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Backpacker Magazine – November 2012

The High Life: Lake O'Hara, Canada

Explore the best of Yoho National Park.

by: Michael Lanza

Hike 50 miles’ worth of the most spectacular backcountry trails in the Canadian Rockies from a home base at the Alpine Club of Canada’s Elizabeth Parker Hut. The 24-bunk cabin sits on the banks of Lake O’Hara, an 85-acre liquid emerald at 6,939 feet, surrounded by peaks that look like a cross between the Swiss Alps and Glacier National Park. You’ll have 25 alpine lakes within a few miles of the hut, plus glacier-carved hanging valleys and prime habitat for mountain goats, marmots, and pikas. Plan at least five days in order to fully explore the area while kicking back each evening in the hut, which has a kitchen and living room, bunks with mattresses, propane lights, stove, and oven (BYO food).

Top dayhikes from the Parker Hut include Linda Lake and Cathedral Basin (10 miles round-trip); Lake Oesa and the loop around Lake O’Hara (five miles); and the Alpine Circuit to Wiwaxy Gap, Lake Oesa, the Opabin Plateau, and Schaffer Lake (8.5 miles). Experienced off-trail scramblers can add an overnight to the ACC’s Abbot Pass Hut (reservation recommended, no lottery), a 90-year-old stone building astride the windswept crest of Abbot Pass at 9,598 feet. Reach it on a strenuous 3.2-mile hike up 3,000 feet from Lake O’Hara, including a 1.2-mile scramble up loose scree above Lake Oesa (nontechnical, but wear a helmet).

Season Summer and early fall. Schedule your Lake O’Hara trip in the fall for good weather paired with great solitude on the trails.

Map Gem Trek’s Lake Louise & Yoho ($14;

Get there Hike 7.4 miles from the Trans-Canada Highway (8 miles west of Lake Louise) or a half-mile from Lake O’Hara’s access road (ACC will book a bus ride). 

Cost/info $30 CAN/night ACC members, $41 non-members (plus $10 wilderness pass); enter the lottery starting in late October for the following summer (check in mid-December for unclaimed dates); 

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