Generations of visitors to Yoho National Park have regarded the alpine splendour of the Lake O'Hara area with deep reverence. Here are amassed the bubbling brooks, vibrant mosses, vast rock amphitheatres of snow, cloud and light that have inspired the works of scores of humbled artists, chief among them the luminaries of Canada's renowned Group of Seven.
Recognizing the fragility of Lake O'Hara's alpine environment and the importance of ensuring its preservation, Parks Canada has limited summer access. The village of Field has long served as a gateway to the region, with a ten-minute outing from town being all that separates campers and hikers from the morning shuttle. Eager adventurers willing to make the 11km trek into the region may do so on foot.
"One felt that the mountains are not completed. The builders are still at work. "
-- J.E.H. Macdonald
A stairway of small ponds serve as incremental passageways from the deep, frigid glacially-fed lakes found largely above the tree line in the high plateaus sourcing Lake O'Hara's basin. Seven Sisters Falls, visible from the lake approach, is the most immediately striking evidence that O'Hara may have competition for the claim of most stunning lake in the region.
One of Many Magnificent Lakes
The richly toned Lakes Oesa, Opabin, and McArthur all make worthy visits, with high chances of catching a glimpse of Yoho's mountain wildlife. Hikers frequently spot Mountain Goats, Hoary Marmots and Pikas.
Summer adventurers have the opportunity to explore a diverse range of over 80 km of alpine hiking trails in relative solitude. Day hikers encounter a unique mix of high altitude ridges, flowering alpine meadows, flowing streams, lichen-covered rock faces, imposing cliffs, and scattered boulder fields. Le Relais Day Shelter is available for hikers to grab a snack, warm up, and seek out hiking advice from locals.
In wintertime shuttle access to Lake O'Hara is put on hold and only those who trek in on cross-country skis are able to enjoy these magical surroundings as they're coolly draped in silent slumber. Ski touring is popular here, with runs ranging from simple flats to rolling backcountry jaunts along glaciers and steep slopes.
For many, one day is not enough to properly explore the region's vast swath of trails, and there are plenty of options for overnight stays. Bed down at the Alpine Club of Canada's Elizabeth Parker Hut, open year-round and offering amenities like a wood stove for keeping warm, propane lighting, and kitchen facilities including an oven. The 30-site O'Hara Campground is popular with families, while those seeking more familiar comforts and hospitality can be served accordingly at the Lake O'Hara Lodge.
Abbot Pass Hut
The Abbot Pass Hut has long served as a base from which mountaineers have tackled a handful of alpine ascents along the Great Divide. The series of mountains that separates Alberta from British Columbia is host to a variety of challenging routes that rim the skylines above O'Hara and the world-famous Lake Louise. Accessing the hut is not for the faint of heart: the steep scree gully on the approach is notorious for its frequent rockfall, and parties choosing to make the climb should be in top shape and well-equipped. This hut is also owned and operated by the Alpine Club of Canada.
Lake O'Hara Shuttle Bus
Seating on the shuttle bus into Lake O'Hara during the summer is on a
reservation basis through Parks Canada. The bus typically runs from mid-June
through early October. Reservations can be made up to three months in
advance by calling:
Check the Yoho National Park Fee Schedule for more information on camping and bus fares.
- The approach to Lake McArthur is an especially memorable one; as you crest a large hill to attain your first glimpse of the lake and see tall mountains rise dramatically from its depths, you will be awestruck by the almost unimaginable setting before you.
Photo: Catherine Tremblay