Welcome to our Lake O’Hara Trail Guide! This resource includes information and tips to help plan your adventure in Yoho National Park. To skip to a specific topic of interest, use the quick links below for easier navigation.
- Lake O’Hara Bus
- Trip Reports
- Guided Trips
- Phenomenal hiking trails. The trails are a hiker’s dream: well-signed and well-engineered. The pathways and routes have been created and maintained with care.
- Wilderness space. Lake O’Hara is a fragile alpine zone. Parks Canada has a quota system in place to limit the number of visitors. You will enjoy the wilderness with more seclusion.
- Epic mountain scenery. In this zone, you hike in view of the Great Divide. The total length of this natural boundary spans almost all of North and South America.
- Jewel-coloured lakes. Lake O’Hara is not the only beauty. Lake Oesa, Opabin Lake, Lake McArthur, Mary Lake, and Schäffer Lake are some other water bodies to enjoy.
- Après-hiking refreshments. After your hike, spend cash on cold drinks and chips at the Le Relais Day Shelter. In the evening, return to hear talks by nature enthusiasts.
- Location: British Columbia, Canada, on the western side of the Continental Divide
- Park: Yoho National Park
- Stewards: Parks Canada, Lake O’Hara Lodge, Alpine Club of Canada, and the Lake O’Hara Trails Club
- First Nations: Ktunaxa and Shuswap Nations
- Distance: Multiple day hike options ranging from 1 – 20 km
- Duration: Day use or overnight camping (maximum three nights)
- Difficulty: Subalpine and alpine terrain (beginner to advanced)
- Hiking Season: Mid-June through the end of September (start and end dates vary). The bus operates for hikers and campers from June 19 to October 4, 2020.
- Reservations: There is a quota system in place. Required for day users, campers, and lodgers. Not required for day users hiking the 11 km access road.
- Pets: You may walk your pet on leash into the valley, but pets are not allowed on the Lake O’Hara Bus or at the campground
- Trailheads: Lake O’Hara Campground or Lake O’Hara Lodge
- Camping: Front-country meets back-country. Numbered tent pads, shelters, information board, food lockers, equipment storage, garbage and recycling containers, outhouses, running water in a sink, fire pit and fire wood.
- Structures: Footbridges, stairs, huts, shelters, lodge
- Geologic features: Lakes, tarns, ponds, creeks, waterfalls, hills, plateaus, mountains, summits, cliffs, gullies, scree, talus, passes, valleys
- Flora: Mosses, ferns, larches, spruce, fir, aspen, alpine wildflowers
- Mammals: Black bears, grizzly bears, moose, elk, deer, lynx, mountain goats, golden-mantled ground squirrels, hoary marmots, wolverines, pine martens, bats, voles, pikas, mice
- Amphibians: Toads, salamanders
- Birds: Hummingbirds, dippers, ravens, finches, warblers, owls, thrushes, hawks, eagles, jays, falcons, ducks
- Weather: Heavy rain, snow, fog, freezing temperatures, high winds, hot sun
- Hazards: Topographical (rugged terrain, rock-fall, steep slopes, loose scree, landslides, dangerous drops, exposure); weather (bad visibility, lightening, rain, wind, hypothermia, sun burn, heat exhaustion); human (inappropriate gear, missing equipment)
- Emergency help: Cell phone service is not reliable in Lake O’Hara. We carry a satellite phone. There is a pay phone at the Le Relais Day Shelter.
We like the Gem Trek Lake O’Hara 1:20,000 map for hiking. Hiking trails are marked.
Parks Canada publishes a Lake O’Hara overview Map (PDF, 350 KB) for trip planning. This map is not useful for on-trail wilderness navigation.
Our standard maps for navigation are Natural Resources Canada topographic maps.
- 08-N/08. Scale 1:50,000. Edition 07. Lake Louise. British Columbia. Produced by the Canada Centre for Mapping, Natural Resources Canada. Published 1996.
We also like GeoBC 1:20,000 maps. These maps are based on the most current Terrain Resource Information Mapping (TRIM) data available.
- MAP 082N039. Scale 1:20,000. Copyright 2016, Province of British Columbia. View or Download: Map 082N039 (PDF, 9.7 MB)
We use a combination of paper and online information for pre-trip planning and on-trip updates.
- Parks Canada Yoho National Park Lake O’Hara web page
- Parks Canada Yoho National Park Trail Condition Report
- Parks Canada Yoho National Park Lake O’Hara Trail Destinations and Trail Descriptions
- Gem Trek Lake O’Hara Trail Map and Guide in One featuring:
- Lakeshore Trail
- Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit
- Opabin Plateau Trails
- Linda Lake and Cathedral Prospect
- Lake Oesa
- Lake McArthur via Schäffer Lake
- Lake O’Hara Trails Club Trail and Alpine Route Descriptions featuring:
- Information boards are available at the Lake O’Hara Campground and the Le Relais Day Shelter (e.g. history, weather, hazards, and wildlife)
There are five ways to access Lake O’Hara. A quota system is in place to restrict the number of visitors.
