Lake O'Hara All Souls' Prospect

Lake O’Hara – Yoho National Park

In Mountain, Trail Guides, Trip Reports by MB

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 Yukness Ledges Alpine Route

The Yukness Ledges Alpine Route gave us some of the best views of our trip! Lake O’Hara, Wiwaxy Peaks, Wiwaxy Gap, and the thin trail along the Huber Ledges was visible from this section. It was incredible to look back and see where our bodies had hiked only hours before.

  • 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.


Lake O'Hara Yukness Ledges Viewpoint

The Yukness Ledges were a grand place to view Lake O’Hara, Mary Lake, and Odaray Mountain (3159 m). The entire Alpine Circuit is a beautiful day hike, well worth the effort.

  • 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, 2018.
  • 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.
  • Day Use – Lake O’Hara Bus
    • Bus Two Way: Adults $14.70. Youth (6-16) $7.30. Child (0-5) free.
    • Bus Return Only: Adults $9.75. Youth (6-16) $4.75. Child (0-5) free.
    • Reservation Fee: 1 to 2 person: $4.50/ticket online or $6.25/ticket by phone; 3+ persons: flat rate $11.00 online or $13.50 by phone (non-refundable)
  • Lake O’Hara Campground – Lake O’Hara Bus (maximum three nights)
    • Bus Two Way: Adults $14.70. Youth (6-16) $7.30. Child (0-5) free.
    • Camping Fee: Adults $9.80/night. Youth (6-16) free. Child (0-5) free.
    • Reservation Fee: $11.70 (non-refundable)
    • Cancellation Fee: $11.70 
  • 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.


Lake O'Hara Trip Planning

The night before hiking the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, we completed a route card. Using a map, calculator, and old-fashioned string, we planned distances, elevation data, and times for multiple legs of the route. Intense concentration!

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)

Lake O'Hara Trails Map


Lake O'Hara Lakeshore Trail Map

The Lakeshore Trail around Lake O’Hara is a great hike to get your bearings when you first arrive. Mike found a shady bench to take a break and check the map. From this junction, we hiked up the East Opabin Trail to explore the Opabin Plateau.

We use a combination of paper and online information for pre-trip planning and on-trip updates.

    • Lakeshore Trail
    • Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit
    • Opabin Plateau Trails
    • Linda Lake and Cathedral Prospect
    • Lake Oesa
    • Lake McArthur via Schäffer Lake
  • Information boards are available at the Lake O’Hara Campground and the Le Relais Day Shelter (e.g. history, weather, hazards, and wildlife)


Lake O'Hara Lefroy Lake

On the Gem Trek 1:20,000 Lake O’Hara Map, Lefroy Lake is shown a few hundred metres west of Lake Oesa and one contour line down! The Lake Oesa Trail can be seen curving along the north shore. This route provides quicker access to Lake Oesa from Lake O’Hara.

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:

Advanced reservations are not required for:

  • Day Use — Walk 11 km access road (ingoing); a ride out is not guaranteed


Lake O'Hara Elizabeth Parker Hut

The Alpine Club of Canada maintains the Elizabeth Parker Hut. It is located in an lovely alpine meadow about 500 m from Lake O’Hara. Staying at the hut is by reservation only; applicants are chosen by a lottery system. The Alpine Meadow Trail passes by the hut and leads to McArthur Pass and the Odaray Highline.

Hiking and camping season: June 19 to October 4, 2018.

Day Use – Lake O’Hara Bus

  • Reservations open Friday, April 20, 2018 at 8:00 am MDT
  • Book either online or by phone 
  • Access restricted to 42 day users
  • Maximum six people per reservation
  • Canada and USA 1-877-RESERVE (737-3783)
  • International: 1-519-826-5391
  • Phone hours: 8:00 am to 7:00 pm MDT on April 20, 2018, then 5:00 am to 7:00 pm MDT from April 21 to October 4, 2018
  • Online 24/7:’Hara 
  • Bus both ways: Adults $14.70. Youth (6-16) $7.30. Child (0-5) free.
  • Reservation Fee: 1 to 2 person: $4.50/ticket online or $6.25/ticket by phone; 3+ persons: flat rate $11.00 online or $13.50 by phone (non-refundable)

Lake O’Hara Campground – Lake O’Hara Bus

  • Reservations open Monday, April 2, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. MDT
  • Accepted three months to the day in advance of your visit
  • Book by phone only (no online option)
  • Access restricted to 30 tent sites
  • Maximum three nights
  • Maximum two sites per party and one tent per site
  • Canada, USA, and International: 1-250-343-6433
  • Phone hours: 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. AND 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Phone dates: April 2 to May 25, 2018 Monday to Friday; May 26 to June 17, 2018 Daily; June 18 to October 4, 2018 Monday to Friday
  • Have the following information ready when you call: desired dates (max three nights), number of people, number of campsites (max two sites per party and one tent per site), preferred ingoing bus time, credit card number
  • Reservations are not required for outgoing bus
  • If you hold an annual Parks Canada Wilderness Pass, the Lake O’Hara backcountry fee is covered.
  • Bus both ways: Adults $14.70. Youth (6-16) $7.30. Child (0-5) free.
  • Camping Fee: Adults $9.80/night. Youth (6-16) free. Child (0-5) free.
  • Reservation Fee: $11.70 (non-refundable)
  • Cancellation Fee: $11.70 

