Alpine Circuit

World → N AmericaRockies → Canada → Alpine Circuit, Lake O’Hara

One of our top 10 day hikes in the world

BestHike editor Rick McCharles grew up in Calgary, the closest major airport. He and local hiking friends all feel this is the most beautiful of the Canadian Rockies trails.  

Alpine Circuit, Lake O’Hara 

Super popular, it’s very difficult to get a reservation to camp overnight.

AT A GLANCE

  • Yoho National Park in British Columbia near Banff, Alberta.
  • time zone is Alberta, not B.C.
  • mid-June through the end of September (start and end dates vary)
    • for example, bus operated for hikers and campers from June 19 to October 4, 2018
  • 11.6 km
  • perhaps 9 hours
  • perhaps 900 photos 🙂
  • highest point 2528 m
  • elevation gain 1012 m
MBguiding – Yukness Ledges

Why We Like This Hike

  • get close to the Rocky Mountains Great Divide
  • exquisite hanging valleys and breathtaking alpine vistas
  • stunning blue lakes: O’Hara, Oesa, Opabin, McArthur, Mary, and Schäffer
  • trails well maintained by the Lake O’Hara Trails Club and Parks Canada
  • dozens of other superb hikes nearby including Sunshine to Assiniboine
  • visit one of the best hiking towns in the world, Banff townsite in Banff National Park
  • Le Relais near the lodge sells drinks and snacks
  • great campground
  • quota system DOES help protect this wonderful place
Lake Oesa

Considerations

  • dangerous in wet or snowy conditions
  • dangerous in low visibility
  • it can snow any day of the year

  • trails sometimes closed due to bears
  • mobile phone service not reliable
  • bikes and pets not permitted on the bus or at the campground. But you can hike with your dog on a leash.
  • you cannot buy a ticket on the bus. It has to be reserved ahead of time.
  • national park pass must be displayed in your vehicle when parked
  • though you can avoid them, some trails have exposure
towards Wiwaxy Gap

Costs (2019)

  • Bus Two Way: Adult CDN $14.70
  • Bus Return Only: Adult CDN $9.75
  • Bus Reservation Fee: 1 to 2 person: CDN $4.50/ticket online or $6.25/ticket by phone
  • Camping and Bus Reservation Fee $11.70 / campsite (non-refundable) plus Wilderness Pass $9.80 / night / adult
campground

Trekking Guides

We don’t know of any hiking guides for O’Hara. Leave a comment if you have one. Certainly you don’t need a guide.

Logistics

Advanced reservations required.

There are four ways to visit Lake O’Hara:

  1. Come for the day, book with the Parks Canada Reservation Service.
  2. Camp for up to three nights, book with Yoho National Park.
  3. Stay at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, book with the Alpine Club of Canada.
  4. Stay at Lake O’Hara Lodge, book with Lake O’Hara Lodge.

In summer a lodge room might cost you CDN $730 (two people).

Due to high demand, the Elizabeth Parker Hut is booked by lottery during the summer months. Details on the lottery are found here. If you were lucky enough to get a spot, cost is CDN $35 – $45 / night.

Most hikers either camp. Or do a long, tough day trip.

The campsites are also very difficult to get. You need to telephone 250-343-6433 three months to the day in advance of your trip.

For backcountry campground trip counselling and general information, not available at reservation.pc.gc.ca, contact or visit a Parks Canada Visitor Centre.

The day hike option is easiest to organize. You still need a reservation for the bus up from the highway. Ideally catch the first bus up (8:30am) and the last bus out (6:30 pm).  Or … you could hike up the mountain 11km. Then hike. And walk back down. No reservation required. Good luck with that. 🙂

We once had a bear in this parking lot while boarding!

Routes

Though there are many options, Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit is officially:

WiwaxyGap– HuberLedges– YuknessLedges– AllSouls’ Prospect– Grandview Prospect (in either direction)
click for larger version

And though the Alpine Circuit is the most famous of the Lake O’Hara trails, there are many, many more. If you have more than one day try to do as many of these trails as possible.

click for larger version

Local Information

 

Best Trekking Guidebooks

All of the guidebooks for hiking the Canadian Rockies include Lake O’Hara. There’s no one essential reference.

camping pad

Best Travel Guidebooks

Best Web Pages

Best Trip Reports

Movies

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Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment on this page. Our editors will reply.