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17 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

17 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

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If you’re looking for goregous glacier-fed lakes, look no further than Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. As you can guess from the name, this stunning body of water is named for its bright green hue, making it one of the top places to visit in BC!

One of the best things about this lake is that it’s way less busy than some of the other, more famous lakes nearby, like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. So you can hop in a canoe or find a hiking trail, and take in the natural beauty of Emerald Lake, without the crowds.

Emerald Lake is very close to other hubs of activity in BC and Alberta and is an easy addition to your itinerary. But before you go, keep reading to discover everything you need to know about visiting this absolute gem (pun intended) of a lake!

Table Of Contents
  1. 1. About Emerald Lake
  2. 2. Where is Emerald Lake?
  3. 3. What are the best things to do at Emerald Lake?
  4. 4. When is the best time to visit Emerald Lake?
  5. 5. Can you visit Emerald Lake in winter?
  6. 6. Is it free to visit Emerald Lake?
  7. 7. Is there parking at Emerald Lake? 
  8. 8. Where are the best places to visit Emerald Lake from?
  9. 9. What are the best tours that visit Emerald Lake?
  10. 10. Is Emerald Lake as busy as Lake Louise or Moraine Lake?
  11. 11. Are there restaurants at Emerald Lake?
  12. 12. Is there cell phone reception at Emerald Lake?
  13. 13. What are the best campsites near Emerald Lake?
  14. 14. Is Emerald Lake wheelchair friendly?
  15. 15. Can you bring dogs to Emerald Lake? 
  16. 16. Tips for visiting Emerald Lake
  17. 17. Is visiting Emerald Lake worth it? 
  18. Where to Stay Near Emerald Lake
  19. Thanks for reading!
  20. Why We Book Tours with Viator
  21. Renting a Car in British Columbia

1. About Emerald Lake

People canoe with mountain views at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
What a place to canoe!
Scenic views at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
Scenic views at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Naturally, the aspect of the lake that piques most visitors’ curiosity is its unique color. This is largely due to powdered rock particles in the glacier meltwater, which are also known as glacial flour. It may sound like something you bake with, but what this stuff actually does is reflect green light, which gives the lake its gorgeous color. 

The level of this glacial flour in the water changes from day to day, so the shade of the lake varies according to the weather, the time of year, and even the time of day. However, it tends to be most vibrant during the summer and it does freeze during the winter, so its color isn’t as vibrant. 

The first European to discover the lake was Tom Wilson in 1882 who was actually trying to find some horses who had wandered away nearby. He’s responsible for naming this lake Emerald Lake… although he also originally called Lake Louise by the same name before that lake was later renamed.

In the 1920s, the Emerald Lake Lodge was built on a peninsula that extends into the lake to provide high-end accommodation to visitors. It is still the best place to stay in Emerald Lake and is definitely on my bucket list – it’s an icon of British Columbia!

2. Where is Emerald Lake?

Bailey sits on a railing and poses for a photo at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
It’s a stunning place!

Emerald Lake is one of the most beautiful places to visit in British Columbia – although it’s SUPER close to the Alberta border. It’s in Yoho National Park, which borders Banff National Park.

It’s really easy to visit Emerald Lake from Banff since it’s just 94 km (58 miles) away from the town, and it’s only 37 km (23 miles) away from Lake Louise or about a 30-minute drive. Emerald Lake is also 65 km (40 miles) from Golden, BC, and 116 km (72 miles) from Canmore, Alberta, so you could easily visit from either of those places, too.

There’s no public transport to Emerald Lake, so you’ll either need to drive yourself there, take a rental car, or join a guided tour (there are loads of great options available, so don’t worry if you haven’t got a vehicle). If you’re driving from downtown Banff, you can take the Trans-Canada Highway 1 and then turn off at Emerald Lake Road. 

Emerald Lake is a popular stop on a road trip. If you’re driving from Vancouver to Banff, you can add this to your itinerary either as a quick stop or stay the night!

3. What are the best things to do at Emerald Lake?

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
Going out on a canoe is very popular!

Canoe on the lake 

We think that canoeing is one of the best ways to explore Emerald Lake, especially since the rental rates here are significantly cheaper than they are at Lake Louise. You can rent canoes between late May and early October from the Emerald Sports Boathouse for around $90 CAD per hour. The canoes fit 3 people each (or 2 adults and 1 dog, if you want to bring a furry friend instead!).

