Lake McArthur Hike in Yoho National Park

Reaching Lake McArthur
Reaching Lake McArthur

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 kilometres long but the sapphire blue colour will mesmerize you as will the setting. The lake is 85 metres deep and it’s depth 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. Before or after your hike you can buy something to eat and drink at the shelter. Bring cash.

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you very much for your support.

Starting out for the lake
Starting out for the lake

Lake McArthur hike summary

Distance: 6.3 km (3.9 miles) return 

Elevation gain: 310 m or 1,017 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Time needed: 2.5 – 3.5 hours

Best time to hike: Late June after the snow has left through to October.

Trailhead: Lake O’Hara Parking lot and then Le Relais Shelter

Type of hike: Most interesting when done as a loop

Important: You will need a bus reservation (scroll to the bottom for all the details) or you’ll have to hike 11 km one way up the road – and it’s not that interesting.

Permits: You will need a national parks pass to do the Lake McArthur hike.

Bears: This is grizzly bear country so be sure to carry a can of bear spray you can reach quickly. Throw it in a bear spray holster so you don’t set it off accidentally.

Weather: Check the weather forecast before you go.

Don’t forget: Let someone know where your are hiking, practice Leave No Trace principles and always pack the 10 hiking essentials.

Following the trail through lichen covered boulders on the Lake McArthur hike
Following the trail through lichen covered boulders on the Lake McArthur hike

Lake McArthur hike description

Head out from the Le Relais day shelter on a generally flat trail to a junction. Go straight to reach the Elizabeth Parker Hut (owned by the Alpine Club of Canada) as its in a pretty alpine meadow. As a side note it’s very difficult to get a reservation at the hut, and it’s done via an online lottery every fall.

From the hut continue on the Alpine Meadow Trail, making your way up steeply at times to Schäffer Lake. Walk around the west side of the lake and pass the McArthur Pass Cutoff junction on your right. If you take the left fork you begin climbing again on the McArthur High Level trail which is what we did.

Heading towards the Elizabeth Parker Hut on the Lake McArthur hike
Heading towards the Elizabeth Parker Hut on the Lake McArthur hike

Hike through a section littered with boulders to end up in very pretty alpine meadow. This is a place where flower enthusiasts might enjoy a copy of the pocket guide – Popular Wildflowers of Alberta and the Canadian Rockies.

Massive boulder along the trail
Massive boulder along the trail
Hiking past Schaffer Lake
Hiking past Schaffer Lake
Beautiful reflection even on an overcast day
Beautiful reflection even on an overcast day
Through the boulders on the
Through the boulders

Then it’s a short descent down to the lake from the High Level trail. Unfortunately on the day I was there it wasn’t as beautiful as it would be under sunny skies. From Lake McArthur you can retrace your steps or continue on the McArthur Low Level trail which is what I chose to do. But first, take some time at the lake to admire the intense colour before continuing on the hike.

A glorious section just before the lake
A glorious section just before Lake McArthur
Reaching the lake
Reaching Lake McArthur; note the glacier above the eastern shore of the lake
The lake would be glorious on a sunny day
Lake McArthur 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

Options on the Lake McArthur hike

We passed the intersection of the Low- Level and High-Level trails and from there retraced our steps back to Schaffer Lake. At Schaffer Lake you have the option of going back the same way you came up but we elected to hike the Big Larches trail towards Mary Lake and then west towards Lake O’Hara and Le Relais shelter. The Big Larches Trail is not as scenic as the Alpine Meadow trail, except in larch season.

There is also the option to pick up the All Souls Alpine Trail from the Big Larches trail, northeast of Schäffer Lake. The All Souls Alpine Trail meets up with the West Opabin trail. Allow up to 2 hours to hike this extra trail. Ideally the snow should be off it, and you should be prepared for a much harder hike if you add it.

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

Good to know

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 Lake McArthur hike is a total of 6.3 km with 310 m of elevation gain and will likely take you no more than a few hours.

The hike is one of the best in Lake O’Hara area so try to find two to three hours so you can do it.

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 have changed.

All camping reservations at Lake O’Hara will now be offered on the Parks Canada Reservation Service beginning March 28, 2023 at 8 AM MST. Camping is possible from June 18, 2023 through until October 2, 2023. 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 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 McArthur hike as a day hike

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 18 – October 3, 2023. Reservations for seats on the bus open on April 12, 2023 at 8 AM MST. You need to create a new user profile to be able to access the new 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.

Costs for visiting the Lake O’Hara area

Allow for the following costs.

  • $11.96 reservation fee
  • $12.50 per person per night camping fee with a maximum of one tent and 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 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, Lake O'Hara Area of Yoho National Park



  1. 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

  2. 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!

      2. 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.

      3. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

My Cart Close (×)

Your cart is empty
Browse Shop