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Canadian Rockies: Hiking to Lake O’Hara

“…by crossing the line and back, I discovered a passion to live my days to the full, a conviction that will sustain me like fresh water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives.” Jonathan Waterman.

This is how I feel every time I hike in the magnificent Canadian Rockies. I’m lucky. I live at the gates of Banff National Park, where there are over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of trails perfect for hiking.

There’s a long list of amazing hikes and backpacks in the Canadian Rockies, but some of my favorite trails are those around Lake O’Hara. Technically, Lake O’Hara belongs to Yoho National Park, but it is close to Lake Louise and close to the Banff National Park boundary.

Lake O’Hara is a protected alpine environment and has limited access. What does this mean? Motorized vehicles are prohibited. During the summer months there is a shuttle bus to help the curious but not so able. During the remaining part of the year, you have to enter on your own. Only 42-day users are allowed to register and explore the Lake O’Hara area.

For the avid outdoors person, the Lake O’Hara hike isn’t all that difficult. The main trail to Lake O’Hara is seven miles (11 km) long with approximately 1,650 feet (500 m) of elevation gain. There are numerous trails around Lake O’Hara and plenty of distance to cover. From Lake O’hara, there are half a dozen short trails and a few longer trails.

This lake is an overnight destination and well equipped. There is also something for every budget. Parks Canada has a campground, which is a wilderness site with no services. You have to be self-sufficient and there are strict rules. The Elizabeth Park Hut is run by the Alpine Club of Canada and offers cabin accommodation at affordable prices. And there’s the luxurious Lake O’Hara Lodge, which is privately run and offers full service, including meals. I usually stay in the cabin, but I’m saving up to stay in the lodge. It really is a great place to relax and enjoy mother nature.

During the winter, there is excellent cross-country and cross-country skiing in this area. The Lodge offers an all-inclusive package that includes a ski guide in the fee. If you have the avalanche skills, you can get out on your own. However, if you are not an expert, it is best to use the services of a guide.

Year-round, you must make reservations to head out to this fabulous lake. There are backcountry fees associated with going here. Parks Canada has a reservation line at 1.250.343.6433. During the summer, you can also book a transportation service on this reservation line. You can also arrange all your needs through the Alpine Club of Canada.

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