Elizabeth Park Hut – Lake O’Hara Bus

  • The Alpine Club of Canada maintains the Elizabeth Parker Hut
  • Located in an alpine meadow 500 m from Lake O’Hara
  • Applicants are chosen by lottery during the summer months
  • Reservations opened Monday, November 2017 at 8:00 a.m. MST
  • Reservations closed on Friday, December 15, 2017 midnight
  • Lottery winners must confirm their booking with a 20% deposit by January 8, 2018 9:00 a.m. MST
  • Bookings not confirmed by January 8, 2018 will be available on a first-come-first-served bases beginning January 9, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. MST
  • Lottery winners must be Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) members 
  • Lottery Fee: $10 per entry with no limit to number of entries
  • Maximum seven nights
  • Fee: $35.00 for ACC members and $45.00 for ACC non-members
  • Access to Lake O’Hara is by the Lake O’Hara bus, which you can reserve through ACC if you are successful with getting hut reservations
  • A Parks Canada Wilderness Pass is required for all backcountry overnights in Yoho National Park and can be purchased at the time of booking the hut

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; $705 per night (two people) and $525 per night (one person)
  • Lakeshore cabins: one bedroom with queen bed, private bathroom; $995 per night (two people)
  • Guide cabins: One bedroom with queen bed plus pull down Murphy bed, full private bathroom; $995 per night (two people); additional adult $340 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)

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

Lake O'Hara Bus

An old school bus shuttles overnight hikers to the Lake O’Hara Campground. It also provides service for day users and ACC Elizabeth Parker Hut users. The ride up the access road was fun for us but dusty for people walking the road.

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, 2018. 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.

Summer Bus Schedule – Mountain Daylight Time (MDT)

  • June 19 to October 4, 2018
  • 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., 6:30 p.m.

* These shuttles are for overnight guests only


Lake O'Hara Yukness Ledges Weather

Broken clouds, cool temperatures, and variable winds. A lingering haze from the Kootenay NP wildfires added to the drama. We found a nice platform to observe the scene and take some field notes along Yukness Ledges Alpine Route.

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!


Lake O'Hara Campground Map

The Lake O’Hara Campground Map is not available online! We took a photo of the version posted at camp. Go west for more secluded sites; go north to be close to amenities; and go to number 4 if you want to be in the middle of the action!

The Lake O’Hara Campground is open June 19 to October 4, 2018.

Facilities available:

  • 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
  • Recycling
  • Grey water disposal
  • Outhouses (no showers)
  • Firewood and a splitting maul
  • Treated well water from a sink (not always available early and late season)

Important Information:

  • Campground is 100% reservable
  • Reservations are required 3-months to the day in advance of the date you wish to arrive (e.g. if you wish to arrive September 30, make your reservation call June 30)
  • 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.)


Lake O'Hara McArthur Valley Sign Stewardship

Yoho National Park reminds us that we share the wilderness. This sign describes the McArthur Valley and how it is an important corridor for wildlife…especially grizzly bears. Seasonal trail closures and restrictions keep everyone safe.

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.

Gear List

Lake O'Hara Cataract Brook Hydration

Each morning before hiking, we collected drinking water from Cataract Brook. The Katadyn BeFree Microfilter is our lightweight choice for disinfection. We calibrated our watches at campsite elevation and strapped on the bear spray!

When visiting Lake O’Hara, pack as if you are going into the backcountry. Allow yourself a few small luxury items. The only luxury items we took were additional smaller day packs (one each) and an extra pair of trail shoes for camp and non-hiking activities.

We update these gear lists before and after each trip. Click to download and/or print. The lighter you make your pack, the more fun you will have. Every gram counts!

Lake O’Hara 2017 – Mike’s Gear

Lake O'Hara 2017 Mike's Gear

Lake O’Hara 2017 – Lara’s Gear

Lake O'Hara 2017 Lara's Gear

Trip Reports

Lake O’Hara – August 30 – September 1, 2017

Lake O'Hara Wiwaxy Gap Alpine Route View

In the morning we hiked high above Lake O’Hara on the Wiwaxy Gap Alpine Route. After lunch we walked under the sharp ridge lines of Mount Yukness (2847 m) across the valley. Zoom in to see our faint path along the Yukness Ledges!