You can’t reserve canoes, so this is another great reason to get to the lake before 10 am. You can take canoes out from 8 am onwards, and the last one goes out at 4:45 pm for an hour only. You can’t reserve canoes in advance so we say get to the lake early, grab a canoe, and enjoy paddling around while it’s still nice and quiet. 

SUP 

We love a good SUP session and the calm waters of Emerald Lake are ideal for paddleboarding during the summer. You can’t rent SUP boards at the lake, but you can always get one from Radventures in Banff or Canmore for $55 CAD per day and bring it with you. They also offer half-day rentals for $40 CAD, but we think that this would be pushing it time-wise. 

Walk around Emerald Lake 

You can walk around the entire lake in just over an hour while you admire its shimmering green surface from every angle. The Emerald Lake Loop is a really beautiful walk and the trail itself is flat and easy, with lots of places to stop and enjoy the view. You can even snowshoe it in the winter months. The trailhead is in the parking lot, where there are also toilets, and it’s about a 5.2-kilometer (3.2-mile) long loop. 

Hike to Emerald Basin 

The Emerald Basin Trail veers off of the Emerald Lake Loop, so you can combine the two. Basically, when you get to the northwest corner of the lake, you’ll take the Emerald Basin Trail into a secluded mountain valley. It’s especially nice to do this one when the lake is busy and you want to enjoy a quieter hike! 

The trail starts off pretty level but don’t be fooled – it gets pretty steep for a while. Fortunately, at 3 km (1.8 miles) each way, it’s not too long. You’ll head through the forest for a while and then when you get out of the other side, you’ll have breathtaking mountain views that will make the climb seem totally worth it. Although you need a decent level of fitness for the incline, there’s no scrambling involved, and once you’ve completed this, the rest of the Emerald Lake Loop is very easy.

Hike the Emerald Triangle

If you want to enjoy a longer hike near Emerald Lake, the Emerald Triangle is a fairly challenging 19.5-km (12-mile) loop. It takes you not only around a portion of Emerald Lake, but up the slopes of Wapta Mountain and Mount Field for amazing mountain and valley views, as well as aerial views of the lake itself. 

This hike has an elevation gain of over 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) so you definitely need a good level of fitness to tackle this one. But if you’re an experienced hiker then we’d recommend it because it’s absolutely beautiful! It begins in the parking lot and since it’s a loop you can go in either direction, but we think that it’s best to go counterclockwise. 

Hike Emerald Peak 

Emerald Peak is a 10.5-km (6.5-mile) loop that’s challenging, but worth it for the views of Emerald Lake that you get from above. It has an elevation gain of 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) but to be honest, the scrambling and navigation are the real challenges here, as this route isn’t super well marked. 

You start in – yup, you guessed it – the lake’s parking lot but instead of walking through the lakeshore, you head uphill through the forest. You’ll pass Hamilton Falls as you go and then follow switchbacks until you reach Hamilton Lake. Then you’ll need to search for the route up to Emerald Peak and begin the steep climb up. There’s also some scrambling involved as you get closer to the top, but the effort will be worth it when you finally get to stop and admire the aerial views of Emerald Lake and the surrounding mountains.

Go fishing

If you’re a fishing enthusiast, you’ll be happy to know that fishing is allowed on Emerald Lake, as long as you have the appropriate permit. Emerald Lake is an absolutely stunning place to fish, and you’re likely to catch Brook Char or Rainbow Trout while you’re out on the water.

You’ll need a Parks Pass to be at Emerald Lake (more on that later), but if you want to fish you’ll also need a fishing permit which costs $12.75 CAD per day or $44.25 per year for over 16s. Under 16s can fish for free as long as they’re accompanied by an adult who has the right permit. 

If you purchase a fishing permit, it will be valid for use in not just Yoho National Park, but also in Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay National Park. To get ahold of a permit, you can visit any of the visitor centers for these parks, but the closest one to Emerald Lake is the Yoho Visitor Center, which is about 15 minutes away. 

As for a boat, the easiest thing to do is rent a canoe from the Emerald Sports Boathouse, which we talked about above. This costs $90 CAD per hour and you can take boats out from 8 am onwards during the summer. This is a popular thing to do, so try to get there early! 

