Strap on your hiking boots! Visiting one of Canada’s national parks is a thrilling adventure whether it is your first or your one hundredth visit. The spectacular wilderness, awe-inspiring views, and jewel-toned lakes of the mountain national parks draw millions of visitors every year.
Like any trip, advanced planning will set you up for success and help you tick off those bucket list items with ease. So, let’s talk about what you need to know when touring the Golden Triangle and visiting the mountain national parks.
A national park. What does that mean?
Along your journey through the Golden Triangle, you will pass through 3 separate and unique national parks. Yoho, Kootenay and Banff. Long before park designation, these lands and waters were the traditional territories of Indigenous groups such as the Ktuxnaxa and Secwépemc Nations who stewarded these places.
Starting as early as 1885, park lands were established to preserve and protect the unique and spectacular mountain wilderness so that the landscapes can be enjoyed long into the future. In Canada, national parks are protected under the Canada National Parks Act. The primary goal of Parks Canada is to protect the ecological integrity of the land and waters while allowing visitors to explore, learn, and connect with natural spaces in unique regions across Canada.
What does this all mean? It means, these places are special, and there are certain rules you are expected to know and follow when visiting here that will help protect the incredible wildlife and the unique environment.
Know before you go.
When considering a visit to the other side of the Rockies, knowing where to go and how to behave will help you maximize your time here and prevent some common pitfalls. Here are some some of our top tips:
Get your Pass: To keep it simple, all visitors to a National Park in Canada must have either a National Park Day Pass, or an annual pass known as a “Discovery Pass”. Admission fees help maintain these places and allow amenities (like interpretive signage and trails) to stay in good repair. A day pass is good for the day you purchased it until 4 p.m. the next day. A discovery pass provides you with unlimited admission to all participating national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites and it is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase! If you will be visiting Parks Canada places for more than 7 days this year, the discovery pass is worth the cost. When touring the Golden Triangle, you can purchase your Parks pass at:
DYK: all brochures and visitor guides are available for download in advance of your trip. You can also find this information on the Parks Canada App.
Reserve in advance.
These special places are extremely popular in the summer months (May – October). Access to most trails and day-use areas are first-come first-serve and parking areas can fill quickly. To create some certainty in your trip we recommend booking campsites and guided experiences with as much notice as possible. The Parks Canada Reservation Service is your one-stop shop for front-country and backcountry campsites, glamping accommodations like oTENTiks, and day-use tickets for guided hikes and transit (where offered). Reservations open in January or February most years and are in high demand. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Check back often as cancellations can happen. Also, most locations do have some first-come first-served spots and there are additional accommodators in the Village of Radium, the Town of Golden, and the community of Field.
Closer to your trip, be sure to check the Parks Canada website or contact the Visitor Information Center to find out what locations are open, what conditions to expect, how to prepare, and what services are available before you travel. This will help you select activities that fit your level of skill and knowledge, what gear will be required for your trip, and what accessible options and accommodations are available throughout the park.
Visitor guidelines you might not know about.
We’ve already mentioned this place is special and we need your help to keep it this way. Yoho, Kootenay, and Banff national parks are home to hundreds of species, including grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and more (not to mention all the birds, fish, reptiles, and insects). These animals rely on the unique ecosystem for their survival so protecting it should be a top priority. Here are some things you may not think about when visiting a national park that are extremely important:
- Tourism Radium Visitor Information Centre
- Tourism Golden Visitor Information Centre
- Any Parks Canada visitor Information Centre, park gate or electronic kiosk
- Online in advance
- Dispose of Garbage – We know you know this one, but did you know “garbage” includes things like apple cores and banana peels? Even though many items will eventually compost, they are not native to this landscape and can cause harm to some of the creatures that live here. Orange peels take 6 months to decompose, and cigarette butts can take up to 10 years! With 450,000 km2 of protected land, there’s no way we can pick up after everyone!
- Never Feed Wildlife – Wildlife can quickly find any food, scented items, or garbage that is left unattended. When they eat these unnatural foods, fauna learn to approach people for an easy meal. This can result in aggressive behavior that puts both people and wildlife at risk of being hurt or killed.
