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Lake O’Hara

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This past July, we were able to spend a wonderful couple of weeks wandering around the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks. This trip had been on our “to do” list for some time and we finally made it happen. It took about four days to drive there and it was well worth it!


While performing our research on places to visit, particularly places with great hikes and photographic possibilities, one of the places about which we learned was Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. The Canadian Rockies remind me somewhat of the American Rockies, but there are differences. The mountains aren’t quite as tall, but they seem more stark and impressive. Since the latitude is further north, this area is a bit cooler and wetter, and these slight differences in climate make for a wonderful improvement in your experience. While we were frequently warm from our hiking, we never really felt hot and drained like we can expect in the American Rockies. At night, the temps were cool and the humidity was higher than if we were further south.  But, I’ve digressed.


Lake O’Hara reminds me of just a few places that I’ve experienced while traipsing around the world. It’s indescribably beautiful *and* the powers that be limit access to it, very similar to how access is limited for visits to The Wave or The Milford Track. Parks Canada allows about fifty people a day to visit Lake O’Hara (but, don’t quote me on that figure). You can obtain a day hiking permit, a permit to camp in the single, modest campground, or you might stay at the Lake O’Hara Lodge (only ~$300 per person per night). We were able to score a camping spot for a couple of nights, which required me to be on the phone to the Parks Canada reservations system exactly three months before we wanted to be there to try to claim a spot. To enter the area of Lake O’Hara it is necessary to ride a school bus from the parking lot just off of Canadian Highway 1 a few kilometers east of the town of Field, British Columbia. The bus slowly drives you eleven kilometers up the one-lane gravel road to the campground. Once there, y0u’re welcomed by the ranger and given a brief introduction to camping at Lake O’Hara and then turned loose to find your tenting spot. There are no significant amenities at the Lake O’Hara campground – a pleasant composting toilet, water from a solar pump, bear lockers, and picnic tables. The only amenity of note are the totally awesome views!


There are numerous hiking trails in the area for a variety of skill levels.  A basic starter hike around Lake O’Hara is about an hour or two and it’s relatively flat, and this is the hike that we did on our first afternoon. The weather was a bit iffy for us over our two nights at Lake O’Hara, but never really terrible. Okay, it did rain a fair amount on our first evening and that made making supper a bit of a challenge, but there are small shelters there that you get to share with all of your newly made friends. Unfortunately, since there had been so many wildfires in the Canadian Rockies and the firefighting resources were stretched thin, we weren’t allowed to have open fires at Lake O’Hara, not even in the wood stoves in these cooking shelters.


Winter in July...

Winter in July…

During our single, full day at Lake O’Hara we took off on one of the more popular routes for the day and it was very easy to see why. We started our hike around Lake O’Hara as we had done the day before, but then started hiking uphill for a few kilometers. By late morning, we were sitting in a beautiful glacial bowl overlooking spectacular Lake Oesa. It was a wonderful backdrop for a well-earned lunch. The day that we were there was overcast, but still very pleasant and beautiful. We next took a slightly wrong route to hike the Yukness Ledges over to Opabin Lake. If you have the opportunity to take this route, make certain to look back to Lake Oesa after you’ve left as the view is even more stunning! From Opabin Lake, the hike back to camp was another hour or so, downhill, and we were entertained by a few hoary marmots along the way. This was one of our best hiking days ever. We were tired by the time that we got back to camp and enjoyed a nice warm supper, followed by the coldest night of our whole trip – the next morning, it snowed on us (OK, it wasn’t that much snow, but it was still snow in July).


Lake O’Hara is one of the few places in the world to which I’d like to return – not because I dislike everywhere else, but because there’s so much of the world to see. But, there are some things that I’d do differently. Since we “assumed” that we were headed to some type of a backcountry campground on this bus, which was true, we carried most all of our gear in backpacks – a reasonable decision when we were planning. However, since we didn’t really backpack in to the site, we would have been smarter to carry our gear in duffel bags or something similar, just as we saw the more experienced Lake O’Hara campers do. And, I’d likely desire to bring something more to drink than water.


Enjoy the slideshow!



Signing off (to plan my next awesome adventure!)…



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