Go for a swim 

There’s nothing like a cold dip on a warm summer’s day – especially when the water looks this inviting! Emerald Lake is pretty darn cold but we love finishing off a hike with a quick swim in the lake. And since this lake is so unique, it’s just cool to be able to say that you’ve gone swimming in it!

4. When is the best time to visit Emerald Lake?

Daniel poses for a photo at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
I almost blend in with the lake!

July and August are the best months to visit Emerald Lake because this is when that glacial flour floats closest to the lake’s surface, so the emerald hue is most impressive during this time. Plus, since the vibrant color is caused by reflecting, it always looks best in the sunshine. 

Not only does the lake look its best during the peak summer months, but this is also when the temperatures are warmest so you can enjoy chilling lakeside, go hiking, or even swim in the bright green waters! The water here is VERY cold (around 4-5°C/39-41°F), so the thought of braving it is only tolerable on a warm summer day (and even then, we don’t blame you if you decide to skip the dip).

As we said before, it’s best to get there before 10 am to get a spot in the public parking lot, and then you can spend as long as you like exploring! There’s plenty to do here, so it is worth an early(ish) start.

5. Can you visit Emerald Lake in winter?

Emerald Lake in winter, Yoho National Park
Right before the lake freezes!

You certainly can! The lake is open all year round, although we will say that this isn’t really the right time of year to come and admire its bright green color. This is partly because it freezes over, and also because there’s usually a ton of snow on the surface which obscures the ice anyway. 

With that being said, Emerald Lake is still absolutely beautiful in the winter, just in a different way. With the Emerald Lake Lodge situated in the middle of the lake, the entire view looks like the front of a Christmas card, with snow-covered mountains in the background.

Due to the deep snow, you can’t skate on the lake, but Emerald Lake is a prime destination for backcountry skiing in the Rockies. In fact, the Emerald Lake Slide Path is regarded as one of the best runs in the area and it offers skiers incredible views of the President Mountain Range. 

Plus, it’s a lot cheaper to stay at the Emerald Lake Lodge during the winter, so if you’re keen to live out a Hallmark Christmas Movie fantasy then you could definitely take advantage of the reduced rates. Every room here is basically a tiny cabin equipped with a wood-burning fireplace. There’s something so cozy about a fire on a winter’s night!

Here are our favorite things to do at Emerald Lake in the winter:

Go snowshoeing

Snowshoeing in the Rockies is so much fun and Emerald Lake is absolutely enchanting during the winter. Plus, the loop around the lake is fairly easy to snowshoe, and you don’t have to do the entire circuit – you can always turn back if you get tired, as snowshoeing does require a fair amount of energy. 

If you’re staying at the Emerald Lake Lodge, you can rent snowshoes from there, but otherwise, you’ll need to rent them from Banff. Thankfully, there are plenty of choices in the area. Banff Adventures and Ultimate Banff have snowshoe rentals from $16-$18 CAD per day but trust us, you definitely won’t struggle to find a pair of snowshoes in Banff! 

Cross country skiing 

Emerald Lake is amazing for cross-country skiing in the winter, and there are some great trails around. You can rent cross-country skis from the Boathouse or somewhere like Ultimate Banff for about $25 CAD per day. The staff at the boathouse will also be happy to give you lots of info on the best trails and current conditions, so don’t be shy to go and ask! 

The 8-km (5-mile) Alluvial Fan Loop is great for beginners, or more advanced skiers can take the beautiful Connector Trail from Emerald Lake to the Natural Bridge. It’s a similar length but the terrain is more difficult, so this one is for more experienced skiers. 

Related Read: I absolutely love visiting Banff around Christmas. It’s a winter wonderland with a special kind of magic about it!

6. Is it free to visit Emerald Lake?

Restaurant at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
Restaurant at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Yep, there’s no admission fee to the lake itself but you do need a Parks Canada Pass to be inside Yoho National Park. So technically, it’s not really free, but once you’ve sorted your pass you won’t have to pay for tickets to the lake itself or anything.

A day pass to access Yoho National Park is $11 CAD or you can opt for a group pass for up to 7 people in the same vehicle for $22 CAD. If you’re planning to visit more than one national park or spend a week or two in one, it may be worth purchasing the yearly Discovery Pass. I have more info on that below.

