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The Hike to Lake McArthur, Lake O’Hara Region, Yoho NP

All you need is half a day to hike to Lake McArthur, one of the true gems in the Lake O’Hara area of Yoho National Park.

The lake itself isn’t that big – just 1.5 kilometres long but the sapphire blue colour will mesmerize you as will the setting. The lake is 85 metres deep and is responsible for the intense blue colour.

The hike begins on the north side of the Le Relais shelter and is well signed. This is a popular area used as a bus stop and is not difficult to find.

"Starting out for Lake McArthur"

Starting out for Lake McArthur

Head out on a generally flat trail to reach the Elizabeth Parker Hut in under a kilometer. It’s owned by the Alpine Club of Canada. As a side note it’s very difficult to get a reservation and it’s done via an online lottery every fall.

"Massive boulder along the trail"

Massive boulder along the trail

From there make your way up, steeply at times to Schaffer Lake. Walk around the lake and pass the McArthur Cutoff junction on your right. If you take the left fork you begin climbing again on the McArthur High Level trail.

"Hiking past Schaffer Lake"

Hiking past Schaffer Lake

"hiking beautiful lichen covered boulders"

Making our way through beautiful lichen covered boulders

"Through the boulders"

Through the boulders

Once you’ve passed beyond the boulders you end up in beautiful alpine meadows.

"A glorious section just before Lake McArthur"

A glorious section just before Lake McArthur

Then it’s a short descent down to the lake. Unfortunately on the day I was there it wasn’t as beautiful as it would be under sunny skies. From the lake you can retrace your steps or continue on the McArthur Low Level trail which is what I chose to do.

"Lake McArthur"

Lake McArthur

"Lake McArthur"

The lake would be glorious on a sunny day

"The wildflowers are prolific in July"

The wildflowers are prolific in July

"Trails are very well signed"

Trails are very well signed

"Hiking in the Lake O'Hara area, Yoho National Park"

We passed the intersection of the low and high level trails in 1.2 kilometres and from there retraced our steps back to Schaffer Lake. At the lake you have the option of going back the same way you came up but we elected to hike the Big Larches and then past Mary Lake to return to the shelter.

"Looking down on Schaffer Lake, Yoho NP"

Looking down on Schaffer Lake

"Love the clarity of this lake"

Love the clarity of this lake

"Lake O'Hara off in the distance"

Lake O’Hara off in the distance

The Odaray Highline Trail is one that is accessed off of the McArthur Pass cutoff. This area is prime grizzly habitat and should be avoided if possible. They have voluntary restrictions in place.

The hike to McArthur Lake is a total of 6.3 kilometres and will likely take you no more than a few hours.

Planning your hike to Lake McArthur

Doing any hike at all in the Lake O’Hara region takes some planning. If you’re going to stay the night – either camping, staying at Elizabeth Parker Hut or at Lake O’Hara Lodge you must start planning at a minimum of three months in advance.

How: Book a bus and a camping reservation three months to the day that you want to go by phoning 250-343-6433. Phones open at 8 am MST.

***UPDATE: Aug 25, 2015 Book a bus online or call 1-877-RESERVE.***

Cost: $9.80 per night camping fee, $14.70 for a return bus ride, $9.75 one way bus ride, $11.70 non–refundable reservation fee, $9.80 per day National Park Pass fee

Don’t forget: Book the minute the phone lines open and be prepared to be on hold for 30+ minutes. Have your credit card ready and be flexible with your dates. Group size is limited to 6 people, and only 2 campsites with one tent/campsite are permitted.

Have you ever been lucky enough to hike in the Lake O’Hara area?

Leigh McAdam


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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • santafetraveler says:

    Thanks for introducing me to Yoho National Park. What a stunning landscape. Amazing that you have to book so early and there’s so much competition.

    • @Billie The Lake O’Hara area is one of the primo areas in all of the Rockies and so the access is limited. It’s hard to get in but once you’re in it’s so lovely that it’s not overrun.

  • Jackie Smith says:

    I like this relationship: you expend the energy and I enjoy your photos! Another beautiful hike, Leigh.

  • Mike says:

    Wow, I could have stayed at Lake McArthur all day long, Leigh! We have similar lakes like this south of Reno in the Sierra Nevada’s. And I would have loved to have made it over to Lake O’Hara. Did you encounter much wildlife during the hike?? Absolutely beautiful :)

    • @Mike The Sierra Nevada is high on my list of places to visit. Recently I’ve come across some photos s sometime I would like to take a month and backpack a long section of it.
      On Lake McArthur – just a few birds, and not even any bear scat though we did go through some bear country. It is one of the primo spots in the Rockies.

  • Rachel M says:

    Love the hiking adventures … you encourage some of us who are not big fans of walking long distances, the glaciers and breathtaking views.

  • tina says:

    Hubby and I are planning a trip to the Rockies in July, and one the hike we want to take is Lake McArthur. The only problem is my husband is afraid of height. If you take the low level circuit, will we run into steep limb? Are there alternative ways to see the lake? Any info is appreciated. Thanks.

    • @Tina Rest assured that the hike to Lake McArthur will not present any difficulties. Really this is a pretty darned easy hike despite it taking you to the high alpine. Don’t miss the hike to Lake Oesa either.

      • Sean says:

        Beautiful pictures and hikes! My girlfriend and I are going to be hiking the area at the end of August, and we are truly excited. We have a bus reservation for 830am so we’ll have all day out there!

        My question is, should we consider avoiding Wiwaxy/Huber Ledges and take the easier route to Lake Oesa if we plan on making it to Lake McArthur as well? It looks like the Yukness Ledges are much easier and maybe more scenic than the Wiwaxy/Huber ledges… i’m concerned about energy levels for the day if we do Wiwaxy/Huber and Lake McArthur.

        And have you done the All Soul’s Alpine Route? We are Considering taking that to meet up with the trail to McArthur Lake. Then taking Big larch and Mary Lake back to Lake Ohara.

        Any suggestions or comments for this plan?? Thank you!

      • Hi Sean, You’re definitely trying to do a lot in the day. If you start with Lake McArthur then you’ll have a better idea of how much time you have left to hike and I’d say fit in what you can and get on the bus good and tired. The All Souls Route was covered with snow when I was there. I believe it will add to your time but the scenic payoff is probably very worthwhile. Don’t force the day. Nothing you do will you regret from the scenic perspective.

      • Sean says:

        Hi Leigh, thanks for the reply and advice!
        I guess I should have posted in the Lake O’hara section, since we are definitely planning on hiking Lake Oesa and Yukness Ledges to Opabin Lake first… and then hopefully moving on to Lake McArthur if we have time and energy.

        Would it be more advisable to Take the West Opabin trail back to Mary Lake and then turn and head to Lake McArthur that way, instead of All Soul’s Prospect? Or take All Souls Prospect and then decide on lake McArthur once we descend and meet up with the Big Larch trail.

        As I mentioned, we have an 8:30am bus, and the last bus out leaves at 630pm, so I’m thinking there is time to get it all in while stopping for pictures, lunch, and taking in all the scenery not rushing.
        Thanks again!

  • Roie says:

    Great explantion and pictures.
    I understand from your trail that the way from Lake O’Hara to lake McArthur is around 6.3 km.
    But can you tell me pls how long is the trail back that you did from lake McArthur through the Big Larches and then past Mary Lake?

    Another Q: If we have only 1 day (we are 2 adults and 3 well walking kids), what would you recommnd to do:
    Lake O’Hara to lake McArthur and back
    Lake O’Hara to lake Oesa and back?

    Tnx alot

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