Visiting Lake O’Hara at Yoho National Park
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If you have ever wanted to experience the Canadian Rockies up close, a trip to Lake O’Hara will be just the trip for you. Whether you’ve heard of it or not, the Lake O’Hara area is hard to get in, but highly coveted. The trails are uncrowded, because access to the trailheads and the lake itself is at the end of a 20 minute bus ride (which you need tickets for), or a 7-mile hike in on the access road (which you can’t bike).
So why is it worth it?
The beauty of the area is undeniable. Lake O’Hara is an area filled with sweeping mountain views, icy blue lakes and trails for everyone, from the beginner to the more advanced of hikers. You get unique perspectives and views that not everyone will have a chance to see- because the people who truly want to see the area will have to work for it, and plan ahead. You can spend a single day enjoying a simple trail, or link different routes together for an incredible weekend trip. And I guarantee- a trip here is one you will not forget. Convinced?
How to Get to Lake O’Hara
Lake O’Hara is in Yoho National Park in BC, Canada. The lake and trails themselves are accessed by a 7-mile fire road. There is a shuttle bus- the only wheels allowed on the road. The bus runs twice a day from mid June to September-October. The other way in is to hike the road- you unfortunately can’t bike it. And a 7-mile hike is a long walk to start your adventure with, but it is definitely an option if you have the stamina!!
Your best bet though is to get a booking on the elusive Lake O’Hara shuttle bus. You can do this on the Parks Canada Reservation Service website as of April. Reservations go fast, so I’d get in there as soon as reservations open. This year reservations open on April 23, 2019 at 8am MDT.
If you don’t manage to snag a seat on the bus online, you may be able to in other ways. No guarantees, but you may find a spot on the bus if you show up on a weekday, or an overcast morning. When I went up to O’Hara, I had a bus reservation but there was lots of space still on the buses for those last minute show ups. If you don’t get a reservation, and you want to give this a chance, definitely go for it! I’d recommend trying it on a weekday, and having a backup plan in the area in case it doesn’t work out.
Where to Hike in Lake O’Hara
Hikes For Beginners
For those looking for an easy hike (maybe after that 7 mile road walk?), the Lake O’Hara lakeshore trail is a beautiful, simple hike that is suitable if you are low on time. The full circuit is a 1.8-mile loop, with little to no elevation gain. If you wanted something a little more challenging, but with high reward, the Lake Oesa trail is a 4-mile round trip hike with 250m of elevation gain. Lake Oesa as a destination is stunning enough, but you are also rewarded on the way with interesting terrain over rocky steps, a gushing waterfall, and grassy meadows.
For Intermediate Hikers
The Lake McArthur Trail is underrated in this area (in my opinion!). Lake McArthur is the biggest lake in the O’Hara region. From the bus drop off point, Lake McArthur is 1.8-miles away, passing Schaffer Lake. What makes the hike interesting is not only the massive alpine wonder that is McArthur, you also have the option of adding on the All Souls Alpine Route on the way back. The All Souls Route delivers extra elevation and challenge, as well as sweeping views of Lake O’Hara from above. The All Souls Route will place you on a trail just above O’Hara, where you could hike back down to the day shelter and the bus stop.
For Advanced Hikers
For people looking for a long and challenging day, the All Souls Route is only half of the larger alpine circuit. The full circuit route takes you up Wiwaxy Gap, over to Huber Ledges and Yukness Ledges, takes you through All Souls Prospect, and finishes you off with Grandview Prospect (the clockwise route- it can be completed either way!). This is one of the most incredible day hikes in the Canadian Rockies. There is substantial elevation gain, starting you off with nearly 500m of gain in less than 1.2-miles to get to Wiwaxy Gap. Remember- the more you gain, the higher you get, and the more amazing the views are. You’ll work for your views, but they will be worth it. The full circuit is approximately 6.8 miles, with various elevation gains and losses through the route.
Where to Stay Overnight at Lake O’Hara
Determined to do all the trails in the area? There are several ways to stay overnight in the Lake O’Hara area- the campground, the lodge, or booking an Alpine Club of Canada hut.
Lake O’Hara Campground
The campground can be booked up to three months in advance, on the same reservations website. There are 30 total sites, and you can stay for a maximum of three nights. Call early on the morning you’d like to make a campground reservation!
Lake O’Hara Lodge
The lodge is a resort on the shores of Lake O’Hara. If you wanted a slightly more elevated stay, this is a great option- although the price tag is hefty. You can call to book your stay from June on.
Alpine Club of Canada Hut
There are two alpine huts in the Lake O’Hara area- the Elizabeth Parker Hut, and the Abbot Pass Hut. While Abbot Pass Hut is currently closed due to slope erosion, the Elizabeth Parker Hut is a short walk from Lake O’Hara. It can be booked on the Alpine Club of Canada website, and-bonus!- they’ll include your bus ticket. Overnight stays in the huts are relatively inexpensive, and an awesome base camp for two days of hiking adventures.
Want to know more about the area? Read Kate’s detailed reports about her visit in the region to Abbot Pass Hut and scrambling Mount Schaffer on her blog Prone to Wandering.
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