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Reaching Lake McArthur

Lake McArthur Hike in Yoho National Park

All you need is half a day to do the Lake McArthur hike, 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 km long but the sapphire blue colour will mesmerize you as will the setting. The lake is 85 m deep and is responsible for the intense blue colour.

The Lake McArthur 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 the lake
Starting out for the lake

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Lake McArthur hike route description

Head out on a generally flat trail to reach the Elizabeth Parker Hut in under a kilometre. 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
Beautiful reflection even on an overcast day
Beautiful reflection even on an overcast day
Making our way through beautiful lichen covered boulders
Making our way through handsome lichen-covered boulders
Through the boulders on the
Through the boulders

Once you’ve passed beyond the boulders you end up in very pretty alpine meadows. This is a place where flower enthusiasts might enjoy a copy of the pocket guide – Popular Wildflowers of Alberta and the Canadian Rockies.

A glorious section just before the lake
A glorious section just before the lake

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.

Reaching the lake
Reaching the lake
The lake would be glorious on a sunny day
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
The return on the hike is equally pretty
The return on the Lake McArthur hike is equally pretty

We passed the intersection of the low and high level trails in 1.2 km 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
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 the lake is a total of 6.3 km with 413 m of elevation gain and will likely take you no more than a few hours.

Planning your hikes in the Lake O’Hara area

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 in 2020 and 2021 changed. 

All camping reservations at Lake O’Hara will now be offered on the Parks Canada Reservation Service beginning 8 AM MST in April 2021. Camping is possible from mid-June through until early October. Be warned, 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.

  • 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 just want to do a day hike)

As of 2021 the rules for booking buses have also changed in Yoho National Park.

This is what the park now says “All day use reservations for the Lake O’Hara shuttle bus will be booked through a random draw reservation system beginning in 2020. This system will improve the reservation service for visitors, reduce stress on the current reservation system, and help to ensure all online users have a chance at securing a reservation for a seat on the Lake O’Hara bus.

Now you must submit an application between February 1 -28, 2021 with a non-refundable $10 fee per application. Each application allows you to pick 6 different days and up to 6 bus seats. Applications will be drawn at random. If you get chosen you’ll have a two week time frame to respond or your seats will open up. 

Click on this website for all the bus details.

Costs for visiting the Lake O’Hara area

Allow for the following costs.

  • $10.02 per person 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
  • $11.50 reservation fee for camping and the bus
The campsite at Lake O'Hara
The campsite at Lake O’Hara

Further reading on hiking in Yoho National Park

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards. 

Lake McArthur hike in Yoho National Park, BC


Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. 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.

    1. @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.

  2. 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 🙂

    1. @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.

  3. Leigh,
    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.

    1. @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.

      1. Leigh,
        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!

        1. 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.

      2. 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!

  4. Hey
    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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