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

7. Is there parking at Emerald Lake? 

Parking lot at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
People park all along the road!

Yes, but it can be a bit of a nightmare during the summer months. There’s one public parking lot at Emerald Lake, but it fills up fairly quickly. If you’re driving to Emerald Lake, we recommend getting there before 10 am to make sure you get a spot, otherwise, you’re going to waste a lot of time queuing when you could be exploring the Rockies instead! 

The parking lot is usually completely full by lunchtime, but if you do arrive late you can sometimes find parking along the left-hand side of the road that leads up to the lake. However, this does mean that you will have to walk for a while. It’s much easier to just get there early in the morning when there are still parking spaces available in the main lot. 

Of course, if you’re staying at the Emerald Lake Lodge then you’ll be able to use the guest parking lot. This is just over a kilometer (0.6 miles) away from the lodge and the lake itself, but you can use the phone booth there to request a pickup if you don’t want to walk.

Related Read: For more parking tips in the Rockies, check out our guides on how to get parking at Lake Louise and parking alternatives for Moraine Lake since the access road to Moraine Lake isn’t open to the public anymore.

8. Where are the best places to visit Emerald Lake from?

Scenic views of the walking street in Banff Town
Banff!

Emerald Lake is located in Yoho National Park, which is on the border of British Columbia and Alberta. It’s location is perfect for exploring the Rocky Mountains from a handful of places!

Field

Field is situated inside of Yoho National Park, so it’s easy to access Emerald Lake from here! It’s home to the Yoho Visitor Centre, which is handy for getting information about conditions before you head out on a hike. Field is a really small town with a population of fewer than 200 people, and it’s got a very quaint, charming, and super friendly feel to it. 

Field is 12 km (7.5 miles) from Emerald Lake and will take you about 20 minutes to drive there.

Lake Louise

If you’re a fan of goregous alpine lakes, you’ll probably also stop by Lake Louise. Although it’s a small mountain village, there are lots of cool things to do here and a good place to stay. Plus, the lake is a great ski destination during the winter!

Lake Louise is only 37 km (23 miles) from Emerald Lake, so it’s just a 35-minute drive away.

Golden

Located 65 km (40 miles) from Emerald Lake, Golden is an amazing, severely underrated small town with a ton of awesome attractions, from walking across the new Golden Skybridge to whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River.

Six national parks actually surround Golden, so it’s an awesome base for exploring the Canadian Rockies, and we’re actually pretty taken with its old-world downtown area, too. 

Banff

Banff is an hour’s drive from Yoho National Park, and you probably don’t need us to tell you that it’s one of the most famous places in the Canadian Rockies. We’ve been there dozens (if not hundreds) of times, and we’re yet to get bored of it! You can stay in Banff all year round and since it’s 94 km (58 miles) from Emerald Lake, you can easily take a day trip to explore the lake.

Canmore

We lived in Canmore so obviously, we’re a bit biased towards it, but come on, what’s not to love about a beautiful mountain playground with awesome hiking trails, lots of skiing opportunities, and a buzzing craft beer scene

Canmore is just a little further from Emerald Lake than the destinations we’ve listed above, but it still only takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to make the 116 km (72 miles) journey by car. Plus, because it isn’t inside a national park, it’s usually cheaper to stay in Canmore (although you will still need a Parks Pass to enter Yoho National Park).

9. What are the best tours that visit Emerald Lake?

Bailey stands on the edge and admires the views at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
Emerald Lake!

Lake Louise and Yoho National Park Tour from Calgary or Banff

See some of the most iconic lakes in the Rockies with this full-day tour of Lake Louise and Yoho National Park including a stop at Emerald Lake of course. This is a scenic guided tour to some of our all-time favorite locations!

You’ll start with pickup in Banff or Calgary and begin your day at Lake Louise (we’re already off to a flying start!), where you’ll have around two hours to explore the trail around the lake and take as many photos as you please.

If you’re visiting Lake Louise in winter, from November to mid-April, you’re also in for a seasonal treat! As part of this tour, there’s a free, 20-minute snowshoeing experience included, which was one of our personal highlights.

