Lake O’Hara Camping and Hut
Lake O’Hara camping and hut stays require advanced planning, but you will be rewarded by the memories of one of the Canadian Rockies’ most beautiful campgrounds. Lake O’Hara Campground has no public road access, meaning it is for tent campers only.
Lake O’Hara Campground
Even though access to the Lake O’Hara Campground is aboard a bus, you should treat the trip as one into the backcountry; passengers are limited to one large or two small bags per person. No hard-sided coolers, fold-up chairs, and musical instruments are permitted at the campground. No large camp stoves are permitted, instead, you should bring a smaller backcountry-style burner. Some people cook hotdogs over the communal campfire, but this source of heat is not suitable for any other type of cooking (except marshmallows). The 30 individual campsites are forested, and each has a tent pad (we find the sites farthest into the forest are least affected by smoke from the main firepit). All other facilities are communal, including a few large picnic tables, pit toilets, two smaller kitchen shelters with woodstoves, a covered dishwashing station, bear-proof food caches (one is designated for each site), and a large firepit where campers congregate each evening. The atmosphere among campers is extremely convivial—almost without exception all are keen hikers and many are “experts,” making the pilgrimage to Lake O’Hara an annual tradition.
Lake O’Hara Campground Reservations
If you are looking to camp at Lake O’Hara, you need to make reservations through the PARKS CANADA CAMPGROUND RESERVATION SERVICE. The number of people wishing to camp at Lake O’Hara far outweighs the number of campsites available, so you will need to check in advance to see what day and time reservations open (usually mid-January), and then be ready to make a reservation the day and hour the reservation system opens.
There are three important restrictions to note on Lake O’Hara Campground bookings:
- maximum of one tent per site
- maximum of three consecutive nights per booking
- maximum of two campsites per booking
Arriving at Lake O’Hara Campground
Once the shuttle bus reaches the campground, everyone helps unload bags and then park’s staff give a 10-minute talk on campground etiquette and answer questions. Campsites are not assigned, so after the talk, everyone heads off to find a spot for themselves. Reservations are limited, so there will always be enough sites for everyone. Those arriving on the morning buses will simply have more choices. If you’ve forgotten anything, there are often extra sleeping bags and stoves at the campground but don’t rely on them to be there. A short walk from the campground is Le Relais Day Shelter, which is operated by the Lake O’Hara Trails Club. Open daily 8:30 am to 6:30 pm, here you’ll find hot and cold drinks, Lake O’Hara maps, and guidebooks for sale at reasonable prices (cash only).
Leaving Lake O’Hara Campground
Reservations are not taken for outbound buses, so you can jump aboard whichever bus suits your schedule. If you decide to leave on an afternoon bus, you are required to pack up your tent and place it and all your gear in the main storage shed. Unlike other backcountry campgrounds, you do not need to pack out your trash, as a bear-proof shed is used as a trash can.
Elizabeth Parker Hut
Elizabeth Parker Hut, 0.7 km (0.4 miles) west of Le Relais Day Shelter (bus drop-off point) by hiking trail, is a hostel-style accommodation that sleeps 24 and has communal cooking facilities. This popular hut is booked via a lottery system, with applications opening for summer and the previous fall. The Elizabeth Parker Hit is managed by the Alpine Club of Canada (403/678-3200). Elizabeth Parker reservations include the opportunity to book guaranteed seats on the bus.