Lake O’Hara is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. On top of the numerous breathtaking trails, this area feels like you’ve got access to your own private paradise as access is restricted to public traffic. Your only way in is through the Lake O’Hara shuttle buses run by Parks Canada.
There are shuttles in two times a day (1 bus for campers and 1 bus for hikers) and trust me when I say these spots are SUPER difficult to get. People will spend hours trying to call into the Lake O’Hara office to get a chance to talk to a booking agent only to find out the dates they’re after are taken. Luckily for you (and us!), we’ve managed to make it in every summer and are ready to impart some of our Lake O’Hara knowledge on you.
Jump straight to step 5 if you can’t wait to see the photos!
It’s important to differentiate which activity you’re looking to do. There are different buses for day hikers than there are for campers.
Regardless, the Lake O’Hara shuttle bus runs in twice a day at:
The shuttles out are at:
Just a quick look at the trail map will tell you that reserving a spot on the day hike bus doesn’t give you much time to explore the area.
Our recommendation with Lake O’Hara is to always camp (if you can). You’ll enjoy the area a lot more this way, see more and actually be able to relax and take in the peaceful surroundings. We’ve always met the best people while camping at Lake O’Hara as well – there are plenty of interesting conversations that happen around the communal fire pit and the lack of cell service makes everyone surprisingly chatty.
Made your decision? Great!
Before you call the office make sure you have the following info ready or they will ask you to call back once you have it (which you really don’t want to do):
-Which shuttle you’re booking (Day Hike or Camping)
-Which time slot you’d prefer
-How many people are in your party
-Which dates you’re looking for (make sure you have 4 or 5 back-up dates – seriously, it’s that hard to get a date) – it gets much busier in September when the Larches are out!
-Your credit card information
-An email address for them to send the confirmation to
If you have all the above information ready then go ahead and give them a call:
Lake O’Hara Reservation Hotline
Pack for your typical day hike or BACKCOUNTRY camping trip. Do not pack as if you’re car camping, even though you’re essentially driving right up to the campground. Lake O’Hara restricts the number of bags and their weight brought into the campsite so don’t expect to be hauling in your car camping stove + a crate of beers. Specifically, the restrictions are: one large or two small bags per person (max weight 25 kg/55 lbs; max length 97cm/38 inches)
-No hard-sided food coolers and storage bins (everything goes into lockers)
-No musical instruments, electronics, chairs and hammocks – plenty of seating around the campfire!
It’s important to note that last time we were up at O’Hara we got it all: wind, rain, snow and sunshine. Typical Rocky Mountain weather but if you’re not from the area, be prepared!
Trails can be super muddy or even snow covered at higher elevations.
Here’s a basic Lake O’Hara checklist:
-Extra clothing, sunscreen, hat, gloves, rain gear
-Sturdy shoes or hiking boots
-Valid National Park pass
-Bus and/or camping confirmations from the Lake O’Hara office
– A change of clothes if you’re camping and you get drenched while hiking
-Cash for Le Relais Day Shelter (they sell carrot cake there that is to die for and it’s usually gone by lunch)
-A waterproof GemTrek map if you’re planning on doing the Alpine Routes or more advanced trails
-Lots and lots of food if you’re camping – a jetboil or other compact backcountry stove is required for cooking. We’re usually pretty lazy when it comes to making dinner after a long hike, so we’d recommend bringing some dehydrated meals along too.
Even though you have a reservation, make sure you arrive at least 15-20 minutes before your booking so that you have time to check-in and make sure you’re getting on the right bus.
You’ll see someone (usually dressed in Parks Canada green) holding a clipboard. This is who you want to check-in with.
Once you’re on the bus you’ll be given a poker chip to hold onto, this is for your return journey.
DON’T LOSE THIS.
It’ll cost you an extra $10 if you do and they only take cash.
Now for the best part… the HIKING.
(For this section, the trail descriptions have been quoted straight from those experts at Parks Canada, although all the photos are ours!)
Length : 2.8 km circuit
Elevation gain : minor up and down
From the O’Hara Warden Cabin, go east across a bridge over Cataract Brook, and follow the north shore of the lake past the start of the Wiwaxy Gap/Huber Ledges Alpine Route on the left. Continue along a steep hillside and across several gullies above the lake. At the eastern end of the lake, the trail passes the Lake Oesa Trail junction before passing below a huge outcropping of pink quartzite and Seven Veils Falls.
Length : 3.2 km one way
Elevation Gain : 240 metres
The trail begins on the Lake O’Hara Shoreline Trail near the eastern end of the lake and ascends a number of switchbacks to the top of a cliff at the end of the lake. Above the cliff, cross wide talus and scree slopes swept clear by avalanches every year. After passing through a stunted forest, climb over several steep, rocky outcrops on stone steps built by Lawrence Grassi. Just past the top of the steps is the trailhead for the Yukness Ledge Alpine Route, and Lake Victoria.
The Lake Oesa Trail continues from this junction through delicate meadows enclosed by copper-coloured quartzite cliffs and at several points along the way, tiny pools of Oesa Creek are visible below to the right. Finally, after climbing to the top of a short grassy slope, the trail passes through a trough cut in solid bedrock to the tilted rock slabs which contain Lake Oesa. The Wiwaxy Gap/Huber Ledges Alpine Route joins the trail from the north just before the lake.
Check out our hiking experience on this trail here.
