Camping at Lake O’Hara has been one of my favourite things to do in the Canadian Rockies. It is truly a hiker’s paradise and is one of the most stunning places I’ve been lucky enough to explore. Here is your guide on camping at Lake O’Hara, and everything you need to know to help you plan your trip!
How to Book the Lake O’Hara Campground
When booking a campsite in a Canadian National Park, all reservations are done through Parks Canada Online Booking System. Because there are so many National Parks and campgrounds in those National Parks, each area is usually given a certain day in January for reservations to be made for the following summer (example: If you want to travel in August 2022, you would book when reservations open in January 2022).
For example, Jasper camping reservations may open on January 15, Banff camping reservations may open on January 18, and Lake O’Hara camping reservations may open on January 28.
Make sure to check in advance when the Lake O’Hara reservation day is.
Reservations for campgrounds usually start at 8 am (but log on and be ready before that).
It can be extremely hard to get a campsite booking at Lake O’Hara – it is beautiful and camping spaces are very limited, so you have to be patient, fast, and flexible when trying to score a campsite there.
My best tip is to have your Parks Canada account ready a couple of days before booking opens, and be logged on at least 5 minutes before reservations start (don’t log on right when it opens).
In the past, it has been a free for all on the reservation website when bookings open, and it has taken me hours and hours to book sites because the website would crash allllll the time.
Recently, Parks Canada has implemented an “online queue system”, which has actually been better in the sense that the website doesn’t crash every 5 seconds when trying to book something (although this has happened with the queue system, it’s just a little less frequent?).
This is why you want to log onto the booking site before 8 AM. Logging on before 8 AM will you put you in the “waiting room” and when the clock strikes 8 and bookings open, it will put you at a random place in line and you’ll have to wait your turn to book. If you log on after 8 AM, you are automatically put at the back of the line.
I have been in the waiting room and have been placed around number 16,000 in line – so make sure to get in the waiting room for your best chance, but also make sure to be flexible because you never know how many will be booking ahead of you.
WHAT IF I DON’T GET A SITE?
If you aren’t able to book a site at the campground, don’t panic! My biggest tip would be to watch for cancellations and snap them up as soon as you see them. Check Parks Canada whenever you have time and keep your eye out for them. I have scored sites this way and it is such a great feeling!
Otherwise, the only way you can guarantee seeing Lake O’Hara, is planning to hike the road in and out (11km both ways). Read my Guide to Lake O’Hara for more information on that!
- Check when reservations open for the Lake O’Hara Campground (usually January)
- Make sure to have your Parks Canada Account ready in advance
- Log into Parks Canada that morning before 8 AM to be in the reservation waiting room
- Be patient, be flexible, and book what you can! You can always cancel if it doesn’t work out
Getting to the Lake O’Hara Campground
Once you have secured a site, it is super easy to get to the campground! Lake O’Hara is not reachable by car, but all camping reservations come with a free ride on the bus into and out of Lake O’Hara. When creating your reservation, you will request a spot on the bus for a specific time. So, all you have to do is show up the morning of your reservation, ready for your reserved time, and head into the campground.
Ingoing Bus Times:
- 8:30 AM
- 10:30 AM
- 3:30 PM
- 5:30 PM
Leaving the Campground
On the day you have to leave the campground, you have to be packed up and off your tent pad by 10:30 AM. You can store all of your gear in the Bear Proof shelter though so you don’t have to haul it around with you all day, and you can fit in another hike before leaving!
There are buses that depart throughout the day at certain times, so whenever you want to leave, just grab your stuff and wait at the bus stop where you were dropped off when you arrived (right out front the campground). You are given a token on the bus on the way in, so make sure you have this because it is your free ride out. Otherwise, you’ll have to either walk out if there is no room on the bus, or you’ll have to pay $10 for a ride out (and they only accept cash). You do not have to reserve a spot on the bus out.
