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trip report: Yoho National Park – Iceline & Celeste Lake loop, August 2019

Sometimes a trail is about the summit or endpoint, but the ones I’ve always enjoyed the most are the trails that’s about the whole experience. The Iceline in Yoho National Park is one of those hikes. The Iceline took us onto a bench sitting under the Presidential Range and Emerald Glacier. For there, we could see the peaks and glaciers of the Waputik Range the Yoho Valley below. Once we were off the Iceline, we were then treated with green lake and roaring waterfalls. Sure there were stretches of forest, but they served more as breaks than the main course.

This is the third entry of our Canadian Rockies trip series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.


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1 planning & research
2 trip report day 0-1: getting in
3 trip report day 2-5: Kootenay National Park – The Rockwall
4 trip report day 6: Yoho National Park – Iceline
      4.1 the decision
      4.2 hike video
      4.3 hike information
            4.3.1 alternatives
      4.4 trip report
      4.5 final impressions
      4.6 useful links
5 trip report day 7-10: Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park
6 trip report day 11-14: Mt. Robson Provincial Park – Berg Lake
7 trip report day 15-16: Jasper National Park – Edith Cavell & Valley of Five Lakes
8 trip report day 17: Jasper National Park – Bald Hill
9 trip report day 18-19: Jasper National Park – Skyline
10 trip report day 20: Jasper National Park – Wilcox Pass
11 trip report day 20-21: Banff National Park – Bow Summit Lookout Peyto Lake
12 trip report day 22: Yoho National Park – Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit
13 trip report day 23: Banff National Park – Lake Louise, Beehives, & Plain of Six Glaciers loop
14 trip report day 24-25: getting out
15 final impressions, top 5, & budget

the decision

Based on our updated plans after the Rockwall hike (trip day 4), we were suppose to start a 2 day and 1 night trip out to Mt. Assiniboine (day 6) after taking a zero (day 5). Mt. Assiniboine on 2 days would have been a lot and the logistical options for the hike were not easy to figure out or do (more on that later). Fortunately, we found later dates open up giving us more time to prepare for Assiniboine. We also found ourselves with a free day (day 6) and seeing how it was a bluebird day, so we headed out for a day hike.

Updated reservations at the time:

hike information

  • name: Iceline & Celeste Lake loop
  • type: loop
  • distance: 12.6 miles (20.2 km)
  • elevation change: 2932 ft. (894 m)
  • time: 6:30 hours (5:43 moving)
  • location: Takakkaw Trailhead, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park (google map directions)

With a late start and only the afternoon, we planned to hike the Iceline trail from Takakkaw trailhead and parking lot in a clockwise direction. From there, we would hike to the highest point on the Iceline before hiking back a few steps and take the Celeste Lake Connector back down to the Little Yoho Valley trail and then out via the Yoho Valley Trail. This would save some time and a mile or so in comparison to the typical Iceline Little Yoho Valley loop. As the very helpful ranger put it, Little Yoho River is mostly in the woods and we could see most of the Iceline by just getting to the Summit. Plus, it would give us the opportunity to check out Lake Celeste.

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There are plenty of backpacking opportunities here in Yoho National Park and they are some the easier campsites to reserve. Parks Canada has a listing of several ideas (Parks Canada). Similar to other parks in the area, backcountry camping is allowed on at designated campgrounds only.

On our hike, we saw several groups doing 2-3 day hikes of the valley. In fact, you can easily break up our hike into a 2 day backpacking trip and I would recommend camping at the roaring Laughing Falls.

However given the distance of the hike and how accessible the Iceline is, majority of hikers chose to day hike here. The traditional Iceline loop is slightly different than our route, it continues pass the high point on the Iceline and drops into Little Yoho Valley and Stanley Mitchell Hut before following the Little Yoho Valley Trail toward Yoho Valley. It is slightly longer at 13.5 mi or 20.8 km (Parks Canada, alltrails).