Advanced reservations are required for:
- Day Use – Lake O’Hara Bus
- Lake O’Hara Campground – Lake O’Hara Bus
- Elizabeth Parker Hut – Lake O’Hara Bus
- Lake O’Hara Lodge – Lodge Shuttle
Advanced reservations are not required for:
- Day Use — Walk 11 km access road (ingoing); a ride out is not guaranteed
Day Use – Lake O’Hara Bus
NEW IN 2020 – All day use reservations for the Lake O’Hara shuttle bus will be booked through a random draw reservation system beginning in 2020. This system will improve the reservation service for visitors, reduce stress on the current reservation system, and help to ensure all online users have a chance at securing a reservation for a seat on the Lake O’Hara bus.
- Visitors will have a one-month period from February 1 – 29, 2020, to submit an application online through the Parks Canada Reservation Service
- Visitors seeking a reservation for the Lake O’Hara day-use bus may choose to submit a single or multiple applications.
- A non-refundable fee of $10.00 (tax incl.) is charged for each application
- Each paid application allows applicants to select up to 6 different bus days and/or times and up to 6 seats, based on the flexibility of their schedule.
- Applications will be drawn at random and have temporary reservations assigned.
- Any unconfirmed and unreserved spots will become available publicly on a first-come first-served basis for reservation at the end of the process.
- Once bookings are confirmed by both Parks Canada and the visitor, bookings are non-transferable. Cancellation and change fees will apply.
- Applications by phone are not accepted for the random draw.
Reference: Reserve for the day (bus only)
Lake O’Hara Campground – Lake O’Hara Bus
NEW IN 2020, all overnight camping reservations at Lake O’Hara will be offered on the Parks Canada Reservation Service.
Beginning at 8:00 a.m. MST on January 24, 2020, the entire overnight camping season will be available to reserve on a first-come first-serve reservation model. Overnight camping will be offered from June from June 19 – October 3, 2020.
You can access the Parks Canada Reservation Service:
- Online 24/7 at: www.reservation.parkscanada.gc.ca
- By calling: 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783).
- International: 1-519-826-5391
Tip: Save time by creating an account in advance
Book Early: All Lake O’Hara camping reservations for the 2020 season are expected to be booked early on reservation opening day, January 24, 2020.
When you go online or call, please have the following information ready:
- Day or dates requested: maximum of 3 nights for camping
- Number of people: maximum of 6 people per party for day use
- Number of campsites: maximum of 2 sites per party and 1 tent per site
- Preferred in-going bus time: reservations are not required for an outgoing bus
- Mastercard, Visa, or American Express number: all fees are collected at the time of booking
Reference: Reserve an overnight stay (campsite and bus)
Elizabeth Parker Hut – Lake O’Hara Bus
- Application Deadline is November 1, 2019, 11:59 p.m. MST.
- NEW FOR SUMMER 2020 – You will not provide a date or party size for your lottery entry. You will simply be issued a ticket number for each lottery entry that you purchase.
- All of these lottery entries will be drawn against one another, and a winning lottery ticket number list created.
- Each of the winners will be contact IN SUCCESSION until no spaces are available at the Elizabeth Parker hut for Summer 2020 stays (June 19, 2020 – October 4, 2020)
- When the winners are contacted, they will be presented with the remaining dates and spaces in the hut on the chosen date, once the booking is made and the deposit is paid, the next winner will be contacted, and so on.
- Lottery winners will be contacted STARTING ON November 8th, 2019.
- Each lottery ticket that you purchase will be charged at a cost of $10.00 + GST
- Lottery winners are required to be members in good standing at the time of booking, to complete your reservation.
- Once the booking is confirmed all standard cancellation and payment policies apply.
- There is no limit to the number of lottery entries that you may purchase.
- The maximum stay per party for the Summer lottery season (June 19, 2020 – October 4, 2020) for any single person, is 7 nights.
- The 2020 Lake O’Hara bus schedule has not been set by Parks Canada. Therefore bus times are subject to change and the time submitted in the lottery will be considered a request – not confirmed. There will no longer be an 8:30am bus for EP bookings.
- Nightly, per person fees for stays between June 19, 2020 and October 4, 2020 at Elizabeth Parker Hut will be $35.00 for ACC members and $45.00 for ACC non-members.
- IMPORTANT – There will be MULTIPLE dates UNAVAILABLE TO ANY LOTTERY ENTRANT at the commencement of the lottery. These dates will be shown on the opening page of the registration, and MUST be reviewed before you complete your lottery entry, as these entries are non refundable once paid.
