Yoho National Park Trip Report – Part 1

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Everyone knows the best time to begin a trip report is a year and a half after you started writing Part 2 of that report. In the spirit of that, today’s post is Part 1 of my trip to Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Timing-wise, this trip falls shortly after my post about BeaverTails in Banff and the afternoon and evening before our morning hike described in Part 2.

For those who don’t recall (or want to read) Part 1, this was a trip to the Canadian Rockies with fellow photographers Todd Hurley, Mark Willard, and Bill McIntosh. During this trip, we visited Yoho, Jasper, and Banff National Parks. The Yoho National Park leg of the trip picks up after we had already spent a day in Banff National Park, and starting the morning in the actual town of Banff.

After consuming that glorious BeaverTail and a lunch at McDonald’s (a last meal befitting of a king should a bear maul me on the trail or something), we picked up our rental camping gear from Snowtips Bactrax in downtown Banff. From there, we drove to the bus pickup (Lake O’Hara Campground is only accessible via bus) and boarded the bus at 3:30 p.m. Even the drive was scenic, as we entered an area that was beyond beautiful.

This trip had been inspired by our photography trip to Glacier National Park the year before, when we were collectively blown away by that park. While I fancy myself a patriot, even I must concede that the rockies north of Canada’s border trump even Glacier National Park’s magnificence. This area had it all: waterfalls, fall colors, stunning mountain peaks, and blue-green lakes so vibrant you could swear they were artificially colored.

Bill was the mastermind behind most of this trip’s details, and he had mapped out a hike that would take us to the top of Opabin Prospect. While researching the trip, he showed us the potential of this location, and after we all picked our jaws up off the floor, we agreed it was a must do. So, after setting up our tents at the campground, we started out on Opabin Trail, doing the Opabin Plateau Circuit (a 3.7 mile circuit).

The trail started out mild enough, meandering around a Lake O’Hara before getting serious with a series of reasonably mild switchbacks. After maybe a mile or so, it became appreciably steeper as the trail hugged the cliffs at the edge of the valley. I think around this time we were all starting to feel a bit fatigued.

In its native environment, the male American homo sapien generally spends its fall lounging around on a couch, watching football, while voraciously consuming potato chips and beer to fatten up for the approaching winter. Suffice to say, I don’t think we were quite physically prepared for the steep hike in the thinner Canadian air.

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Around that time, as we gained some serious elevation, it became evident why Yoho means “awe.” The view was spectacular, and seeing it was like an instant shot of adrenaline. Not once after this view revealed itself did anyone complain, feel winded, or anything of that sort.

Funny how the prospect of a beautiful shot is such an effective carrot for photographers…

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It wasn’t too long after this until the trail leveled out, entering the little valley of Opabin Creek. We crossed a bridge over the creek, walked along what was basically a boardwalk, and headed upstream passing Hungabee Lake, and finally arriving at Opabin Prospect about 45 minutes before sunset.

It’s a good thing we had that time to spare, as we were all entranced by this view looking out over Lake O’Hara and Mary Lake. It was truly stunning–one of the best of a trip full of “best views.”

At this point, we all scattered. The view over Opabin Prospect with the lakes below and the clouds starting to look nice over it as the fading light kissed the mountains was alluring, but so too were the fields of larch trees bathed in golden light immediately behind us in Opabin Plateau. Choosing which to shoot was quite the dilemma, and a good problem to have.

Being certifiably insane, I had made the hike with both of my cameras, so I decided to set one up on my tripod overlooking Opabin Prospect down at the lakes and valley while I ran around in the other direction with my second camera. This is something I love to do when shooting landscapes, probably because it feels awkward to simply stand around and wait for the light after the physical exertion of hiking.

While the late afternoon light was gorgeous, sunset itself was something of a bust. While I was disappointed at the time, in looking back, I can’t say I’m honestly that disappointed.

I’ve come to appreciate the pre-sunset shots that have light hitting mountains–it gives them a sense of dimensionality and texture that sunset photos lack. (Now, this isn’t to say I’ll pass up a shot with a kaleidoscope of sunset color when I have the chance–because I absolutely will not–but variety is nice.)

Between the sunset and moonrise, we ended up shooting in Opabin Plateau well into the evening hours. This was probably a mistake (okay, definitely a mistake) in hindsight, as it meant a long hike back in the dark. On the plus side, the hike was incredibly easy on the way down; it just took a while.

That wasn’t helped by the fact that we were all talking on the way down, and missed a turn towards the end of the trail that would’ve led us back into the campground. It’s somewhat sad that none of us saw this, as the campground was literally within earshot, and we just kept walking and had to backtrack. Perhaps subconsciously, we all felt the hike was not “hardcore” enough, so we wanted to add a bit of distance to make it more intense. Yeah, let’s go with that.

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When we got back, we made a quick dinner of beans and other campfire meals that I don’t think anyone actually wanted to eat. (This dinner was a far cry from the BeaverTails we had earlier!) We finally got to bed sometime after midnight for a few hours of sleep before heading back out to hit the trail for sunrise. And that’s where my Yoho National Park Trip Report picks up in Part 2

All in all, I’d highly recommend the Opabin Plateau Circuit if you’re ever in Yoho National Park. While the reservations for Lake O’Hara Campground can be difficult to snag, the experience we had here was well worth it. This was one of the prettiest hikes I’ve ever gone on, and our experience the next morning was equally stunning (albeit a little bit scary).

In terms of the technical photography and logistics side of things, the photos in this Yoho National Park trip report were shot by me with my Nikon D750 and Nikon D810 cameras plus Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 and Rokinon 12mm Fisheye Lenses. For photo licensing inquires, please contact me.

If you’re planning a visit to the Canadian Rockies, I recommend picking up a copy of The Canadian RockiesIt’s by a photographer, so there are a ton of inspirational photos in addition to the normal tips (you’ll also find trail maps and other sound advice).

Your Thoughts

Have you visited Yoho National Park or elsewhere in the Canadian Rockies? What did you think of the experience? Do any memorable hikes? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does visiting Canada interest you? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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5 replies
  1. Sydney
    Sydney says:

    Beautiful photos! Can’t wait to get up there (hopefully this summer!). Would love to see more posts on the Canadian parks!

    Reply
  2. Kayla
    Kayla says:

    I don’t care how long it takes to write up, landscapes and perilous photographer adventure stories are timeless! Looks stunning, and not a place I see or hear much about.

    Reply

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