Pass Finder

Yellowhead Pass

  • 1131 m (3711ft)
  • Naming History
  • Peaks and Rivers
52.8902N 118.4625W
Province: Alberta/BC
Park: Jasper/Mount Robson
Year Named:
Named by:
Named for: Bostonais, Pierre (A Hudson Bay Company Guide in the Yellowhead Pass area, it is thought that the pass was named after him.)
Mountain (NW):
Mountain (SE):
Headwaters (NE): Miette River
Headwaters (SW): Yellowhead River


The Yellowhead Highway (#16) and the CNR make their way through this pass which, at 1131 metres, is the lowest crossing of the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies south of 54 degrees, 15 minutes (the geographical area covered by Peakfinder).

It is not certain who the pass was named after but it is most likely that they were named after Pierre Bostonais, a blonde Iroquois trapper who was nicknamed _Tete JauneĆ® (Yellowhead). In 1820 he guided one of the first Hudson Bay Company parties through the pass. The route was used regularly by the company to reach the interior of British Columbia.

In "Northwest Passage by Land" (1865) by William Fitzwilliam (Viscount Milton) and Walter Cheadle, the pass is referred to as Leather Pass. The pass was referred to by this name during the 1860''s, 1870''s, and 1880''s. This refers to the moose and caribou skins carried through the pass by fur traders.

The approach to the pass is very gradual and early travellers had difficulty discerning the summit as the following quotations describe.

In "Northwest Passage by Land" (1865) Milton and Cheadle describe how, when crossing the pass from east to west, they, "were surprised by coming upon a stream flowing to the westward. We had unconsciously passed the height of land and gained the watershed of the Pacific. The ascent had been so gradual nad imperceptible, that, until we had the evidence of the water-flow, we had no suspicion that we were even near the dividing ridge."

Sir Sanford Fleming wrote an article in the first Canadian Alpine Club Journal in which he recalled his trip through the pass in 1872. He wrote, "A gentle ascent brought us to the summit, which was found to be almost a continuous level, the trail following the now smooth-flowing Myette till the main branch entered the valley from the north, and then a small branch till it too disappeared among the hills. A few minutes afterwards the sound of a rivulet running in the opposite direction over a red pebbly bottom was heard. Thus we left he Myette flowing into the Arctic Ocean, and now came upon this, the source of the Fraser, hurrying to the Pacific. At the summit Moberly welcomed us into British Columbia, for we were at length our of "No man''s land," and had entered the western province of our Dominion. Round the rivulet running west the party gathered and drank from its waters to the Queen and the Dominion."

The Interprovincial Boundary Survey Report reads, "Yellowhead Pass, at the crossing of the watershed, is not of striking appearance, because it is a wide, low pass and the hills in the immediate vicinity are of a very secondary nature, whereas the really fine mountains on either side are at such a considerable distance as to be invisible from it."

The Canadian Northern Railway reached the summit of the pass in 1913.