Ever since we moved to Canada I’ve been desperate to do the Lake O’Hara hike in Yoho National Park. The classic view you’ve likely seen which looks down onto the lake had me mesmerized. But, every year (for 5 years!) I tried to get reservations or a ticket on the bus and failed.
Since our time in Canada is coming to an end, I decided we’d run/hike the Lake O’Hara logging road instead and visit the area as a day trip.
It was well worth doing and I finally got to see this magical area with my own eyes.
Despite the fact that getting reservations can be an absolute nightmare. It really was very nice being able to hike in the area and not come across many people. We had Opabin Plateau entirely to ourselves for about an hour, and when hiking other trails we rarely saw other people.
If you’ve been trying to visit Lake O’Hara for a while and have not been able to get reservations, or if you have reservations and are looking for a Lake O’Hara hiking guide, you’re in the right place!
How to get to Lake O Hara
Lake O’Hara is in Yoho National Park which is close to the BC-Alberta Border as well as Lake Louise and Banff National Park. It’s about an hour’s drive outside of Golden too which is one of my favourite BC mountain towns.
Lake O’Hara from Vancouver is around 9.5 hours driving and Calgary to Lake O’Hara is around 3 hours.
If you’re going through Golden, be sure to check road closures on the highway. At the time of writing, Highway 1 east of Golden closes from 8 pm so you’ll need to drive before then or take a lengthy detour via Radium Hot Springs and Kootenay National Park.
The Lake O’Hara trailhead is just off the highway and is signposted. You’ll cross over a railway line and then end up in a fairly large parking lot.
From the parking lot, Lake O’Hara is 11km up a wide gravel road with most people getting to the lake and the Lake O’Hara campground via bus.
Bus to Lake O Hara
The Lake O’Hara shuttle bus is the way most visitors to the area get to the lake. It means skipping the 11km walk up the logging road and arriving at the lake or campground (depending on whether you’re camping on not) with fresh legs to explore the area.
If you’re camping then you get a return journey on the bus to Lake O’Hara included with your camping reservation. If you’re visiting for the day, you must reserve in order to take the bus.
This, however, is much easier said than done. Getting a bus reservation is done by entering the lottery of which there are more details below.
The bus leaves the parking lot several times a day: 8:30 am, 10:30 am, 3:30 pm and 5:30 pm. The latter two times are reserved for overnight campers only.
The return bus from Lake O’Hara leaves from Le Relais day lodge and the campground at 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 2:30 pm, 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm.
The bus takes around 15 minutes to go from the parking lot to the lake and the lake to the parking lot. If you’re on a morning bus, keep your eyes open for black bears, they’re a pretty common sight!
How to get to Lake O’Hara without a Lake O’Hara booking: Hiking the Lake O Hara Logging Road
The only way to get to Lake O’Hara without reservations is to hike the logging road from the parking lot to the lake.
The hike is 11km long with around 400m of elevation gain. While we were able to get a return bus back to the parking lot this isn’t a guarantee and depends on how busy the lake is. Therefore, you also need to factor in that you may have to walk 11km back down the hill after enjoying the views in the Lake O’Hara area (i.e. hiking at least 22km in a day).
To get the bus, you must talk to a park ranger and see if there’s likely to be availability. Hikers get the last priority on the return buses so it really just depends on how many people have reserved for that day.
Buses leave at 2:30 pm, 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm and one ticket costs $9.75 payable (cash only!) to the bus driver who will give you a nice souvenir ticket!
The hike itself isn’t too strenuous if you’re a regular hiker. We jogged the flats and the downs and hiked the uphills. In doing so it took us just under 1.5 hours to go from the parking lot to the lake.
If you’re hiking, estimate somewhere between 2-4 hours to hike from the parking lot to Lake O’Hara.
Despite the fact the trail itself is usually not said to be very pretty you do get some great views of the mountains up ahead and you’re alongside a river for most of the trip. Sure, it’s not the main event, but I wouldn’t say it was boring (though maybe I’d have thought otherwise if we’d had to hike down too!).
Don’t forget cash for the bus back (or for the carrot cake – $6).
Lake O’Hara Bus Reservations
The Lake O’Hara bus runs from mid-June through to early October). To get a reservation you must register for the lottery. The lottery is a random draw system that assigns day-use bus reservations for people hoping to go to Lake O’Hara.
