In celebration of my mother-in-law, Michelle’s, 60th birthday, my husband James, his sister Nadine and I all headed east on a road trip together from Whistler, BC to Yoho National Park to spend a week and hike about 40 km of trails. It was my first time ever visiting the Canadian Rockies and it was more spectacular than I imagined. We spent two nights camping at Lake O’Hara where Nadine has worked every summer at the backcountry lodge for the past five years. To keep the area preserved, Parks Canada limits the number of daily and overnight visitors in the area, so we felt pretty lucky to be able to experience this magical place. The lodge was originally built in 1926, is completely off the grid and only accessible by an old Parks Canada school bus or 11km hike in. Being able to disconnect from the world and turn off our phones made our stay here even better.
Lake O’Hara sits at 2,115 meters in the alpine, bordering Banff National Park, and has a unique collection of beautiful, pristine lakes and hanging valleys linked by a well-maintained network of trails and high alpine routes. However, some areas were closed for the season to protect vulnerable grizzly habitat and to limit altercations. Luckily we missed out on seeing one.
The first day at Lake O’Hara we hiked from the campground around the lake, then quickly climbed up a number of switchbacks to the top of a cliff at the end of the lake. After hiking through a fairytale-like scene of stunted alpine forest, delicate meadows covered in wildflowers and over several steep, rocky outcrops, we made it to the stunning blue waters of Lake Oesa. Mount Lefroy was towering in the backdrop at 3,423 meters.
The view truly took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. I was in disbelief over its beauty, and the heat from the intense sun and fatigue in my muscles faded away at the sight. We continued on to the Yukeness Ledge Alpine route getting dramatic views of the turquoise waters of Lake O’Hara far below us. We looped through Opabin Plateau and stopped for a relaxing picnic at Mary Lake before a steep climb down. We rested our tired bones on the warm rocks and soaked our tired feet in the cool waters of Mary Lake. We ended the day with a quick dip in the icy waters of Lake O’Hara and a delicious camp meal.
The next day we hiked to Lake McArthur passing by the Elizabeth Parker Hut and Schaffer Lake and had lunch overlooking the deep blue water of McArthur. Pikas perched in the meadows called to us with their shrill alarm and chipmunks scurried around the rocks trying to steal a crumb from our lunches. We spent the rest of the day canoeing the calm waters of Lake O’Hara, sun bathing on the boat dock and exploring the old lodge and staff accommodations. On display were amazing old photos of all the staff and trail crews over the years. It was great to be able to experience this place from the perspective of someone who works there.
Each lake we saw had its own unique shade of blue or green and each its own rugged mountain backdrop unlike anything I had ever seen before. After a solid week of hiking and camping I thought surely my body and feet would be wrecked, but honestly I couldn’t have been more rejuvenated and inspired.
AMANDA LEIGH SMITH is originally from Cypress, Texas but has been living in Portland, Oregon for the last nine years. Her interest in photography began in middle school where she learned to develop her own film at age 14. She continued studying photojournalism through high school and developed a love of all types of photography: journalistic, nature, adventure, fashion, and portrait.