Depending on what time of year it is, you’ll then head to Moraine Lake or Vermillion Lake and pass by the stunning Spiral Tunnels railroad. Believe us when we say that Moraine Lake is one of our favorite places in Banff National Park, not only is it incredibly stunning with its crystal-clear waters, but we got engaged there too!

Then it’s off to Yoho National Park’s Emerald Lake, whose waters really are the most wonderful turquoise color imaginable! This is only a quick stop to take in the beauty of the lake and snap some amazing photos before you head off to the Natural Bridge. This rock formation over the Kicking Horse River will have you in awe of how powerful water can be in shaping landscapes.

While in Yoho National Park, there’s also a good chance you’ll see some local wildlife nearby, so keep an eye out for elk and other cute woodland critters who call the area home.

The cost of this tour includes your national park fee, a tour guide, an air-conditioned vehicle, and you won’t have to worry about having cash on hand for gratuities because they’re already included. At $160 CAD per person, this is a wonderful deal, too! 

Discover Grizzly Bears from Banff

Boo the bear in Golden, BC
Boo is such a beautiful bear!

This full-day tour to spot grizzly bears is an amazing opportunity to get up close to some of Canada’s most fearsome (but equally fascinating!) creatures and get in some epic sightseeing. Across 10 hours, you’ll be on one of the top bus tours from Banff to explore two of the top destinations in BC – the incredible Golden and Yoho areas that the grizzly bears call home.

After pickup from Banff, you’ll get a gondola ride up to the summit of Kicking Horse Mountain – if you’re lucky, you may spot a grizzly bear below! At the top of the mountain, you’ll enjoy an included gourmet lunch at Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, the highest restaurant in Canada.

After this, you’ll pay a visit to Boo, an orphaned grizzly bear who was adopted by the friendly folks over at the Grizzly Bear Refuge.

The bus then travels to Yoho National Park, where you’ll get a front-row seat to see Emerald Lake and Takkakaw Falls which is the second-tallest waterfall in Canada! Aside from being incredibly beautiful stops, this area is also home to grizzly bears and lots of other local wildlife. So you’ll not only get to see grizzlies but also do some fantastic sightseeing!

It’s quite a long day, but you’re sure to have many cherished memories and photos by the end of it. It’s the perfect way to explore the Golden and Yoho areas from Banff, especially if you don’t have the time to stay there longer.

Your $312 CAD ticket includes your gondola ride, lunch at Eagle’s Eye, admission, and a chairlift ride to the Bear Refuge, as well as return transport to the Mount Royal Hotel in Banff.

Related Read: Another way I’ve seen grizzlies is from the air while riding on the Lake Louise Gondola! It’s one of the best things to do in Lake Louise – only a 30-minute drive away!

Full-Day Private Tour from Banff

If you’re after a longer tour you can customize, this full-day private tour is the way to go.

You can enjoy time at Emerald Lake, travel along the Icefields Parkway to take in some of the amazing stops or pop by to see Lake Louise. There would even be plenty of time to see the mighty 373 meters (1,224 ft) Takakkaw Falls which is the second tallest waterfall in Canada!

Since it’s just you and your group, you can customize it to ensure that you get to visit all of your must-see natural attractions in Yoho National Park and beyond. It includes all of your transportation from your desired pick-up location in Banff and up to 10 hours of exploring. The price varies on group size, so for 2 people it is $688 CAD per person, and for 6 people it is $385 CAD per person (and it gets cheaper up to 14 people).

Rockies Select 2-Day Tour (Banff and Yoho National Park) 

Obviously, you’ll want to explore Banff National Park as well as Yoho National Park, and this 2-day tour lets you do both!

You’ll start off with a visit to Sulphur Mountain for an optional ride up the Banff Gondola (make sure you add this on when booking!) then onto Bow Falls before grabbing lunch and having free time to stroll around downtown Banff.

Your afternoon of Day 1 is spent exploring the Hoodoos Trail and one of my favorite spots – the stunning Johnston Canyon. The canyon and its waterfalls are incredible all year round and this tour includes free crampons during winter in Banff so you can hike the trail to see the magical frozen waterfalls! After a busy day, you’ll spend a night at a comfy hotel in Banff.

