Yoho Valley is a gorgeous section of the Yoho National Park that is home to Takakkaw Falls, the second highest waterfall in Canada. Though these falls may be the largest point of interest in the Valley, they are certainly not the only thing to see. There are a number of incredible trails throughout the Valley, most of which I have hiked in the last two summers.
I have spent a total of six days in the Yoho Valley hiking between the last two summers. In August 2020, I spent a single night at the Laughing Falls campground, travelling just as far as Twin Falls before circling back to Laughing for dinner. In July of 2021 I embarked on a far more comprehensive trip through the park, spending 4 days hiking and backpacking from Takakkaw Falls, to the Whaleback, to the Iceline. Though my choice to return may speak to how beautiful this National Park is, I hope to convince you it is worth the trip through this post!
Both of my trips saw very hot weather, although we suffered heavy smoke from the BC fires in 2021. When hiking in hot weather, especially smokey, hot weather, it is imperative to ensure you are drinking enough water and staying out of the sun when possible. Water purification tablets should be carried in case of emergencies by day hikers and backpackers alike. Take frequent breaks, slow down your pace, and be flexible. Sometimes external conditions such as weather can hinder our plans. Be ready to adjust plans or routes and try to ensure you have a direct route out in case of emergency.
Despite this year’s conditions, we were able to complete our trip without much interruption. My group consisted of three hikers, a first for any of my backpacking trips. This turned out to be a perfect-sized group, as we were able to bring only one tent, making the gear much lighter. If you are backpacking through Yoho, bring your own stove and fuel, as these campgrounds don’t have fire pits.
My two-day trip in 2020 consisted of hiking down the Valley to Laughing Falls Campground which is about 3.9 km from the Takakkaw Falls parking lot (and 60 m of elevation). Here we had lunch. The hike to Laughing Falls is largely flat, with one steeper section just before the campground. This would be a very manageable day hike for new or inexperienced hikers or backpackers, as well as a good campground for families just getting into backpacking.
After lunch, we set up camp and left our heavy gear in favour of our day packs. We hiked out to Twin Falls, about 4 km further down the trail and 300 m of elevation to the chalet. There are many trails criss-crossing through Yoho, so check the signs at every crossroad. Each path is clearly marked.
The Twin Falls lookout is about 1 km passed the campground, at the base of the falls. A loop around the area passes by the historic chalet, which is under renovations, a bridge leading towards Marpole Lake and of course the falls themselves. Though both falls were running in 2020, we returned in 2021 to find only one side of the falls active. Historically the changes in river depth above the falls determined whether or not both side ran, but after some human interference and some dynamite, both sides ran at all times. It seems that now stones and debris have once again blocked the left side, leaving the water to rush down the right, solo fall.
Twin Falls campground was our first resting place of my second trip in Yoho Valley. Resting beside the ice blue river, this campground is a gorgeous place to spend the night. Bear hangs are provided at all Yoho Valley backcountry campgrounds, so ensure you have a bag (I recommend a dry bag), that you can store all food and scented items.
Rather than returning back down the Valley as we did on the first trip, during our second we spent two nights at Twin Falls (day 2 of our trip was spent day hiking to the falls and the Yoho Glacier lookout). Day 3 was perhaps our most intimidating day. We were hiking the Whaleback, a 5.7 km section of our hike that would see around 400 m of elevation gained and then lost.
We began hiking at 8:45 that morning, with the hopes of beating the heat to the top of the Whaleback. It is safe to say we met it there. Views were smokey and somewhat ethereal, and the morning spiderwebs were frequent across the trail. The ascent was steep, with switchbacks curving up the side of the mountain before placing us at the top. We made our way to the top of Twin Falls where we stopped for an extended snack break. The cliff around the falls leads to an interesting viewpoint just next to the top, but approach with caution and avoid any wet rocks as the top of the falls has been a notoriously dangerous stop for unwary hikers.
We returned to the trail, crossing the bridge over the rushing water at the top of the falls and made our way across the top of the Whaleback. We stopped again just before the descent, taking a break from our packs. The far side of the mountain from the falls holds a monument to a man who passed away in an avalanche there in 1962. We stopped long enough for a snack and some photos before the horseflies became too numerous to ignore. This was our indication to start climbing back down.
The way down was steep, though we did pass a family with young children on their way up. We reached the bottom by one that afternoon, and stopped to have lunch before continuing the last 3 km to our campsite. The last 3 km were mainly flat as we continued down Little Yoho Valley to the Little Yoho backcountry site. We arrived at the campsite by 3 pm, giving us plenty of time to set up camp and rest before making dinner.
This is a lovely campsite that can also be accessed via the Iceline trail or the Little Yoho Valley trail that intersects with the Yoho Valley trail at Laughing Falls. It could be a single night destination or a stop on a multi-day trip.
Our final day was spent hiking along the Iceline. Similar to the day before, we left the campsite before 9 am in hopes of finishing most of the hike before the heat of the day. The Iceline trail lead us close enough to see the glaciers we were hiking alongside, but the smoke still obscured our view of the valley and mountains across from us. We made it to the summit moraine around 11 am, then continued on across the trail. The Iceline passes by small glacial lakes and creeks, some creek crossings are required. This trail is 11.7 km, with 250 m elevation gain from Little Yoho campground to the Iceline trail, and a 784 m descent to the trailhead (reverse that if you intend to hike the Iceline beginning at the road).
The descent was long and steep in places, with many switchbacks. Our feet and knees were tired at this point in the journey, but we made it to the road, and from there we simply needed to make it back to the Takakkaw Falls parking lot. Emerging from four days in the Yoho wilderness, we were hot and tired, but filled with pride at our accomplishment. I highly recommend Yoho Valley as a destination, whether you are a day hiker or backpacker, and regardless of your experience level. There is something for everyone here.