the Hamilton Lake.
It usually takes about 3 hours to get to the lake, and from there you will have incredible views of Mount Vaux and Mount Goodsir. The best time to do this route is in July and August. In other months it is possible that you will find snow and that the lake will still be frozen.
This other route starts from the northwest corner of the Emerald Lake. In the beginning, the path is flat and straight. However, at some point, it turns to the left and begins to gain elevation quickly (492 feet).
In this section, you can find a dense forest of cedars and fir trees, in which it is essential to carry your bear spray since encounters are frequent here.
Do not miss our guide to avoiding bear attacks in Canada.
I also recommend you buy good insurance. Here I leave you a comparison of the best travel insurance companies, what they cover and prices.
Once we leave the forest, the road flattens out but is stonier than the previous path, until we reach a field of stones.
From here we will have incredible views of The President, Wapta Mountain, and Mt. Burgess mountains.
Another route to do in Emerald Lake is known as Yoho Pass, which takes you to Yoho Lake.
At the north end of the lake and after passing the detour that begins the Emerald Basin the road separates again and crosses a rocky terrain with small streams that end up in the Emerald Lake.
After crossing them, the trail leads to a mountain slope until arriving at a small waterfall coming from the melting snow.
Behind us, we leave the Emerald Lake, shining blue among the green pines.
In our case, traveling at the end of May, the road was difficult to follow because of the snow. Despite wearing microspikes, it was complicated to advance with the more than 30 inches of snow that covered the path.
It will take approximately 3 hours to get to Yoho Lake on a round trip of roughly 10 miles.
From Yoho Lake, you can follow the path until you reach the Takakkaw falls. It’s just a 1’8-mile trek, but we could not do it since the snow cover increased from that point.
These waterfalls are among the most impressive natural wonders in the Yoho National Park, so we will be back soon to visit them.
Takakkaw Falls can also be reached by road, along the Yoho Valley Road. However, it is usually closed until mid to late June.
One of the curiosities of Emerald Lake is that between two of the mountains that border the lake; Mt Field and Wapta Mountain, there is one of the most important fossil remains that have been found to date. It is known as the Burgess Shale, and it stands out for conserving not only skeletons but also soft parts of very varied creatures.
To visit this area, you must reserve a spot for the guided group of 12 people that leaves every day. This activity is carried out from the middle of July to September. The route is known as Walcott Quarry, and the price is CAD70.
The path that the guide follows starts at the Takakkaw Falls making the route back to Emerald Lake passing through Yoho Lake. However, before descending the whole trail to the lake, turns left to reach the fossil settlement. The route is troublesome in some sections, so it is not allowed for children under eight years old. In total, 13 miles are covered in 11 hours with an elevation of 2624 feet.
On the Parks Canada website, you can find more information and book your spot.
We will pass again by Yoho Lake and the Takakkaw Falls, to make one of the most popular multi-day hiking routes in Yoho, the Iceline Trail, that runs through different glaciers.
To complete this hike you will need at least two days, staying overnight at the Stanley Mitchell Hut.
The easiest way to do this hike is by starting at the Takakkaw Falls (arriving by car). From here we will take the path that leads to the Laughing Falls and continues through the Yoho Valley. After 5’6 miles and an elevation of 1640 feet (approximately 4 hours), we will reach the refuge.
The next day we take the Iceline Trail, the main route that goes to the foot of the Vice President MT. After passing through Yoho Lake, we will continue the Yoho Pass descent until we get to Emerald Lake. It will take about 7 and a half hours to travel the 11 miles that separate the lake and the hut, with an elevation of 3280 feet.
Another way is to return directly to the Takakkaw Falls, where we had previously leave the car, although the idea of linking the Iceline Trail with the Yoho Pass is a great way to make both trails in less time. Of course, if you are traveling through Canada by car, after arriving in Emerald Lake we will need someone to take us to the parking lot in Takakkaw Falls to pick up our car.
If you do not have two days to do this route, then you must do the Iceline via Celeste Lake, shortening much of the Iceline trail section that takes to the refuge and missing all the part of Yoho and Emerald Lake but visiting Celeste Lake. It will take you 6 hours to return to the parking lot of the Takakkaw Falls on a 12-mile route with an elevation gain of 2624 feet.
NORTHERN LIGHTS AT EMERALD LAKE
Maybe it’s unfair to make you believe that seeing Northern Lights in Emerald Lake is easy. The chances to enjoy a huge solar storm (starting from KP5) to make them visible here are quite low.
However, we saw them, and it is not impossible. If you visit Emerald Lake and there happen to be a solar storm producing Northern Lights, we don’t want you to miss them only because you don’t know it is possible to see them in this location.
If you visit Emerald Lake or any place in the Canadian Rockies, check if there are chances to see the Aurora Borealis. We explain how In the prediction section on this Guide to photographing Northern Lights.
WHERE TO STAY AT EMERALD LAKE
Of course, the best option to stay is in the Emerald Lake Lodge, inside the wooden huts that are located on the Emerald Lake islet.
One of the things that we were more surprised about this hotel is that it seems that the decoration of the rooms is still the same as when it was opened in the 80s. However, this fact instead of making us feel to be in an old-fashioned hotel, made us travel in time, to the time when the Canadian Rockies were just based only on luxury tourism, and only a few could enjoy this fantastic place.
In our cabin, we had a terrace overlooking the lake with a partial view coming out of the pine trees, a fireplace by the bed and a small bathroom.
You should also know that the rooms do not have WiFi. If you want to connect you should go to the reception or the restaurant.
Within the common areas, the Emerald Lake Lodge has a sauna, a jacuzzi and what I liked most, a huge and beautiful communal firepit. In addition, the hotel supplies chocolates and marshmallows that you can roast over the fire.
We only stay one night at this hotel since the price was very expensive, even with a low-season discount it was about $ 230 per night.
However, according to our experience, it is recommended to stay at the Emerald Lake Lodge at least once in your life.
WHERE TO EAT IN EMERALD LAKE
The Emerald Lake Lodge restaurants are not only the best places to eat in Emerald Lake, but I would say in the Canadian Rockies.
After several days camping and eating freeze-dried food, enjoying a good dinner was revitalizing.
The main restaurant is known as Mount Burgess Dining Room, and it is open all year. The Cilantro Restaurant only opens during the summer months.
We dined one night in the first, and although it was somewhat expensive, it was delicious.
However, what we liked most was the breakfast. You can not miss the banana French Toasts.
WHERE TO TAKE THE 5 BEST PICS OF EMERALD LAKE
These are for us the five best photographs you should take in Emerald Lake
- Emerald Lake at noon from the center of the lake
- Sunrise from the bridge that goes to Emerald Lake Lodge.
- Sunset from the right shoreline of the Emerald Lake
- Sunrise from the canoe rental house
- View of the Emerald Lake from the way to Yoho Pass
EMERALD LAKE MAP
To finish this guide of things to do in the Emerald Lake we attached below a map with all the places of interest mentioned and the hiking routes marked in different colors.
If you want to use this map of the Emerald Lake area on your mobile and without internet:
- Download the Mapswithme app on your cell phone.
- Download and save the following KML file in your Dropbox.
- Open the file through Dropbox from your cell phone. You will get a dialog box where you have to select open with the Mapswithme application (Maps.me)
And…You are ready! Now you have all the routes in your cell phone even if you have no connection in the surroundings of Emerald Lake.