Paddling Emerald Lake offers a completely different perspective on the landscape. Carleen Nugent photo.

Emerald Lake: A must-visit destination no matter the season!

Emerald Lake is a popular tourist destination for many and it’s easy to see why. The water’s stunning colours and its secluded location make it a perfectly picturesque spot. While living in Banff, only an hour’s drive away, experiencing this one-of-a-kind location was a must on my to-do list.

In fact, I was lucky enough to visit this marvellous site twice, once during the summer and again during winter.

While we’re currently advised to refrain from non-essential travel, this is the perfect time to gather inspiration and ideas for future visits…. So, come escape with me and discover this must-see destination!

Emerald Lake’s vibrant colour comes from sunlight reflecting off of the mixture of calcium carbonate and clay on the lake bed. Carleen Nugent photo.

Emerald Lake’s vibrant colour comes from sunlight reflecting off of the mixture of calcium carbonate and clay on the lake bed. Carleen Nugent photo.

Discover Emerald Lake

Nestled in British Columbia’s Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake is the largest body of water of the park’s 61 lakes and ponds. Surrounded by many towering mountains, you’ll enjoy remarkable views of the President Range, Mount Burgess and Wapta Mountain.

The lake’s high elevation means it freezes over from November to early June, with the iconic colour making its appearance in summer. While the setting itself is relatively secluded, it was easy to get to from the Trans Canada Highway – but if you didn’t know it was there you could easily drive by not knowing the beauty that just passed you by.

A little history…

Famous mountain guide Tom Wilson came upon this secret slice of paradise in 1882 while tracking a team of horses that had escaped him. Due to the water’s extraordinary blue-green colour, he dubbed it Emerald Lake, although this wasn’t the first lake he gave that name to!

The other Emerald Lake that Wilson named was renamed shortly after to honour Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. As you may have guessed, that lake is now the ever-famous Lake Louise! In fact, it wasn’t just a body of water that was named to honour the Queen’s fourth daughter, the actual province of Alberta itself was named after her as well.

Experiencing the lake in summer

I visited Emerald Lake with my best friend in August of 2019. Together, we made the hour drive from Banff quickly and uneventfully – I had high hopes of spotting a bear, but no such luck!

As we planned the visit spontaneously, we knew we were taking a bit of a gamble arriving later in the day when the crowds were likely bigger. Luckily, fortune was on our side and after circling the parking lot once, we spotted a space.

As the lake came into view, we stopped in our tracks, awestruck. The vibrant colour of the water was unlike anything I’d seen before and paired with mountains and the forest areas that surrounded us, it created quite the stunning setting.

After taking a moment to soak in our surroundings, we walked the 5.2 km trail circling the lake, with the breaks in trees offering new views of the water. While the first half of the path was paved, the portion near the back of the lake became more uneven, so if you’re taking a stroller I’d suggest turning around halfway rather than trying to tackle the terrain.

Following the walk, we rented a canoe at Emerald Lake Canoe Rentals & The Boathouse Trading Co. for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Paddling offers a completely different perspective on the landscape, and we soaked in the panoramic views from the middle of it all while our canoe gently rocked back and forth above the emerald waters.

The water’s vibrant colour comes from sunlight reflecting off of “marl” at the bottom of the lake bed, which is a mixture of calcium carbonate and clay. While the colour is known for being most intense in early summer months, we weren’t disappointed with the sparkling colours we saw in late summer.

Seeing Emerald Lake during this season was entirely spectacular – the views will surely stop you in your tracks, making this a must-see spot for your west coast travel destinations.

Emerald Lake in winter was drastically different than during our summer excursion, offering a landscape that was serene, quiet and peaceful.

Emerald Lake in winter was drastically different than during our summer excursion, offering a landscape that was serene, quiet and peaceful.

Revisiting in winter

My winter experience at Emerald Lake differed drastically from our summer excursion, with the winter landscape serene, quiet, peaceful, and colourless.

During the drive, an avalanche blast stopped us on the highway for nearly an hour, listening to the explosions followed by a roar of snow echoing throughout the valley, sending puffs of white soaring upwards in the sky.

Upon arrival, an Emerald Lake Lodge shuttle bus took us to their main lobby so we could check-in for our stay. Dropping off our belongings, we stopped to take everything in: Snow blanketed virtually every area, bleaching the landscape.

While the lake was frozen, hiding the iconic blue-green hue, it didn’t detract from its beauty. This was the most peaceful place I’ve ever visited – so quiet you could hear your own heartbeat, as thick blankets of snow muffled outside sounds. The fact that we didn’t see any other vacationers during our stay added to the serenity: it felt like we had the place to ourselves!

The lake’s sheltered location means no cell reception, so we enjoyed a relaxing, technology-free escape.

There are also no restaurants, grocery stores or gas stations nearby, so be sure to plan accordingly!

While ski and snowshoe rentals were available, we opted for a warmer way to pass our time – wine, charcuterie, a warm wood-burning fire and striking views of Emerald Lake as the moon reflected off the white snow.

Our two trips to Emerald Lake created two completely different experiences, each unforgettable in their own ways – and both highly recommended!

Please note that Health Protocols currently advise against travelling outside your region to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Plan your future adventures throughout the West Coast at westcoasttraveller.com and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @thewestcoasttraveller. And for the top West Coast Travel stories of the week delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly Armchair Traveller newsletter!

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