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  • Peter Scott & Monica Kong


Updated: Jul 24, 2020

13 years ago, we fell in love with Lake O'hara, and we knew one day we would be back. It seemed like a hidden gem back then, especially compared to nearby Lake Louise, Banff and Jasper. But the word is definitely out because with only 30 available sites, it is a lot harder to book a spot here nowadays, though not impossible. If you do, you will be rewarded with what we believe are some of the prettiest hikes in B.C.

Hidden gem of the Canadian Rockies, Yoho National Park, B.C.

There are not many backcountry camping opportunities where you have the option of taking a shuttle bus instead of hiking in, making it very favorable for families. There is even a day use shelter (Le Relais) where you can buy snacks, including fresh baked carrot cake with cream cheese icing! And if you are a glamper with some money to burn, for (gulp) $1000/night you can stay at one of the cabins by the lake.

Cabins with mountain backdrop at Lake O'hara, Yoho National Park, B.C.

Quite a different experience for our kids as they weren't used to communal eating areas, cook shelters and fire pits. Thanks to the terrible weather, that continued to follow us since we set out on our cross-Canada journey, we couldn't help but mingle with others. Conversations are hard to avoid when everyone is huddled around the fire or wood stove to stay warm and dry. Wearing toques and thermals all day was the norm. Tiny stoves, freeze dried packages, sporks and tin cups all a common sight during meal times. People were either conversing with one another, out on hikes, or quietly reading a book. A stark contrast to our last camping trip at Kentucky-Alleyne Provincial Park, where the rain just made everyone hide in their RV's.

And what are the odds that in this small, relatively remote campground, we would meet 3 other couples who have also taken a year off to travel the world at some point in their lives? We got to know some fine folks during our 3 night stay, making the rain much more tolerable.

Backcountry camping in Yoho National park, B.C.
Communal fire pit and eating area. No eating or cooking allowed at your site. Stairs leading to path where the sites are. (For more private sites, head up the stairs, turn left and go all the way towards the end)

Even though you must book ahead, you can only choose your site when you get there. If you are picky about your campsite, then book an early bus in. A round-trip bus ride for an adult will cost $14.70 Cdn, about half price for kids 6 and over. Children under 5 are FREE. Ingoing buses leave from the main parking lot at 8:30am, 10:30am, 3:30pm and 5:30pm. (The last two times are for overnight campers only). Look for a big, yellow school bus. Also keep in mind this is MOUNTAIN TIME, so if you are coming from B.C., don't forget to change your time.

Communal eating area and lockers at Lake O'hara Campground, Yoho National Park, B.C.
Bear-proof metal lockers. Washrooms (pit toilets) to the right, with 2 sinks outside, and 1 out of 2 shelters with wood stoves.

Lake O'Hara Campground, Yoho National Park, B.C.
A well stocked, covered wood shed. Large hatchet available.

Sunset at Yoho National Park, B.C.
We were lucky to witness this gorgeous sunset when the skies cleared.

Our hike to LAKE OESA was the highlight. There was one dry day, and we took full advantage of it. It was probably the longest hike we have accomplished as a family so far, about 9km total. (Lake Oesa: 6.4km return; Lake Ohara shoreline trail: 2.8km circuit). With impressive stone paths, wooden bridges and waterfall crossings, the scenery changed at every corner and you couldn't take a bad photo from any direction. This was one of those hikes where the journey was as awe-inspiring as the destination.

Lake Oesa, Yoho National Park, hiking with kids
Lake Oesa

If you are interested in visiting Lake O'Hara, you can camp or take the bus for a day trip. Reservations are necessary, even for taking the shuttle bus for the day, but last minute cancellations do happen, especially when the weather is poor. There is one person taking reservations by phone only, so you have to just keep hitting redial at 8 am (Mountain Time) 3 months prior to the date you desire.

Camping fee per adult is about $10 Cdn a night; children and youth are free. A reservation fee is also charged per campsite, which is $11.50 Cdn. Including the bus fee, the total cost for our 3 nights camping in Lake O'hara (which is the maximum nights you can stay): $78 Cdn.

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