To apply, you must sign up for the lottery which usually runs throughout the month of March. You can register for the Lake O’Hara bus lottery here. or by calling the reservation line when applications are open at 1-877-737-3783.
Then, at the beginning of April, you will find out if you’ve been successful. You usually get 2 weeks to confirm your place on the bus. If you do not confirm then your reservation will be given to someone else.
A non-refundable $10 application fee is taken at the time you apply.
When you apply you can pick up to 6 days and/or time and you can apply for up to 6 people.
If you are successful, it’s time to confirm your place! For this, you must pay an application fee of $4.50 per ticket, of $11.50 for groups of 3 or more. The bus then costs $14.70 for a return trip for adults, $7.30 for those aged 6-16 and is free for those under 5s.
Lake O’Hara Camping Reservations
It’s not just Lake O’Hara reservations for the bus that are hard to get. Camping reservations are tricky too.
You are permitted to camp for up to 3 nights at Lake O’Hara, provided you’ve secured a tent pad by reserving in advance.
There are just 30 tent pads at Lake O’Hara campground which is about a 5-minute walk away from the lake. However, there are many, many more people interested in camping at Lake O’Hara and so campsites for the entire season go in seconds when reservations open.
The way to get a Lake O’Hara camping reservation is to be on the Parks Canada website a little while before they are set to open. This is usually some time in January or February and reservations typically open at 8am MT.
You will be put in a virtual queue and then assigned a place once reservations open. Only the first few hundred people are likely to get a spot, but it’s worth sticking on for a while in case people time out or the day they had their heart set on was available.
You can also reserve by phone by calling 1-877-737-3783 but that’s pretty much impossible to get through on too!
If you’re successful you will be able to book up to two tent pads for a maximum of three nights. When booking you will be asked to put a preference for the bus time you want for the inbound journey. You are not guaranteed to get your time and will be notified of which time you get by email. Though you will get a spot for the return journey, the time is not stated.
Camping Fees for Lake O’Hara:
- Online Reservation Fee: $11.50 (non-refundable)
- Telephone Reservation Fee: $13.50 (non-refundable)
- Backcountry camping fees: $10.50 per person, per night
- Lake O’ Hara Bus fee: Free: Included with campground reservation
- Yoho National Park Park Fee: $10.50 per adult, per day.
Where to stay in Lake O’Hara
If you really want to spend the night at Lake O’Hara (and who wouldn’t?!), there are a few ways to do so. More detail about each option is included below.
Lake O’Hara Camping
As covered above, if you plan to camp at Lake O’Hara you will need a camping reservation.
If you’ve won (it really feels like winning) a camping reservation you will get to enjoy the beautiful campground near the lake. Near, because the campground is actually a 5-minute walk from the lake, so no lake views where you un-zip your tent in the morning!
However, the campground is still very nice and has communal fire pits, picnic tables, a kitchen area, potable water, trash cans, pit toilets and bear lockers.
We visited in mid-July and once we’d hiked up the logging road we poked our noses in at the campground, it was definitely the nicest backcountry campground we’ve come across!
Lake O’Hara Lodge
If camping isn’t your thing, then the Lake O’Hara Lodge might be more your style.
The lodge is in an absolutely beautiful location with both rooms inside the lodge and Lake O’Hara cabins or in amongst the cedar trees.
As a guest of the lodge you get a bus trip, all meals, afternoon tea and access to the lake’s canoes included in the cost of your stay.
All that doesn’t come cheap. You’re looking at $800 for two in a room at the lodge or $1,130 CAD a night in the cabins based on double occupancy. Even still, the lodge books up well in advance and you should join their mailing list to find out when the bookings open up for the coming year.
Bookings can only be made by telephone by calling: 1-250-343-6418
Elizabeth Parker Hut – Lake O’Hara ACC Hut
Elizabeth Parker Hut is another option where to stay, the hut is open year-round, but the booking system is lottery-based in the summer season. The lottery opens in the fall and is organized through the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC).
To enter the lottery you must pay $10, but you can submit as many applications as you’re willing to pay for. You can select the dates you are hoping to stay as well as the number of nights.
Both non-ACC members and members can apply. For non-members, it’s $50 per person, per night and ACC members pay $40.
If successful, at least one person in your group must be an ACC member. Membership for the year costs $38.
