Canada is filled with endless pristine blue-colored lakes, but one lake that has lately raised the interest of many people visiting Yoho National Park is Lake O’Hara.
A cliffside overlook of Lake O’Hara from Opabin Prospect viewpoint has become a staple photo of many photographers, especially on social media.
But finding this viewpoint and information to hike Lake O’Hara can still be quite difficult due to its remote location.
If you are planning a trip to Banff or Yoho National Parks in Canada and are looking for information on where the Opabin Prospect viewpoint is located, how to get to Lake O’Hara, or how difficult the hike is, I am here to make your life a little bit easier.
In this guide, I have covered all you need to know to hike Lake O’Hara and get to the Opabin Prospect viewpoint in just one day!
Hiking Guide To Lake O’Hara:
- Why Hike Lake O’Hara?
- How To Get To Lake O’Hara?
- Where Does The Trail To Lake O’Hara Start?
- Where Is The Opabin Prospect Viewpoint Of The Lakes?
- How Long Does It Take To Hike Lake O’Hara And Opabin Prospect Viewpoint?
- Are Dogs Allowed?
- Best Time Of The Day To Go?
- Is There Any Food At Lake O’Hara?
- Detailed Description Of The Lake O’Hara Trail
Hiking Guide To Lake O’Hara:
Why Hike Lake O’Hara?
Compared to some of Canada’s crown jewels like Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, Lake O’Hara is still very much “off the grid” but it is becoming increasingly more popular. Lake O’Hara’s hard-to-get-to location is just one of the reasons why it’s not as highly visited as its sister lakes Moraine and Louise.
However, if you have an extra day to spare on your visit to Canada, Lake O’Hara is a must-see. The views alongside this lake and wilderness area are some of the best around and the photo opportunities in this area are limitless!
How To Get To Lake O’Hara?
Lake O’Hara is located 7 miles/11 km away from the designated Lake O’Hara visitor parking lot. There are three ways to get into Lake O’Hara and the Opabin Prospect viewpoint from the trailhead:
Option 1. If you tend to plan your trips months in advance, you can book a reservation on a shuttle bus that will take you to Lake O’Hara and back. The Lake O’Hara bus reservations go on sale months in advance and typically get sold out within hours.
If you’re staying overnight at the Lake O’Hara’s campgrounds or lodge then you’re guaranteed a seat on the bus. If not, then you have to get a day visitor ride which is maxed out at only 40 people per day which is why the bus reservations get booked up so quickly. If you’re anything like us and love to bring along your dog on every hike, then keep in mind that dogs are not allowed on the bus so you’ll need to hike in on foot.
The bus schedule is seasonally updated on the Parks Canada website.
|The current 2023 Lake O’Hara bus schedule is:|
|June 18 to October 3, 2023 – Summer Schedule|
The Lake O’Hara bus ticket can be booked:
- Online 24/7 at: Reservation.parkscanada.gc.ca
- By calling: 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783).
Option 2. Everyone else who can’t get one of the desired day bus spots has to hike it in. The hike to Lake O’Hara is long but not very hard. The hike is around 7 miles/11 km (2-3 hours) each way and goes slowly but steadily up in elevation all the way up to the lake. The hike follows a wide-access road that is used by buses and park rangers.
Hiking to Lake O’Hara is the best option for people who haven’t reserved the bus months in advance, for people with pets, people that want to beat the crowds in the morning and get there for sunrise, or people who just love to hike.
Yes, the hike is very long but it is not that bad. If you are an avid hiker and can handle the length of the trail, it is doable. It just takes a long time.
Option 3. Hike it in and take the bus out. This is a great option because the buses usually have available spots going back out and will cut the trip short by 7 miles. You can always call 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783) to inquire about open spots or take a chance and try to catch a bus on the way out. Even though they are not guaranteed, every bus we spotted coming down had plenty of space.
Where Does The Trail To Lake O’Hara Start?