PC: Abby Cooper
3. Keep your pet on a leash at all times – It is against the law to have your pet off-leash in a national park and some trails aren’t pet-friendly. While we are certain your pooch pal is well-behaved, some animals act unpredictably in new situations. Off-leash dogs can trigger aggressive behaviour from wildlife such as grizzly bears and elk, or harm smaller animals. Keep your pet AND wildlife safe by knowing where they are welcome and keeping them on leash and under control.
4. Give wildlife space – Seeing a wild animal in its natural habitat is one of the most special encounters you can have! Keep wildlife wild by making noise on trails, carrying bear spray, and giving lots of space when on the trail. When traveling in your car, be sure to obey the speed limit as animals can often run across the highway. If you see an animal pull completely off the road, take a quick photo and move on. Most importantly stay in your vehicle
5. Leave no trace - Did you know? It is actually illegal to collect plants, mushrooms, berries, animals, animal parts (including antlers), fossils, driftwood, rocks, and other historical or natural objects. Leave with nothing but memories (and a bunch of great photos of course). This also applies to staying on the trail. Off-trail use can damage sensitive plants and erode soil.
6. Avoid restricted areas – occasionally trails can be closed for construction or to keep wildlife and visitors safe. Always come with a backup plan for your hike or picnic area. If an area you plan to visit is closed, please come back another day.
7. No drone zone - It's true, nobody is allowed to fly a drone in a national park without a special exemption. But don't take it too personally — flying any aircraft in a national or provincial park is prohibited, and drones just happen to fall into that category. So please leave your helicopters gliders and jets at home as well.
We think this place is pretty special and we know you will agree. Thank you for helping to protect this special place and keep it wild for all to enjoy.
Family Fun in the Fall
Your kids are going to love this route! It’s one of my favourites – because well, I’m a kid at heart. The Golden Triangle three-day route has you standing at the base of towering waterfalls, taking short hikes to awesome sites and interesting geological formations, stopping at spectacular viewpoints and screaming with delight at an outdoor adventure park. Sure, you can do it in the summer, but in the fall, there are less crowds and a magnificent display of autumn foliage. Pack the overnight bags – it’s going to get bumpy.
Yoho National Park showers you with splendor
I’m serious on the shower. There is a short relatively flat hike to the base of the 373-metre tall Takakkaw Falls. Enjoy the view from the brilliant red Parks Canada chairs, or follow the kids as they dash across the bridge towards the base of the falls. The water flows from the Daly Glacier, to drop and bounce for that final freefall of 254 metres. In July when the water shoots like a firehose, the spray drifts across the trees and anyone standing at the base gets soaked. In the fall however, the flow is diminished, the thunder of the waterfall is slightly less deafening, and the rocks are easier to wander through to the base. It really is magnificent.
Now that you have seen a waterfall from the bottom up, take a short drive to the Natural Bridge on the road to Emerald Lake to see that same flow of water cascades through a hole sculpted in the bedrock as it continues its journey to the coast. There are vantage points to see the feature near the parking lot but take the kids a bit further to see the water come gushing through the hole. All it took was a few million years for the water to erode through a layer of soft sediment, but you can see it all in less than an hour. Continue on the road to Emerald Lake for an easy walk around the shore or explore further on the rugged trails. Rent a canoe to dip a paddle in the beautiful teal blue waters.
Golden shines with family activities
Remember I said I was a kid at heart? The new Golden Sky Bridge attraction makes me giddy like a kid in a playground. Two of Canada’s highest suspension bridges draped 130 metres (426 ft) above the expansive canyon and waterfall. Yes, that’s cool but even better is the new Canyon Edge Challenge. Three different courses test your balance, nerve and ability on ladders, bridges, and ropes. It’s great for the whole family.
In the town of Golden, take a break and wander the new River Walk alongside the Kicking Horse River. Include a walk across the Kicking Horse Pedestrian bridge. It’s the longest freestanding timber frame bridge in Canada. Stop in at the nearby sports and recreation shop to rent some gear to try disc golfings. If you can throw a Frisbee you can play disc golf at the course in Golden.
