Lake O’Hara Alpine Hike in Yoho National Park

One of the prettiest hikes in Canada

Lake O'Hara alpine hike in Yoho National Park
Lake O'Hara alpine hike - one of the best Yoho National Park hikes

The Lake O’Hara alpine hike in Yoho National Park should be on every hiker’s bucket list. You’ll be rewarded with sublime scenery from start to finish, turquoise coloured lakes, and lichen-covered rocks twisted into impossible shapes as well as challenging trails.

Traverse mountains on narrow trails and via ledges while enjoying a variety of views of Lake O’Hara from above along with Yoho National Park’s spectacular mountain landscape.

The Lake O’Hara alpine route was designed by Lawrence Grassi – a man who wore many hats including that of park warden at Lake O’Hara, stonemason, miner and the person whom the Grassi Lakes above Canmore are named for.

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Starting out at Lake O'Hara under cloudy skies
Starting out at Lake O’Hara under cloudy skies

Lake O’Hara Alpine hike summary

Camping/bus access: See below for dates and details

Distance: 8 km (5.0 miles) loop via East Opabin; 12.4 km (7.7 miles) if you include the All Souls Alpine Route coming out on the Alpine Meadow Trail

Elevation gain: Approximately 495 m (1,625 feet) and 886 m (2,907 feet) if you include the All Souls Alpine Route.

Time needed: 6-7 hours for the whole route including All Souls Prospect; 4 -6 hours coming out on East Opabin

Level of difficulty: Moderate though some airy sections many people won’t like on the Wiwaxy Gap section

Best time to hike: Mid-July after the snow has gone to early October, depending on when the snow starts to fly.

Dogs allowed: You can walk into Lake O’Hara with your dog, but they are not allowed on the shuttle bus or in the campground.

Weather: Except in mid-summer be prepared for chilly, wetter weather than Banff

Trailhead: Get to the Lake O’Hara parking lot (no public transportation here so you will need a car). Start hiking at the Relais Shelter where the bus lets you off.

Weather forecast: Check the weather forecast before you start hiking.

Issues: You will need to book a bus reservation (details at the bottom of the post) or nab a campsite, hut or Lake O’Hara Lodge reservation to hike here unless you’re up for a 11 km walk up the road at the start of the day

Permits: You will need a national park pass to hike in the Lake O’Hara area.

Bears: Be bear aware and pack a can of bear spray that is quick to access. I’d recommend using a bear spray holster.

Map: The map for the Lake O’Hara Alpine hike is Gem Trek Lake O’Hara Map and Trail Guide. The Gem Trek Lake Louise and Yoho map is also very useful. For an offline hiking app try Organic Maps.

Please: Practice Leave No Trace principles in this pristine area.

Beware the train! To get to the Lake O’Hara parking lot you must first cross train tracks. This is a busy trail corridor so give yourself extra time so you don’t miss the bus because of the train.

Trailhead for the Lake O’Hara hike

The Lake O’Hara parking lot is just 15 minutes west of Lake Louise off the Trans-Canada Highway and 15 minutes east of the town of Field in Yoho National Park. You’ll catch the bus from the parking lot to Lake O’Hara where you will start hiking.

Lake O’Hara hike location map

Lake O’Hara alpine hike description

The Lake O’Hara alpine hike is a loop, so it’s easy to eliminate sections. If you hate exposure – ledges, cliffs and paths clinging to the mountains then perhaps you’d want to give the Wiwaxy Gap and Huber Ledges Alpine Route a pass.

The same goes for the All Souls Alpine Route. The Yukness Ledges aren’t nearly as difficult or as airy as they appear from afar.

The higher you go the better the views
The higher you go the better the views

Clockwise or counter-clockwise on the Lake O’Hara Alpine Hike?

You can hike the Lake O’Hara alpine hike in any direction. My daughter and I chose to do it in a clockwise direction to get the bulk of the climbing over early in the day.

Starting from the Lake O’Hara outlet bridge across from LeRelais day use shelter, hike just a few hundred metres on the trail until you see the sign for Wiwaxy Gap. Veer left and begin a stiff climb of close to 520 m (1,700 feet), at times on narrow ledges.