For Google Map directions to Lake O’Hara Parking click here.
The 7-mile/11 km trail to Lake O’Hara starts at the Lake O’Hara dirt parking lot located off the Trans-Canada Highway 1 in Yoho National Park, Canada.
Primitive toilets are available in the parking lot.
Where Is The Opabin Prospect Viewpoint Of The Lakes?
If one of your reasons for visiting Lake O’Hara is to view or photograph the lakes from the Opabin Prospect overlook point, this will require an additional 4 mile/6 km round-trip hike on top of the 14 mile/22 km hike in and out. That’s a total of 18 miles/28 km to cover in one day.
The best views of the lakes are located at the Opabin Prospect overlook off the Opabin Plateau Circuit Trail about 1 mile up/1.5 km from Lake O’Hara Lodge. The Opabin Plateau Circuit Trail ascends about 820 feet/250 meters total in elevation gain but the views along this hike are just spectacular!
The quickest way to reach this viewpoint is by hiking the West Opabin Trail from Lake O’Hara. The viewpoint is located a few minutes after you reach the mountain top on a small side trail leading to the cliff side.
Here is a map of the Opabin Plateau circuit from the AllTrails website if you plan to do the full loop. I have marked with a red arrow where the Opabin Prospect viewpoint is located along this route.
There are other trail options in this area that you can do as well, depending on how much time you have.
A popular trail option in this region that includes a stop at the Opabin Prospect viewpoint is the Lake Oesa trail. This is a trail that I get frequently asked about in the comments section of this post. Due to time constraints, I was not able to hike all the way to Lake Oesa, but I have included the Lake Oesa trail map from the AllTrails website and marked with a red arrow where the Opabin Prospect viewpoint is located along this route.
Another popular trail option in this area is the Alpine Circuit trail. Although the Opabin Prospect viewpoint is not technically located on this trail, you can easily do a quick detour to see it. Below is a map of the Alpine Circuit trail from the AllTrails website with the Opabin Prospect viewpoint marked in a red arrow.
Still have questions on the Opabin Prospect viewpoint location? Don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments section at the end of this post.
How Long Does It Take To Hike Lake O’Hara And Opabin Prospect Viewpoint?
The entire hike to Lake O’Hara and viewpoint is pretty long so be prepared to spend at least half a day on this hike. The estimated times for hiking the Lake O’Hara and overlook viewpoint trails are:
- 3 hours to hike 7 miles/11 km into Lake O’Hara.
- 2-3 hours to hike the West Opabin trail through Opabin Plateau Circuit to Opabin Prospect overlook viewpoint, take photos and hike back. You don’t have to hike the entire 4 miles/6km loop to get that cool cliffside shot of the lakes below, but it is a beautiful hike so you might as well.
- 3 hours to hike 7 miles/11 km back to the parking lot.
- Plus, add extra time for breaks and taking photos along the way.
Are Dogs Allowed?
Yes, dogs are allowed to hike this trail but as mentioned before, they are not allowed on the buses. If you are planning to hike with your dog, be prepared to hike the 14 miles/22km in and out.
We brought our dog Diesel with us and he made it all the way to the Lake O’Hara Lodge. But he is used to hiking long distances and often accompanies us on multi-day backpacking trips.
Best Time Of The Day To Go?
In my opinion, the best time to go is as early as possible. We started the hike at 3 am and reached Lake O’Hara as the sun was coming up around 5:30 am. Morning light is best for photography so an early start was a must for me.
Also, a nice bonus on starting the hike this early was that the trails were completely empty. By the time I was leaving, the first hikers started to make their way up around 9 am.
Is There Any Food At Lake O’Hara?
Yes, food and snacks are available at the day shelter cabin by Lake O’Hara. It’s cash only, and if you happen to forget your Canadian dollars in the car as I did, it’s ok because they take US dollars too.