It seemed plenty of the hikers did the in and out of the Iceline (alltrails) because it is shorter. However, the elevation change is steeper and the downhill isn’t a fast process. So I would recommend a loop. Plus you see more.

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trip video

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trip report

Since there is only one trailhead, Takakkaw trailhead, for all the trails leading out of the Yoho Valley at the end of Yoho Valley Road, it was a madhouse by the time we reached just before noon on a bluebird August day.

It took us looping around the large parking circle twice before we found a spot closest to the trail near the Takakkaw Falls Campground, which seems like a front country campground being only a quarter of a mile from the parking lot. We got lucky at this time several groups were checking out. We headed back toward the main parking area near the Takakkaw Falls by turning right on the wide dirt road.

Most of the crowd was heading toward the intimidating Takakkaw Falls. The cool thing about the falls was that there seems to be a bowl of sorts near the top of the falls that launches the water outwards. It was the same sort of action lead to me soaking my shirt many times as a kid when I did the dishes.

The Iceline trail heads away from the falls and pass a couple of red chairs you tend to find around the area for tourist to take photos with. It was plenty busy when we were there so we continued on. We went over a small hill and saw the work ahead of us. Then we crossed the Yoho Valley Road to reach the Whiskey Jack Hostel. There were plenty of overspill parking along the road and the sign at the Whiskey Jack Hostel specified that the parking lot here was for guests of the hostel only.

Our work uphills started just under mile from our car. For the next 0.9 miles, the trail gains at a 22.9% grade. It was mostly in the woods so at least we had shade to keep us cool. Along the way, we pass the Hidden Lake junction and then the first junction for the Highline Lake loop. An interesting backpacking trip here is the Yoho Pass Trail to Emerald Lake, which I’d like to do in the future.

At the treeline, the trail relents a slightly for a few steps and we get our first viewpoints into the Yoho Valley and the range across from us. This includes a glimpse of Daly Glacier that feeds Takakkaw Falls. The 3 peaks to the left of Trolltinder Mountain, Mount Balfour, and Lilliput Mountain.

At the 2.1 mile mark on our hike, we came to the second junction with the Highline Trail and Yoho Pass Trail. That was also when the trail picked up the elevation gain again at 22.9% grade for the next quarter mile.

After another break from the trail, there was one last push around a rocky bluff. At least the views to the valley continue so there was plenty to look at while catching your breath.

Around the bluff we came upon the view that give the hike its namesake with Emerald Glacier stretched out on a cool rocky ledge. This was 2.8 miles from our starting point.

For the next 2 miles to the highest point of the Iceline, the trail is mellows out as it continues with a slight uphill across the bench. Along the way, we cross a couple of glacial creeks. And the peak here is Michael Peak. My a favorite structure here are the layered rocks under the glacier.

At the same time, the view of the valley just stretches across our entire field of view. There were plenty of space for hikers to have their own viewpoint for lunch.

Here and there, we the trail would go across a worm rock slab with marks left by the ice and glaciers.

Over the next ridge, we came to the first alpine glacial pond. While granite peaks or layered rock are interesting, bringing in a glacier or teal pond just provides the perfect contrast.

After a crossing the outlet stream, we came to a mound.

From here, we had the best view down the Yoho Valley following the road out to the highway.

Further along the trail, we came to the outlet of another glacial pond and the junction for the Celeste Lake Connector that we would be taking off the bench at the 4.25 mile mark of our hike.

We could continue on the Iceline for another half mile to the highest point of the Iceline first. We pass the two alpine ponds sitting under The Vice President of the Presidential Range. Should we have continued further, the President and The secretary Treasurer would have made their appearance as well.

At the highest point of the Iceline, was a large rounded mound just off the trail. It was 4.8 miles for us from our car. From there, we can see further up the Yoho Valley.

The look back of the Presidential Range (the Canadian version) and the Iceline we followed up was spectacular from here as well. We had our late lunch here around 2pm.

After lunch, we retraced our steps back to the junction with the Celeste Lake Connector.

