Lake O’Hara Camping
Lake O’Hara camping requires 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.
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 campstoves 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 Bookings
If you are camping at Lake O’Hara, you need to make reservations for the shuttle bus. Unlike day trippers, who book online, overnight visitors should call the dedicated reservations line at (250) 343-6433. You will then be assigned a seat on the bus and a campsite. The number of people wishing to camp far outweighs the number of campsites available, so you will need to call exactly three months prior to be assured of a site; even then, you should call as early in the day as possible. Phone lines are open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday April to May and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily June to September. To help understand when you should make reservations, here is an example: To camp at Lake O’Hara from 24 July to 26 July 2019, you should call on April 24 2019. 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
Camping is $10 per person per night, the bus costs $15 per person round-trip, and the reservation fee is $12 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, snacks, sandwiches, ice cream, and muffins 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.