Lake O’Hara: Hiking Gem In Yoho National Park

Category: Hikes + Easy Walks, Yoho Hikes

Lake O’Hara is Simply Stunning!

Whenever we discuss family hiking, Lake O’Hara is always mentioned, and for a good reason. The beauty of the snow-covered mountain peaks, mountain lakes, trails and the camaraderie shared by a group of strangers at the campground is a beautiful experience. 

Lake O'Hara in yoho national park
Lake O’Hara, in Yoho National Park.

For us, a significant contributing factor to the experience was the strict daily visitor restrictions, less than 100 visitors per day, that Parks Canada put on this environmentally sensitive area. My husband loved the campground and commented that “this is like backcountry camping, but better, as the bus carried everything for us.” 

My boys were 10 and 12 the first year we camped and hiked here. They, too, have very fond memories of this area, and they look forward to going back IF we can ever get on the bus again!

young boys at lake o'hara
First look at Lake O’Hara

IF you can get a reservation! 

IF you can get to Lake O’Hara, I guarantee that your family will also love it. Why did I capitalize IF? Let me share my experience and frustration. 

The only way to this hiking mecca is by reserving a seat on the Parks Canada shuttle bus or reserving a campsite at the Lake O’Hara campground or booking a room at the Lake O’Hara Lodge or a bed at the Elizabeth Parker Hut.

lake o'hara lodge cabins
Lake O’Hara Lodge cabins.

From 2011 – 2014, I managed to get seats on the shuttle bus a total of 3 times for day hiking and twice for camping. In 2014, when I called to reserve a campsite, I was booked the following week for three nights of camping. 

shuttle bus in yoho national park
Everyone pitches in to unload the gear from the shuttle bus.

Sad to say, it isn’t that easy anymore. We wanted to revisit Lake O’Hara in the summer of 2017. I tried calling for days, and each time was greeted by a busy signal. Frustrated and disappointed, I gave up. I then tried booking seats for day hikes via the Lake O’Hara online booking system, but still no luck. I later found out that the bus seats for day hikes that summer sold out within the first hour of the online system opening!   

Getting A Reservation To Hike Lake O’Hara

Parks Canada switched to a random draw reservation system for the day bus only

For the past two years, I have put my name into the random draw to hike Lake O’Hara, with no luck, but I keep trying. Reservations are required for the campground. All the information you need to plan and book your visit via Parks Canada is here.

Why did Parks Canada implement the shuttle bus?

Until summer 1973, you could drive your car up the road and pitch a tent anywhere in the ecologically sensitive meadows in front of the Elizabeth Parker Hut. Do I need to say any more about that?  

The Parks bus services started in the summer of 1974, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Go IF you win the lottery or get a campsite!

camping in yoho national park
One tent per pad. Our tents were not big enough for a family of four, so we even managed to score two tent pads…on both visits!

So IF you do get a reservation for day hikes in Lake O’Hara or camping, you must GO. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed!

common area in lake o'hara
The common cook area, food lockers, the bathroom is in the background.
camping in yoho national park
My youngest…always being a clown.

Walking up the fire access road is not recommended

Why? It is long and tedious!  

The road is 11 km one way, 22 km return, and there isn’t much to see along the way.   

Recently, people have been walking up the road in hopes that they will get a seat on the return bus ride, but that is NOT a guarantee, and Parks discourages this.

FYI – Bikes Are Not Allowed On The Service Road

Lake O'Hara in yoho national park

Bikes, winter or summer, are not allowed on this service road. 

If you cross country ski, go for a winter wonderland day trip

lake o'hara yoho national park
Lake O’Hara is a winter wonderland. Access is best done via cross-country skiing up the road. Winter travel off designated trails is not recommended due to the high avalanche risk.

I have cross country skied in Lake O’Hara on the groomed access road several times over the winter. Both times I was able to purchase lunch from the Lake O’Hara Lodge. However, lodge Lunches for purchase are not always guaranteed, so make sure you always bring some food along with you.  

Five Family-Friendly Summer Hikes We Have Done In Lake O’Hara – More Than Once!

IF I haven’t frightened you off this location and IF you can get on the bus, here are some of the family-friendly Lake O’Hara trails that we have done and more than once.

Lake O’Hara Lakeshore Circuit

2.8 km loop elevation – negligible

What? An easy loop with stunning views that hugs the shoreline of the emerald green waters of Lake O’Hara.

This loop provides stunning views of the mountains, glaciers, the Seven Veils Waterfalls, moisture-loving plants and flowers, waterfowl, and the historic Lake O’Hara Lodge and Cabins. 

Lake O'Hara in yoho national park
Lake O’Hara loop.
Lake O'Hara in yoho national park
View of the lodge and cabins.

If you only have the time, or the energy, for a short, easy, family-friendly hike, then this is the one to do. Also, this is an easy hike to combine with others before you catch the bus back to your car.

You can have lunch along the trail, stop and skip stones on the water, or hop off the canoe dock for a quick but refreshing plunge into the glacial-fed waters of Lake O’Hara.

If you are staying at the campground, I guarantee that you will walk this trail more than once, as this loop accesses several hikes, and the beauty of this lake draws you back to sit by the waters and reflect on the day’s events.  

Don’t Forget Your National Parks Pass

Make sure that if you’re able to grab a day hike or camping trip in Lake O’Hara, you’ll need a Parks Canada pass. Prepare before you go! Please feel free to reference my blog post on national Parks Passes in Canada, and how and where to get one.

Pick Up A Copy Of Take A Hike With Your Children

My sold out book, Take A Hike With Your Children, is now available on Amazon as an eBook. Pick up your copy today, and begin exploring the Rockies – noting every family-friendly trail in Lake O’Hara, Banff, Canmore, Jasper and more!

6 thoughts on “Lake O’Hara: Hiking Gem In Yoho National Park”

  1. Thank you for all these fantastic tips and photos of Lake Ohara. I was lucky enough to get a campsite here for this summer! I can’t even believe it- here is my question.. it will be me traveling with my 4 kids. So that’s a party of 5. I had to list everyone on my camp reservation- however everytime I tried to add another campsite to my cart – it told me that it would empty my cart altogether- I was such a nervous wreck – but I went ahead and booked just the one campsite with 4 people. Here is my question- how strict were the campground hosts? If I send my big boys on the shuttle with our gear and they can set up our campsite, I can walk the road with my “extra” child. But once I arrive at the campsite I don’t want to be kicked out.. even though we will squeeze all 5 of us into the 4 person tent haha! This place is so beautiful and I am so optimistic- but I also would like to know if this could even be possible. I’ve tried calling the parks- but Yoho is closed, and the person taking calls from Lake Louise just reads me the same info I read online. Please let me know your thoughts on this? Thank you so much!

    • Hi Vanessa,
      That is fantastic!!!! It is a very special place, and I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. As for you question, I can tell you the campground hosts are well aware of the number of people that are registered for the campground, as well as the number of people booked for the day shuttle. Unfortunately, the Visitor Center isn’t staffed until May. However, I do know a few Parks Canada employees that will be able to answer your question. Let me reach out to them, and I will get back to you.


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