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

Lake O'Hara Getting To Lake O'Hara

British Columbia experienced a huge number of forest fires in the summer of 2017. The smoke was thick in Glacier National Park. We stopped at the Hermit Trailhead and surveyed the hazy Trans Canada Highway. The air was better in Yoho.

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

Lake O'Hara Transit Bus Sign

First Student 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. We wore trail shoes and packed our hiking boots.

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

Lake O'Hara Campground Tent Pad 12

The tent pads in the Lake O’Hara Campground are small and designed for one lightweight backpacking tent. We scored site number 12 which was close to the common area. The pad is flat and forgiving for tent stakes, and the surrounding trees make it easy to string a tarp.

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

Lake O'Hara Campground Cooking

The common area of the Lake O’Hara Campground has picnic tables, shelters, washrooms, sink, food lockers, and fire pit. For some, breakfast started with a hot cup of Starbucks Via coffee! It helped to keep our cooking system tidy and light, like we do when backpacking.

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

Lake O'Hara Yukness Ledges Talus

The Yukness Ledges Alpine Route is a gradual uphill hike through a maze of boulders. After a lunch break at Lake Oesa and a water stop at the outlet, we made our way up and onto the ledges. Amazing views presented themselves at every turn!

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 O'Hara Opabin Plateau Path

The Opabin Plateau featured beautifully engineered hiking trails to protect the fragile ecosystem. After a few steps onto the plateau, we turned around to view Wiwaxy Peaks and Wiwaxy Gap. Smoke from summer wildfires made the air hazy.

Distance: 7.5 km
Duration: 4 h 30 min
Peak: 2298 m
Gain: 364 m
Map: CalTopo

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

Lake O'Hara Lake McArthur

Lake McArthur is not visited as often as other lakes in the Lake O’Hara zone, but we feel it is worth the hike. After stopping at shoreline, we hiked up the cliff bumps for an overhead view of sapphire water. Mount Biddle, Biddle Glacier, and Biddle Pass set our backdrop.

Distance: 8.1 km
Duration: 6 h 10 min
Peak: 2308 m
Gain: 418 m
Map: CalTopo

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’

Lake O'Hara Wiwaxy Gap Alpine Route Ledges

Hiking the well-engineered switchbacks on exposed ledges towards Wiwaxy Gap. Accurate foot placement is important here! The risk is low if you walk carefully, but the consequence is high if you stumble. Our gentle steps allowed us to spot a pine marten around the corner.

Distance: 11.6 km
Duration: 8 h 53 min
Peak: 2528 m
Gain: 1012 m
Map: CalTopo

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

Lake O'Hara Wiwaxy Junction Sign

Parks Canada marks trail junctions with brown and yellow signs. This one signalled our route from the Lake O’Hara shoreline (2020 m) up to Wiwaxy Gap (2529 m). The first heart-pumping section of the clockwise Alpine Circuit was about to begin.

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.

Lake O'Hara Wiwaxy Gap Wiwaxy Peak

We arrived at Wiwaxy Gap (2529 m) and were greeted by high winds and ominous clouds. We almost got blown off the ridge before dropping down onto the Huber Ledges!

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.

Lake O'Hara Huber Ledges Lake Oesa

Dropping off the Huber Ledges, we were presented with a lovely turquoise-coloured body of water. Lake Oesa is an alpine gem sitting at 2267 m. The lake gets its name from a Stoney language term for ‘corner’. Can you see a spot for lunch?

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.

Lake O'Hara Yukness Mountain Talus

The clockwise route of the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit continues west after leaving the shore of Lake Oesa. The trail traversed the talus slopes of Yukness Mountain, leading us to the colourful and bouldery Yukness Ledges. We were grateful for a gentle incline!

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.

Lake O'Hara Opabin Plateau Connector

We were happy to return to the Opabin Plateau! After descending the Yukness Ledges, we hiked the connector trail north of Hungabee Lake to rejoin the West Opabin Trails. Our next section, the All Souls’ Alpine Route, can be seen threading the flanks of Mount Schäffer.

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.

Lake O'Hara All Souls' Prospect Approach

The All Souls’ Prospect is the reward for hiking up the All Souls’ Alpine Route. The wind blasted us as we made our way along the talus slopes of Mount Schäffer. Instead of exulting at the exposed cairn, we crouched behind rocky outcroppings until the wind was calmer.

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.

Lake O'Hara Le Relais Day Shelter

The Le Relais Day Shelter is a welcome sight at the end of a long day of hiking! Bring cash to buy cold refreshments and snacks. In the evenings, the shelter hosts a speaker series. We enjoyed listening to talks by naturalists and scientists before retiring to bed.

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…soon!

Lake O'Hara Yoho National Park

Welcome to our Lake O’Hara Trail Guide! This resource includes information and tips to help plan your adventure in Yoho National Park.