The day shelter cabin sells small items like coffee, fruit, sandwiches, carrot cake, etc. The day shelter is open from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm.
Detailed Description Of The Lake O’Hara Trail
If you have decided to hike the Lake O’Hara Trail and the Opabin Prospect overlook viewpoint, below is a detailed description of the trail and some tips that will help you orient yourself along the way.
Start your hike from the Lake O’Hara parking lot and follow the wide-access road that is blocked by a gate. This access road will lead all the way to Lake O’Hara and is 7 miles/11 km long. The hike to Lake O’Hara takes around 2-3 hours to complete, depending on your hiking speed.
For the entire hike, you will be surrounded by trees and occasionally see a creek running along the side. If you start this hike early in the morning as we did, make sure to bring flashlights and something to make noise to keep the grizzly bears away.
A picnic table is located about halfway in to take a break.
At mile 6.5/km 10 you will see a campground on the right.
Here you can use the restrooms and check out the map of Lake O’Hara. The overlook of the lakes is located at the Opabin Prospect on the West Opabin Trail.
Keep going along the access road for a few more minutes and you will start seeing cabins on both sides of the road. You will come across the day shelter located in a cabin on the right that is open from 8:30 am – 6:30 pm. You can take a break or continue along to the Opabin Prospect overlook viewpoint.
Lake O’Hara will start peeking through the trees on the left but continue straight on the access road until you reach Lake O’Hara Lodge.
We followed the trail to the left of the Lake O’Hara Lodge and continued along the lakeshore side.
We passed a cute canoe dock on the left but continued on.
The turnout to the West Opabin trail will be shortly after the dock. The trail turns right into the forest and will start climbing steeply uphill for about 1 mile/1.5 km.
A few minutes into your hike you will see Mary Lake on your right.
Once the trees start clearing, you will be hiking in the open and the trail will turn into short switchbacks and partial scrambling through a field of rocks.
As you reach the top, follow the signs for the Opabin hiking trail that you will see along the way.
Once you reach the top of the mountain, the trail will level out and will continue through a beautiful wilderness area filled with trees and cute walkways.
Soon after you reach the top of the mountain you will see a clearing towards the lake’s overlook point and a couple of small side trails leading to a cliff. This is where the popular Opabin Prospect Overlook is located.
Here you can take in the view, take photos and enjoy the beauty of Lake O’Hara, Mary Lake, and Cathedral Mountain in the distance. Just be aware that this area has a lot of steep drop-offs and loose rocks.
Once you’ve spent some time here you can take the West Opabin Trail back down or continue on to the East Opabin Trail on the Opabin Plateau Circuit.
I would recommend spending more time exploring this wilderness area before heading back down because it’s filled with beautiful alpine lakes and more amazing views.
Once you make your way back to Lake O’Hara shoreline make sure to take some time and take a walk around the lake before hiking the 7 miles/11 km back to your car.
At this point, you can also try to catch a bus ride down and save yourself 2-3 hours of hiking back to your car.
If you still have any questions about the trail, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! Or if you have hiked any of the trails around Lake O’Hara we would love to hear about your experience!
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41 thoughts on “Hiking Guide To Lake O’Hara In Yoho National Park”
Thank you for writing this post! There’s so much confusing information out there and this post finally broke it down in a way we could understand! Appreciate it 🙂
You are very welcome, Michelle! I am glad you found it helpful! I had a hard time finding good information when I hiked to Lake O’Hara for the first time so I wanted to write something to help out other fellow travelers. Hope you get to visit it! Cheers!
Hello, sorry but I have a question to ask you.
I will be in that area on 09/06/2018, from the coach site I understand that the bus service starts 19/06/2018, so I am obliged to make the journey from the parking lot to the lake on foot or there are other ways ?
