Thursday, April 07, 2016

Easter at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara

We try to plan an annual Easter getaway as a family and this year was no different. In previous years we've traveled to the sunny Columbia Valley for early season mountain biking, we've stayed at a remote cabin on the scenic Icefields Parkway and gone sledding off glacier moraines, and now we've spent the Easter weekend in glorious Yoho National Park at the Alpine Club of Canada's Elizabeth Parker Hut. I can hardly wait to see what we plan next year!

Over the past few years, my son has hunted for his Easter eggs in a mountain bike park, in snow caves, under snow drifts with the help of an avalanche transceiver, and now this year he found them hanging from trees like Christmas ornaments! What a creative and dedicated Easter Bunny we have!

Easter at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara

Highlights of this Easter at Lake O'Hara

We built the biggest, baddest, craziest luge track in the history of family backcountry ski trips. It was seriously rad (and slightly terrifying.) We spent the weekend at the Elizabeth Parker Hut with 4 other families and each child said the luge track was the highlight of their entire weekend (impressive given that it had to compete with chocolate filled Easter eggs!) We also shared the hut with a single couple from Revelstoke and they said the luge track was their highlight too! (this from adults who came into the hut to go backcountry skiing!!) I understand the family who came in to the hut after us also enjoyed the luge track and may have used salad bowls to ride down it. :)

The Lake O'Hara Unicorn
The Raddest Luge Track
Highlight number two was the gigantic snow maze that my new friend Megan and her husband Alex built for the kids. How to get invited on every future backcountry trip - build an enormous snow fortress that occupies the kids for hours!!

Building the ginormous snow maze
Snow walls that were taller than the children
The kids could have played for days outside our hut
The snow fortress had an amazing cave - of course!!
Jumping across the snow fortress walls was tons of fun for the kids

Highlight three for me would definitely be the day tour we took to Mary Lake and to Lake O'Hara. We didn't want to go into avalanche terrain so this short tour kept us safe while giving us no shortage of stunning scenery to admire. Some of us chose to snowshoe and others chose to ski. Either way, we all enjoyed our outing and it helped us gain an appreciation for how beautiful the Lake O'Hara area is in winter. If you've never visited this place in winter, it's a MUST do winter trip for sure!!

Off on our day tour to explore the Lake O'Hara area
Love how they look like they're off on an expedition!
Group Tour

The Snowshoe Boys of Lake O'Hara
Exploring on Mary Lake
Lunch at Mary Lake
Snowshoeing across Mary Lake
Our Snowshoe Boys at Lake O'Hara
They actually all looked at me for a photo!!
Lake O'Hara
Snowshoeing across Lake O'Hara
Maybe the last Snow angel of the season
Back at the Elizabeth Parker Hut
And it would be no surprise that highlight number four for everybody would be the Easter Egg Hunt on Sunday morning before skiing out. We hid the eggs in clusters of 8 so that each child got the same number of eggs and so that the younger children didn't get left behind with nothing. It worked well and the kids had fun going through their eggs after to see what they got. (our supply was pretty much gone by the time we reached the trailhead after the ski out.)

Easter Morning
It was an exciting visit to the outdoor bathrooms Easter morning!

Staying at the Elizabeth Parker Hut 

The Elizabeth Parker Hut is the flagship hut (and the most popular by far) in the Alpine Club of Canada's collection. Spots at the hut are won in a lottery during the summer season and still fought for in the winter season. A visit over Easter requires that you be the first person to call the Alpine Club (precisely at 8am) one year to the date of the following Easter. Most weekends fill up a year in advance and you must be a member of the Alpine Club to make a reservation here. Non members can attempt to get a spot but you will be limited to a 30 day booking window which is near impossible at this popular hut.

Side view of the Elizabeth Parker Hut

The above photo shows the main cabin at the Elizabeth Parker Hut with the kitchen in front and the sleeping/eating/do everything else room in the back. There is a fireplace in the main room and all dishes, utensils, cooking supplies are provided in the kitchen. There are two bunks with mattresses for sleeping on but you must bring your own sleeping bags. Other than that, bring your food, your head lamps, toilet paper, and some hut booties or slippers.

Enjoy the incredible photos from Megan (my new photographer) at evilmoosing below showing off the inside of the EP hut.

The sleeping area at the Elizabeth Parker Hut on the bottom bunk
Kitchen life at the Elizabeth Parker Hut
Decorating Easter cupcakes in the dining area of the EP Hut

There is also a separate sleeping cabin at the Elizabeth Parker Hut that sleeps 8 people. The total hut sleeps 20 people in winter (24 in summer.) We chose to sleep in the smaller cabin because we have a child that needs to go to bed on the early-ish side. If this is you as well, try really hard to arrive at the hut early when staying here so that you can grab spots in the second cabin.

The Elizabeth Parker Hut showing the main cabin and smaller sleeping cabin

For more information on booking or staying at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, please visit the Alpine Club of Canada website.

Family-friendly Elizabeth Parker Hut
My Boo and I at the EP Hut
Winter wonderland at Lake O'Hara
Wish I were here right now!

Accessing Lake O'Hara in Winter By Skis or Snowshoes

In summer, there is a bus that takes you to Lake O'Hara, and from the bus stop, it's a short 10 minute walk to the Elizabeth Parker Hut. In winter however, you must ski the 12 kilometres to reach the lake and backcountry hut. Most people do the trip on cross country skis as the trail is often track set. Those wanting to get into the real backcountry above the hut usually use alpine touring skis though.

Skiing into Lake O'Hara on the summer road

Snowshoeing is becoming another popular way to access Lake O'Hara in winter and it's an easy packed down trail. Many children in our group chose to walk for large sections of the way in since it's mostly all uphill with 400m of height gain.

Towing kids in was a great way to motivate them up the hills (photo: M. Dunn)
Ski, Hike, Snowshoe... Many ways to reach Lake O'Hara (Photo: M. Dunn)
Happy Skiers on the way to O'Hara (Photo: M. Dunn)

We chose to ski in and out because while it took us 5 hours to ski in, it took 2 hours to ski out! We were back at Lake Louise in time for lunch.

The very fast ski out from Lake O'Hara

Winter Safety at Lake O'Hara

Regarding winter safety and avalanche danger, there is generally no risk from avalanches if you stay ON the summer road while skiing/hiking into Lake O'Hara. If you go too far off of it, you could be at risk. Once at the hut, options are also limited for where you can safely tour. Families will feel safe exploring Mary Lake and Lake O'Hara but I would not go much further than that.

Also, if you are going to ski/hike around Lake O'Hara, stay away from the left hand side of the lake. (opposite side from the Lake O'Hara Lodge and the cabins.) If you want to go look at the waterfall at the far end, approach it from the right hand side of the lake and return the same way. The far left side of the lake is at serious risk of avalanches.

Enjoy these final photos from Megan Dunn and find her on Instagram. I might have to hire her to be my full time photographer!!

Playing in the snow at Lake O'Hara
The giant snow fortress to beat all snow forts!
Great day touring at Lake O'Hara to Mary Lake
I told you the luge track was terrifying!
The kids loved the snow cave that our group built!
Sled train at the Elizabeth Parker Hut


  1. Beautiful photos! Warm greetings from Montreal! :)

  2. Thanks for the pics,ideas,, we're heading there 2 nights in Feb/17 with our grandchildren and 16 other kids/adults.

    Bob Murray Amherst NS