Lake O’Hara – Hiking and Camping Guide
Let me guess, you saw a photo of the insane view like the photo above? Now you are desperately trying to figure out how to get to this magical place? This was me about 3 or 4 years ago.
Little did I know, that this gorgeous place would be super competitive to get permits for and we wouldn’t get to visit for another 3 years. Now we have been to Lake O’Hara, we can safely say that it is one of the most incredible places we have ever seen!
Lake O’Hara is one of the most beautiful places in Canada! However, it is also one of the hardest places to snag permits for. I did a ton of research to arrange our camping trip to Lake O’Hara so now I’m going to pass on all of that knowledge to you.
This guide will provide you with everything you need to know to plan a trip to Lake O’Hara, including:
- How to get there / How to book a spot on the Shuttle Bus
- How to book a campsite / what to expect when you camp at Lake O’Hara
- How long you should spend at Lake O’Hara
- When is the best time to visit
- What is the weather like in the Lake O’Hara area
- What the best hikes in the area are and how to choose just one
- Best photo spots to check out
📍 Where is Lake O’Hara
Lake O’Hara is located in Yoho National Park in British Columbia, about a 1 hour drive from Banff and a 10 minute drive from Lake Louise.
Lake Louise is a great place to stay the night prior to your Lake O’Hara adventure.
Click here to open the map in Google Maps!
❓ Is Lake O’Hara Worth it
Even though it might take you multiple attempts to get permits for Lake O’Hara, it is SO worth it. We were absolutely blown away by the scenery. The hike we did was the most beautiful trail we have ever been on. There were insane views the entire way!
If you decide to camp at Lake O’Hara, like we did, the campsite and facilities are really nice and we were super impressed. They have a couple of cooking shelters to keep warm in and a fire pit to huddle around in the evening.
The whole experience of hiking and camping at Lake O’Hara was so much fun. We bumped into a lot of other campers along the hiking trails who we then cooked and ate dinner with and talked for hours back at the camp.
Even if you just just decide to go for the day, I would say it’s worth it. In this guide, I will suggest which hiking trail you should do if you just go for a day trip because it’s a little hard to choose.
ℹ Things to Consider Before Booking
- Prepare for the weather: Lake O’Hara is very high up in the Rockies and it can be colder and wetter than Banff.
- Bring Bear Spray: You will be in grizzly bear country and should educate yourself on what to do if you see a bear.
- Research the hiking trails before heading out: The trails are all pretty well marked but it doesn’t hurt to have offline maps on your phone just in case. You will be out in the backcountry with not all that many people around at all times.
📆 When is the Best Time to Visit Lake O’Hara
The hiking and camping season for Lake O’Hara starts in June and ends in October.
Lake O’Hara Lodge is open from June until October and late January until early April for Winter trips.
The Elizabeth Parker Hut is open year-round if you are looking for rustic accommodation in the off-season.
The best time to visit Lake O’Hara is in Summer after the snow has melted or Fall when the larches turn golden.
If you visit in the Summertime, you are more likely to have beautiful weather but beware of the bugs. The mosquitoes can be very bad so don’t forget to bring bug spray with you.
We visited Lake O’Hara during Fall at the end of September and we couldn’t believe how many beautiful golden larches there were along the trails. It made the area extra beautiful but also extra cold so we had some extra layers with us and extra insulation for camping.
In September, the weather in Yoho National Park tends to get more unpredictable. It could be perfect blue skies one day, horrible rain the next and then suddenly start to snow. You will need to be prepared for anything.
We also got some snow overnight and the day we left it snowed A LOT so if you decide to visit during Fall, you do take this risk.
🌲 Leave No Trace
Before heading out into Yoho National Park, please remind yourself of the Leave No Trace Principles. Take everything back out that you take in, take only photos and respect the wildlife and other people. You can read more on the 7 LNT principles here.
🚌 How to Get to Lake O’Hara in 2024 / Booking the Shuttle Bus
There are two ways to get to the Lake O’Hara trails. You will park in the same area for both of these options and you will need to leave a National Parks Pass on your dash to park.
- Book a Shuttle
- Hike 22km return along the access road (Note that bike riding is prohibited).
Booking the Shuttle
You can book the shuttle bus through the Parks Canada website. Figuring out how the booking system works and then actually getting a shuttle ticket is the hardest part of the entire trip because it is extremely competitive.
Parks Canada tends to change the way you book the shuttle each year. You can check for updates on how you book for the next season here.
Things to look out for on the website:
- What date does the booking system open
- What time does the booking system open – make sure you are in the queue before the booking system opens. If you log in after, you will be thrown to the back of the queue.
- Will the booking system open on a rolling calendar or will bookings for the entire year open at once.