As far as I am aware the only way in is by bus or hiking on foot. When I visited Lake O’Hara the gate to the entry road was locked (as shown in the photo under “Description Of The Trail” section) and only buses had access to it. The trail for hiking in is very long, 14 miles round trip, but it is fairly flat and wide. Hope this helps! And I hope you enjoy your upcoming trip : )
Hi, there, thanks for writing this great post 🙂 I had a question about backcountry camping. Other than the reserved camping spots, is it possible to hike and set up camp at spots along the trails?
I am not 100% sure but I don’t think backcountry camping along the trail is allowed because Lake O’Hara environment is highly protected. I couldn’t find much information on the official Canada website either except for a phone number.
“Campers and Commercial Groups only, please call: 250-343-6433”
The park rangers on our trip were very helpful so I would suggest to give them a call and they can best answer this question for you.
Thanks so much, Laura. I’ll definitely give them a ring 🙂
You are very welcome! I hope you make it out there! It’s a beautiful hike and wilderness area.
Wow thank you for taking the time to document this so well.
You’re very welcome! I’m glad you found it helpful.
At last I landed on your blog, that gives me the required insight to what I am planning this month to L’OH,
I’ll be hiking up from the parking lot, since I don’t have bus reservation. Do you advise to carry bear spray or any other safety gear… for this hike?
Yes, I would definitely recommend carrying a bear spray. We started our hike at 2 am through miles of dark woods and with low visibility you want to carry something with you in case you have a run-in with a bear. Fortunately, we did not see any bears on this hike specifically, but we saw a lot of them in this general area. Other than that it’s a pretty standard hike and doesn’t require any technical gear besides good hiking shoes, water, and lunch food. I would also recommend taking screenshots or pictures of the map because you might lose reception out there and there are many side trails that can make it easy to get lost.
This is one of my favorite hikes in Canada and it’s totally worth it. Enjoy!
Thanks Laura.. that’s going to be exciting then. Will keep posted after my trip 🙂
Thank you so much. Really helpful post. Do you know if we can park our motor home ( 30 feet) in the parking lot ? And than hike to lake Ohara by foot.
From what I recall, the parking lot was just a dirt lot without any height restrictions at the entrance. I looked around Google images and didn’t spot an entrance gate, just an open road. Hope this helps!
I’m excited to do this in a week and am grateful for your post. I will be doing the Alpine Circuit and am trying to figure out where this is based off of your description. Looking at the map I will be heading down the Yukness Ledges Alpine Route…..I’m trying to figure out if I need to make a left on the East Opabin Trail towards the Obabim Plateau Trail (circuit as theirs two?). There are two trails to that circuit and I’m trying to figure out if one of the two has the Opabim Prospect overlook. Is is the part of the circuit nearest or furthest from Lake O’Hara? OR is this overlook off of the Opabim Prospect Route? I’m not sure which it is as you say it’s off the “Opabin Plateau Circuit Trail” but it’s called Opabim Prospect. Not sure if that makes any sense. I’m zooming in on the area map from the AllTrails website.
Looking at the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit map on All Trails it seems that you will need to make a little detour to see the Opabin Prospect overlook. Some of these smaller side trails don’t have names on the map so I’ll email a screenshot of the map to you pinpointing where this overlook is located. Hope this will help!
Hi Jennie, Would you be able to pinpoint the exact overlook location (Opabin Prospect) and email to me as well, please? I’m going next week but it’s hard to find exactly where it is on the map after reaching the Opabin Plateau. Thanks in advance!
Which trail are you planning on doing? I emailed you a map of the Opabin Plateau Circuit and marked in a red arrow where the Opabin Prospect viewpoint is located. If you plan to do a different route, let me know.
I also included a few new maps in the blog post of the different routes you can do in this region and pinpointed on these maps where the Opabin Prospect viewpoint is located. Hope this helps!
Thank you for this very informative post! My girlfriend and I will be hitting Lake O’ Hara next month and the amount of information everywhere and the time researching was too overwhelming and you guys are our life saver! Keep it up!