Departing Bus Times:
- 9:30 AM
- 11:30 AM
- 2:30 PM
- 4:30 PM
- 6:30 PM
Facilities at the Lake O’Hara Campground
The campground has everything you need for a great stay!
Tent sites are nice and spread out and quite big. You are only allowed one tent per site, and you are not allowed hammocks or chairs, so don’t try to squish those into your bags.
There are pit toilets (that are the nicest pit toilets I’ve used), and two communal sinks outside the washroom. At these sinks, you can wash your hands, brush your teeth, use them for cooking, and the water is potable so you can fill your water here as well.
Each site gets a bear locker to store their food & any smelly products in (toothpaste, sunscreen…).
There is a bear-proof shelter there where you can store any extra bags as well, it is never locked though so use your discretion (we just stored our half empty bags in there so they didn’t take up space in the tent.
There are quite a few picnic tables as well and there is one large communal fire pit, firewood, and axes provided.
Although not at the campground, there is a shelter that is about a 10 minute walk and is closer to the actual lake, called Le Relais. Here, you can purchase snacks, their famous carrot cake, drinks, and souvenirs. They only take cash so make sure to have cash on you!
What to Bring
- Swimsuit – there is a super fun dock at the Lake O’Hara Lodge you can jump into freezing Lake O’Hara from
- Hiking shoes & hiking gear
- Warm clothes – the weather can get cold at Lake O’Hara (even though it’s summer)and it can get cold at the summit of hikes, so make sure to pack warm clothes just in case (I was wearing mittens and a toque in the early morning)
- Tent & all camping equipment (a way to cook your food, etc.)
- Meals & snacks
- CASH – Le Relais only accepts cash and they are very reasonably priced, plus it’s nice to enjoy a popsicle or pop after a long day of hiking
- Water Bottle – You cannot buy plastic water bottles at Lake O’Hara, you can only refill bottles you already have. So make sure to bring a refillable water bottle to use throughout your visit
- Power banks for your phone – there is no electricity at the campground (or anywhere really), so if your phone or camera have short battery lives, try to bring a portable charger for them
- Bear spray – You are in bear country and because of the limited amount of people allowed in Lake O’Hara, you may find yourself/group alone on the trail a lot of the time. Do not come to Lake O’Hara depending on other people to keep you safe. Come prepared and know how to use your bear spray
Other Information for Camping
- They try to limit bags because there is limited space on buses, they recommend 2 smaller bags per person or one larger bag. I saw people with huuuge bags and they weren’t really sticking to the limit. So don’t panic, but do your best to stay as close to the limit as possible (don’t haul your coolers, grills, bags, loose tents, etc., try to stay compact)
- Download offline maps to use
- Or, if you want to save phone battery, you can purchase the Lake O’Hara trail map from any visitor center (Banff, Yoho, etc.) or at Le Relais when you arrive. This was SO HELPFUL! It helps you while on the trail if you find yourself lost or wondering which way to go. It has descriptions about each trail to help you choose which trails to do, and it was just so handy to have. It costs around $5 too, so why not!
- Everyone there is SUPER FRIENDLY – talk with others you see, say hello, and don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations about hikes!
- Be respectful of this place and use Leave No Trace Principles. The reason Lake O’Hara is so hard to get to and visitors are so limited, is to keep the area clean, pristine, and preserved. It is already so hard to get here, don’t ruin it for future visitors. Use garbage cans, pack out what you pack in, don’t go off trail, and just be a good person
- You are in bear country! There are bears around! Don’t depend on other people to be prepared for your safety – you are responsible for you
This was my experience with Camping at Lake O’Hara, and all of the information I thought would be helpful to someone booking the campground for the first time!
Please email me or message me on Instagram any other questions you have, or comment below, and I’ll help you out.
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Hey! I’m Kat. Based in Alberta, Canada I love to travel to the Rockies and explore new places around the world. Follow along on my adventures and find inspiration and tips for your own travels.