Have you met Boo yet? He is the grizzly bear living at the Grizzly Bear Interpretive Centre at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. I met him last summer and was amazed at how much I learned on my tour. Of course, he was on the other side of a fence but getting up close to a grizzly and learning about the species is a bucket list adventure for any age.
Wetlands to Hot Springs – it’s Radium
The Columbia River Wetlands stretching from Golden to Radium Hot Springs is a perfect area to slow down and play “Spot the wildlife.” More than 216 species of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals all use this valley. Rent a few kayaks or paddleboards and drop them in the river to let the current take you on a journey. If you silently slip along with the current, the birds and shore species are less likely to flee too quickly. Last time we were through we saw a few Great Blue Herons. If you don’t like the option of getting wet, the 9-km long Old Coach Trail overlooks the wetlands and is perfect for hiking or biking. Considering it was first constructed in the 1920s for Model T cars, you know it will be easy.
If the kids are game for a few hours on a pretty hike, tempt them with the Sinclair Canyon Trail. It offers opportunities to see Sinclair Falls and the narrow canyon. The best part about this trail is that it ends in the Radium Hot Springs parking lot. Did you bring your swimsuit? Don’t worry if you didn’t. Parks Canada has some retro suits you can rent. After a day on the trail or paddling the waterways, a soak in the mineral rich hot water is appreciated by any age.
In Radium, you’ll see the resident Bighorn Sheep wandering through town. Always keep your distance. Those horns mean business. See if the kids want to tour the town and nearby trails on a Segway.
Travelling along highway 93 there are a few perfect spots to let the kids out to explore the colours. Olive Lake boardwalk is super short. The kids will love how the lake changes colours with the light. The trees will be putting on a brilliant orange and red show too. Further along is Marble Canyon. In the summer, the short trail to see the emerald-blue glacier-fed stream tumble through the gorge can be crowded, but in the fall, you’ve got the trail to yourself.
Rendez-vous jusqu’à la cascade d’eau la plus imposante de la rivière Kicking Horse.
Faites une randonnée facile de 4,6 km (aller-retour) dans une forêt verdoyante pour accéder à plusieurs points de vue saisissants.
À quelques pas du terrain de stationnement, contemplez toute la puissance de la rivière Kicking Horse qui coule en cascade sous un pont en roche formé par Dame Nature.
Admirez toute la beauté des paysages et des fleurs sauvages pendant une balade autour de ce lac aux couleurs de pierre précieuse. Apportez de quoi pique-niquer ou optez pour une balade en canot et laissez-vous charmer par le panorama.
Faites une balade panoramique en voiture sur une route de montagne. Ensuite, rafraîchissez-vous sous la vapeur d’eau qui jaillit du pied de l’une des plus hautes chutes du Canada.
Cherchez les chaises rouges de Parcs Canada le long du sentier.
Promenez-vous dans le village de Field et faites l’expérience de l’hospitalité des montagnes.
Passez la nuit dans un petit hôtel unique en son genre ou savourez les délices culinaires de cette localité pleine de charme.
Saisissez dans vos mains un fragment de l’histoire de la Terre au cours d’une randonnée guidée qui vous mène à la carrière Walcott ou au mont Stephen, deux sites fossilifères à accès restreint. Réservations obligatoires.
Situé le long de la Transcanadienne, dans la collectivité de Field, en Colombie-Britannique.
Faites-y une halte pour obtenir des conseils utiles sur le secteur et des renseignements à jour sur l’état des sentiers.
Les expositions vous font découvrir les caractéristiques du parc.
Faites un saut à la boutique de l’association coopérante Friends of Yoho pour acheter un souvenir de votre voyage.
Regardez les trains qui serpentent à flanc de montagne et admirez les pics majestueux qui ont inspiré les récits du lieu historique national du Col-Kicking Horse.
Watch trains snake through the hillside and discover how Yoho's towering peaks inspired the stories of the Kicking Horse Pass National Historic Site.
Located on the Trans-Canada Highway in the community of Field, British Columbia.
Stop in for helpful advice on the area as well as current trail conditions.
Displays and exhibits teach you about the unique features in Yoho.
Pop by the Friends of Yoho store for a souvenir from your travels.