After hiking over 50 trails in the Canadian Rockies, the trails at Lake O'Hara in BC's Yoho National Park rank in my top three day hikes anywhere. (The others are the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park, BC—which I've yet to complete—and Cape Split on Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy Coast).
Lake O'Hara was on my radar since I moved back to Canmore in March 2013, and in October 2015 I finally got to visit this protected mountain paradise full of alpine hiking routes (above tree line), lakes and golden larch trees. It was as magical as I'd imagined.
We drove from Canmore to just west of Lake Louise where we departed on Parks Canada's 8:30 a.m. day bus and soon arrived steps from the lakeshore.
Lake O'Hara is truly about the journey. The views from almost every step of the trails here are like what you'd often have to hike for hours to see. Our first stop was Lake Oesa, which took 3 km to reach at a moderate incline. En route, we passed at least two lakes that we thought might be Lake Oesa but were not. Keep going!
It was a Thursday in the off season, and only two other people were at this glacial lake when we arrived. It felt like true wilderness. From Lake Oesa, we headed across the Yukness Ledges (don't be daunted by the word "ledge") toward the Opabin Plateau, a hanging valley with east and west trails that make a 6-km circuit. The views ahead and behind were stunning. (Click to enlarge images).
The sun warmed us as we descended a rocky slope past Hungabee Lake (below, left) and hiked toward Opabin Lake (below, right). At this point, I was pretty sure I'd been transported into a fairytale and that a dancing, singing bear and deer duo would make an appearance any minute. Maybe I was just hungry. The ground was mostly flat, so we stopped for lunch and to de-layer.
We were making good time (we planned to leave on the 4:30 p.m. bus), so we decided to get up into the alpine again and take the All Souls' Prospect Route from west Opabin Plateau, which would eventually lead us back down to Lake O'Hara.
It was a bit challenging to get from Opabin to All Souls', in terms of wayfinding (we ran into a few other hikers who concurred), but after a 20-minute detour we were back on track.
The views from the top of All Souls' were incredible. The sky, peaks, and lakes and larch trees dotting the landscape below stretched for miles, like we were on top of the world. The air was crisp, but not cold—just fresh autumn alpine air.
We had another bite to eat and enjoyed the views for about half an hour before starting the return trip to Lake O'Hara. It was a bit steep at first heading down, and another hiker actually suggested we turn around and go back the way we came because he didn't think we could make the descent. If you're of reasonable physical fitness, don't be intimidated, stay the course! We were glad we did. It was a rewarding end to a beautiful day.
When we got back to the Le Relais day shelter at Lake O'Hara, we treated ourselves to some Mr. Noodles and hot chocolate, junior high school style. After six hours of hiking bliss, we were happily tired. Soon after, Jenny made plans to return to Lake O'Hara this summer. (I'll be back, too, but I have to cross a few other destinations off my to-do list first). I highly recommend you make the trip!