You top out at a saddle – Wiwaxy Gap at 2,703 m (8,868 feet) where you can enjoy some incredible mountain views.

The start of the ledges
The start of the ledges on the Lake O’Hara alpine hike
The saddle at Wiwaxy Gap on the Lake Ohara alpine hike
The saddle at Wiwaxy Gap on the Lake Ohara alpine hike
Looking down the other side from the saddle
Looking down the other side from the saddle on the Lake O’Hara alpine hike

The challenging part on the Lake O’Hara Alpine Hike

The next 2 km are challenging and as my daughter said – I hate this, I hate this…we could die if we trip.

It’s very airy at times but very doable if you don’t have an extreme fear of heights and exposure. Otherwise give it a pass. It took us an hour to descend to Lake Oesa – and the last 20 minutes were much less scary.

Stupendous views just after leaving Wiwaxy Gap
Stupendous views just after leaving Wiwaxy Gap
Views from Lake O'Hara to Lake Oesa
Views from Lake O’Hara to Lake Oesa
Looking back towards Lake O'Hara
Looking back towards Lake O’Hara on the alpine hike
Looking across to the Yukness Ledges
Looking across to the Yukness Ledges
Incredibly steep drop-offs on the Huber Ledges
Incredibly steep drop-offs on the Huber Ledges

Lake Oesa – a beautiful stop on the Lake O’Hara alpine hike

Lake Oesa is breathtaking but it’s popular and busy as there is an easy 3.2 km trail to it from Lake O’Hara.

You’ll find slabs of rock, perfect for stretching out on so plan to stop here for lunch. Keep an eye on the aggressive chipmunks as they’ll be in your knapsack or bag of food in seconds.

All of Lake Oesa in one shot
All of Lake Oesa in one shot
Aggressive golden-mantled ground squirrel will come after you at Lake Oesa
Aggressive golden-mantled ground squirrel will come after you at Lake Oesa

To the Yukness Ledges

From Lake Oesa, look for the sign pointing to the Yukness Ledges route. Descend, cross a small stream, then a boulder section and pass by the small lake in the photo below.

In another few minutes reach a signed intersection. Stay left to continue on the alpine circuit or if you’ve had enough you can call it a day and descend to Lake O’Hara from here.

Pass by a small lake near Lake Oesa on the way to the Yukness Ledges
Pass by a small lake near Lake Oesa on the way to the Yukness Ledges
Looking up at the hikers on the saddle at Wiwaxy Gap
Looking up at the hikers on the saddle at Wiwaxy Gap

The Yukness Ledges

The Yukness Ledge are much wider and less airy feeling than the trail up and down from the Wiwaxy Gap. Kids in runners were hiking it with no problem.

Its 2.3 km on the Yukness Ledges trail from Lake Oesa to the junction with the East Opabin Trail – one of your options to return to Lake O’Hara and the one we chose to do.

Your other option is to hike 1.4 km along the meadow filled Opabin Plateau to the West Opabin Trail and descend to Lake O’Hara from there. Eventually both trails meet up on the shores of Lake O’Hara. (Pick up a map for a donation at Le Relais day use shelter.)

View from the Yukness Ledges on the Lake O'Hara alpine hike
View from the Yukness Ledges
The Opabin Plateau on the Lake Ohara alpine hike
The Opabin Plateau is a highlight on the Lake O’Hara alpine hike
Hiking by this small lake on the East Opabin Trail - part of the Lake O'Hara alpine hike
Hiking by this small lake on the East Opabin Trail
It's back into the woods on the Lake O'Hara alpine hike
It’s back into the woods on the Lake O’Hara alpine hike
Back at Lake O'Hara - and just 20 minutes from the lodge
Back at Lake O’Hara – and just 20 minutes from the lodge
The Lake OHara alpine hike is complete
The Lake O’Hara alpine hike is complete

East Opabin Trail

We chose to descend on the East Opabin trail – steeply at times. In a short 0.8 km you reach Lake O’Hara and from there it’s an easy 1 km walk to Lake O’Hara Lodge. If you time it right – between 3 PM and 4 PM – you could stop in and have tea and goodies for $10 per person – if there’s space.

We clocked a total of 8.8 km (5.5 miles) on the Lake O’Hara alpine hike – not much by my hiking standards but when you have to concentrate on your footing for kilometres at a time it can be slow going.

