Friday, September 30, 2011

Autumn Family Trip to Lake O'Hara

Last weekend marked our second annual trip into the Elizabeth Parker Hut at Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park.  It is always an ambitious venture to get a reservation at this Alpine Club of Canada hut.  There's a lottery just to get summer spots in the hut and you have to pay to enter the lottery.  

Autumn in the Opabin Basin at Lake O'/Hara 

Getting Spots at the Elizabeth Parker Hut 

Step One: Make a reservation in the summer lottery, and get very lucky!

Note for 2022, there is no lottery system for the hut. You can check the calendar for availabilities, and then fill out a form requesting the dates you want to stay. All information can be found here.

Once you get a spot in the hut, you need to get reservations for the bus. Fortunately this is included in your hut booking.

 The road into Lake O'Hara is closed to the public and unless you want to walk the 11 km road, most people opt for the Parks Canada bus.  Add on a wilderness pass and you'll feel like you have just paid for a night at a 5 star hotel in Banff.

Reservations in place, there comes next the matter of getting from the bus stop to the hut.  It's only a 1 km walk but loaded down with gear for a family and a toddler that insists he wants to be carried to the hut, it is certainly a small challenge.  We managed to make it in one trip with all our gear and to convince said toddler that he should walk.

Hiking through beautiful larch trees at Lake O'Hara 

Our Family Experience 

Joining us on our adventure was another family with their two small daughters.  Traveling en masse with kids is our preferred way of approaching the back-country.  Bring another child and you instantly have a companion for yours, someone for them to chase, play with, and hike beside.  You have extra hands when you work together as parents for your group of kids, and you have sympathy whenever your child is tantruming or misbehaving.  Other campers, trail users or hut users have decidedly MUCH less sympathy.

After getting to the hut on Sunday and unpacking a bit, we left for a hike around the Opabin Basin.  The larch trees were glorious in all their Autumn splendor.   It didn't matter one bit that it was quite overcast or that we got caught in a thunder storm.  The  larches were still golden and absolutely beautiful!  The third week of September is when the larches peak in colour every year before they start to shed their needles.  

We all felt very blessed to be in such a magical place that sees very few other hikers thanks to Yoho National Park's quota system that only allows for 42 day users along with those spending the night at the lodge, campground, or the Alpine Club hut.  Larch Valley at Lake Louise by comparison can see thousands of cars trying to get into the parking lot on a busy weekend day in Autumn.

Autumn larch hiking with our little monkey

What to Expect when you Take your Children into the Backcountry 

I'll end this post with the reactions you get when you take children into the back-country.  We encountered each of these reactions during our visit to Lake O'Hara.

First, sympathetic support and praise for taking your children to the mountains.  These people might have taken their own children out when they were small or have read enough statistics to know that too many North American children have never been to the mountains or would prefer to spend a warm afternoon in front of the television.

Second is my favorite response of "oh, my gosh, you did THAT with your kids?!"  We get this response a lot when we do scrambles or moderate hikes with our toddler in tow.  I didn't really think that a 1 km backpacking trip was all that intense but the awe we got from one older woman in the parking lot made my day.

Third and least favorite is when you encounter a person who really wishes you had not brought your children to the mountains.  We encountered this in the hut where we were outnumbered by middle-aged hikers who were not all thrilled to be sharing their space with two energetic toddlers or a baby who woke up periodically through the night.  One man in particular was horrified that we had brought a portable DVD player with us to entertain the children early in the morning.  I asked him if he would have preferred we let them run around screaming at 6am when they awoke but that did not placate him.  He hinted that the hut was a place for "mountaineers" and I guess would have preferred we leave the kids with their Grandmas. 

Over-all it was a great trip.  After leaving the hut Monday morning we ventured into Larch Valley at Louise where we joined the Tour Bus Parade.  Beautiful hike but we missed the solitude we found at Lake O'Hara.

Autumn hiking in Larch Valley


  1. Beautiful pictures! The man you encountered at the hut who wasn't happy about your tykes being there is so lucky I wasn't there. I really dislike ignorant people. Thanks for sharing your adventure!

  2. good thing i came across your blog. my husband and my 10 and 13 year olds hiked around Lake O' Hara this summer and we loved it. after seeing your pics, i will definitely go back there in the Autumn and hike the Opabin Basin. thanks for sharing.