Canada is filled with endless pristine blue colored lakes, but one lake that has lately raised the interest of many people visiting Banff National Park area is Lake O’Hara.
A cliff side overlook of Lake O’Hara from Opabin Prospect viewpoint has become a staple photo of many photographers and social media influencers, especially on Instagram.
But finding this viewpoint and information to Lake O’Hara can still be quite difficult due to its remoteness.
If you are planning a trip to Yoho National Park 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.
Lake O’Hara Day Guide:
- 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 of the lakes?
- Are dogs allowed?
- Best time of the day to go?
- Is there any food at Lake O’Hara?
- Description of the trail
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 bus reservations for Lake O’Hara go on sale exactly 3 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 skip to the second option.
The bus schedule is seasonally updated on the Parks Canada website. The current 2017 Lake O’Hara bus schedule is:
|June 16 to October 1, 2017 – Summer Schedule|
The Lake O’Hara bus reservations can be booked:
- Online 24/7 at: www.reservation.parkscanada.gc.ca
- By calling: 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783). After April 20, the telephone service is available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. local park time.
- International: 1-519-826-5391
Option 2. Everyone else who can’t get one of the 40 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 along 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 3 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?
The 7 mile/11 km trail to Lake O’Hara starts at the Lake O’Hara parking lot located off the Trans-Canada Highway 1 in Yoho National Park, Canada.
Primitive toilets are available at 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 viewpoint of the lakes is located at the Opabin Prospect 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 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.
How long does it take to hike Lake O’Hara and Opabin Prospect viewpoint of the lakes?
The entire hike to Lake O’Hara and viewpoint is 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:
- 2-3 hours to hike 7 miles/11 km into Lake O’Hara.
- 2-3 hours to hike 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 cliff side shot of the lakes below, but it is a beautiful hike so you might as well.
- 1.5-2 hours to hike 7 miles/11 km back to the parking lot.
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.
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 like I did, it’s ok because they take US dollars too (1-1 exchange rate).
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.
Description of the 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 like we did, make sure to bring flash lights and something to make noise to keep the bears away.
A picnic table is located about half way 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 lake shore 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 Opabin Trail that will be placed 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 lakes overlook point and a couple of small side trails leading to a cliff. This is where the popular Opabin Prospect overlook viewpoint 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.