It took us 4.5 hours to hike it plus another ½ hour for lunch at Lake Oesa.

Getting into Lake O’Hara is always an issue

You have to reserve a seat on a bus (see below). Most people come in for at least a night – to camp, stay at Lake O’Hara Lodge or at the Elizabeth Parker hut.

However it is possible to walk the 11 km up the road and do the hike. We met a couple who had done just that. Allow 2.5 – 3 hours to get to Lake O’Hara and 4 – 6 hours to hike the Lake O’Hara alpine circuit. Then you can take the bus back down – as reservations aren’t required for that – just a fee. The buses leave at 2:30, 4:30 or 6:30 PM on a first come, first served basis.

Planning the Lake O’Hara Alpine hike??

Doing any hike at all in the Lake O’Hara region takes some planning. If you’re thinking about camping the following is important as the rules have changed.

All camping reservations at Lake O’Hara will now be offered on the Parks Canada Reservation Service beginning January 25, 2024 at 8 AM MT. Camping is possible from June 21, 2024 through until October 5, 2024. You should know that it can snow at any time. Nights can be very cold – early and late in the season.

To access the reservation service click on this page.

The Parks Canada website also says you can call one of these two numbers. To save time they recommend creating an account beforehand. Reservations are usually booked completely on opening day within an hour or so.

To up your chances get everyone that is on the trip to log onto the reservation website up to 30 minutes before the 8 AM opening so you are all put into a queue. Whoever gets the best dates can keep them and the rest of you release them. If you don’t get a reservation check back frequently for cancellations.

  • 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783).
  • International: 1-519-826-5391

How to get a seat on the bus to Lake O’Hara (if you want to do a day hike)

The rules for booking buses have changed in Yoho National Park.

If you just want to do the Lake O’Hara alpine hike as a day trip

The Lake O’Hara shuttle takes hikers 11 km up the road to Lake O’Hara. The bus leaves from the Lake O’Hara parking lot, 12 km west of Lake Louise or 13 km east of Field, B.C.

The bus will operate from June 21 – October 4, 2024. Reservations for seats on the bus will be by random draw in 2024. There are no dates yet for when you can put in your name. You need to create a new user profile to be able to access the newest reservation system. You can reserve a seat online.

Buses leave in the morning for Lake O’Hara at 8:30 AM (20 seats) and 10:30 AM (11 seats).

They depart from Lake O’Hara at 11:30 AM, 2:40 PM, 4:30 PM and 6:30 PM. You can’t reserve a space on the outgoing bus. It’s first come, first served.

Pricing for ages 6 – 99  is $17.14 per person. There is probably a booking fee too.

If Lady Luck is on your side

On occasion there are no-shows for the bus ride into Lake O’Hara. You can take your chances (especially on less than sunny days) and show up at the Lake O’Hara parking lot. If people haven’t checked in 10 minutes before the bus leaves, then the park ranger is able to sell open spots – for cash – to walk-ups. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky few and then you can knock off the Lake O’Hara alpine hike.

Costs for visiting and hiking the Lake O’Hara area

Allow for the following costs.

  • $11.96 reservation fee
  • $12.50 per person per night camping fee, maximum 4 people per campsite
  • $17.14 for a return bus ride
  • $10.00 per day National Park Pass fee – but if you have an annual pass you won’t incur more fees.
The Lake O'Hara Campground
The Lake O’Hara Campground – a fantastic base for the Lake O’Hara alpine hike

Where to stay the night before the Lake O’Hara alpine hike

In a perfect world it would be close to the Lake O’Hara parking lot so you don’t have a hefty drive at the start of your hiking day. Take careful note of when campsite reservations open!

You can camp in Banff and Yoho National Parks. The Monarch Campground is a first come-first served campsite on the road to Takakkaw Falls near Cathedral Mountain Lodge in Yoho National Park.

In Lake Louise there is both a tent campground – open from May 31 – September 22, 2024 and an RV or hard-sided campground that is open year round but can be reserved from May 17 – September 22, 2024.

Johnston Canyon Campground is open from May 23 – September 22, 2024. You can make online reservations starting January 26, 2024 at 8 AM.

