Lake O’Hara Travel Guide

When veteran hikers get together to reminisce, the name Lake O’Hara comes up early and fondly. It is easy to understand why it is considered such a special place. Within a five-kilometre radius of Lake O’Hara there are 25 named lakes, numerous high, rugged mountains, and one of the most extensive and well-maintained trail systems in the mountain parks. The trails, built over a period of nearly 50 summers by Dr. George Link, Carson Simpson and Lawrence Grassi, radiate from Lake O’Hara like spokes from a hub.

Hiking across Opabin Plateau

Hiking across Opabin Plateau.

O’Hara’s scenery is dominated by the same peaks that form the impressive backdrop for Lake Louise—the continental divide summits of Mounts Lefroy (3,423 metres) and Victoria (3,464 metres). The two mountains also rise above one of the area’s four distinct hiking areas—the Lake Oesa cirque. A second area is the Opabin Plateau, located between Yukness Mountain (2,847 metres) and Mount Schäffer (2,693 metres). Lake McArthur, set between Schäffer Ridge and Park Mountain makes a third. And the Duchesnay Basin, which cradles Linda, Morning Glory, Cathedral and Odaray Lakes is the fourth. The Lake O’Hara region was first spotted from the summit of Mount Stephen by J.J. McArthur, a government surveyor working along the CPR line in 1887. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert O’Hara, an Irishman who heard about the area from McArthur, visited it shortly thereafter and was so impressed he returned repeatedly to explore its lakes, creeks and mountains. In 1894, American mountaineer Samuel E.S. Allen completed an amazing day trip to the area from Paradise Valley near Lake Louise via Wastach, Wenkchemna and Opabin Passes. From this trip, and a subsequent visit, he provided the Stoney Indian names for many of the local peaks. The Alpine Club of Canada held one of its earliest mountaineering camps at Lake O’Hara in 1909, and by 1911 the region was popular enough among alpinists to warrant construction of a cabin, Wiwaxy Lodge, in the Alpine Meadow just west of the lake. The CPR constructed the Elizabeth Parker Hut in the meadow in 1919 and soon after added a number of small cabins to accommodate the growing number of visitors. During the winter of 1925-26 Lake O’Hara Lodge was constructed on the lakeshore, and all of the Alpine Meadow cabins, except the Elizabeth Parker Hut, were moved to the site.

Booking the Lake O’Hara Bus

It’s possible to walk to Lake O’Hara, but most visitors take the shuttle bus along a road closed to the public. The departure point is a signed parking lot 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) east of Field and three kilometers (1.9 miles) west of the Continental Divide. Click here for the Lake O’Hara bus schedule for 2019 and booking information.

Other Lake O’Hara Considerations

After the 20-minute bus trip to the lake, day hikers are dropped off at Le Relais, a homely log shelter where books and maps are sold, including the recommended Lake Louise and Yoho Gem Trek map. Hot drinks and light snacks are served–something to look forward to at the end of the day, as this is also the afternoon meeting place for the return trip.