Posted by: kerryl29 | January 23, 2023

The Story Behind the Image: Opabin Plateau

The Opabin Plateau, located above Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, may be the most enchanting place I’ve ever visited, and I will always be grateful to Royce Howland for making me aware of the location, 10-odd years ago.

I have discussed my experiences around Lake O’Hara–which serves as the jumping-off point for exploration of the Opabin Plateau, and is a worthy photo destination in its own right–many times previously on this blog. My first trip to the area was among the most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had on a photo trip, due to the atrocious weather. But despite dealing with non-stop rain, I could see that the beauty of the place was absolutely transcendent. That experience lead to my return to the Canadian Rockies the following year and three more visits to the Lake O’Hara area, two of which included far nicer weather and immeasurably better explorations.

One of the locations I stumbled across during the rain-soaked first visit was the Hungabee Lake outlet stream, complete with its own small waterfall. It was extremely difficult to photograph that day, given the elements, so I was quite limited in terms of the number of times I took the camera out of the bag. But one of the roughly 10 occasions when I did so was at the outlet stream.

When I returned to the Opabin Plateau the following year, the outlet stream scene was one of a small number of locations I specifically sought out. (Most of the photographs I made while on the Opabin Plateau during that second trip were of scenes I discovered while on the ground. The conditions were so dramatically different that the photographic opportunities were altered just as drastically.)

On this partly cloudy, rather warm and nearly windless day, I was able to take my time and tease out a composition I really liked without any concern about my equipment becoming drenched. With the plateau’s many larches in their resplendent golden dress, the outlet stream itself gushing nicely, Hungabee Mountain covered with a fresh dusting of snow and copious puffy clouds in the sky, the table was set. All I had to do was deliver the meal.

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia


  1. Gorgeous image, Kerry. Persistence does, eventually, pay off. I’m impressed that you were able to get to Lake O’Hara that many times. It’s my recollection that it was nigh impossible to score lodging there — that repeat visitors have priority and there’s not much left over for others. It’s been several years since I last looked at this area but it seems unlikely that it’s gotten any easier, given the mad scramble everywhere to national parks. On our one visit to the Canadian Rockies, we missed this area because of these logistical issues. But we very much want to return — we both really loved the area. Not looking forward to the long drive, though.

    • Thanks, Steve.

      Getting reservations at the Lake O’Hara Lodge is, I have been told, effectively impossible, for the reasons you state, but given the cost it wouldn’t matter much. The last time I checked (strictly for giggles; it’s way out of my price range), seven or eight years ago, it was something like $500 (CN) a night, with a two-night minimum. And, of course, it was impossible to actually get a reservation, so it hardly mattered. Goodness knows what the hypothetical room rate is now.

      There is a campground (though those spots go very quickly as well), and there are several huts that can be rented out, though good luck getting one of those coveted reservations.

      Every time I’ve been to Lake O’Hara it was on a “day pass” (meaning I got one of a very few spots on one of the two buses that heads up to the lake each day “in season.”

      And that’s really at the heart of the matter. The season up there is so short…it only lasts something like four months, there simply aren’t a lot spots to be had. There is no limit to the number of people who can access the area; the limit is on the number of people who can be transported up. There are the two parks buses and the lodge has its own bus for those who have reservations. That’s it. No private vehicles are allowed. If you don’t get a reservation on one of the buses, you can hike up to the lake. As noted, there’s no limit in that regard. But the hike up…well, it’s long and it’s steadily uphill. It’s a six-mile one-way hike to reach the lake and since the point of being up there is to do one (or more) of several other hikes of some length and steepness…that’s a very harsh price that relatively few people are willing to pay. (I do know some people who have hiked up there. They’re usually so whipped by the hike that they limit themselves to strolling around the lake a bit before finally succumbing and purchasing a trip back down on the bus (you can take the bus down regardless of how you get up there).

      My understanding is that it’s harder than ever to secure access to Lake O’Hara via the Parks Canada lottery system.

      As to the Canadian Rockies in general, I couldn’t agree more. I was up there for two full weeks in each of two consecutive years and it was a phenomenal experience both times. I wouldn’t hesitate for one moment to do it again at some point.

  2. The entire Lake O’Hara area is incredibly beautiful. Hiking up to the Opabin Plateau is worth the effort, and you definitely had all the right conditions on this visit. This image is one of my all time favorites of yours.

    • Thanks very much, Ellen!

  3. Gorgeous!

    • Thanks, Cindy!

  4. Wonderful photograph

    • Thanks very much!

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