To book the shuttle, you will need to visit the Parks Canada reservation webpage and go to the Day Use tab. There you will find the Lake O’Hara Day Use Bus as pictured above.
Getting a ticket for the Lake O’Hara shuttle is quite literally like winning the lottery. In fact, in the past, the reservation system is like a lottery ticket. You will need to “buy” a few different dates and times on the shuttle and you might not get any of them.
Lake O’Hara Bus Times
|Parking Lot to Lake O’Hara
|Lake O’Hara to Parking Lot
|3:30pm (campers only)
|5:30pm (campers only
On your booking day, make sure you get to the bus stop at least 20 minutes before your booking time otherwise the ranger might give away your seats.
How to Book the Lake O’Hara Shuttle Bus in 2024
Dates and instructions on how to book for the 2024 season have not yet been released, however Parks Canada have confirmed that they are planning to revert back to using the random draw system which is what was used prior to 2023.
Hiking up the 11km / 7 mile road
If you aren’t lucky enough to get a shuttle ticket and you are still desperate to visit Lake O’Hara, your only other option is to walk 22km / 7 miles return with an elevation gain of 400m / 1,300ft from the parking lot to the start of the trails.
The hike one way will take you around 2.5 – 3 hours so make sure you start early.
You can park for free in the Lake O’Hara Parking lot. I recommend checking with the shuttle bus when you are there to see if there are any last minutes spots that have opened up. The ranger will sell any leftover seats which you will need to bring along some cash for.
The hike itself is very long and boring and slightly uphill. It’s a complete slog but totally worth it if you are dying to see the classic view of Lake O’Hara.
Bring cash for a potential shuttle bus ride on the way back. It might still be full, but you never know and it’s definitely worth checking once you are done hiking for the day.
How to get to the Lake O’Hara Parking Lot
From Lake Louise and Banff, you will need to take Highway 1/Trans-Canada Highway West towards Jasper/Field. Shortly after passing the Welcome to British Columbia sign, you will turn left off the highway onto Ohara Park road.
🏕 Camping at Lake O’Hara
We were extremely impressed by our camping experience at Lake O’Hara. We had not done any research on what the campsite would be like and so we were expecting the bare minimum.
😉 Your shuttle bus tickets are included when you book a campsite.
This is what the campsite provided:
- A brief done by a the guide on the shuttle bus of where everything is located and some guidelines
- Our own private bear cache – 1 per campsite
- Bathrooms with lights, toilet paper and hand sanitiser!
- Two cooking shelters with woodfire stoves to keep warm
- A fire pit
- Picnic tables to cook at
- Food and garbage storage
- Grey water disposal
- Treated well water (not always available early and late season)
- A bag room to store your bags the day you leave.
- Booking a campsite includes your shuttle pass to and from the campground.
- Tent pads are designed for smaller backing tents. The pads are (2.7 m x 2.7 m).
- Be Bear-aware when cooking and storing food and garbage.
- Hard sided food coolers, storage bins, plastic bags and other loose items are not permitted on the shuttle bus. No hammocks or chairs are allowed.
- Baggage is restricted to one large bag per person (max. weight: 25 kg / 55 lbs; max. length 97 cm / 38”) or two small bags per person.
- Maximum of 3 nights are allowed to be booked.
- Maximum 4 people per tent pad.
- Maximum 2 reservations per transaction.
- Maximum 1 small 4-person tent per site.
- 1 storage locker provider per campsite (60 cm/24 in deep, 50 cm/20 in high, 60 cm/24 in wide). BYO padlock if you want one.
How to Book a Campsite at Lake O’Hara in 2024
You can book a campsite at Lake O’Hara through Parks Canada online reservation system or by phone by calling 1-877-737-3783.
The reservation system usually opens sometime in March for the entire year but the exact date has not yet been released. You can check the Parks Canada website for updates on dates.
To book, you will need to use the Front country camping tab in the reservation system, pick Yoho and then the Lake O’Hara Backcountry camping as shown in the screenshot below.
🛌 Other Accommodation Options at Lake O’Hara
Other than camping, you could also book a cabin or a room at the Lake O’Hara Lodge or shared accommodation at the Elizabeth Parker Huts. Just like the shuttle bus and the campground, you need to be super organised and book both of these far in advance when the reservations first open for the year.
Lake O’Hara Lodge
Lake O’Hara Lodge is located on the shoreline of Lake O’Hara. The rooms are not cheap and vary from CAD900 per night to CAD1,300 per night. The lodge is really beautiful though and they also include meals from their restaurant in the rate, a bus ride to and from the parking lot and use of their canoes.
