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This Little-Known Mountain Lake is Like Canada’s Lake Louise Without the Tour Buses

This Little-Known Mountain Lake is Like Canada’s Lake Louise Without the Tour Buses

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Banff National Park’s shimmering turquoise jewels like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are bucket-list worthy for a reason.

But over the last few years, they’ve become so crowded that they can feel more like amusement parks than pristine wilderness areas.

So if you’re not interested in jostling for space amidst a sea of tourists, I recommend you visit the equally stunning but less claustrophobic alternative of Emerald Lake in British Columbia’s Yoho National Park.

If you’re seeking the same breathtaking beauty without the throngs of visitors, Emerald Lake in British Columbia’s Yoho National Park might just be your perfect alternative.

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Discovering Emerald Lake

Tucked away within the less-traveled yet equally enchanting Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake is a serene and unspoiled escape, with just as many next-level views.

Located a short drive from Lake Louise, this hidden gem that’s still under the radar for many travelers. 

If you’ve been searching for something more off the beaten path to experience the splendor of the Canadian Rockies in a more peaceful setting, Emerald Lake is your spot. 

Emerald Lake’s name is no exaggeration. The lake’s vivid green waters are a result of fine glacial sediment suspended in the water. 

This phenomenon paints an otherworldly scene against the backdrop of lush forests and towering peaks.

The tranquility of the lake is palpable, and you’ll never forget the first moment you see the lake.

It seems almost too perfect to be real.

Getting There

Reaching Emerald Lake is relatively straightforward. From Banff, it’s 93 kms and will take you a little over one hour to drive there (plan for about an hour and 15 minutes). 

From Lake Louise, it’s about a 30-minute drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway.

As you cross into British Columbia and enter Yoho National Park, the scenery shifts subtly but significantly, with denser forests and fewer signs of human activity.

The turnoff to Emerald Lake is well-marked, and a winding road leads you directly to the lake’s edge.

Make it a Road Trip!

One of the best parts of visiting Emerald Lake is the journey itself, so I would also recommend giving yourself a little extra time to make a few stops on the way. 

You’ll pass some beautiful lakes, lookout points and the spiral tunnels (I highly recommend making a stop here).

You can learn about the incredible engineering that went into building the railway through here. And if you’re lucky, a train might pass by while you wait. 

There are also dry pit toilets here if you need a bio-break on your road trip. 

Right before the turn off for Emerald Lake you’ll pass through the quaint village of Field, known for its charm. I always describe it as the model train town!

You’ll know exactly what I mean when you get there. 

Tip: Field has a visitor center with clean washrooms (with flush toilets). There’s a gas station and a couple of small restaurants and cafes for a food stop. 

Exploring Emerald Lake: Things to Do

Hiking Trails

Emerald Lake Loop Trail (all levels)

Hiking the Emerald Lake Loop is a must.

This easy 5.2-kilometer trail circumnavigates the lake, offering a variety of perspectives and photo opportunities.

The trail is well-maintained and accessible for all hiking and fitness levels, making it perfect for a leisurely walk or a more vigorous hike.

Burgess Shale Trail (intermediate hikers)

For those seeking a more intense experience, the Burgess Shale hike is challenging yet rewarding and so worth the effort.

This hike takes you through some of the most significant fossil beds in the world, providing a fascinating glimpse into the ancient marine ecosystems that once thrived here.

Be prepared for a full day of hiking and plenty of breathtaking vistas along the way.

Canoeing on Turquoise Water (much cheaper)!

In the warmer months, canoeing on Emerald Lake is an unforgettable experience and is a much more affordable option compared to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake. 

Rentals are available on-site, allowing you to paddle across the emerald waters at your own pace.

The calm, clear lake reflects the surrounding mountains like a mirror, creating a surreal and tranquil environment.

Please note that you cannot bring your own boats or paddleboards on Emerald Lake, you must use one of the rentals on site. 

