In Cree, one of Canada's most widely spoken aboriginal languages, 'Yoho' means awe and wonder, and it is easy to see why Yoho National Park was given this name when you start exploring and discover some of the beautiful natural features of its scenic landscape.
Driving into Yoho from Lake Louise in the east via Highway 1 you enter Kicking Horse Pass, a high mountain pass which presented Canadian-Pacific Railway its biggest challenge when it was trying to build a railway line to link Canada from east to west in the late 1880s. Twenty-five years and several fatalities after the first railway line was built going straight over the mountain pass, two spiral tunnels were built inside the mountains, reducing the hill's gradient from 4.5% to 2.2%. There is a viewpoint along Highway 1 about 14km west of Lake Louise where you can see two of the tunnel entrances in the mountainside and if you're very lucky, a train entering or emerging from the mountain.
North-west of this viewpoint, signposted off Highway 1, are Takakkaw Falls which are among the highest waterfalls in Canada. Icy water from the Daly Glacier tumbles 260m in a long, narrow waterfall, spraying visitors standing at the bottom with a fine mist. The falls are truly 'magnificent' as their name in Cree suggests and are accessible via a short trail from the nearby car park.
Equally splendid is Natural Bridge, a few kilometres to the south-west, which is a rock formation sculpted by the erosive forces of Kicking Horse River as it rushes over what was once a waterfall. At the lookout point you can see the rock formation from various angles and stand close to where the water gushes past with considerable force.
Continuing north you will arrive at Emerald Lake. The largest of Yoho National Park's 61 lakes, Emerald Lake is surrounded by mountains and is named about the milky turquoise colour of its waters, which is caused by suspended particles of glacial sediment.
There is a 5km walking trail all the way round the lake and in the summer, if the weather is fine, you can hire a canoe and take in this amazing spectacle on the water itself. A bridge takes you across from the small lakeside shop to a restaurant with a patio and outside booth for hot drinks and snacks and beyond that there are holiday chalets and Emerald Lake Lodge, where we stopped for a cup of tea and a bowl of soup.
The jewel in the crown of Yoho National Park are the Burgess Shale Fossil Beds, some of the world's oldest and most significant fossil beds, dating back 500 million years. They were discovered during a 1909 field trip by Charles Walcott, a renowned geologist and head of the Smithsonian Institution and in the following seven years he quarried and collected 65,000 specimens. His work uncovered a remarkable variety of exquisitely preserved, soft-bodied marine mammals.
Due to the sensitive nature of the fossil sites and their huge significance in furthering our understanding of the emergence of animal life, they are accessible only by a pre-booked guided tour led by a Parks Canada Heritage Interpreter. Three hikes of varying degrees of difficulty to different fossil sites are available for a maximum of 12 people at any one time. They are all very popular and book up fast. If you manage to secure a place on one, you will learn about the geology of the surrounding landscape and some of the bizarre Burgess Shale creatures, such as the Hallucigenia, a long, thin creature no more than 3cm long with a double row of spikes on its back and a tubular tail.
Back to civilisation, the village of Field is home to most of Yoho National Park's human inhabitants, who number about 200, and also the Park's visitor centre. An authentic mountain treat, Field was established in the 1880s as a siding for the Canadian-Pacific Railway. Today you can find accommodation all year round, a few craft shops and the excellent Truffle Pigs Bistro.
Other sights worth a look in Yoho National Park include Wapta Falls, the largest waterfall in Kicking Horse Valley at 150m wide and 30m high, accessible by a 1.5km trail in the summer season, and Lake O'Hara at 2,115m above sea level, which is accessible by a bus on which you need to reserve a seat or an 11km hike.
Yoho National Park borders Banff National Park to its east, Jasper to the north and Kootenay National Park to its south. At 507sqm, Yoho is the smallest of the four neighbouring national parks which together with British Columbia's three provincial parks, Hamber, Assinibione and Robson, form the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.