Reference: Elizabeth Parker Lottery
Lake O’Hara Lodge – Lodge Shuttle
- Lake O’Hara Lodge offers the premium all-inclusive accommodation Lake O’Hara experience (minimum stay two nights)
- Phone to book: 403-678-4110
- Main lodge: Eight rooms, each with two twin beds, two bathrooms are shared; $755 per night (two people) and $545 per night (one person)
- Lakeshore cabins: one bedroom with queen bed, private bathroom; $1080 per night (two people)
- Guide cabins: One bedroom with queen bed plus pull down Murphy bed, full private bathroom; $1065 per night (two people); additional adult $345 per night, child 13-18 $145 per night, child 6-12 $65 per night, child under 6 free (max four people)
- Included: Accommodation, all meals, afternoon tea, round trip shuttle bus, all taxes and gratuities
- Summer / fall season: mid-June to early October
- Lake O’Hara Lodge operates an exclusive shuttle bus from the Lake O’Hara parking lot for registered guests
- Ingoing shuttle times: 9:45 am and 4:45 pm
- Outgoing shuttle times: 9:15 am and 4:00 pm
- Non-registered guests (day users and campers) may enjoy some services at the lodge such as lunch or afternoon tea (check availability at front desk)
Reference: Lake O’Hara Lodge
Day Use – Walking-In
- No restrictions on the number of hikers who want to walk the 11 km access road
- Buses do not stop for walkers
- A ride out is not guaranteed
- Bus outgoing only: Adults $9.75. Youth (6-16) $4.75. Child (0-5) free (cash only).
Lake O’Hara Bus
First Student Canada (in partnership with Parks Canada) provides shuttle service from the Lake O’Hara parking lot to the Lake O’Hara Campground. This service is for day-users, overnight campers, and ACC Elizabeth Parker Hut users (not for Lake O’Hara Lodge guests).
The bus must be reserved in advance (see Reservations). This service will operate from June 19 to October 4, 2020. Start and end dates vary yearly.
The Lake O’Hara parking lot is located 12 km west of Lake Louise, AB and 13 km east of Field, BC, just off the Trans Canada Highway.
Bus Schedule – Mountain Daylight Time (MDT)
June 19 to October 4, 2020 – Summer Schedule
- Ingoing bus times: 8:30 a.m, 10:30 a.m., *3:30 p.m., *5:30 p.m.
- Outgoing bus times: 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m.
* These shuttles are for overnight guests only
All visitors are encouraged to arrive at the bus stop no less than 20 minutes prior to departure. Thank you!
- Random draw entry fee (per application*): $10.00
- Bus (round-trip): Adults $14.70, Youth (6-16) $7.30, Children (5 and under) no charge
- Bus (outgoing only): Adults $9.75, Youth (6-16) $4.75, Children (5 and under) no charge
- Reservation Fee (for applicants successful in the random draw): For 1 or 2 persons – $4.50 per ticket if booked on-line or $6.25 per ticket if booked by telephone (non-refundable). For 3 or more persons – flat rate of $11.50 if booked on-line or $13.50 if booked by telephone (non-refundable).
Note: All fees are currently under review and are subject to change
*Each Random draw entry fee, allows applicants to select up to 6 different bus days and/or times and up to 6 seats, based on the flexibility of their schedule.
Reference: Reserve for the day (bus only)
We study the weather before our trip using a couple of different resources. On trip we access weather updates with a satellite messenger. You will be hiking in an exposed alpine environment. Be prepared for all kinds of weather!
- 30 campsites with small, backcountry tent pads (2.7 m x 2.7 m)
- 30 storage lockers for food and toiletries (60 cm [24 in] deep; 50 cm [20 in] high; 60 cm [24 in] wide) – bring your own pad lock if desired
- Two kitchen shelters with wood stoves for warmth
- One outdoor fire pit
- Food and garbage disposal
- Grey water disposal
- Outhouses (no showers)
- Firewood and a splitting maul
- Treated well water from a sink (not always available early and late season)
- Campground is 100% reservable
- Maximum two sites per party and one tent per site
- Maximum three night limit
- Campground is for overnight guests only
- Walk-ins cannot be accommodated at the campground
- Campers choose their site(s) on arrival
- Your party may not be able to have adjacent sites
- Baggage restrictions: two small bags per person (max weight: 25 kg [55 lbs]; max length 96 cm [38 in])
- Adhere to wildlife protocols for cooking, storing food, and garbage disposal
- Use small backpacking stoves for cooking
- Items not permitted on the bus: hard sided food coolers, storage bins, loose items
- Do not bring: musical instruments, electronics, hammocks
- There is a storage hut for camping gear if you want to hike on your final day (you must be off your tent pad by 10:30 a.m.)
The Lake O’Hara region is a special and delicate alpine zone. Many animals call the area home. As a visitor, we do not want to disturb the animals and the environment. The following content is from the Parks Canada Lake O’Hara Stewardship section and Gem Trek Lake O’Hara Map and Guide:
- Respect wildlife: Do not feed or approach wildlife. Carry bear spray and know how to use it. Read about safe travel in bear country.
- Leave no trace: Pack out all garbage, paper products, hygiene products, and food waste.
