Welcome to one of the most visited places in the Canadian Rockies, Lake O'Hara. Located in Yoho National Park, on the border of British Columbia and Alberta.
Ever wonder what the backside of Lake Louise looked like? Well here it is.
Lake O'Hara is a protected area and as a result, the amount of people allowed into the area has been limited. Since the road to the Lake is closed to public traffic, a bus reservation is required from around mid-June to October. It is also highly recommended that you book a campground or hut in advance as it is usually fully booked months ahead, with the Elizabeth Parker hut reservations being awarded based on a lottery system in the fall prior. More booking information can be found HERE.
It is not hard to understand why this place is so coveted with it's crystal blue water, towering mountains, abundance of wildlife, and a base camp to a huge network of trails. Words cannot even begin to describe this place. But, what if I told you, you could have this place completely to yourself?
It's 100% possible. Although the road is closed to public traffic, it is open to foot traffic (including skiing) all year round! Travelling in a shoulder season (spring and fall) will always give you less crowds and a more authentic backcountry experience.
So, how do you get there if the bus doesn't run? You walk the 11km fire road used by the bus in the summer months. It is a moderate walk, gaining around 400m of elevation. One of the bonuses to hiking in on a shoulder season, is that the Elizabeth Parker Hut usually has open registration at a very affordable price with the hut being shared by a minimal number of people. When I was there last May Long-weekend, it was just our hiking crew staying the night. That's three people, in all of Lake O'Hara.
Another option I have yet to experience, is skiing in the winter along the road into the Elizabeth Parker hut. Just imagine spending an entire day skiing and being welcomed by a rustic backcountry log cabin with a wood stove. I hear that it can get quite busy in the winter months, but the more the merrier!
Of course, with seclusion comes the safety;
Bring your layers, and then bring some more. Weather in the Rockies is unpredictable. There could be snow on the trails and road in early season.
Include some comfort food! And get creative! This is truly the highlight of any trip.One of my hiking buddies made instant cheesecake in the backcountry. At the end of a day of hiking, it's totally worth it!
Be Bear aware! Make noise, travel in groups, bring Bear Spray and know how and when to use it! Also be prepared to run into other animals. We ran into a moose on the trail and found all sorts of tracks in the snow.
There's zero phone service. Make sure you have EVERYTHING. Including first aid packs, trail maps, lighter, food, friends, wine...
Being able to experience this place the way I have, has been one of my top highlights of living in the Rockies. The beauty and peacefulness that the area offers was amplified by the lack of people, I got to see the real wilderness of Lake O'Hara. Remember that this is a protected area, so when visiting please practice stewardship.