How to Hike to Lake O’Hara Viewpoint
Lake O’Hara viewpoint is a photographer’s (and hiker’s) dream. This hiking guide will show you how to get to the famous viewpoint at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park.
Canada is full of natural beauty and the Canada Rockies is particularly famous for its beautiful lakes, towering waterfalls and snow capped peaks.
While most people visit Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies, hiking enthusiasts know the real gem is Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park.
Due to the difficulty of getting there, Lake O’Hara remains one of the most untouched alpine lakes in the Canadian Rockies. It is one of the few beautiful places near Banff that are actually quiet with no visitors in sight.
Hiking around Lake O’Hara and to its beautiful viewpoint is an once in a lifetime experience. This Lake O’Hara travel guide will show you how to get to Lake O’Hara and the famous viewpoint.
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Where is Lake O’Hara?
Lake O’Hara is an alpine lake located in Yoho National Park in British Columbia, near the border of British Columbia and Alberta.
Lake O’Hara is about an hour drive from Lake Louise in Banff National Park.
Since Yoho National Park is a large park, Lake O’Hara is still about an hour drive from other parts of Yoho National Park such as like Emerald Lake.
What is special about Lake O’Hara?
You may wonder what is the big deal about Lake O’Hara, isn’t it just another alpine lake like Moraine Lake in Banff?
Yes and no!
Lake O’Hara sits at an elevation of about 2000 meters (6600 ft). It is one of the most pristine and well preserved alpine lake area in the Canadian Rockies.
In fact because the government wants to protect this area and this lake, personal vehicles cannot access Lake O’Hara and there are only a couple of small buses operated by Parks Canada that can take passengers to Lake O’Hara area everyday.
Its pristine beauty, crystal clear water, incredible scenery, amazing landscape and the limited accessibility all contribute to its draw.
Each year tens of thousands of people hope to win the Lake O’Hara bus ticket but only very few succeed (we were one of the lucky ones, truly lucky we got the leftover tickets a month after the lottery draw).
If you ever wondered what it’s like to have paradise all to yourself and truly find tranquility in nature, Lake O’Hara is where you can find it.
In addition, there are some really amazing hiking trails from Lake O’Hara that you simply will never be able to see if you do not visit this lake.
How to get to Lake O’Hara?
There are 2 ways to get to Lake O’Hara: take a bus or walk.
Ok that was the simple answer. If getting to Lake O’Hara were so easy then everybody would be doing it. Let me break it down a little more on how to get to Lake O’Hara.
Taking a bus to Lake O’Hara
The fastest way to go to the shore of Lake O’Hara is to take the Parks Canada shuttle bus from the parking lot to Lake O’Hara.
The Lake O’Hara bus will run from June 18 to October 3 in 2023.
Buses operate at 8:30am and 10:30am to go into Lake O’Hara.
There are multiple buses departing from Lake O’Hara (9:30am, 11:30am, 2:30pm, 4:30pm and 6:30pm). You do not need a reservation to get on the departing bus. But people with bus reservation will get priority to board the departing buses.
We were given a ticket when we boarded the bus in the morning. So in the afternoon everyone with a ticket would line up on one side and board the departing bus first. But there were multiple departing buses at the same time.
You can get Lake O’Hara bus tickets via the following ways:
- Reserve day-use Lake O’Hara bus ticket (need 100% luck)
- Reserve camping spot (still need a lot of luck)
- Reserve lodging at Lake O’Hara Lodge (good luck on that too)
Lake O’Hara day-use bus ticket
Lake O’Hara bus ticket is probably the most sought after bus ticket in all of Canada.
The Lake O’Hara bus ticket will return to a random lottery in 2024.
Lake O’Hara Camping Reservation
Bonus: Elizabeth Parker Hut Camping
Another (different) camping reservation is available near Lake O’Hara, operated by the Alpine Club of Canada.
Lake O’Hara Lodge
Summer is usually fully reserved one year in advance, but they sometimes have limited winter availability and you will need to call to reserve.