- Stay on the trails: This is easy to do with world-class trails built to minimize erosion.
- Let it be: Do not pick flowers and leave natural and historic artifacts as you find them (e.g. antlers, fossils, bones, rocks).
- Respect: Seasonal warnings and closures are in place to help grizzly bears and other wildlife. Some of these restrictions are on the voluntary honour system.
- Be safe: Parks Canada reminds us to be responsible for our own safety in the wilderness parks.
The Lake O’Hara Trails Club role is to “inspire and facilitate the stewardship of the trail system and the appreciation of the cultural and natural history of the Lake O’Hara area.” In their 2017 newsletter (PDF, 0.5 MB), the club reported that an increase in day visitors was a concern. In 1974, the original day-use quota for the Lake O’Hara Bus was 40 visitors, and today the quota is 42. Hiking the 11 km into Lake O’Hara has always been an option with no restrictions. However, in 1990, the number of walk-ins was negligible. Today the walk-in number is over 2,400 people per season. Parks Canada and the Lake O’Hara Trails Club are crunching numbers and may make changes to address the increased number of walk-ins.
We do not recommend walking in. The 11 km access road is dusty and potentially dangerous for walkers. It may take a few seasons of persistence and luck to get a bus reservation, but you will have a better overall experience. No matter how badly we wanted to visit Lake O’Hara, walking-in was never a consideration. There are many other beautiful places to hike in Yoho National Park should you need an alternate plan. Since we learned that Lake O’Hara stewards are concerned about increased walk-ins, there is more reason to skip the “dust march.” Your eyes and lungs will thank you.
Lake O’Hara – August 30 – September 1, 2017
We love Yoho National Park! In fall 2015, we hiked the Emerald Triangle and the Iceline Trail. We had such a good time in Yoho that we added Lake O’Hara to our list for 2017. With persistence and luck (and about 100 calls from Mike) we got reservations for our desired dates. It was like trying to get concert tickets from a popular band.
Getting To Lake O’Hara
We drove from Victoria, BC to the Illecillewaet Campground in Glacier National Park over one day. Our plan was to sleep, do a day hike in Glacier the next day, stay another night at Illecillewaet, then drive to the Lake O’Hara parking lot to catch our bus. We hiked the fantastic Glacier Crest Trail from the Illecillewaet trailhead in 2015. We promised to return here to basecamp and hike more Glacier trails. Of course, nature had us making alternate plans.
Grizzly bears and cubs were active in Illecillewaet when we arrived. Parks Canada was enforcing a four-hiker minimum on all trails in the area. We didn’t feel like meeting up with strangers, so we thought we might hike the Hermit Trail the next day. We wanted an uphill hike with good views. The ranger confirmed that hiker restrictions on bear activity did not include Hermit.
However, 2017 was also a serious fire season for BC. The morning after our first camp, smoke had enveloped Glacier. The air was hot and muggy. We drove over Roger’s Pass to check the Hermit trailhead. The sky was obscured by brown smoke. We decided to leave Glacier and see if the air was better in Yoho. Embracing Plan B, we scored a quiet spot with fresher air at the Kicking Horse Campground. We’ve stayed there before, and enjoy the proximity to the town of Field and the Kicking Horse River.
After setting up, we visited the Yoho National Park Visitor Centre to look at the trilobites. Our favourite restaurant in Field, the Siding Cafe, was closed for a few hours. Being hungry and impatient, we drove 12 km west to the town of Lake Louise. Try as we might, we could not find a veggie burger. We had crossed the Continental Divide to a whole different province…and came up dry! After a quick look around we headed back to the Siding Cafe, which was open and ready to make vegan noodle bowls once again.
- Camp or stay in Field the night before if travelling from the BC side (only 13 km to Lake O’Hara parking lot)
- We like Kicking Horse Campground for car camping because it has hot showers and more secluded sites
- Monarch Campground is adjacent to Kicking Horse Campground and is the next best car camping option with a few less amenities and a more open site plan
Riding the Lake O’Hara Bus
We reserved the 10:30 a.m. bus because we had originally planned to drive from Glacier National Park that morning. After granola (thanks mom!) we drove to our main staging area. There was some roadwork to bypass, but it didn’t slow us too much. The Lake O’Hara parking lot was massive. Chaos dominated. Some people attempted to bring hard coolers, but the Parks Canada Rangers instructed them to put the food in backpacks. We witnessed anxious repacking with gear all over the dirty ground.
Our driver loaded packs into the orange school bus and we crammed into a seat. A ranger boarded to reveal the next phase. She handed out plastic tokens which would be our “ticket” on the outgoing bus in several days. We were told not to lose them, otherwise we would have to pay $10 cash to bus out. Parents started collecting the tokens from their children…and Mike took Lara’s away. As the 10:30 a.m. bus growled up the access road, the people hiking in got dusted.