Then on the second day, you’ll explore Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, which saves you the headache of trying to get there yourself (which, trust us, can definitely be quite frustrating). Then continue onto Yoho National Park to see Emerald Lake, the Spiral Tunnels, and the Natural Bridge. 

The tour costs around $635 CAD per person (including the $60 CAD gondola ride!) and breakfast and accommodations are included as well. You can start and end in either Banff or Calgary, and we think it’s a really good way to explore the area if you haven’t got a lot of time. 

Private Tour of Banff and Yoho Parks from Calgary

If big group tours aren’t your thing, then this private tour of Banff and Yoho could be a better way for you to explore both Banff and Yoho National Parks. This tour is based out of Calgary, so it’s a good way to see the national parks if you are on a tight timeline.

With so many breathtaking sights and hidden gems, let a Rocky Mountain local customize your trip to what you want to see. We also like that the guides know how to avoid crowds and are always happy to take photos for you so you can be in the pictures too!

Stops on this tour can include Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls (which is especially spectacular in the spring when all the melting snow makes it extra powerful!), the Spiral Tunnels, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake. Of course, you can add other stops or choose to spend more time wherever you like.

The price of this tour depends on how many people you’re booking for. It’s $688 CAD per person for 2 people but drops to $440 each if you’re booking for a group of 10.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

10. Is Emerald Lake as busy as Lake Louise or Moraine Lake?

A lady sits on a rock at Lake Louise looking out over the water at the glacier and mountains
Lake Louise!
Bailey canoes on the blue water on Moraine Lake, Banff
Escaping the crowds on the water at Moraine Lake!

Despite how the photos above make it look, if you’ve ever been to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, you’ll know how busy they can be! Both lakes welcome over 4 million visitors annually, so you’ll be hard-pressed to find a time of day without another person around. But, I understand why – look how beautiful they are!

Luckily, Emerald Lake isn’t half as busy and is just as beautiful in my opinion. While there are still a good amount of visitors, they typically stay around the car park area, where you can get the iconic photo of the Emerald Lake Lodge. 

So if you’re looking for a secluded day enjoying the outdoors, surrounded by a vibrant green alpine lake, you can certainly find that at Emerald Lake! Take the Emerald Lake Loop and while you’ll see a few people, the crowds definitely dissipate the further out you go. Or, follow the Emerald Basin Trail to find the most secluded corner or the lake and mountain valley. This is my favorite trail to hike when I want to escape the crowds.

11. Are there restaurants at Emerald Lake?

The restaurant at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
The restaurant at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Cilantro 

Cilantro Cafe is a cozy spot that serves coffee, cakes, salads, sandwiches, and even pizzas and burgers if you’re in the mood for something a bit heartier! To be honest, we don’t think that the food is that great, but the real draw here is the view, which is incredible. 

It is worth noting that the cafe doubles up as a wedding venue during the summer, so if that’s the case on the day of your visit then you’ll just have to grab something from the takeout window and eat it al fresco.

Mount Burgess Dining Room 

For a more sophisticated dining experience, the Mount Burgess Dining Room is a refined restaurant where you can have dinner by the lake (just make sure to book a table ahead of time). They have a seasonal menu that includes fancy dishes like lobster rice pudding and elk striploin steaks, and their game meat is sourced from the company’s own Calgary-based ranch. It’s not the place to eat if you want a quick bite before heading back to your hotel, but we think it’s a perfect spot for a romantic dinner! 

12. Is there cell phone reception at Emerald Lake?

The bridge to the Emerald Lake Lodge at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
The bridge to the Emerald Lake Lodge at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

No, there isn’t. We love unplugging when we’re out in nature, but obviously, it’s a good idea to download offline maps if you want to tackle the area’s hiking trails.

Walking around the edge of the lake is fairly self-explanatory but you might need some guidance for the longer and more challenging routes (but more on those later). 

There is WiFi at the Emerald Lake Lodge, but it’s for guests only, so unless you’re going to be staying the night, come prepared! 

13. What are the best campsites near Emerald Lake?

man cooking on the fire at a campsite
Camping is so much fun!

There are no campsites at Emerald Lake itself, but there are several nearby in Yoho National Park. Some are better suited to RVs while others are better for tents. We’ve broken it all down for you below, but note that all of the campgrounds are only open during the summer. 