Hiking to Lake O’Hara
Unfortunately most visitors will not have the bus tickets to visit Lake O’Hara.
The only other option is to walk 11km from the parking lot to Lake O’Hara on the service road (where the bus drives).
It is an easy but long and boring walk and you will need to start early in order to maximize hiking around Lake O’Hara.
There are often bears sharing the road (we saw one when we were on the bus), so be sure to bring bear spray with you.
When is the best time to go to Lake O’Hara?
Lake O’Hara is best visited in the summer (early July to mid September) if you want to see the beauty of the lake and hike around Lake O’Hara.
Outside of the bus operating schedule (mid June to early October), you will need to hike in (unless you have a reservation with Lake O’Hara Lodge) and it is not advisable to hike when there are snow on the trail.
Even in the summer weather can be unpredictable and you can expect thunder storm in Lake O’Hara. We got lucky that when we visited Lake O’Hara the weather was great, but two days later the entire Banff region had some intense thunder storm all day and we would not have been able to change our bus ticket.
Is there a cafe or restaurant at Lake O’Hara?
There is no restaurant at Lake O’Hara if you are not staying at the Lake O’Hara Lodge.
But there is a small day shelter called Le Relais next to Lake O’Hara after getting off the bus.
The Le Relais day shelter is cash only and sells coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soda, chips, baked goods, carrot cake (famous for it), chocolate, maps, postcards, t-shirts, etc. It is only open from June to September.
In the winter Le Relais day shelter is an unstaffed warming hut.
There is no water at the shop. If you want to get water, you will need to walk back on the service road for about 1km and get water from the camping site.
What is the hiking trail to the Lake O’Hara viewpoint?
The view of Lake O’Hara and Mary Lake from above is the Lake O’Hara viewpoint everyone wants to see.
The name of the Lake O’Hara viewpoint is called Opabin Prospect on the Opabin Plateau.
On the Lake O’Hara hiking map above, the red star is where the Lake O’Hara viewpoint is, otherwise known as Opabin Prospect.
How long does it take to hike to the Lake O’Hara viewpoint?
The easiest and fastest way to get to Opabin Prospect from the Day Shelter/ bus drop off is to hike on the West Opabin trail.
In the Lake O’Hara hiking map above, you will need to follow the green trail from the lake via West Opabin (the bottom green trail) to Opabin Prospect (the red star).
As you can see, the hike to Opabin Prospect from the Lake Shore is actually not that long, especially comparing to the rest of the hiking trails.
From the Day Shelter, it takes about 1-1.5 hours to hike to Opabin Prospect one way. The fastest way to come back is to hike back the same way you came, so that would add another 1-1.5 hours back to the shore.
If you walked 11km to Lake O’Hara….
If you unfortunately had to walk 11km on the service road to arrive at Lake O’Hara, you will most likely have two options on how to hike to Opabin Prospect:
- Hike West Opabin trail to Opabin Prospect and come back the same way: ~2-2.5km (estimate)
- Hike the Opabin Plateau Circuit (West Opabin to East Opabin): 5.9km
If you did not have to hike 11km to Lake O’Hara…
If you are lucky with the early Lake O’Hara bus ticket (or you are camping at Lake O’Hara or staying at the Lake O’Hara Lodge), then you have a lot more time and energy to hike around Lake O’Hara.
On the hiking map above, you basically have 3 options on how to continue after you get the perfect Lake O’Hara photo at Opabin Prospect:
- Hike down East Opabin Trail (green trail)
- Continue to Lake Oesa via the Yukness Ledge Alpine Route then go up the Huber Ledges Alpine Rout and Wiwaxy Gap Alpine Route (the purple and orange trail)
We did the second option and hiked from West Opabin Trail to Opabin Prospect down to Opabin Lake then crossing the Yukness Ledges to Lake Oesa and back down Lake Oesa Trail and that total took about 6-7 hours and we were quite tired.