- Reserve a ride on the bus if you are day hiking – don’t walk in
- Reserve the 8:30 a.m. bus if possible (day hikers and campers)
- Plan to arrive at the Lake O’Hara parking lot at least 30 min before your bus
- Check Drive BC for any construction or traffic delays
- Pack everything you are bringing into one backpack…as if you were backpacking
- Have your bag packed and ready before you arrive at the parking lot
- Don’t lose your token, or it will cost you $10 cash for a ride out
- Pack some cash
Camping at Lake O’Hara
After disembarking, all passengers helped unload the backpacks. Then we gathered near the campground fire pit for orientation. We were in a common area with picnic tables, shelters, food lockers, pit toilets, garbage and recycling containers, and a sink with running water. Trees hid the campsites from view. The ranger instructed us to drop our stuff and find a tent pad. Once we selected a pad, we were to report back to her at the fire pit with our chosen number. Sounds reasonable, right?
There are 30 tent pads at the Lake O’Hara Campground. The campers who took the 9:30 a.m. bus out were off their tent pads. Campers staying another night or two, or campers who arrived on the 8:30 a.m. bus, were on their tent pads. So once the ranger called, “Go!” we had less than 30 tent pads to choose from, depending on reservation cycle. Just like when calling to make reservations, a luck is required to get a good site.
There are two paths that lead away from the common area to the tent pads. The western path leads uphill to the more secluded pads that are separated more from each other. The northern path leads to a series of pads closer to the common area and to each other. A central path connects these two areas. If you want to be close to the action, the washroom, and other people, take the northern path and stay low. If you desire more privacy, take the western path above the camp. There is a single tent pad (number 4) holding court above the fire pit and right in the action. We’re not sure who would choose that one. We tried to go for the more secluded pads above, but were unlucky with that strategy.
We raced up the western path, but all the pads on the “upper deck” were already taken. After messing around up there, our second choices on the connector path got taken. We ended up claiming tent pad number 12 on the “lower deck.” At first Mike was disappointed at not scoring in the highlands, but he perked up once he strung a pro tarp system and clothesline.
The musical chairs site selection process didn’t really matter. Because of the dynamic reservation cycle, your tenting neighbours change daily. Noisy family one day, quiet soloist the next. Our neighbours had three kids, providing entertainment. Mostly the children ran around chasing each other with sticks. On the second day, one little boy wouldn’t get out of the tent. He wailed and whined. He said he didn’t like it there, that he was staying in the tent, and that his parents could “just leave him there.” Considering how difficult it was to get reservations, I’m sure his folks were annoyed. They were outwardly heroic though. Of course, in an hour, he was out and about like nothing had happened. We had new neighbours the next day.
- Go high for more secluded sites
- Stay low for more neighbour-cozy, washroom-proximal sites
- Don’t worry about your neighbours, you will get new ones the next day
- Tent pads are small; use backpacking tents vs large car camping tents
- Consider a lightweight tarp to keep moisture and needles off your tent
Cooking at Lake O’Hara Campground
The Lake O’Hara Campground is a front-country meets back-country scene. Food must be cooked, stored, and consumed in the common area with the picnic tables. Food is not permitted in your campsite or tent. Because there is bus transportation, the temptation to bring lots of food is strong. Some people carried in large bags of fresh groceries. A few did okay with this plan, others had a difficult time with wastage. You are only supposed to bring small stoves, but a few multi-burner Colemans snuck past the keeper.
To make life simple for three days, we used backpacking trip meal plans: dehydrated, lightweight, and portioned. Does this sound boring? Maybe, but mealtimes are way easier and cleaner when all you have to do is boil water. We waited until we were back in civilization for a fresh feast. One luxury item we wished we brought was a cloth for the picnic table. There was a lot of sharing with strangers, and not everyone washed their hands. Mike used stuff sacks to shield himself from real or imagined “table juice”, but a cloth would have been classier.
- Practice leave-no-trace principles as if you were in the backcountry
- Minimize garbage and use available containers for disposal
- Plan meals as if you were on a backpacking trip (e.g. dehydrated, lightweight, portioned)
- Use a small backpacking stove
- Cook an earlier dinner to beat the crowds and get a premium picnic table
- Consider a lightweight table-cloth as a luxury item
- Bring a few bottles of hand sanitizer
- Arrive early to the evening Lake O’Hara Speaker Series (Le Relais Day Shelter)
Lake O’Hara Day Hikes
The Lake O’Hara zone has a mixture of beginner to advanced trails from subalpine to alpine. The rugged mountain terrain includes: steep slopes, logs, blowdowns, roots, talus, boulders, scree, creeks, lakes, tarns, frost, seasonal snow. There are man-made wooden structures such as footbridges, stairs, lodges, huts, and shelters.
Wilderness navigation skills and tools (topographical map, compass, GPS) are useful for Lake O’Hara alpine hikes. Trails are well-engineered and well-marked but weather conditions can change quickly. Visibility may be affected at any time. Yoho National Park publishes a regularly updated Trail Condition Report.