Kicking Horse Campground 

We think that Kicking Horse Campground is the best campground in Yoho National Park. It’s open from May until early October, and you will need to book this one in advance. It costs $30.50 CAD per night and the sites are for tents and campervans or RVs, although do be aware that there’s not much privacy if you’re staying in a tent. It does have flushing toilets, showers, and firepits, though, and all in all, it’s a pretty comfortable campground. 

Monarch Campground 

Monarch is the overflow campground for Kicking Horse. It’s non-bookable and open from May until mid-September. It’s cheaper than Kicking Horse at $19.75 CAD per night, but the fact that it’s the second choice for people who missed out on camping at Kicking Horse should tell you something. It has potable water, dry toilets, and a sanitary dump, but that’s about it in terms of facilities. It’s not bad if you’re in a camper or RV, but it’s not great for camping in tents because it’s right next to the highway, so you’ll probably be disturbed by the noise. 

Takakkaw Falls 

The Takakkaw Falls campground is open from mid-June to early October, and it’s a super convenient place to stay if you want to do the famous hike from Takakkaw Falls through the Yoho Valley to the Stanley Mitchell Hut. You can also hike to Emerald Lake from here! A site costs $19.75 CAD per night and has dry toilets, bear lockers, and firepits, and it’s definitely more peaceful than Monarch Campground. 

Hoodoo Creek 

Situated in an open meadow, Hoodoo Creek is a 30-minute drive from Emerald Lake and is an unserviced campground with a sheltered cooking area, dry toilets, and fire pits. It costs $16.75 CAD per night to stay here and it’s open from mid-June to early September. There are lots of great hikes near here, including the Hoodoos trail which is one of our favorites! 

14. Is Emerald Lake wheelchair friendly?

Ish. You can definitely enjoy the beauty of the lake in a wheelchair, but the hiking trails aren’t wheelchair friendly, so you won’t get the full experience. With that being said, the pathway from the parking lot and the start of the loop around the lake can be navigated in a wheelchair, so it’s possible to hang out lakeside and enjoy the views. 

15. Can you bring dogs to Emerald Lake? 

The bridge to access the Emerald Lake Lodge at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
It can get busy on the bridge!

Yes, you can! Emerald Lake is a very pet-friendly destination.

The Emerald Lake Lodge actually has dog-friendly rooms and the Boathouse allows you to take your dog in their canoes, too, so this place is perfect if you want to explore the Rockies with a four-legged friend. 

16. Tips for visiting Emerald Lake

Chairs overlook Emerald Lake at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
Chairs overlooking paradise!

Bring snacks: 

Emerald Lake is awesome and we love hanging out here, but at some point, you’re going to get hungry and to be honest, the food at the cafe is only okay. Plus, it gets super busy and sometimes closes for weddings during the summer, so you might find yourself waiting a long time for your food. We think you’re better off saving your money and packing a picnic or some snacks to enjoy by the lakeside.

Arrive early:

It’s pretty much impossible to find a spot in the public parking lot after 10 am during the summer (unless you feel like wasting half of your day in a queue, that is). You can easily enjoy a whole day here, so get to the lake early, bag a prime parking spot, and then take in the beauty of the water before it gets busy. 

Stay for sunset:

The middle of the day is the best time to see the brilliant emerald hue of the lake, but the sunset here is absolutely stunning. Watching the mountains in the background light up as the sky and the water change color really is an epic experience. Plus, the lake really quiets down towards the end of the day so this can be a really peaceful experience, too. 

Bring bug spray:

We hate to say it, but mosquitoes are rife around here. Make sure to bring a reputable brand of bug spray and reapply it regularly. This is true whether you’re hiking or just chilling out by the water. The worst months for mosquitoes are July and August which, unfortunately, is also when the lake is at its most beautiful, so pack some spray and don’t let them ruin your fun. 

Allow at least 3 hours:

There’s a ton to do at Emerald Lake, from hiking to canoeing and SUPing, so don’t rush. It’s such a nice place to hang out and explore at your own pace, however you want to do it. We recommend allowing at least 3 hours to visit the lake, but to be honest, you could easily spend the whole day relaxing here.

