Emerald Lake

Yoho National Park (and Glacier National Park)

After our visit to Banff, we began to journey west towards Vancouver. Our first port of call on the way was Yoho National Park, which borders Jasper and Banff National Parks to the west.

Yoho features much of the same landscape as Jasper and Banff, but probably doesn’t receive quite the same acclaim given the lack of a major settlement, thus making it a bit trickier to visit.

Reading up on Yoho in our guide book, I discovered that the Trans-Canada Highway would take us right pass trainspotting and engineering heaven. Now, neither of us are train geeks, but, this feature did actually sound quite interesting, so we stopped off.

Obviously navigating through big mountains is difficult for both roads and trains, and given the size of some Canadian freight trains, the gradient on this particular mountain pass was just a little too great without a little bit of engineering help. So the railway engineers built the Spiral Tunnels, which are a bit like a mutilated figure of 8. A train will enter a tunnel into the mountain, where it will travel round in a 270 degree circle (whilst ascending/descending) before exciting the tunnel and mountain at a point higher/lower than when it entered. Such are the length of the trains, that you will see the back of the train still entering the tunnel whilst the front is exciting. The train then repeats this trick with one more tunnel, before it’s on its way, with the whole process reducing the gradient that the trains have to negotiate.

Now that may sound interesting or boring to you – it sounded interesting to me, and as the driver in need of a break, we stopped off to have a look. There were quite a few other people around, and a train rumbled past us after only about 5 minutes, which was fortunate as waiting for it involved standing in the shadow of a mountain, so it was pretty cold!

So there we have it, we all watched as the train snaked into the tunnel and then back out of it – at one point the same train was visible in three different places: directly below us, entering the tunnel, and exciting the tunnel – before getting back in our cars and continuing our journeys.

Spiral Tunnels, Yoho National Park
The Spiral Tunnels, Yoho National Park. The front of the train has just excited the tunnel (in the bottom of the picture) while the back of the train is still entering the tunnel (at the top of the photo)!

Having got our fill of being train nerds, we headed for the Takakkaw Falls – yet even more waterfalls after those at Niagara, Maligne Canyon, Athabasca, Sunwapta, and Banff – which are some of the highest waterfalls in North America. They are also meant to be some of the most awe-inspiring in Canada due to their height, but we were probably seeing them at the worst time of year e.g. not spring/summer when they are loaded with all the meltwater, or winter when they might be partially frozen.

It was impressive watching the waterfalls crashing down from a great height, but the path to the Falls doesn’t take you very close to them, particularly compared to those such as at Niagara, Athabasca or Sunwapta where you can walk right up to the edge of the waterfalls.

Takakkaw Falls
The Takakkaw Falls pummel the rocks creating plumes of water and mist
Takakkaw Falls
The Takakkaw Falls and an icy blue river

Having driven back down to the Trans-Canada Highway from the falls, we almost immediately turned right to head up the adjacent valley. This took us to Emerald Lake, which, hence its name, is an emerald/turquoise colour, much like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

We went for a walk around the lake. Part of its western shore is hit by an avalanche every year, and it was cool to look up and see the flattened path through the trees which the avalanche clears. The northern shores are where the lake is fed by glacial meltwater streams, and as a result the lake is slowly silting and filling up from the northern end. The eastern shoreline offers an experience in complete contrast to the western shoreline, as here the shore is forever in the shade of a mountain. The environment here is damp, a mini-temperate rainforest if you like, with moss growing on any surface and boardwalks taking you over particularly muddy areas.

Emerald Lake avalanche
This tract of land is wiped out each year by an avalanche on the west side of Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake north
The northern edge of Emerald Lake is silting up, and slowly filling in the lake
Emerald Lake east
Emma walks along the boardwalks on the eastern shore of Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake reflections
Emerald Lake offered mirror-like reflections
Emerald Lake reflections
Even the sun got in on the reflection game
Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake

We departed Yoho on our way to that evening’s accommodation in Revelstoke. On the way, we passed through Glacier National Park. Arguably one of least well known of Canada’s national parks, it is funnily enough home to a large number of glaciers (430 in total). There isn’t much else though – certainly not a major settlement. Therefore, one wonders how many people are that familiar with the park, and the only true visitors must be those who go off on some serious day hikes, climbing or some other sort of backcountry adventure.

With our day now long, and darkness and bad weather starting to creep in, we didn’t linger, but were able to take in views of one or two glaciers from the road and rest point.

Oh, one final thing. We’re not trainspotters. Honest.

Stewart

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