During our 6-night stay in Banff, we spent the last 2 days covering the less visited neighboring national parks: Yoho National Park and Kootenay National Park. Although they are located in British Columbia, these 2 national parks still observe Mountain Time Zone instead of Pacific Time Zone. So, we did not gain an additional hour visiting the parks.
Yoho National Park, named after the Cree word meaning “awe”, has several stunning places and one of them is Lake O’Hara. Lake O’Hara is indeed a paradise inaccessible by most people due to its exclusivity. Yet, we somehow managed to secure the most coveted bus rides to it. The general consensus is if you only have one opportunity to experience the finest view of the Canadian Rockies, this is it. Regular vehicles are prohibited from entering into this area, but there are 2 ways to get in: a 6.8-mile one-way hike just to the base of Lake O’Hara or get bus tickets provided by Parks Canada. There are 2 bus rides going in per day carrying a max total of 42 hikers due to the strict quota system to protect the fragile alpine environment. Every year, 17000 users tried to secure these coveted bus tickets when the reservation line opens every April, and only 1000 of them succeeded. So, on April 20, 2018, 5 minutes before 8 MDT, I refreshed the Parks Canada website repeatedly. To my dismay, everything was fully booked from June to October the moment the reservation line opened. However, my persistence paid off after refreshing the website for half hour, and somehow, we managed to secure these bus tickets on the exact day and time slot we wanted.
During our all-day hike at Lake O’Hara, the rain poured the whole day with the temperature hovering between low 40s and mid 50s. However, armed with some tasty snacks, rain gears, gloves and plastic-bag-wrapped camera, we were ready to roll. We initially planned to hike the whole alpine circuit loop for 7.4 miles, but part of the trails including Yukness Ledges and Opabin Plateau were still heavily covered with snow and avalanche debris. After consulting with the park wardens, we hiked part of the loop, covering the strenuous and treacherous Wiwaxy Gap, which connects to Huber Ledges, and finally followed Lake Oesa Trail back to Lake O’Hara. The Wiwaxy Gap is only 1.3 miles long but we gained over 1600 feet in elevation… a rather steep hike where we had to cross a dangerous part of avalanche debris with a pretty serious drop to the bottom. In Yoho National Park, we also covered Natural Bridge, Emerald Lake and Takakkaw Falls.
Kootenay National Park, named after the people of Ktunaxa, has been constantly ravaged by forest fires in the recent years. On our “rest day”, we did short and easy hikes at Marble Canyon and Paint Pots before soaking ourselves in the Radium Hot Springs pool to soothe our sore muscles.