Canoe rentals on Emerald Lake will run you $90 per hour for the 2024 season. This is much cheaper than $140/hour on Moraine Lake or $155/hour on Lake Louise!


Yes, you can take a dip in Emerald Lake, but you’re going to have to channel your inner Wim Hoff.

The water is extremely cold, even on the hottest days of the summer months (we’re talking 37-41°F or 3-5° C)

Winter Wonderland

Winter transforms Emerald Lake into a snowy wonderland, perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

The trails around the lake are groomed and well-marked, providing a serene winter escape.

The nearby Emerald Lake Lodge, with its cozy accommodations and rustic charm, is an excellent base for winter activities and offers a warm retreat after a day in the snow.

Visiting Emerald Lake Tips: 

  • July and August are the busiest months, expect crowds! Parking can be difficult to find.
  • If you are visiting during these months, arrive early (by 8:30am or earlier) or in the late afternoon (after 5pm).
  • If you’re canoeing, you can bring one dog up to 50lbs (22kgs) on each canoe
  • You need a Parks Canada park pass to visit (if you’ve already purchased one to visit Banff National Park, Emerald Lake is included).
  • Emerald Lake is open year-round, but canoe rentals run from mid-May to early October. 
  • For dining options, Cilantro on the Lake is a cottage-style restaurant right next to the lake, Mount Burgess Dining Room is onsite at the Emerald Lake Lodge, only open for dinner from 5pm onwards or the Kicking Horse Lounge is open from 11am to 10pm.
  • Many weddings take place here in the summer months, especially on Friday and Saturday afternoons and evenings, which could mean these times are extra busy. 

Emerald Lake Lodge: the Ultimate Canadian Rockies Overnight Experience

A visit to Emerald Lake would be incomplete without a stay at the historic Emerald Lake Lodge

This luxurious yet rustic lodge sits right on the lake’s edge, offering unparalleled views and direct access to the water.

The lodge’s wooden architecture, stone fireplaces and limited WiFi offer a cozy retreat to disconnect and enjoy the natural surroundings for a day or two. 

Pair your stay with the exquisite dining options onsite.

Enjoying a meal on the patio, with the lake and mountains as your backdrop, is an experience that rivals any fine dining establishment.

Day visitors usually depart by 5pm, making the long evenings tranquil and quiet, allowing you to soak up incredible mountain views shared with no one else. 

This is why if you’re visiting the Canadian Rockies on a honeymoon or a couples trip, I highly recommend adding an overnight stay (or 2) here at Emerald Lake Lodge. 

See prices and availability for Emerald Lake Lodge here

Why Choose Emerald Lake over Banff and Lake Louise?

While Banff and Lake Louise undoubtedly deserve their place on any travel itinerary, Emerald Lake provides a quieter, more intimate alternative. 

The fewer crowds mean more opportunities to connect with nature and experience the landscape’s true tranquility.

Whether you’re hiking, canoeing, or simply sitting by the water’s edge, Emerald Lake offers a sense of solitude and peace that’s increasingly hard to find in Banff National Park. 

Moreover, Yoho National Park itself is a treasure trove of natural wonders.

From the towering Takakkaw Falls to the enigmatic Spiral Tunnels, the park’s sights and experiences truly rival those of its more popular national park neighbor. 

Emerald Lake just might be the last place to experience the magic of Rockies without the hustle and bustle (and tour buses) of more famous mountain destinations.

Final Thoughts about Visiting Emerald Lake

If you’re researching an alternative to the beauty of Lake Louise without the crowds, Emerald Lake is your answer. This hidden gem in British Columbia’s Yoho National Park offers everything you could want from a mountain lake – stunning scenery, outdoor activities, and a sense of peace and solitude.

As you plan your next adventure to the Canadian Rockies, make sure Emerald Lake is at the top of your list.

You’ll find that the best experiences often come from exploring the lesser-known paths.