Hiking to Lake O’Hara and the Canadian Rockies’ best alpine larch trails

Hike to the Opabin Plateau above Lake O'Hara for the best alpine larch experience in North America.

Hike to the Opabin Plateau above Lake O’Hara for the best alpine larch experience in North America.

Ask me about the best alpine larch hiking in North America and I won’t hesitate to tell you Lake O’Hara. And the best time to be there is the third weekend in September. But if you don’t have a booking for the Lake O’Hara Lodge, Elizabeth Parker Hut, campground or one of the rare day-use seats on the shuttle bus, you are likely out of luck for this weekend.

Well, not quite. If you can complete longer day hikes, like Bourgeau Lake, Rockbound Lake or Healy Pass, and you have 10 bucks in your pocket, you can still day-trip to O’Hara’s best larch scenery.

Though bikes are not permitted on the 11-km access road to Lake O’Hara, there are no restrictions on hiking it. Once you get to the lake, you can complete the 3.6-km Opabin Plateau Circuit (the best larch hike in the area) and return to the Le Relais to catch the last bus back down the road. Reservations aren’t required and you simply pay the $9.75 one-way fare (adult fee).

I’ve done this once before and found it a great way to experience the area without the usual booking requirements. Sure, the access road isn’t the most scenic trek in the parks, but neither are the trails to destinations like Bourgeau and Rockbound Lakes. And you’ll make a lot better time on the broad, well-graded roadbed.

Total hiking distance for the access road and the Opabin Plateau Circuit is 17 km. And if you get an early start and are a strong hiker, you can add Yukness Ledge and Lake Oesa to the itinerary for a total of 20 km.

Just be sure you get back to Lake O’Hara by 6:10 or thereabouts to catch the last bus (the bus leaves at 6:30, but you should be there 20 minutes early) or you’ll end up adding another 11 km to your day.

Check out trail descriptions in the latest edition of the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide (pages 274-287). And make sure you are up to date on current trail conditions and access details by linking to the Yoho Park Trails Report and Lake O’Hara Trip Planner.

If the current weather forecast holds, trail and weather conditions this weekend should be absolutely marvelous!

Photo by Brian Patton

Written by

Brian Patton

Brian Patton is the author of the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, the essential book for hiking in the Canadian Rockies since 1971.