Staying at the Lake O’Hara Lodge is an experience you will never forget.
Elizabeth Parker Huts
The two Elizabeth Parker Huts are operated by the ACC (Alpine Club of Canada). The huts are shared, rustic accommodation and reservations are made via a lottery system in the summer due to its popularity.
The sleeping, kitchen and living areas are all communal. Foam mattresses and cooking and eating utensils are provided but you will need to bring along your own sleeping bags, pillows and personal items.
Guests are also responsible for the cleaning of the hut on checkout as there is no service in between guests for this.
🏠 Le Relais Day Use Shelter
Le Relais Day Use Shelter is operated by the Lake O’Hara Trails Club during the hiking months. It serves as an information centre and café.
Here you can buy hot drinks and snacks. They are famous for their carrot cake, which sells out fast every day! They only accept cash, so make sure you bring some if you want to indulge.
The shelter is about 500m from the Lake O’Hara campground, towards the lake.
🕔 How Long Should You Spend at Lake O’Hara
Of course you might not be lucky enough to have this choice as you might be hiking in for one day but if you do get the choice to spend a night or more at Lake O’Hara, I recommend booking at least 2 nights there, if not 3.
You can book 3 nights max at the campground. We only booked 1 night and once we saw the area and how gorgeous the hiking trails were, we immediately regretted it.
There are lots of hikes to do other than the classic Opabin Plateau and the weather might not be perfect every day you are there.
🌩 Weather at Lake O’Hara
The weather in the Lake O’Hara area is very much mountain weather which means it can be unpredictable. It also tends to be a bit wetter than the Banff National Park area, so make sure you bring wet weather gear with you.
Lake O’hara is located high in the Canadian Rockies at an elevation of 2,020m (6,627 feet). Because it is up so high, it can also be colder than Banff so I recommend bringing layers, even in Summer.
We visited in late September and got quite a bit of snow overnight. It was also very cold so we were glad we had our Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite SOL pads to add some warmth to our sleeping mats.
🐶 Are Dogs Allowed in Lake O’Hara?
Dogs are allowed on a leash on the hiking trails in Yoho National Park, however, they are not allowed on the shuttle bus or at the Lake O’Hara campground.
This means that you and your 4 legged friend will need to walk the entire way in and out of the park which might end up being a huge day for you both.
Guided 3 Day Hiking Tour
If you have the time and money, I highly recommend spending some extra time at Lake O’Hara. This 3 day hiking tour will take you on the very best hikes around the Lake O’Hara area with a guide.
You will need to book your own accommodation at the Lake O’Hara Lodge which is set right on the lake and its stunning.
Hiking Trails at Lake O’Hara
There are loads of hiking trails at Lake O’Hara. The ones listed below are some of the most popular including the Opabin Plateau, which is the view that might have brought you to this blog post.
The Opabin Plateau view has become Instagram famous over the past few years and has encouraged hundreds of people to hike up the road just to get a photo at this viewpoint.
I mean you can hardly blame them. It’s a famous viewpoint for a reason. It is pretty damn spectacular!
Lake Oesa Trail
Distance: 6.6km / 4.1 miles | Elevation Gain: 240m / 787ft | Time: 2-3 hours | Difficulty: Moderate
The hike up to Lake Oesa starts at Lake O’Hara. You will need to hike around the left of the lake, where you will then begin climbing up through the forest.
Lake Oesa is a beautiful turquoise lake surrounded by some of the most incredible mountains we have ever seen! When we went, it was quite a dark afternoon, so the lake was more of a deep blue but still beautiful.
You will also pass a waterfall called Victoria Falls and a couple of other smaller turquoise lakes.
Lake O’Hara Shoreline Trail
Distance: 2.9km / 1.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 13m / 43ft | Time: 40 minutes – 1 hour | Difficulty: Easy
This is probably the easiest hike you can do at Lake O’Hara because there is literally no elevation and it is quite short.
The trail takes you around the entire lake and there are stunning views of the lake and the surrounding mountains the whole way.
Opabin Plateau and Opabin Prospect
Distance: 8.7km / 5.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 340m / 1,115ft | Time: 2.5-3.5 hours | Difficulty: Moderate
Opabin Prospect is where the Instagram-famous photo is taken from and it is commonly known as the famous “Lake O’Hara viewpoint.”
This hike by itself is an out and back hike, starting and ending at Lake O’Hara. The trail takes you through the forest and then straight up to the plateau. Once you reach the plateau, you can walk along it a little and explore the many different viewpoints.
Once you are finished at the Opabin Prospect viewpoint, you can either hike back down the way you came or you could continue onto Lake Oesa via the Yukness Ledge Alpine Route and make your hike a loop.