Length : 5.9 km circuit
Elevation Gain : 250 metres
Opabin Plateau is a beautiful hanging valley atop a rocky headband cliff above Lake O’Hara. West Opabin Trail and East Opabin Trail climb to the head of the valley from both sides of the cliff. By starting up either of these arms of the circuit and returning via the other, a tour of the valley can be made. (With insane views of Lake O’Hara)
A sign on the southwest end of Lake O’Hara marks the beginning of the west arm of Opabin Plateau Circuit. The trails climbs quickly to Mary Lake, follows the shore and then climbs steeply up an open talus slope for approximately 120 vertical metres until it mounts a grassy cleft onto the rolling terrain of Opabin Plateau. At this point, the All Soul’s Prospect Alpine Route joins the circuit from the west. Another small path travels east back out to the head of the cliff, a point called Opabin Prospect.
The Opabin Plateau Circuit continues into the little valley of Opabin Creek. It crosses a bridge over the creek and travels upstream, passing southwest of Hungabee Lake. (Here’s a sneak peak of those incredible larches)
Climbing over a knoll through more talus, the circuit arrives at Opabin Lake. A glacier about 800 metres long lies at the foot of Opabin Pass – the narrow gap in the peaks at the end of the lake. Hikers are warned to stay off the glacier because of dangerous crevasses.
Opabin Plateau Highline connects East Opabin and West Opabin trails on the plateau.
The return arm of the circuit begins on the east shore of Opabin Lake. The trail descends back along the plateau past Hungabee Lake and follows the foot of the slope of Yukness Mountain, where the Yukness Ledge Alpine Route to Lake Oesa begins. Continue through grassy meadows back to the brink of the valley and a 0.8 km series of switchbacks that drop to the shores of Lake O’Hara.
Length : 8 km circuit
Elevation gain : 310 m
The trail begins at Le Relais Day Shelter and heads west, bearing right at the junction of the Big Larch Trail which is part of the return arm of this circuit. Past the junction, the circuit then enters an alpine meadow where the Elizabeth Parker Hut and the junction of the Linda Lake Circuit are located. The Lake McArthur circuit travels southwest, climbing through larch forests for 800 metres before encountering a junction with the south end of the Big Larch Trail. The trail then crosses a bridge over Schäffer Creek and a short distance further, encounters a junction with the Lake McArthur Trail which leads off to the south.
The Lake McArthur circuit continues straight ahead at this junction through McArthur Meadows to a junction with the Odaray Highline Trail to the west. A short distance beyond the junction, the Lake McArthur circuit reaches the summit of McArthur Pass where the trail forks. The west branch travels to Lake McArthur via the McArthur Low Level Trail along a rock ledge and through an open meadow to the north shore of Lake McArthur.
Return to Schäffer Lake on the McArthur Highline Trail. At the end of the bridge across Schäffer Creek, follow the Big Larch Trail. Just east of the junction, the All Soul’s Prospect Alpine Route heads off the circuit to the south. The circuit continues its return by traveling northeast beyond the junction, descends steeply to the Devil’s Rockpile and then levels off in the alpine meadow and the trail back to Le Relais.
Distance : 3.5 km one way
Elevation Gain : 140 metres
Trailhead : Elizabeth Parker Hut
The Linda Lake Circuit follows the Lower Morning Glory Lake Trail to Lower Morning Glory Lake, then proceeds to Linda Lake, makes a circuit of the lake and descends to connect with the Cataract Brook Trail, eventually ending at Lake O’Hara Campground.
From the Elizabeth Parker Hut, the trail passes through the meadow and enters the forest. It maintains its level through the forest and after 1.6 kilometres, rounds the end of a long ridge separating the O’Hara valley from Duchesnay Basin. The trail travels a short distance to a junction with a cut-off trail leading north past Lower Morning Glory Lake and a short return to the campground.
The Linda Lake Beeline continues northwest and climbs steeply for the next 300 metres. Linda Lake is at the top of the slope. To complete the round trip, continue around the west end of the lake, where the Duchesnay Basin Trail heads west. The circuit continues along the shoreline of Linda Lake to a junction with the Linda Lake Trail, the first leg of the return portion of the circuit. Descend gradual switchbacks to a junction with the Lower Morning Glory Trail or continue on the trail, which ends at the Lake O’Hara campground.
Length : 3.2 km one way
Elevation Gain : 230 m
Beginning at the west end of Linda Lake, the trail climbs gently through several meadows heading northwest for about 1.1 km to Cathedral Lakes. The northeast ridge of Odaray Mountain, a 900 metre rock buttress, towers over the south side of Duchesnay Valley.
Crossing a bridge over the lake’s outlet, Vera Lake can be seen downstream. Most of the lakes in the area are known as kettle ponds and were formed after chunks of glacial ice melted, leaving poorly drained depressions in the glacial debris.
Follow the north shore of Cathedral Lake for 50 metres, then climb along a creek before crossing into the woods on the left. Following a wet meadow, the trail ascends a small hill and comes to an end as it encounters the Cathedral Basin Alpine Route branching sharply to the right.
Distance : 1.2 km
Elevation Gain : 90 metres
Trailhead : McArthur Pass Trail
Just before McArthur Pass, turn right onto the Odaray Highline trail. The trail passes along the lower slopes of Mt. Odaray. Odaray Grandview Trail is an alpine route which travels west of Odaray Highline to Grandview Prospect. Note: A voluntary program is in place to limit use of the Odaray Highline Trail. Please hike other trails first to help protect a vital wildlife corridor.
For the best up to date trail conditions, click here.
For any other questions, feel free to shoot us an email, and hey, if you liked this post, why not pin it!