The Lake Louise to Emerald Lake detour, might be a short 50 km drive off the Banff to Jasper merry-go-round, but it is a big-time opportunity to experience a spectacular lake landscape.
I am a huge fan of the Canadian Rockies. When our Banff to Jasper Road Trip was over, I admit to shedding a few tears and that’s a first in more than 40 years of travel. Those tears were testament to the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, surely one of the most visually stunning places on earth.
Read our One Week Canadian Rockies Road Trip Itinerary here.
What You Will Find in This Post
Why Visit Emerald Lake?
Emerald Lake is visually stunning.
Even if you only have time to arrive, look and leave, this is a detour worth taking. The proof is in the photos. The bus and carpark are close to this vantage point, but a walk around the lake will guarantee some time alone with this pristine lake.
Emerald Lake British Columbia
Yoho is an indigenous word meaning awe…
Green shimmer on Lake Emerald Yoho.
Light reflecting from the chalky limestone particles suspended in the water gives Emerald Lake it’s colour. The lake is frozen November to June with the emerald green most vivid in July. These photos were taken in 7th June.
A footbridge crosses to the far side of the lake, where the alluvial fan produces wildflowers late June and early July.
Emerald Lake Lodge through the pines with Wapta Mountain in the background.
Kicking Horse River.
Another reason to detour from Lake Louise to Emerald Lake
Looking for the glorious colours of Lake Louise (1750 m) in late May only to find she’s still frozen over? I’m feeling your pain, but…
A 40 minute drive down to Emerald Lake (1309 m) could reveal an already thawed dream lake – and with so few people you won’t want to leave!
Emerald Lake Camping
Kicking Horse Campground is the closest campground to Emerald Lake British Columbia. This link gives you all the information required.
Although Emerald Lake is only 50 km from Lake Louise Alberta, the roads are mountainous and it does take longer than the 20 minutes trip time that some suggest. We decided to park our RV overnight at Kicking Horse Campground in order to arrive at the lake as early as possible (Buses arrive at 10.30 a.m.).
Campground is open Mid-May to Mid-October.
- Fire Pits
- 88 sites – No booking – first in first served.
- Hot Showers. Flush Toilets. Sani Dump.
- Location marked on the below map.
Tips for visiting Emerald Lake
We left Kicking Horse Campground at 8.15 a.m., explored Natural Bridge and were the first RV to arrive at Emerald Lake. Our plan worked perfectly with only one other person on the majority of the trail. If there are crowds near the boat house just keep walking and they will fall away.
We did the 5.2 km walk anti-clockwise which is not the recommended direction. I actually think the lake looks more picturesque the way we did it and can’t see an advantage in doing it clockwise, unless you require wheelchair or prams access. Of course if the paths were crowded it might be advantageous to go with the flow.
The trail took us 2 hours with lots of photography. As we left I counted 2 large buses, 4 small buses and 7 R.V.’s in the carpark, which is nothing compared to the three huge carparks at Lake Louise.
Emerald Lake is much less visited than Lake Louise.
Emerald Lake Accommodation
For those not camping or RV’ing, Emerald Lake Lodge is located lakeside. The lodge is log cabin style with fireplaces. Not luxurious but nice to enjoy the atmosphere.
Field BC Accommodation
Field is a pretty little railway village on Kicking Horse River with some appealing housing styles, at least they were to our Australian eyes. Field has two chalets and an apartment offered on Airbnb.
Brown bear close to the town of Field.
Kicking Horse Pass Train Viewpoints
The Rocky Mountaineer at the town of Field near Emerald Lake and Kicking Horse Pass.
The steep grades that more than 25 trains a day either climb or descend in Kicking Horse Pass, has led to an inventive system of tunnels and track spiralling to get the job done safely. The good news is there are two view points with Info Boards to explain the process. They are located:
- 7.4 km east of Field on the Trans-Canada Highway – view of the Lower Spiral Tunnel in Mt. Ogden.
- 2.3 km up the Yoho Valley Road – view of the Upper Spiral Tunnel in Cathedral Mountain.
Where is Emerald Lake?
Emerald Lake is near the town of Field in British Columbia. 50km from Lake Louise in Alberta Canada.
Head west from Lake Louise through Kicking Horse Pass. 1km west of Field take the turnoff to Emerald Lake Yoho National Park. The lake is a further 8km at the end of the road.
Emerald Lake is 93 km from Banff, Alberta.
Emerald Lake Hike
A 5.2 km trail, the left half of which is wheelchair friendly, circles the lake. In winter the lake surrounds are popular for cross country skiing and snow shoeing. Allow 1 to 2 hours for the hike.
Canoe Hire Emerald Lake
$60/hour 3 people per boat. 28 canoes available. 10 am to 5 pm May/June. 9 am to 7 pm Jul/Aug. 10 am to 5 pm Sep/Oct. Allow 1 hour to circumnavigate the lake.
Natural Bridge Yoho
3km from Field on the Emerald Lake Road is a natural bridge of rock across the Kicking Horse River. There are several viewpoints and info boards.
Natural bridge was originally a waterfall which eroded underneath, allowing the water to flow beneath the rock “Bridge”. When this collapses, Natural Bridge will be transformed into a gorge. Impressive.
More Camping and Hiking in Yoho National Park
Lake Ohara – Only 36km from Emerald Lake this stunning wilderness area is a must for serious hikers. The parking lot for the lake is only 15 minutes west of the nearby town of Field but pre-planning is required before visiting. Read this guide on how to visit Lake O’Hara.
Yoho National Park Map
Parks Canada has a huge amount of information available on-line. You will find their Yoho National Park Map here.
National Park Pass
Get your National Parks Canada pass on-line to avoid queuing at the gate.
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