“Happy Canada Day!" I greeted a fellow hiker on the mountain trail that sunny July 1st. He responded in kind, perhaps unaware I was an American who just happened to enjoy breaking out salutations for non-American holidays. My friend and trekking companion, Leigh-Anne — a proud Canadian from nearby Calgary — was too distracted by the gorgeous weather and the promise of new hiking grounds to engage in our international banter. “It's a bluebird day!" she announced as we pulled into the trailhead's parking lot. Immediately, we were greeted by Yoho's Takakkaw Falls, which enshrouded a stand of soaring conifers within a twinkling mist. Its clear waters gurgled and leaped along a stream bed which wove through the sun-spotted forest. Bluebird, indeed. Many people associate adventures in the Canadian Rockies with the ever-popular Banff National Park, but there's another area of comparable splendor just next door: Yoho National Park. Its name may sound like the start of a pirate ditty, but it's actually derived from an old Cree Indian word, meaning awe and amazement. And there was no shortage of either on its lesser known trails, packed as they were with spectacular views of glaciers and waterfalls.
Its clear waters gurgled and leaped along a stream bed which wove through the sun-spotted forest."
Takakkaw Falls was only the first of these visual treats. A few hours of hiking later, we came upon Laughing Falls, which galloped from its glacial source high above and spilled over a series of boulders, before rioting among the fir trees in white, foamy rapids. The trail ascended from there to the grass field of Little Yoho Valley, above which glaciers and mountains rose, sentry-like. From time to time, small gophers popped their heads from their underground lairs, either in greeting or warning—we weren't sure. The valley, and more specifically the Stanley Mitchell Hut therein, would be our base of operations for the next few days. A shelter maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada, the hut was already hosting several other Canadian hikers enjoying their holiday weekend. We befriended a quartet of two mothers and their daughters from Calgary and Toronto, and two neuroscientists from Montreal. “The only thing that would make this more Canadian is if salmon were jumping upstream," Chris the neuroscientist joked, referring to our nearby water source. “This water was probably in the glacier up there about thirty minutes ago," Leigh-Anne said, pointing out the snowy caps in sight, as she purified a bag of wild water with her filtration system. That glacier was another one of our destinations within the Cree Indian wilderness. We walked for several kilometers on connecting trails, scrambling over boulder fields in some parts, to gaze upon sights like the viridescent Marpole Lake, a virtually quiet and serene scene in contrast to the roaring white noise of Twin Falls, a few thousand steps away. Hiking up switchbacks to the source of the double cascades, we were awarded with spectacular views of the mountains. “I guess this is a good enough view," Leigh-Anne joked as we sat for a snack. "Oh, it'll do," I said. The crown jewel, however, was the Iceline Trail, which was a trying, but ultimately rewarding endeavor. Prior to starting the hike, we received a wide range of opinions from other hikers about this particular trail, ranging from “totally miserable"—there was a dire warning about water crossings that went up to one's knees—to “totally worth it." Following the suggestions of the mothers and daughters we'd met at the hut, Leigh-Anne and I decided to go for it. We were so glad we did. The views from the Iceline revealed hidden peaks above the Yoho Valley we couldn't see before. At this higher elevation, patches of snow dotted the ground. There were also a few ankle-deep water crossings, which we traversed on stepping stones, warm and dry in our formidable, GORE-TEX fabric lined boots. As beautiful as the hike up was, it wasn't until we came upon a group of sparkling, milky blue lakes, fed by the nearby Emerald Glacier, that I understood why this particular Cree word was chosen for this patch of earth. Though, to be perfectly frank, even "awe" and "amazement" could only partially capture the spirit of Yoho. But don't take my word for it. Get out there and see it for yourself.