If you want a room in Lake Louise consider the following options.

Field area

You can stay at the Emerald Lake LodgeCathedral Mountain Lodge or the simplerCharlies Guesthouse.

Lake Louise

Check outBaker Creek by Basecampalong the Bow River Parkway.

In Lake Louise theMountaineer Lodgeand theLake Louise Hostelare good options. If it’s luxury you’re after, check out theFairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Well lit walking paths with inviting cabins at night
Well lit walking paths with inviting cabins at night at Cathedral Mountain Lodge

More Yoho hikes you might enjoy

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Hiking the Lake O'Hara Alpine Route in Yoho National Park

  1. @Paul The Lake O’Hara hiking experience is so popular – and I hadn’t appreciated that getting a bus ride down was now such a huge issue. I agree that the Rockies offer a huge number of stellar hiking experiences without having to deal with 22 km of uninteresting, viewless walking in the trees.

  2. I so wish I had found this back when I started planning my huge Canada trip back in January! A bit late now (1 month out), but I’ll definitely try for a last minute cancellation spot to open up!

    1. @Grace I would say no BUT if you do the whole alpine route early in July they may still come in handy. The rest of the route should be clear.

  3. Hi Leigh,

    I have enjoyed reading your posting. Great articles and photos!

    You mentioned that your daughter hated saddle area. Is it because the heights, narrow and slippery?

    I am uncomfortable with heights (like Cliffs,edges) . should I skip this area? I will be there 2-3days from July 22.

    Thanks in advance, Grace

    1. @Grace It’s not slippery but there is a section where you have to deal with heights. I work on a Circle of Fear that’s 10′ wide and I don’t look down when the going gets tough mentally. If you’re super scared of heights, give it a pass. But the views from this part of the hike sure are beautiful.

  4. Great article and lovely photos!! Have been wanting to do this for years and we finally got reservations this year! Just had a couple questions – we were only able to get reservations for mid-June…do you think many hikes will not be possible this early? And how cool should we expect temps this early :s Also – thoughts on keeping these reservations for two nights of camping at mid-June, or just trying for a day pass first week of July when we’ll also be in the area? Can a couple weeks really make a huge difference? Would love any thoughts and advice you may have!! 🙂

    1. Hi Carrie,
      I suspect there will still be snow in mid-June so not all the hikes will be available. But if enough people are going then the trails should be pretty darned easy to follow. I would bring “icers” and poles for sure. Camping could be chilly – but it could be quite alright too. It can literally snow at any time of the year so I would bring lots of layers. In July there will be far less snow and honestly it will make a huge difference. It’s a tough call when a reservation is so hard to get. The other thing you can do is try and get a last minute cancellation in July as that does happen frequently. How’s that for an on the fence answer. Personally I would wait till July UNLESS it’s a really warm May and you know the snow has been melting quickly.

      1. That’s great advice! Thank you!! I was also thinking that although it may be difficult maybe it would be better to try for two days passes (consecutive days) and go in and out two days and that first week of July and just camp elsewhere. Or is the campground in O’Hara worth it/a “must do”

      2. @Carrie I wouldn’t call it a must do. It does have more facilities than most (lockers, benches) and a great big fire ring but apart from the ease (which is something to consider) of starting a hike, it’s not going to make or break your trip. Traditionally June – at least in Alberta – is a very wet month just as an FYI.

  5. You have convinced me with your description and amazing photos. I am not good with exposure, but I’m going to give this a try. A good reminder as it is time to make a booking for the bus. Wish me luck on both counts!

  6. Jill,

    Thanks for such an informative guide for the alpine loop! I am doing a solo trip and plan on camping near Lake O’Hara and wanted to see if you have any suggestions on where to stay before I do this hike (I’ll be doing this on 3/28). Also if you have any information on the distance between the trailhead and the campsite that would be great too just so I can plan the day ahead of time.

    I am stoked for this hike! Thanks!

  7. Are three nights/four days too much time to spend there? Are there enough good trails to warrant that length of a stay?

    1. @Alan Three days of hiking for sure and four days would be alright if you literally want to hike everything. There is so much beauty you might want to savour the hikes and not go as far every day so from that perspective four days would be great.

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