Hiking The Iceline

This trail is about as spectacular as it gets! With magnificent views across a steeply cut valley, a drop dead gorgeous glacier-fed, silt-grey river tumbling over boulders to hike along, tremendously heart-stirring waterfall vistas to take in, and toes of an ancient glacier, glinting blue, winking in and out of the clouds at you, it is truly unforgettable. This is a hike that we did this past summer, and I thought I’d revisit it here in my blog, in case there are any people planning a trip to our wonderful Rocky Mountains next year.

The Iceline trail is an iconic hike in Yoho National Park, just across the Alberta-British Columbia border, high in the Canadian Rocky Mountains near Field, B.C. It takes you up quite high, following the feet of the Emerald Glacier as its blue toes creep down the smoothly worn rock of the flanks of The Vice President and The President mountains. With the Yoho Valley far below, and views of Takakkaw Falls and the gorgeous Fairy & Daly Glaciers across the valley, it is a magnificent trail and a fantastic experience. If you are ever in the area, DO NOT miss this hike.

The trail summits at 2230m (7,316′). We took the longer route that takes you past the Stanley Mitchell backcountry camping hut, so it was a 22km day, and well worth every heart pounding, breath catching, knee straining step!

The day we went, the weather forecast looked good for the Field, BC area, so we headed out early. But, this is the mountains. Weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable and can turn in a heartbeat. Unfortunately for us this day, there was a lot of cloud, so the views played hide & seek with is, but it was atmospheric and incredible, nevertheless. 

Come along with us on the trail and see what it was like that cloudy, atmospheric day in July of 2016….

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The trail started with a 45 minute slog up a steep set of forested switchbacks, with views back across the valley every once in a while of the enormous Takakkaw Falls, thundering in the distance.
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Ever higher, we were hiking up through the clouds. Here they hang like wisps in the air between us and the falls across the Yoho Valley.
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Soon we were breaking out of the trees on a trail made of glacial till, left behind by the retreating glacier, like fine gravel under foot.

It was so neat, emerging up top through the clouds. The cloud mist was like a heavy fog that gently wafted through, billowing quite thickly at times. As it passed through, thin openings would appear, revealing the treat we were in for: glimpses of the glacier’s blue toes.

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This is the Iceline: the edge of the glacier where the ice meets the rock where we caught the first glimpse of what would be many glacial toes playing hide n’seek with us through the billowing cloud that morning.

We walked over rock, scratched and scoured by the movement of the flowing glacier over time. It was historic. It was epic. It was landscape that revisits me in my dreams.

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We decided to take a break, have some tea and chocolate, and wait out the clouds.
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And when the cloud passed through, THIS is what was revealed right behind us!
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At times, this was our view. See how narrow the trees are? That’s a very cool adaptation to the heavy snowfall this area sees each winter so that the branches do not snap and break with the weight of the incredible snow that falls here each year.
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Slowly, the glacier is melting into this lake. The sediment in the water is what makes it the startling green. Later in the day, we would see the spectacular waterfall into which this lake drained  and spilled.
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Lake after lake and toe after toe. The Iceline Trail was spectacular.
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Tucked into the rocks, trailside, were beautiful paintbrush flowers like these, perfectly camouflaged with the lighter coloured rocks of the glacial till so that you’d miss them if you didn’t pay attention!
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It was a starkly beautiful place.

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I love it when you have to cross mountain streams!
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Our lunch spot had a spectacular view!
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This is a rather distorted panorama shot, but it gives you a sense of the magnitude of this landscape. (Note that it is highly unlikely that you will ever have this trail to yourself as even on a misty day, there were a number of hiking groups, like the one here, that we came across).
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But other hikers on the trail mean that you’re guaranteed a shot of your whole group that isn’t a distorted selfie pic!
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Soon it was time to head down into the valley. We descended through a pine forest thick with trailside wildflowers. We saw a lot of signs of bear diggings too, and hikers we passed said they’d seen the bear… but we were not so fortunate.
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This was the waterfall, fed by the lake we’d hiked alongside earlier in the day. Another perfect place for tea & chocolate!
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The river itself was grey from the glacial sediment and flowing furiously past us!
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Down near the turbulent river, there was a lot of moisture in the air, and so the forest floor was thick with moss.
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The last part of the hike takes you along a boardwalk that crosses a large glacial run off area that empties into the river.
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And the final scene of the day is the thunderous presence of Takakkaw Falls, this time seen (and heard!) from below.

One word of warning for any tourist visitors out there… the road in to Takakkaw Falls from the main highway is narrow and has very steep switchbacks. There are signs posted on the cliffs showing people in campers how to maneuver through the tight turns, with warnings to downhill vehicles to yield to the uphill traffic as the sight lines are tricky.  If at all possible, take a normal vehicle in on the road up there and don’t stress yourself out with the drive because it is spectacular, and you’ll want to take it all in!

One more thing: 2017 is the year that the Canadian Government is giving free access to the national parks to all Canadian citizens. This will make the parks… and trails like this popular one very crowded, it will make roads very busy and it will see parking lots very full and possibly closed off by parks staff if overflowing. That isn’t a reason NOT to come, but you should definitely plan early morning starts to ensure that you can do what you have set your heart on doing on a given day.

This particular spot is popular because you can do a very short, two minute, exceptionally easy and flat walk from the parking lot to Takakkaw Falls and its viewing area without doing an arduous hike. As a result, it sees a LOT of tourist traffic (95% of which stays right there and doesn’t go on to do the Iceline trail). Also, there are ways to make the hike shorter than what we did, so doing the Iceline doesn’t mean having to do 22 km. It can easily be a comfortable day hike.


For a detailed account of the trail itself, and directions to the trailhead, should you want to attempt it yourself, go to Trailpeak or Hiking With Barry (a blogger that we rely on heavily for inspiration, information and hiking ideas here).


Click here for more terrific hikes in Yoho National ParkAnd check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

7 Comments on “Hiking The Iceline

    • That’s the beauty of this place. There is a TON of parkland, but it is the mountains. A lot of it is wilderness … inaccessible wilderness. And sometimes the beautiful things that people want to see are features like spectacular waterfalls that naturally occur in difficult to build road, or no room for big parking lot places. So that seems to be the bulk of the issue.

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      • I re-read this post again after adding Iceline Trail to our list of hikes to do…weather and physical condition permitted. Such a beautiful hike.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It is really spectacular. The first switchback part to get up there is sloggy, but I think it’s the best way (best direction) to do it because it gets you in the views so quickly.

        Park in the main parking lot, but then walk back down the road about 300m to the hostel. The trail head for this direction begins there.

        There are also ways to make this shorter, so it doesn’t need to be the 21km+ that it was for us.

        We plan to head back there this summer to do the Whaleback. http://www.trailpeak.com/trail-Takakkaw-loop-via-Iceline-and-Whaleback-near-Golden-BC-1181

        Just be warned that this is a very popular spot… if only to get out of the car and walk 200m to Takakkaw Falls. And the parking lot is not huge. So get there early to get in. Field, BC is about 25 minutes beyond Lake Louise.

        There is really no place to park, once it’s full. And don’t drive your RV in there… there’s one switch back on the road (with big instructions on how to drive it in the cliff wall) that requires a multi-point turn if you are in an RV… a nightmare, with people on the road ahead and behind you waiting for you, I think!

        Have fun! I’m quite excited for you & David & for your trip here this summer.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Adventuring on Snow Pillows: Emerald Lake Part 1 – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

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