Bring bear spray:

There’s a ton of amazing wildlife around Emerald Lake, but this does mean that you’ll need to bring bear spray with you if you want to hike. Bear spray doesn’t do any lasting damage to bears, and it might just save your life in a worst-case scenario! Make sure you know how to use bear spray before heading out on a hike, keep your eyes peeled for scat, and ideally hike in a group. 

17. Is visiting Emerald Lake worth it? 

A person canoes at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
Yes!

Yes! We love Emerald Lake and think it’s absolutely stunning.

Plus, to be honest, it’s a lot easier than visiting Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, and it’s just as beautiful. Parking is a nightmare at Lake Louise at all times of day, and the road to Moraine Lake is closed to private vehicles so exploring requires a lot of planning or a private tour.

Emerald Lake is the new top spot to explore, so get yourself there before everybody catches on!

Where to Stay Near Emerald Lake

A lady stands in front fo the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
The Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise is not that far from Emerald Lake and is the perfect luxury option.

If a visit to Emerald Lake is in your future, there are a few different options for staying nearby. Of course, you can camp in Yoho National Park at one of the campsites we mentioned earlier. But if you’re interested in a hotel, there are a few options!

Emerald Lake Lodge

If you want to stay right at Emerald Lake and wake up to those incredible views, the Emerald Lake Lodge is the ultimate place to stay. The lodge is located in Yoho National Park right on the shores of Emerald Lake – you can’t stay any closer to the lake than this!

My favorite part is that every room is basically a mini-cabin – right down to having private entrances and a wood-burning fireplace! You can toss a few logs on and listen to a crackling fire while watching darkness fall over the lake. Sounds like a perfect evening to me.

While rooms here are not cheap, this would be an amazing place for a romantic getaway near Banff or to celebrate a special occasion. You can book a room here online through Booking.com.

Field

The small town of Field is only 15 minutes from Emerald Lake, so it’s a nice choice if seeing the lake is your main reason for being in the area.

For a cozy place to stay, Charlie’s Guesthouse is basically a little walkout basement suite in the mountains. It has all you need to spend a few days including a small kitchen, fireplace, and laundry facilities. Plus, the hosts are super friendly and are upstairs to help if you need anything!

The Canadian Rockies Inn is a more upscale place to stay in Field. It’s an apartment that’s divided into separate suites each with private bathrooms and kitchenettes. This is an adults-only property, so it’s best if you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or with friends. The Rocky Mountains are your backdrop while staying here, so the location is pretty incredible!

Lake Louise

Emerald Lake is only a half-hour drive from Lake Louise. So you can opt to stay in Lake Louise and make the short drive to the lake after you’re done taking in all the best activities Lake Louise has to offer!

The Lake Louise Inn is a nice mid-range hotel with some recent renovations. It has an indoor pool, onsite restaurant and bar, modern rooms, and even apartments for larger groups. My favorite part is that all guest rooms have balconies, cozy fireplaces, and views of the mountains!

If you really want to spoil yourself, the iconic Fairmont Château Lake Louise is my pick. This grand hotel sits on the shoreline of Lake Louise – it’s a location you’ll have to see to believe! Spending a night or two here is on my personal bucket list.

Related Read: For additional places to stay in the area, check out our recommendations for where to stay in Golden, BC, and the best hotels in Banff!

Renting a Car in British Columbia

A rural road with Mt Currie in the background
Road trips are the best way to explore Canada!

If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane, then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province, and traveling between the best places to visit in BC requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Car rental in Canada isn’t relatively cheap, but it’s not that expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pick-up and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though, depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Discover Cars. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used Discover Cars all over the world, including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic, you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel at the edge of Lake Louise in Banff
Thanks for reading!

Well there you have it, all you need to know to explore Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. This lake definitely deserves a spot in your travel plans and a photo or two on your Instagram feed! Whether you hike the trails, take a canoe on the lake, or spend a night at the Emerald Lake Lodge, you won’t want to miss seeing this beautiful place in person.

If you need any more help planning your trip to the Rockies, make sure to browse around our other Canada blogs. After living and traveling all over Alberta and BC, I have lots of tips to share to make your trip amazing! Here are a few to get you started:

25 FUN Things to do in Lake Louise in Summer

16 Absolute BEST Tours in Banff (that you don’t want to miss!)

12 BEST Stops on the Drive from Calgary to Golden