In this 4 day Banff itinerary, we’ll help you plan how to make the most of your time in the crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies.
The Iceline Trail and Yoho Valley Loop is easily my favorite day hike of all time! I swear, I’m not exaggerating! Honestly, none of my photos can even begin to capture the sheer beauty of this place. Seriously, you need to see it to believe it! The views from the Iceline Trail were some of the best I’ve ever seen. In this article, we’ve put together everything you need to know about hike the Iceline Trail as a loop via Yoho Valley and Little Yoho Valley.
Iceline Trail in Yoho National Park
The Iceline Trail loop via Little Yoho Valley, and the Yoho Valley loop is one of the most popular hikes in Yoho National Park and for good reason! This hike has it all!
Before the hike even starts, you’ll see the towering Takakkaw Falls from the parking lot, which is the second tallest waterfall in Canada! The trail then climbs up through the dense forest until you reach an alpine shelf (aka the Iceline) with sweeping mountain views of snow-capped peaks across the green valley to your right and icy glaciers clinging to the nearby mountain peaks just off to your right.
We spent a week exploring Banff and Yoho and this was definitely our favorite hike in the area!
About Yoho National Park
Located in the heart of the magnificent Canadian Rockies, Yoho National Park is home to every type of alpine wonder you can imagine – massive mountain peaks, shimmering alpine lakes, gushing waterfalls, icy-blue glaciers, diverse wildlife, and some of the best views you’ll ever see.
In fact, the term “Yoho” comes from the Cree word for amazement or awe, a fitting description for one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been.
Combined with Banff National Park to the east, Kootenay National Park to the south, and Jasper National Park to the north, Yoho is part of the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, a bucket list area for any mountain lover!
Overview | Iceline Trail Loop
- Hiking distance | 13.5 miles
- Elevation gain | 3,454 feet
- Epic-ness rating | 9
- Difficulty | Hard
- Dogs allowed? | Yes
Find this hike on AllTrails: Iceline, Little Yoho Valley & Yoho Valley Trail Loop
The Iceline Trail, Little Yoho Valley and Yoho Valley loop clocks in at 13.5 miles with nearly 3,500 feet of elevation gain, making it a fairly challenging hike but nothing too extreme. In our opinion, it’s the perfect length and difficulty for a day hike.
The good news is that nearly all of the elevation is covered in the first 3.5 miles, as you trek through the forest up to the “iceline”, where the environment suddenly changes to rocky alpine shelf. Along the “iceline” you’ll pass by countless glaciers and cross many babbling streams of glacial runoff. And the many glacial lakes provide endless spots for snacks or pictures. And on top of all that, you’ll also be treated to magnificent mountain views for miles across the valley below!
After you reach the end of the “iceline,” you then descend back through Little Yoho Valley, with staggering and sheer cliffs on each side. The Iceline Trail and Little Yoho Valley loop truly has it all!
- Diverse scenery including sweeping mountain views, massive glaciers, alpine lakes, and waterfalls.
- There isn’t just one summit or view point – you’ll have views for miles!
- Perfect length and difficulty for a day hike. You’ll get a workout but won’t be worried about running out of time!
- With Banff National Park next door, Yoho National Park is much less crowded and you’ll see fewer people on the trails.
- The Iceline section of the trail is very exposed, with no shade for several miles.
- Steep initial climb up to the Iceline.
Yoho National Park Entrance Fees
Entrance to Yoho National Park costs $7.70 per person per day. Unlike in the United States, entrance fees are paid per person, rather than per vehicle. Alternatively, you can purchase a Parks Canada Discovery Pass for $53 per person, which grants you access to all Canadian National Parks for one year.
When is the best time to hike the Iceline Trail?
The road to the trailhead for the Iceline Trail is only open from about mid-June through Mid-October, with exact opening dates varying year to year based on snow conditions.
Sections of the Iceline Trail are likely to be snow-covered in June and late September to October, so the best time to hike is mid-July through early September. We hiked in mid-July and the trail was almost entirely clear, with sections of lingering snow here and there.
Of course, snow conditions vary each year so be sure to check trail conditions before you head out.
How difficult is the Iceline Trail?