With only three full days to hike in Lake O’Hara, we chose these classics: Opabin Plateau Trails, Lake McArthur via Schäffer Lake, and the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit.
- Opabin Plateau Trails
- Lake McArthur via Schäffer Lake
- Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit: Wiwaxy-Huber-Yukness-All Souls’
Opabin Plateau Trails – August 30, 2017
Distance: 7.5 km
Duration: 4 h 30 min
Peak: 2298 m
Gain: 364 m
Weather: 1300 h, Campground, 2010 m, clear, no precip, 20 ºC, wind light E, 1013 hPa
There are many options to explore the Opabin Plateau, a hanging valley above Lake O’Hara. After leaving the Lake O’Hara Campground, we crossed the road and entered the forest. After a short distance, the trail forked into two. We crossed a wooden bridge to join the northern trail alongside Cataract Brook (southeast). Soon we arrived at beautiful Lake O’Hara (finally!) and proceeded along the Lakeshore Trail in the clockwise direction. We passed trail junctions to Wiwaxy Gap and Lake Oesa. Near the eastern shore of Lake O’Hara, we took the East Opabin Trail up and onto the Opabin Plateau (southeast). The path was a series of well-graded switchbacks through the forest. Parts of the plateau trail were made of strategically-placed stones.
We kept to the left at all junctions, passing Moor Lakes and Hungabee Lake. In the talus field adjacent to Hungabee Lake, we saw a large furry puff on a boulder. We got closer and realized it was a hoary marmot. He was sprawled out and upside down…so inanimate that we thought he was injured or dead. But when we walked below, he slowly opened his eyes and rolled onto his belly. He looked at us, blinking, then turned over and went back to sleeping in the sun. Such a wildlife viewing is typical of Yoho National Park! A few more minutes of hiking brought us to Opabin Lake. We enjoyed the turquoise objective, and took a snack break on its shore. We were alone, except for a bald eagle. The clouds had a stormy look towards the southwest, so we didn’t linger. Opabin Glacier and Opabin Pass were dark with shadows.
For our return, we chose the West Opabin Trail which touched the southwest shore of Hungabee Lake. Light rain started to fall, so we left Opabin Prospect for another time. The West Opabin Trail switchbacked down below the prospect cliffs. We had fantastic views of Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara on descent. Eventually we reached Mary Lake. After crossing a footbridge, we took a short connector trail (north) to rejoin the Lakeshore Trail. We passed by the Lake O’Hara Lodge and joined the southern trail paralleling Cataract Brook. Then we were back to the road and campground for dinner.
After our meal, we walked back down the road to the Le Relais Day Shelter for the Lake O’Hara Speaker Series. John McFaul, a professional naturalist and owner/guide at Alpenglow Nature Hikes, gave a fantastic presentation on Creatures of the Night. He wove mythologic stories about the constellations with scientific facts that we know today. The best part was that the projector failed, so he did an old school interpretive presentation with no electronics!
Lake McArthur via Schäffer Lake – August 31, 2017
Distance: 8.1 km
Duration: 6 h 10 min
Peak: 2308 m
Gain: 418 m
Weather: 0600 h, Campground, 2010 m, clear, no precip, 10 ºC, wind light E, 1013 kPa
After breakfast, we hiked the southern forest trail near Cataract Brook to Lake O’Hara. We turned right (southwest) at the junction at the Le Relais Day Shelter to begin walking to the Elizabeth Parker Hut. We had lovely weather! The air was a little hazy from the wildfires, but not too bad. After a short break and water stop in the meadow, we continued along the Alpine Meadow Trail to Schäffer Lake. The trail system to Lake McArthur is shaped like a wilted hourglass. We chose the McArthur Pass-Low Level Circuit Trails to get to Lake McArthur.
We stopped briefly at the Odaray Highline Junction to read the information board. The Odaray Highline to Grandview Prospect is a wildlife corridor for grizzly bears and other wildlife. We took a photo for future reference. We share the content of the board for learning and planning purposes:
Guidelines for Protecting the Wildlife Corridor
Your help is needed to manage this area in an ecological sustainable way. Our goal is to ensure a low level of human use on the west side of McArthur Pass.
Before August 15 and after September 15: if you must hike the Odaray Highline Trail, please limit use to four or less groups per day. August 15 to September 15 is an especially important period. Some species, like grizzly bears, tend to increase their movement through the corridor in late summer. Please limit use to two groups or less per day.
To help further guide your actions today:
Check the logbook.
If there are four groups already signed in today, please choose to hike another trail.
If there are less than four groups, sign in your group and continue.
From August 15 to September 15
Check the logbook
If there are two groups already signed in today, please choose to hike another trail.
If there are less than two groups, sign in your group and continue.
Choosing to continue on?
Please minimize your impact while in the corridor.
Travel between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Stay together. Travel at the speed of your slowest group member.
Don’t stop or eat below treeline.
Don’t bring your pet.
Stay on the trail.