Detail step by step guide to Lake O’Hara Viewpoint
In this detailed Lake O’Hara hiking guide, I will specifically discuss how to get to the Lake O’Hara viewpoint/ Opabin Prospect from Lake O’Hara shore.
I will not go over the hike from Opabin Prospect to Opabin Lake or to Lake Oesa since that is quite a long hike which warrants a separate post by itself.
Starting at the Le Relais Day Shelter, you will walk past the day shelter (with it on your right side) towards the Lake O’Hara Lodge.
Once you are near Lake O’Hara Lodge, you will see a sign with 2 options, but both really point to the same trail. Walk on the small trail into the woods and soon you will see another sign.
When you see the second sign, follow the trail on the right and start going around the lake (Lake O’Hara will be on your left hand side).
Enjoy the peace and quietness of the lake and the boat house. Again, we felt very fortunately we were able to be there this early and soak in all the views. It is such a stark comparison to the crowdedness of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
Soon you will start going uphill on the trail once you are past the lake and walking into the woods once again. You will see another sign, follow the sign towards Mary Lake and Opabin Lake and continue uphill.
As you continue on this small path in the woods, you will come across a small wooden bridge and a stream.
As you continue uphill, you will start seeing a small lake on the right side. The small lake on the side is Mary Lake.
The trail will continue uphill soon and it becomes very narrow as it wraps itself around the plateau. The trail also becomes quite rocky as you hike and you are exposed on the right side with the view of Mary Lake and the peaks behind it.
Don’t forget to turn around to see the view as you hike along the ledge.
As you continue hiking up about half a mile on this trail, you will eventually come across a large rock with a clear view. The trail does get very rocky at this point so be careful when you are hiking here.
After hiking uphill, you can now take a breather and enjoy the view. This is a great spot for some photos but it’s not yet the actual Lake O’Hara viewpoint!
After this mini viewpoint, continue to follow the trail uphill as it now goes to the back of the mountain. There is no more view until you see a wild flower meadow.
You will soon see another sign. This time make sure you follow the sign towards Opabin Lake.
As you continue the walk you will eventually see another sign. Follow the path to “Opabin Prospect/ Point de vue Opabin” (sorry I know so many signs!).
As you follow the path for about 10 minutes you will soon come to the view that you came for, the famous Lake O’Hara Viewpoint.
The best thing about hiking to the Lake O’Hara viewpoint for us was that there was nobody else here. We were literally the first people here and only after about 45 minutes did someone else come.
I totally see the appeal of Lake O’Hara with this pristine beauty and the fact you can have this beautiful place all to yourself is just unbelievable.
From the shore of Lake O’Hara to Prospect Point it’s only about 1-1.5 hour hike (depending on how fast you walk).
This is a great place to take some photos and eat a snack before either turning back the same way you came or continue onto Lake Opabin and East Opabin Trail (or do the alpine trail which is amazing).
After relaxing at Prospect Point, you have a few options on how to proceed:
- Go back the same way you came (the fastest way and all downhill)
- East Opabin Trail
- Opabin Lake then East Opabin Trail
- Lake Oesa via Yukness Ledges Alpine Route (you probably won’t have time for this option if you walked 11km up).
What to bring to hike at Lake O’Hara viewpoint?
Even though the hike to Lake O’Hara viewpoint at Prospect Point is pretty short, but if you are walking 11km to the trailhead, you should be prepared for a pretty long day.
Water and Food: Although the day shelter at Lake O’Hara sells some drinks (not water) and snack, you should always be prepared to have food with you as you hike at least 14-15km that day if you are not taking the bus to Lake O’Hara.
Cash: If you are planning to buy snack or coffee or soda at the Day Shelter, you have to have Canadian dollars with you.
I don’t think hiking poles are necessary but that is a personal choice. If you are planning to hike the Huber Ledges and Wiwaxy Gap then it might be useful, but it wasn’t all that necessary when I hiked.
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