The Iceline Trail and Little Yoho Valley Loop is a long day hike, making it fairly challenging. If you’re an avid hiker, this hike should be quite manageable. If you are a less regular hiker, expect the hike to be strenuous, and be sure to get an early start.
The most challenging part of the hike is the steep climb up to the Iceline Trail. After that, the elevation gain is fairly mild, and the sheer length of the hike is what makes it difficult. Your feet will definitely be aching by the time you catch a glimpse of the parking lot again!
- Iceline trail out and back | 9.3 miles, 2800 feet elevation gain
In this article, we’ll detail how to hike the Iceline Trail as a loop via the Little Yoho Valley Trail. It’s also possible to hike the entire Iceline Trail as an out and back hike, which shortens the total distance by about 4 miles.
Nonetheless, we strongly believe the hike is worth doing as a loop. One of our favorite parts of the hike was the northwestern end of the Iceline Trail as it descends into Little Yoho Valley, with glossy alpine lakes and spectacular snowy mountain views.
Which direction should I hike?
Although the Iceline Trail can be hiked as an out and back as noted above, the Iceline Trail is best accessed (in our opinion) as a loop combined with the Little Yoho Valley and Yoho Valley. So of course, the question becomes, which direction should I hike?
The answer depends on your own personal preferences, but we hiked clockwise and would recommend it for a few reasons:
- You get most of the elevation gain out of the way early on. Once you reach the Iceline Trail at around mile 3.5, there are a few moderate ups and downs but the trail is quite flat from there.
- The steepest section of the hike is the trail up from Takkakaw Falls to the Iceline. We prefer to climb steeper sections versus descending as its easier on the knees.
- You get up to the Iceline quicker. If there’s any chance of afternoon thunderstorms, you can get back down to tree cover along the Little Yoho Valley trail more quickly.
- We thought the views along the Iceline trail were (ever so slightly) more impressive heading towards the Little Yoho Valley, the head on view you’ll have hiking clockwise.
- Additionally, the Iceline Trail offers no shade and it can get hot in the late afternoon! Best to get down to shade earlier in the day. The sun will be at your back in the morning hours crossing the Iceline Trail.
In addition to your typical day hike essentials, we’d recommend making sure you pack the following items for the Iceline Trail hike:
- Bear Spray (Counter Assault)| Yoho National Park is home to both black and grizzly bears, so be sure to carry bear spray.
- GPS Device (Garmin InReach Mini) | There is no service along the Iceline Trail so we’d recommend carrying a GPS device for peace of mind just in case of an emergency.
- Camera | I always carry my Nikon Z6 while hiking, and while it’s certainly not light, it’s totally worth the extra weight for amazing photos.
- Hiking poles | Very helpful for the steep climb up to the Iceline Trail.
- Hiking boots | We’d highly recommend wearing hiking boots for better traction and foot support on this long hike.
- Sunscreen, sun shirt and sunglasses | The Iceline is very exposed! Don’t forget to pack appropriate sun protection
- Water filter | There are plenty of water sources along the trail. Since this hike is quite long, we love to carry a water filter to refill along the way instead so that we don’t have to carry so much water.
- Microspikes | If hiking earlier in the season, there will be patches of snow remaining and microspikes will be useful for better traction.
Tips for a great hike
- Beware of thunderstorms! The majority of the Iceline trail follows along an exposed rocky shelf with no tree cover for several miles. Make sure to check the weather before you set out. This hike should not be attempted if there is any chance of thunderstorms in the forecast due to exposure and lack of cover.
- Get an early start! The parking lot fills up later in the day and this is a long hike.
- Consider backpacking the Iceline Trail. If you want to really take your time and enjoy the scenery, there are several backcountry campsites along the trail. Read more about backcountry camping in Yoho National Park here.
Iceline Trail, Yoho Valley & Little Yoho Valley Loop Details
In the following sections, we’ll give you all the details about each part of the Iceline Trail, Yoho Valley and Little Yoho Valley loop trail so that you know what to expect from the hike.
Iceline Trail , Yoho Valley & Little Yoho Valley Loop Map
The map below displays the three different trails that make up the loop: Little Yoho Valley Trail, Yoho Valley Trail and the Iceline Trail. Key landmarks along the trail are also marked.