Join another group if possible. – Parks Canada
The four group quota had already signed in, so we left the Odaray Highline for another trip. We continued on towards Lake McArthur, climbing slowly though boulders and rocky meadows. We passed a junction to Ottertail-Goodsir Pass-Rockwall Trail via McArthur Creek. The McArthur Valley Wilderness Route is an unmaintained backcountry route open to limited human use after August 15 by permit only. We made a mental note to research this area for a future backpacking trip.
Pikas squeaked at us from the talus as we approached our objective. Lake McArthur was glittering and grand…well worth the trip. We took a long lunch break at the water’s edge and practiced wilderness navigation. Features identified: Mount Biddle, Biddle Glacier, Biddle Pass, and Park Mountain. On the northeast side of Schäffer Ridge was the Opabin Plateau from yesterday. The weather was warm, and we were in no rush, so Mike boiled a cup of luxury lunch coffee. As soon as we left, a chipmunk scoured the area for crumbs.
Our route out took us to some cliffs over Lake McArthur. From this vantage point, the lake was a vibrant blue-green. The High Level Circuit led over a plateau where we saw a white-tailed ptarmigan. We hiked the base of the cliffs, then over more gentle terrain until returning to Schäffer Lake. Instead of taking the Alpine Meadow Trail back to Lake O’Hara, we stayed right after the foot bridge and took the Big Larches Trail down. More nice switchbacks led us through an alpine larch forest. These trees look like evergreens, but they are deciduous. In the fall, the needles turns golden, then fall off. Only a few needles were golden that day. We crossed through more boulder fields before taking a left turn (northwest) across an alpine meadow between two small lakes. We stayed to the right at the next junction, and swung round down to the Le Relais Day Shelter for chips and pop.
After dinner, we returned to the Le Relais Day Shelter for another Lake O’Hara Speaker Series. This time we got a talk on wolves by Jim Pissot of WildCanada Conservation Alliance. We learned a lot we didn’t know about wolves, including how few there are in the Bow Valley. Jim used old-school slides on a Kodak carousal for his presentation. One little boy in the audience had never seen a slide projector before and he thought it was the coolest thing…some kind of new space-age technology! His dad explained that light shone through a little picture and the projector turned that into a big picture.
Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit: Wiwaxy-Huber-Yukness-All Souls’ – September 1, 2017
Distance: 11.6 km
Duration: 8 h 53 min
Peak: 2528 m
Gain: 1012 m
Weather: 0600 h, Campground, 2010 m, broken, no precip, 9 ºC, wind light N, 1018 kPa
We saved the biggest and best for the last day. We completed a route card the night before which included all four Alpine Routes: Wiwaxy Gap, Huber Ledges, Yukness Ledges, and All Souls’. Route hazards included: proximity to cliffs and drop-offs, unstable terrain, gullies, avalanche slopes, and rockfall. For research we checked the trail report printed by Parks Canada on the information boards before the hike. We also talked to hikers at dinner the night before who had completed the route, asking about recent rockfall or other hazards.
Lara practiced collecting technical data and wilderness navigation while Mike mentored. Our pace was moderate because we took our time, snapped photos, and enjoyed breaks. Navigation tools and data instruments used: Gem Trek Lake O’Hara 1:20,000 map, Rite in the Rain all-weather log book, mechanical pencil, Suunto MC-2 mirror compass, Garmin inReach Explorer+ GPS, Suunto Core altimeter watch, and two human brains. Lake O’Hara is an excellent place to practice wilderness navigation skills because good trails and clear signage allows for easy map cross-checking. There were also periodic blue and yellow markers to guide us through rocky sections.
GR = Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) Grid Reference
Elevation = Actual elevation at that Grid Reference
Distance = Horizontal distance
Duration = Total time to hike that section
Peak = Highest elevation reached during that section
Gain = Cumulative sum of every gain in elevation throughout the entire trip
Ascent = Cumulative metres ascended during that section
Descent = Cumulative metres descended during that section
0829 h Leave Lake O’Hara Camp (GR 456902, 2010 m)
0856 h Arrive Wiwaxy Junction (GR 462898, 2020 m)
Distance: 0.8 km
Duration: 0 h 25 min
Peak: 2022 m
Ascent: 11 m
Descent: 17 m
Our walk from camp to the Wiwaxy Alpine Junction was an easy warm up. As always, we took the forest trail next to Cataract Brook to get off the roadway. Cataract was a great place to get cold water (via Katadyn BeFree filter bottle) for the hike up Wiwaxy.
1034 h Arrive Wiwaxy Gap (GR 470906, 2529 m)
Distance: 1.5 km
Duration: 1 h 29 min
Peak: 2532 m
Ascent: 517 m
Descent: 5 m
We chose the clockwise direction so we could hike up the steep Wiwaxy Gap Alpine Route at the start of the day, rather descend it on tired legs. The views got better as we ascended. The trail was well-engineered. There were a few places with exposure, but careful walking mitigated the risk. We saw a mammal that looked like a pine marten, but he was very small. Wiwaxy Gap offered impressive views of Wiwaxy Peaks, Mount Huber, and Lake O’Hara. The wind blew hard as we entered the gap. We had to put on our puffies, hats, and gloves and lie in the rocks while we had a snack. A group of mountaineers also arrived for a break; their destination was the Abbot Pass Hut.