Happy to hear that! We felt exactly the same before our trip to Lake O’Hara so glad we could help summarize the info a bit better : )
Enjoy your trip,
wow,, thank you so much.
I’m going there in a month and I didn’t know how to reach this “opabin prospect viewpoint”
so now I know 🙂 and I just can’t wait.
I have a question, I’m going late, on 10:30 bus, so I don’t think I will have enough time to explore everything but what do you think we should do after we reach this viewpoint.. do you think we can do the “lake oesa trail”?
the last bus is on 18:30 PM
Since we couldn’t score the bus reservations, we only had time to hike to the Opabin Prospect Viewpoint before we had to hike back out. We didn’t get to do the full Lake Oesa trail ourselves but according to Alltrails.com the Lake Oesa Trail is around 7 miles long so you should have enough time before the last bus out.
What would you recommend for hiking? Opabin Prospect Overlook or Lake Oesa?
During our hike, we only went as far as the Opabin Prospect Overlook. We were not able to reserve a spot on the bus so just to get to the Opabin Prospect Overlook was like 9 miles each way. If you are staying at one of the campsites by Lake O’Hara or if you’re taking the bus in and out, I hear the Lake Oesa trail is well worth it. If you do the Alpine Loop Trail, it actually takes you to both spots. Here’s a link to All Trails with the detailed map of the Alpine Loop Trail.
Thanks for such great information on hiking here! I had almost given up on going since I wasn’t able to secure a bus reservation.
You are so welcome! Glad the post was helpful!
can you bike instead of hike the trail to o hara
That’s a great question. I wasn’t sure of the answer so I looked around on the official Canada Parks website and it says that cycling on the road leading to Lake O’Hara is prohibited. Here is a link to the Parks Canada website with detailed rules:
It sure would make that trip a lot easier and quicker!
Thanks Laura for the answer… made it easy for me but a bit hard for you.
Great blog! I did Lake O’Hara in one day last year and visited the Opabin Plateau. Such a great view!
Thank you for the very informative write-up! I was wondering when you visited the park – the trails don’t look too snow-covered in your photos. Thanks in advance 🙂
We visited Lake O’Hara at the end of July. There was no snow at that time although I’ve heard it looks very beautiful in the winter as well.
Great post, thanks. Do you see any concern that the parking lot would be full? We will try to secure camping or bus reservations for Sept when they go online tomorrow, but was wondering if there was any risk of arriving on our planned date to find the lot full and nowhere to park.
We hiked Lake O’Hara in July which is probably one of the busiest times. The Lake O’Hara parking lot is just a giant dirt lot and it was pretty full when we visited but we didn’t have any issues finding a spot.
Ok, that’s good to know. We will be there in Sept which is not prime season, although it will be a US holiday weekend for labor day so not sure if that will be a factor. I’ve read a lot of reviews on the Lake O’hara hike and so far haven’t heard anyone complain about the lot, but just wanted to ask someone who’s been there. Thanks for the quick reply!
I am planning to do this hike at the end of August. How is hiking in the dark to the lake? We plan to hike in for sunrise so leaving around 2:45 am.
We left around the same time. It wasn’t too bad, the road is very wide but it is completely dark outside. There are no lights along the road so you’ll need a flashlight or headlamp to see where you’re going. We also downloaded a few podcast episodes and played them out loud to keep us awake and hopefully keep the bears away : )
Hope this helps!
Thinking of doing the McArthur Trail (8km) – have you done that piece or heard if there are any exposed portions, as I don’t do narrower paths along a drop off/ledge all that well lol
We haven’t done the McArthur Trail yet. We were there for a day hike and could only squeeze in the portion to the Opabin Viewpoint. I would check out the McArthur Trail on the AllTrails hiking app and browse through the photos to see if there are any steep ledges and drop-offs that stand out to you.
Good luck! Laura
your detailed information on how to get there makes me want to go. thanks for being so helpful and kind enough to share this with everyone.