The hut can sleep 20 people in the winter and 24 in the summer. There are bunk beds, a stove, propane cooking stoves, kitchen utensils, a lounge area and pit toilets. It sounds pretty similar to the Kees and Claire Hut near Whistler.
Bookings are much easier to get in winter so if you want to x-country ski to the lake stay here!
Take a look at the ACC’s website for the most up-to-date reservation policies and prices.
Best Lake O’Hara Hikes
Once you’re up at Lake O’Hara the real fun begins! There are many hikes in the area from short walks to longer day hikes. Depending on how long you’re up at Lake O’Hara you may be able to fit in several.
Opabin Prospects is the iconic viewpoint at Lake O’Hara we hiked up there and then walked out to Opabin Lake before walking around some of the lake and catching the bus back down.
It’s worth checking out the trail conditions for snow, closures and routes up at the Le Relais Day Shelter. You can also get snacks, gifts, drinks and the famous carrot cake (it’s worth it) from here.
Though the trails are well signed, I’d recommend taking a look at AllTrails, or the Lake O’Hara trail map in conjunctive with this list to get an idea of which hikes you want to do.
Lake O’Hara Loop / Shoreline Trail
The easiest walk is the Lake O’Hara loop where a trail takes you around the lake. Here you’ll get the beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains as well as go past the Seven Veins Falls.
Along the way, there are a couple of good spots to sit and enjoy the peace.
Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit/All Soul’s Route
The Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit takes you up to All Soul’s Prospects. You’ll walk along the base of Yukness Mountain before enjoying beautiful views of the valley, Lake O’Hara, and Mount Odaray.
This route takes you past all the best spots in the areas including Lake Oesa and Opabin Prospect and Prospects. It’s an all day hike and one of the more difficult options but it’s definitely worth it if you have the time.
Wiwaxy Gap and Huber Ledges
It’s a steep climb up to Wiwaxy Gap but it’s not too long and you’ll get incredible views. If you’ve done the Alpine Circuit you’ll also come up here and there’s a clear trail across the Huber Ledges towards Lake Oesa too.
Lake O’Hara isn’t the only beautiful lake in the area. There’s also Lake Oesa!
You’re almost within touching distance of Lake Louise and the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail which is just on the other side of the valley. However, it’s much quieter at Lake Oesa!
The Yukness Ledges
The Yukness Ledges connect Lake Oesa with the Opabin Plateau giving you an excellent vantage point over the lake and the beautiful alpine scenery.
Our Lake O’Hara hike – Opabin Plateau
The Opabin Plateau route is loop trail where Opabin Lake is the main highlight. It’s also the trail you’ll take to get to Opabin Prospects and that view.
You can hike in from the east or the west and then finish up with the other to make it a loop. We went West – East.
The Lake O’Hara viewpoint that probably put this place on your radar initially, Opabin Prospects is a must! This is the Lake O’Hara photo point.
Take the west Opabin Plateau trail and after you’ve taken a relatively steep climb, there’s a small sign pointing you left and uphill into the trees. Soon you’ll come out to a rocky area and get to enjoy the incredible views of Lake O’Hara and Mary Lake!
Lake McArthur Pass and the Lake McArthur Trails
These trails can be closed due to grizzlies, so check at Le Relais day shelter before planning on heading out!
If open, this trail is great for beautiful views and fairly minimal elevation. You’ll head west from Le Relais and through a meadow where the ACC hut lies. From there you can continue to reach the summit of McArthur Pass and the lake.
When is the best time to visit Lake O’Hara?
The best time to visit Lake O’Hara is in the summer from early/mid-July to mid-September. This way you’ll be able to enjoy most (or all) of the trail without snow, and get longer days with better weather.
However, it can rain and snow year-round in The Canadian Rockies so you should also be prepared for all types of weather.
If you’re on the hunt for photos of golden larch trees then you’ll want to aim for late September-early October as the trees typically change colour around then. Again though, this depends on the year and can happen earlier or later. McArthur Lake is the place to go for the best golden larch photos!
Given the bus runs from June – October, if you plan to visit outside of these months you will need to hike 11km in and 11km out. The campsite is also closed so you will need to stay at either the ACC hut or Lake O’Hara Lodge.
If you’re planning to visit Lake O’Hara in winter you can x-country ski or ski tour up to the lodge and cabin.
Lake O’Hara weather is best in late July – mid-August although the smoke from any wildfires in the region could obstruct your views later in the summer.