FAQs on Access

LAKE O’HARA ACCESS
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

We have heard that people are using the online reservation service to make block bookings. Is this true and what is Parks Canada doing about it?

Online bookings can only be made for a maximum of 6 seat reservations at one time. Use of the Parks Canada Reservation Service to make reservations for commercial use or resale is prohibited.  Terms of use state that reservations are void if resold.

Parks Canada’s surveillance has to date shown no evidence of misuse of the system.  Suspected misuse should be reported to Parks Canada at information@pc.gc.ca or toll-free at 1-888-773-8888.

A visitor survey conducted by the Lake O’Hara Trails Club in the summer of 2016 showed that 3% of visitors were part of a guided group.

Why did Parks Canada change its reservation approach for Lake O’Hara and what are the changes?

Parks Canada moved away from a telephone based reservation system for Lake O’Hara day use and implemented the present on-line reservation system in 2015.  The phone system was frustrating for many people as there was only a single operator to deal with the large volume of callers, many of whom were unsuccessful even getting to talk to a person. It was felt that an online system would alleviate this issue and create an easier way to access reservations.

While cumbersome, the old system had a measure of fairness insofar as visitors could only book their trip 3 months in advance of their desired travel date.  Thus, access was staggered and for someone who was unsuccessful in securing a reservation on their preferred date there might have been the option of trying another.

The design of the online system is such that visitors can go online and book trips to the area for any time during the year once the reservation system opens. Unfortunately, demand exceeds available spots by such a large degree that all day use access to Lake O’Hara for the entire season is sold out in a matter of minutes.  People who are now unsuccessful are left with no other option and are understandably disappointed.

What options are being explored to offer a fair and equitable reservation process to this area?

The Lake O’Hara Trails Club has recommended a lottery system be employed.  Lotteries are used to allocate a limited number of spaces for highly popular activities in many United States national parks and recreation areas.  Examples include the Half Dome Day Hiker Permit Lottery, Yosemite National Park

Coyote Buttes Permit Area (The Wave) and permits for the Pariah Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona administered by the US Bureau of Land Management.

Closer to home, the Alpine Club of Canada uses a lottery to allocate reservations for overnight stay in summer months at the Elizabeth Parker hut at Lake O’Hara.

Parks Canada is exploring all options to achieve fair and equitable access to Lake O’Hara.

Why is there a limit on the number of users in the Lake O’Hara area?  Is Parks Canada considering increasing this quota to meet the high user demand?  

Lake O’Hara provides a unique backcountry alpine experience that is relatively easy to access through a bus shuttle service.

The number of users of the area is limited for protection of the ecological integrity of the area and to preserve a high quality of visitor experience.  

A numerical limit, or quota, was first implemented by Parks Canada in 1976 and the current numbers have been in place since 2010.

A largely pristine landscape and high visitor satisfaction with the experience are testament to the success of this management approach.

Parks Canada is not currently considering increasing the quota.

Lake O’Hara Trails Club support the continuation of the quota.

An increasing number of day users are choosing to walk up the access road because of their inability to secure a seat on the bus.  What is being done to address this trend?

While many written comments of visitors in the survey of 2016 included complaints about inability to get bus access, many others suggested that the visitor experience is already being degraded.

Lake O’Hara Trails Club takes the position that walk-in use should be discouraged.  The walk up the road is in itself a poor visitor experience. Further, every additional visitor who arrives in this manner compromises the quota that served so well for many years.

Parks Canada encourages visitors who arrive at the base of Lake O’Hara without a bus reservation to consider the many other hikes in nearby Yoho National Park.  

Finally, Parks Canada makes it clear that a bus ride out is not guaranteed and visitors who choose to make the 11 km walk in may be faced with the prospect of the same walk out at the end of the day.     

Why do we see empty seats on the ingoing buses?

Overnight accommodation options at Lake O’Hara include a 30-site campground operated by Parks Canada, two Alpine Club of Canada huts (the larger and very popular Elizabeth Parker hut as well as a mountaineering hut at Abbott Pass) and the private Lake O’Hara Lodge.  

Because the length of stay of overnight users varies, the number of overnight users arriving and leaving varies from one day to another and the requirement for incoming and outgoing bus seat varies accordingly.

The number of seats on a given incoming bus has nothing to do with the day user quota, which is fixed at 42.  Rather, bus capacity reflects a desired efficiency of service for the fluctuating passenger load both in and out of the area.