Parking and getting to the trailhead
The trailhead is located off Yoho Valley Road. It’s about 35 minutes from Lake Louise and 1 hour 15 minutes from the town of Banff. The parking area is large, but this is a popular area so it does tend to fill up. Arrive to early to make sure you don’t have trouble finding a spot.
Note that the parking area is not accessible with RVs due to an incredible sharp set of switchbacks on the drive in.
Starting the hike
If you plan to hike clockwise as we recommend, you’ll start the hike by turning right out of the parking area heading towards the enormous waterfall you see ahead, Takkakaw Falls.
Takkakaw Falls is one of the largest waterfalls in Canada, dropping an incredible 1200 feet! It can immediately be seen from the parking lot for the Iceline Trail. The Iceline Trail hike does not lead up close to the falls, but you still get an impressive view.
Climbing up to the Iceline
After an easy stroll past Takkakaw Falls, you’ll cross the road and pass by the Hi Yoho Hostel, before quickly coming upon the most challenging part of the hike. Just over half a mile in, the trail begins to switchback up the side of the mountain, gaining nearly 1000 feet of elevation over just 2 miles.
Although this steep climb is tough and will have you blood pumping right off the bat, it’s nice to get the hard part out of the way. After the initial climb, there is only moderate elevation gain a few small ups and downs as you make your way along the Iceline.
The Iceline Trail
As the trail rises above the treeline, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of the snow-capped Rockies and the massive Takkakaw Falls below. The Iceline trail leads a long a (relatively) flat shelf, and gets you up close to several receding glaciers along the righthand side.
Along the way, you’ll pass by several waterfalls of melting snow and some of the most bright-teal colored alpine lakes we’ve ever seen. The alpine lakes make the perfect spot for a mid-hike lunch break, and if you’re feeling bold, a frigid plunge!
The Iceline Summit
The Iceline Summit is a brief detour from the main trail that leads to the tallest point along the Iceline Trail and offers amazing 360 degree views. The summit is only about a quarter mile detour out and back, but the climb is very steep.
Located about 4.5 miles from the trailhead, the Iceline Summit looks like a big rocky hill that veers right off the main trail (if hiking clockwise).
Little Yoho Valley
As you reach the end of the Iceline Trail, an enormous singular pointy peak comes into view. This mountain is aptly named Isolated Peak, and its shape reminded us a lot of the Tetons in western Wyoming (one of our all-time favorite places)!
At this point, the trail begins to descend back below the tree line and into Little Yoho Valley. With Isolated Peak in the background, the views here were some of our favorites of the entire hike! You will cross over the Little Yoho River and then pass by the Stanley Mitchell Hut, a rustic cabin that sleeps 22. Guests can reserve the entire hut or book by bed. Nightly rates are $50 per bed and $1125 for the entire hut.
After passing the cabin, the Little Yoho Valley Trail continues through the woods for a fairly boring couple of miles.
The last major landmark on the Iceline Trail – Little Yoho Valley Loop is Laughing Falls. Laughing Falls is located on the Little Yoho River, which joins the roaring Yoho River shortly after. The silty teal blue color of the water, fueled by glacial runoff, make the area particularly scenic.
Shortly after passing Laughing Falls, the trail takes a right turn and enters back into Yoho Valley. From here is a mostly gentle walk downhill until Takkakaw Falls comes into view and you reach the parking lot again.
Banff & Yoho Itinerary
Looking for other great hikes and things to do in the area? We’ve compiled an epic 4 day Banff itinerary for you, with one day set aside to hike the Iceline Trail. Check it out here:
Other useful resources
Planning a trip to Yoho and Banff?! You may also be interested in the following resources:
- 16 Incredible Hikes in Banff & Yoho National Parks
- The Best 4-Day Banff & Yoho Itinerary
- How to Visit Moraine Lake at Sunrise
- Hike to the Big Beehive: The Best View of Lake Louise
- Cirque Peak & Helen Lake in Banff: Complete Trail Guide
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For all things Canada: Canada Travel Guide
Still have questions about hiking the Iceline, Yoho Valley & Little Yoho Valley loop trail? Drop us a comment below and we’ll be happy to help!