Beware though, if you are have hiked the 11km in or are only there for the day and have to make the last shuttle back, you might not have the time or energy for this as it is an extremely long hike. This is what we did and it took us a full day (6-8 hours).
Distance: 7.1km / 4.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 338m / 1,108 ft | Time: 2.5-3.5 hours | Difficulty: Moderate
Lake McArthur starts from the Le Relais Day Shelter. You will need to go straight towards the Elizabeth Parker Hut which is located in a beautiful alpine meadow.
From the hut, the trail will takes you up to Schäffer Lake and and then climbs even higher before descending down to Lake McArthur which is a beautiful turquoise blue in colour and surrounded by mountains and a glacier.
We didn’t have time for this hike when we were there but we bumped into a couple who had been to Lake O’Hara many times and they told us that Lake McArthur was their favourite hike.
Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit
Distance: 12.5km / 7.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 990m / 3,248ft | Time: 6-8 hours | Difficulty: Challenging
The Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit is the hardest hike on this list and also the longest. It is spectacular as you get incredible views the entire way. It also takes a super long time because you will be stopping and admiring the views every 5 seconds.
The best way to describe the Alpine Circuit is that it takes you around Lake O’Hara from the ledges above with trails connecting each of the ledges. If you are scared of heights, I wouldn’t recommend doing this hike as there are steep drops offs in sections and slippery scree to navigate.
Distance: 7.6km / 4.7 miles | Elevation Gain: 516m / 1,692 ft | Time: 3-4 hours | Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
The Odaray Grandview Prospect Trail is limited to a certain number of people per day due to part of the trail being a wildlife corridor. The limit is usually around 4 groups per day and it is on a first come-first served basis, so if you are dying to do this hike, you should arrive early in the morning.
You will need to sign in at the trailhead to do the hike and will be able to see how many groups have already been before you.
The Odaray Randview trail takes you along an alpine route to an incredible view of both Lake O’Hara and Lake McArthur.
If you only have time to do one hike, which hike should you choose?
It can be overwhelming trying to figure out what hike to do with only one day in Lake O’Hara. We only had time for one hike and I think we picked really well because it was the most beautiful trail that we have ever seen.
You will most likely want to see the famous Opabin Plateau viewpoint, but if you want to see more of the area and are a relatively fast hiker, you could incorporate a few of the other trails into your hike.
Here is what I would suggest:
- If you only have one day and have to catch the shuttle back the same day / are hiking the 22km in an out: Hike Opabin Plateau and Opabin Prospect as an out and back
- If you are camping overnight and have a full day of hiking: If you are an experience hiker, the Alpine Circuit, or;
Alternatively, you could do what we did which was a mix of the Opabin Plateau and some sections of the Alpine Loop Trail. On Alltrails it is called Lake O’Hara and Lake Oesa Via Alpine Loop Trail. This ended up being 12.34km / 7.67 miles with an elevation gain of 479m / 1,571 ft but Alltrails says it’s only 9km.
Amazing Photo Spots at Lake O’Hara that you should check out!
We were absolutely blown away by the beauty at Lake O’Hara and ended up taking way too long to hike the trails because of how many photo ops there were. 😅
Here are a couple of our favourite photo spots in the Lake O’Hara area.
The Dock at Lake O’Hara
You don’t have to walk to far to get to the dock. Start the trail to Opabin Plateau and the dock will be the first thing you see once you reach the lake. There are the beautiful red canoes that belong to Lake O’Hara Lodge which you can’t use but they look great in a photo!
The famous Lake O’Hara Instagram shot. To find this spot, you will need to do the Opabin Plateau hike (go to the hike section in this blog post). Be careful once you reach the viewpoint as it is a super steep drop of below.
Lake Oesa makes a great photo. If you have time, I recommend hiking to Lake Oesa and chilling out on the rocks by the lake. We set up our tripod further up the rocks and ran down to the shoreline to snap a photo together.
Larches (during Fall only)
During Fall (towards the end of September) a lot of the trail is covered in golden larches, making for lots of amazing photo opportunities. This was one of the reasons we took so long to finish our hike, because we went a little larch crazy!
There are loads of larches once you get up to Opabin Prospect and more a little further on if you continue to hike towards Lake Oesa.
Things to Take on a Backpacking Trip
Are you thinking about going on an overnight hike and not knowing where to begin when it comes to gear? I’ve got you covered with my guide on Backpacking Gear Items that You Need this Adventure Season!
You might also enjoy:
- Amazing Lake Louise Tours
- How to Hike and Camp at Floe Lake
- Beautiful Lakes to Paddle Board in Canmore and Banff
- How to Spend an Incredible 3 Days in Jasper National Park
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