Situated in Yoho National park Lake O'Hara offers some of the best hiking in the region. Only 1% of people who try to book a night in Lake O'Hara are successful. The visitor numbers are restricted which means getting in is hard but the trails are made even more rewarding by the limited number of people. The effort is well worth it, the trails in this area offer some of the best, unspoiled views in the Canadian Rockies.
It took me over 1000 redials over 2 days to connect to the booking hotline and secure a camping spot for a couple of nights, it was time consuming but well worth it.
Day Trip: If you want to have a taste of the Lake O'Hara experience but don't have much time you can head in for the day and still have time to see some of the best lakes. To get to the main lakes there is an 11 Km fire service road which, although pretty uneventful and long, can be hiked. The best way to get to Lake O'Hara though is by bus, this skips the unscenic road and drops you in the heart of the action. These buses can be booked here but do book out months in advance so plan ahead! If you're feeling lucky you can head to the bus stop in Yoho National Park and pray for a cancellation, if not it adds a lot of kilometers to your day.
Overnight Trips: To be honest if you can visit Lake O'Hara I would highly recommend staying for a couple of nights. There are a variety of trails to choose from and you could easily fill your time exploring them all. Campsites can only be booked by phone and up to 3 months in advanced, each night camping will sell out on the first day it's bookable though so have several possible dates in mind and don't give up! You can find information on booking over night stays here.
Elizabeth Parker Hut: If you prefer a comfortable bed, cooking facilities and a log fire but don't mind sharing all those spaces then this hut is for you! Set 500 metres from the shores of Lake O'Hara the Elizabeth Parker Hut is a fantastic over night option. Like everything in Lake O'Hara it isn't easy to book! This hut is booked by lottery, information can be found on the Alpine Club of Canada Website here.
Lake O'Hara Lodge: If you want a bit of mountain luxury Lake O'Hara Lodge offers lakeside accommodation. The huts are stunning but come at a price, at the time of writing these huts are $995 per night with a minimum of 2 nights per stay. Unfortunately these huts are well out of my price range and I've heard are even harder to book than the campsites. More information can be found here.
Abbot Pass Hut: The last accommodation option in the Lake O'Hara area is Abbot Pass Hut. Located at 2925 metres Abbot Pass hut is the second-highest permanently habitable structure in Canada. A booking at this hut comes with a bus ride into Lake O'Hara, get in early and you can spend time exploring the lakes before starting the very steep ascent to your bed for the night. Please note that as of August 2018 the hut is currently closed due to erosion on the mountain side close to the hut. This is currently being assessed with the hopes of reopening the hut. Up to date information can be found on the Alpine Club of Canada website here.
There are endless trails in the Lake O'Hara region, the majority of which intertwine and cross, however I'll just be talking from personal experience of the ones I've completed although I can't imagine you'll go too far wrong walking any of them!
Time: 3 - 5 hours
Distance: 8 Km
Elevation Gain: 310 metres
Access: This trail starts at Le Relais Day Shelter, here you can buy maps, ask for trail advice as well as buy carrot cake after a hard days hiking.
Lake McArthur trail is a perfect warm up hike for the day you arrive at Lake O'Hara, the short distance and low elevation gain makes it an achievable hike for most and a more leisurely stroll for the experienced hiker. The hike starts on a well maintained trail that will wind through alpine meadows until you reach Schaffer Lake. Keep an eye on the signs throughout as there are multiple other trails that cross with the McArthur Lake trail and you could end up doing a much longer hike than expected! Once past the lake you'll find yourself skipping across a boulder field either treated to colourful wild flowers or yellow larch trees depending on the time of year you visit.
When you reach the pass before the lake the route forks, both end up at the lake and join together in a circuit, take the easier looking route to save yourself unnecessary elevation gain.
Time: 2 Hours
Distance: 5.9 km
Elevation Gain: 250 metres
Opabin Plateau has to be the most iconic look out in Lake O'Hara for minimal elevation gain you get the most ridiculous views over Lake O'Hara and Mary Lake surrounded by mountains. The hike itself is short and can be done in under an hour each way for experienced hikers. If you do one thing with your time in Lake O'Hara get to this view point and spend some time taking it all in.
The Alpine Circuit
Time: Leave anywhere between 4 and 8 hours depending on how much you want to complete.
Distance: Again hugely varied
Elevation Gain: 500 Metres
The Alpine Circuit is the big one, this route combines the Wiwaxy Gap, Yukness Ledges, Huber Ledges, Opabin Plateau, and the All Souls Alpine Route all created by Lawrence Grassi! The views from start to finish are incredible and expansive the route can be challenging and steep but there are multiple places where you can cut it short and head back to the shorelines of Lake O'Hara.
To start this route you'll need to cross the wooden bridge opposite the Le Relais day use shelter, the first ascent is Wiwaxy Gap, here the switch backs are short and the trail steep, the climb is over 500 metres before you hit the saddle and things flatten out. From here the route can be a little intimidating as you cross narrow trails that hug the mountain side but keep going and eventually you reach Lake Oesa a stunning, deep blue lake. There's plenty of places to rest here after that huge climb. The lake is popular due to an easy alternative route of just over 3 km from Lake O'Hara in the valley, you can use the alternative trail to avoid some of the steep sections of Wiwaxy Gap and still complete the rest of the Alpine Circuit. The ascent to Abbot Pass Hut also starts here, a staggering 600 metres of elevation gain from the lake to the hut, this short but steep route often takes people over 2 hours and helmets are recommended. (Again please note that as of August 2018 the hut is currently closed due to erosion on the mountain side close to the hut. This is currently being assessed with the hopes of reopening the hut. Up to date information can be found on the Alpine Club of Canada website here)
From Lake Oesa you remain high following the Yukness ledges from here, if you choose to, you can descend back to the central hub of Lake O'Hara, we chose to hike on to the Opabin Plateau and decend there. That way you can kill two birds with one stone completing part of the Alpine Circuit and getting to witness one of the most iconic views in Canada.
The full circuit also joins the All Souls Alpine Route, this will complete the Alpine Circuit taking in more elevation gain and, again, more jaw dropping views then eventually descending to Lake McArthur. We chose to by pass this last section and instead head back to camp for a glass of wine!