The Celeste trail first drops down gradually into a meadow crossing a stream. The mosquitos were out in force when we stopped at the stream to refill our water. The gradient was about -7.3% average and never more than -12%. At the edge of the meadow, we got one last look at the Presidential Range.

The next drop was through 0.4 mile of forest at an average grade of -14.2%. Then it was a flat another flat 0.4 miles as we curved around the banks of peaceful Lake Celeste. The green waters of Lake Celeste was very inviting on this hot afternoon, but the bugs were not.

The next drop through the forest covering 0.6 miles at a -8.5% grade brought us unexpectedly to the another tranquil green pond. A pond like this may have been the end point of hikes elsewhere in the world, but it was an afterthought here.

After that, it was a few more steps on boardwalks over a marshy stream runoff area until we reached the bridge over Little Yoho River

and the junctions with The Little Yoho Valley Trail and the Whaleback Trail. The crowds on the Little Yoho Valley Trail was noticeability higher. Turning right on the Little Yoho Valley Trail, we continued for 0.4 miles until we reached the junction for Marpole Lake junction.

Then came our last major downhill over 0.8 miles as Little Yoho Valley Trail headed down to the Yoho River and Yoho Valley Trail. The gradient was about -16.7% switchbacking a couple times. There was one opening where we caught our first glimpse of the Yoho River.

At the bottom of the downhill, we were greeted with the booming Laughing Falls. I took the chance to cool off here by enjoying the mist kicked up the powerful falls. This was at the 9.4 mile mark of our hike.

There is a backcountry campground here around the last stretch of Little Yoho River before it confluenced into the Yoho River. We could see a few spots from the swing bridge that took us across the Little Yoho River. Similarly, the Little Yoho Valley Trail junction with the Yoho Valley Trail, we turn right to head back down the valley.

The next mile was pretty flat as we started to follow the larger Yoho River. At one point, it squeezes through a canyon making for some exciting white water and falls.

Right after that, there was a junction to head to Lake Duchesnay, which we decided to pass up. At the 10.5 mile mark of our hike and about 1 mile from Laughing Falls, there was a 0.2 mile section where the trail drops down on a rocky and slabby area at a -18.2%. This was a bit of a bottleneck the large number of tourists here.

There is then a junction for a couple features along the trail, Point Lace Falls and Angel’s Staircase Falls. The former kinda pales in comparison to everything else we saw on the hike and the latter was barely running during this early August day.

The last 1.8 miles was on a wide and flat road, mostly through the forest,

with the exception of an open area with boardwalks over several streams stemming from Emerald Glacier we had seen earlier in the day just before the large Takakkaw Falls campgrounds.

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final impressions


The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1-5. For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.

views/experience: 4. The epically and appropriately named hikes in the Canadian Rockies continues. The Iceline starts out switchbacking in the woods, but the views just gets better and better and you climb onto the bench. Initially it was nice view across the valley. Then it was nice views of glaciers before you start to come across the teal alpine lakes. When you get higher and all of those elements come together to create the ideal high alpine views.

The views don’t stop once you come off the iceline as tranquil green lakes,

rushing rapids, and waterfalls fill in the second half of the hike.

The nonstop views of this hike will keep you engaged and entertain for the shortest 12.5 miles or 20 km you’ll experience.

difficulty: 3. There is enough elevation change here that it qualifies as a 3. The only real steep portion was the initial push onto the iceline bench. Luckily it is mostly in the forest so you’ll have cover from the sun. Weather can be a factor once you are one the bench as it is completely open. Should you prefer a gradual uphill and to kill your knees, you can hike the loop counterclockwise.

technical: 1. There were no specific navigation or other specialized knowledge beyond basic hiking skills that were needed for the hike. There was no scrambling or need to use our hands since the trail is very well managed. All this points to the technical rating of 1. However, we did hike this during peak season and great weather. If there is snow covering the Iceline bench, early summer snow melt swelling the stream crossings, or completely fog and cloud there is the potential for the technical score to range higher.

useful links

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