Hiking Yoho National Park – Burgess Shale Walcott Quarry

We did this hike back in 2009, when K was just 9 years old. At 23.9 km (return) it’s the longest day hike any of us have ever done (except for Mr. GeoK’s 26 km (return) hike to Junction Fire Lookout in July 2008).

Over the next few weeks, in anticipation of the summer 2014 hiking season, I hope to update and re-post some of the hikes that we did prior to 2011. Why? In reviewing the stats for this blog, it’s pretty clear that starting in April/May each year, folks come across this blog while planning for the upcoming hiking season in the Canadian Rockies. It’s my hope that the information here helps at least some people decide between the many hiking options available.

We did some great hikes prior to 2011, back when this blog was hosted on another site. When that site shut down in late 2010, I took advantage of the limited tools available to port over the original posts, but there are definitely some formatting problems with posts dated prior to October 2010 – especially when it comes to the photographs! So I’ll fix those issues, update links and re-post with appropriate tags to make them easier to find. Sorry I can’t do anything about the sometimes poor quality of the photos from way back when!

Originally posted July 7, 2009

We’ve been watching the weather forecast for Field, BC with growing trepidation. The Weather Network is forecasting a daytime high just above freezing, with anywhere from 60 – 100% POP, including the possibility of snow. When we booked our guided hike to the Walcott Quarry in the Burgess Shale some two months ago, we figured that by early July we wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of snow!!

Takakkaw-FallsConditions were fairly good when we arrived at the trailhead parking lot a few minutes after 7 o’clock. Our first task was to eat breakfast, which we didn’t have time for at the hotel. Mr. GeoK’s alarm failed to go off and it was purely by chance that I got up to check the time and got everyone moving! We quickly dressed, packed our lunches for the trail and stopped at the hotel deli for some breakfast pastries and managed to leave the hotel at 6:30 for the drive to Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park.

We found our Parks Canada guide (Kristi) and our three companion hikers in the other half of the parking lot: Per from Norway and Ava and Angel from Spain. We all reviewed and signed the necessary waivers and then waited for about a half hour for 5 more registrants. Kristi finally ruled them “no shows” and we headed a few hundred meters down the trail for our orientation to the hike.

The first km was pretty flat, but then we started climbing and the elevation never really let up. We stopped several times so that we could snap photos of Takakkaw Falls across the valley, study an old pine marten trap site, examine some of the prolific wildflowers and lichens, eat a snack and take an outhouse break at Yoho Lake (where we got pretty close to an elk with a HUGE rack of antlers), check out some (old) bear scat on the trail, listen to some mini-geology lessons and eat our lunches above Emerald Lake.

We stopped several times over the course of the morning to add or remove layers, as the weather was constantly changing: sun, clouds, light rain, heavier rain and then, on our final approach to the Quarry, it started to hail and then turned to snow. K wasn’t feeling very well and needed a little extra attention and encouragement while we donned our fleeces, rain jackets, rain pants and neoprene gloves.

As soon as we reached the Quarry, we also put gaiters on the boys, to stop the wind chill from sending shivers up the backs of their legs. We were happy to see that K joined right in, searching for fossils and clambering around on the rock and a remnant of snow pack.

The first 15 or 20 minutes at the Quarry were quite miserable, with lots of blowing snow. K and Mr. GeoK found a few interesting fossil specimens and Kristi also pulled out some bins of trilobites, Wiwaxia, sponges, Miskoia and brachiopods. Once the snow stopped and the sun came out we found several more examples of sponges and brachiopods, as well as an in situ trilobite.

Our hour at the Quarry passed very quickly and we were all glad that the sun was out as we started down the muddy, and consequently slippery, trail. We enjoyed plenty of good conversation along the way, ranging from geology (Per was working towards his PhD in geo-chronology); to hiking and mountain adventures in Norway, Spain, Colorado and the Canadian Rockies; to vertigo and anaphylactic allergies; and “A Brief History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. It was kind of strange that everyone in the group, with the exception of our guide Kristi, had either read the book or listened to the audio book!


We stopped for another snack break on the trail above Emerald Lake, just after we’d spotted a couple of marmots down the slope. Our boots, gaiters and/or rain pants were pretty well caked with mud and it just got worse as the afternoon wore on and we neared our starting point. Our time for the return hike, including snack and rest breaks, was 3 hours, as compared to approximately 5 hours for the ascent.

Near the parking lot, I made a short detour to the posted coordinates for GC9B30, a virtual geocache at Takakkaw Falls set-up in 2002. So in addition to everything we learned while on our hike, we managed to earn a geocaching smiley at the end of our long day.

Total hiking distance = 23.9 km (including the short walk to the base of Takakkaw Falls)
Net elevation gain = 817 m
Total hiking time = 9 hours (including an hour at the Quarry and a brief stop for lunch)

It is not possible to do this hike on your own! Walcott Quarry is a protected site within the Rocky Mountain Parks and can only be visited with a guide (see booking options below). Also, dogs are not permitted on this hike.

K gave the full-day hike 2 thumbs up. C awarded a rating of one thumb up and one thumb down, mostly because of the weather and because so much of the hike was in the trees. Mr. GeoK and I would both do this hike again some day. We thought it was interesting that (according to Kristi) most of the participants on these guided hikes are NOT Canadians!! This is a fairly strenuous (i.e. moderately difficult hike on account of both the distance and the elevation gain. Before booking, take into consideration the fact that you will be hiking at altitude (i.e. starting at over 1,000 meters elevation) and do an honest assessment of your fitness, equipment and experience. In addition to the Walcott Quarry hike, Parks Canada offers two other Burgess Shale guided hikes: Mount Stephen Fossil Bed in Yoho National Park and Stanley Glacier in Kootenay National Park. The Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation also offers two other Burgess Shale hikes: Mount Stephen Fossil Beds and a Climate Change hike along the Iceline Trail (also in addition to a Walcott Quarry hike).

We’re booked to do the Stanley Glacier hike (moderately difficult) at the end of June and will post our thoughts soon after.

4 thoughts on “Hiking Yoho National Park – Burgess Shale Walcott Quarry

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