1208 h Arrive Lake Oesa (GR 481894, 2267 m)
Distance: 2 km
Duration: 1 h 11 min
Peak: 2523 m
Ascent: 6 m
Descent: 255 m
When we saw the tall Huber Ledges Alpine Route from the Opabin Plateau, it seemed impossible that a walkable trail existed. It looked like terrain for mountain goats only! But the route was human friendly. We were glad to leave the Wiwaxy Gap wind tunnel. The trail contoured southeast, gently sloping downward towards Lake Oesa. The alpine route markers were visible. Before descending to the lake, we passed the junction leading to the Abbott Pass Hut. We turned right (southwest), then after about 100 m turned left (southeast) to join the Lake Oesa Trail for 100 m to the lakeshore. Lake Oesa was breezy so we hunkered down behind a boulder near the outlet stream. Warm drinks were in order! We took a good break and refilled our water bottles for the next section.
1414 h Arrive Hungabee Lake (GR 476883, 2237 m)
Distance: 2.5 km
Duration: 1 h 18 min
Peak: 2316 m
Ascent: 119 m
Descent: 150 m
After lunch we hiked over the slabs and outlet stream to join the talus slopes of the Yukness Ledges Alpine Route. We soon transitioned to bouldered terrain. After a sharp right (north) turn, the trail descended for a short distance. There was a cut-off junction by Victoria Lake which led back to the Lake Oesa Trail and out to the Lakeshore Trail. We noted that this could be a escape route should someone feel too tired to continue the whole circuit. The next gently sloping maze of lichen-covered slabs and blocks was one of our favourite sections. The stunning west view of the valley rewarded us with every step. There were still drop-off hazards in this zone, requiring mindful walking. After rounding a cliff and heading south, familiar Lake Hungabee came into view. We had a leisurely descent down to the adjacent boulder field. We sat on a flat rock to take a break in the sun, just like the marmot.
1457 h Arrive West Opabin – All Souls’ Junction (GR 466885, 2201 m)
Distance: 1.5 km
Duration: 0 h 27 min
Peak: 2243 m
Ascent: 16 m
Descent: 51 m
To cross the Opabin Plateau we took the connector trail along the north shore of Hungabee Lake, then linked onto the main West Opabin trail. We crossed a footbridge south of Cascade Lakes, then stayed left of the two junctions to Opabin Prospect. A sharp left (southwest) led us to the All Souls’ Alpine Route. Again we missed Opabin Prospect, but we like to save something for a future trip. The Opabin Plateau was a lovely zone, and we were happy to pass through once again.
1637 h Arrive All Souls’ – Alpine Meadow Junction (GR 453888, 2170 m)
Distance: 2 km
Duration: 1 h 34 m
Peak: 2454 m
Ascent: 264 m
Descent: 305 m
The All Souls’ Alpine Route was our second biggest climb of the day. It wasn’t made easier by a fierce wind that picked up in the afternoon. We trudged up the route, leaning our bodies into the flanks of Mount Schäffer. A few people were descending, so we had to pass others while the wind battered us. It was pretty wild when we finally got to All Souls’ Prospect. It was too windy to linger at the cairn lookout, so we huddled just below to snap photos. After a brief stop, we walked over the lookout to join the switchbacks down the northeast slope. In just a few minutes, we were out of the wind and into the sun. Soon we arrived at the Alpine Meadow Junction at Schäffer Lake.
1722 h Arrive Le Relais Day Shelter (GR 460897, 2022 m)
Distance: 1.5 m
Duration: 0 h 26 min
Peak: 2168 m
Ascent: 5 m
Descent: 151 m
Our bodies were buzzing with sweet fatigue after a day of hiking in the mountains. We chose the easy route back via the Alpine Meadow Trail, past the Elizabeth Parker Hut once again. The sloping meadow and forest trails led us to chips and pop at the Le Relais Day Shelter. We reflected on the day, agreeing that the Lake O’Hara Alpine Route is one of the best day hikes we have ever done. The beautifully-engineered routes and stunning views made for an exceptional day in the Canadian Rockies.
Trip planning with a detailed route card and executing the plan was an excellent learning experience. Lara predicted a 9 h total time, taking into account horizontal distance, elevation changes, and terrain. Our actual time was 8 h 53 min. Mike was impressed! Times don’t always work out so nicely, of course. But with a bit of luck and good weather, we executed our plan. The Alpine Circuit was a great way to end our three days in Lake O’Hara. We’ll be back to finish the other trails some day.
UPDATE: We reserved our Lake O’Hara campsite for 2020!