Canadian Rockies: Hiking to Lake O’Hara

Marwa Grimes

“…by bringing myself over the edge and back, I discovered a passion to live my days fully, a conviction that will sustain me like sweet water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives,” Jonathan Waterman.

This is how I feel every time I head out hiking to the superb Canadian Rockies. I’m lucky. I live on the door step of Banff National Park where there are over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of trails perfect for hiking.

There’s a long list of incredible hikes and backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies, but some of my favorite trails are those around Lake O’Hara. Technically, Lake O’Hara belongs to Yoho National Park but it’s close to Lake Louise and near the boundary of Banff National Park.

Lake O’Hara is a protected alpine environment and has limited access. What does this mean? Motorized vehicles are prohibited. During the summer months, there’s a shuttle bus to assist the curious but not so able. For the remaining part of the year, you have to get in on your own steam. There are only 42 day users permitted to sign up and explore the Lake O’Hara area.

For the avid outdoors person, the Lake O’Hara hike is not so difficult. The main trail into Lake O’Hara is seven miles (11 km) long with about 1,650 ft (500m) of elevation gain. There are numerous trails around Lake O’Hara and plenty of distance to cover. From Lake O’hara, there are half a dozen short trails and a few longer trails.

This lake is an overnight destination and it’s well equipped. There’s something for every budget too. Parks Canada runs a campground, which is a wilderness site with no services. You need to be self sustaining and there are strict rules. The Elizabeth Park Hut is run by the Alpine Club of Canada and offers modest priced hut accommodation. And, there’s the luxurious Lake O’Hara Lodge which is privately run and offers full service including your meals. I typically stay at the hut but am saving to stay at the lodge. It’s truly a terrific location to relax and enjoy mother nature.

During the winter, there’s terrific cross country and backcountry skiing in this area. The Lodge runs an all-inclusive package that includes a ski guide in the rate. If you have the avalanche skills, you can head out on your own. However, if you aren’t an expert, then it’s best to use the services of a guide.

Throughout the year, you need to make reservations to head up to this fabulous lake. There are backcountry fees associated with going here. Parks Canada has a reservation line at 1.250.343.6433. During the summer, you can also book a shuttle at this reservation line. You can also arrange for all your needs through the Alpine Club of Canada.

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