Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park in the fall


Sometimes, you just get lucky. Getting into Lake O'Hara is not the easiest affair, but it is usually worth it. Especially in late September when the larch trees have turned golden, and it happens to be a calm, bluebird day. A few of us booked campsites in this amazing gem of Yoho National Park in late September.

Days previous, snow blanketed the area, but it warmed enough to melt it away from lower elevations - such that we were able to hike the Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit (11.8 km) that reaches a maximum elevation of 8300 ft (2530m). It goes up and down three distinct climbs that traverse cool ledges, small waterfalls, and amazing views of many lakes. Add the larch colours, glaciers, and spectacular 500 million year old Cambrian rock, and you have one of the most iconic walkabouts in the Canadian Rockies. 

Kudos to Lawrence Grassi and others who created this hike - the efforts put into the rock work along the way are a showcase as to how trails should be created and maintained! 

Access to Lake O'Hara is restricted. It makes for somewhat of a painful process to book yourself on a day hike (or camp) months in advance, so that you get access to the bus up the 11 km road from the TransCanada highway. Or, you can book into the Alpine Club of Canada hut, or the Lodge at Lake O'Hara ($$$S), which will give you access to the bus. Or, walk up the road - and back down, which would not likely allow you time for this hike. But, there are many other shorter hikes to the myriad of lakes and vistas in the area.

Healy to Harvey: A spectacular alpine traverse

Between some rainy spells, the Canadian Rockies were in a short September heat wave. Last Friday, we went for a hike in the high alpine that was stunning, albeit a fair distance (8 hours). We dropped a car at the Bourgeau Lake trailhead on the TransCanada highway (west of the Banff townsite), then drove up to the Sunshine Ski Area parking lot. Healy Pass, from there,  is a 655m elevation gain - but since you're starting up high, it's really not long before you're in the alpine.

Once at Healy, where there are views of Egypt Lake, you can wander towards Harvey Pass. We picked our own route - the massive peak of Bourgeau is a pretty good landmark as you go up ridges, and cross various sub-basins. A map is a pretty good idea - even on a brilliant day.

On this day, the bluebird skies highlighted the recent snows on various peaks including Monarch, Assiniboine (3620m), Goat's Eye, Lookout, , and the infamous Delirium Dive ski route off Lookout. Once at Harvey Pass, which is on your way to the peak of Bourgeau, you descend for 1035m (3400') back to where you hopefully left the car and some comfortable sandals.

The start of this hike is only 30 minutes west of Grandview Chalet B&B in Canmore.