Lake McArthur Trail – Best Canadian Rockies Day Hikes

#29 – Canadian Rockies Day Hikes: Lake McArthur Trail (With Big Larches Trail)

Lake McArthur Trail
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  • Location: Yoho National Park
  • Trailhead: Lake O’Hara Parking Lot/Le Relais Shelter
  • Type: Loop
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Total Distance: 4.5-miles
  • Trailhead Elevation: 6,625′
  • Total Elevation Gain: 1200′
  • Recommended Time: 3 – 4 hours
  • Recommended Season: Mid-June to Early-October
  • Reservations for the Lake O’Hara bus are needed (Otherwise add 7-miles (one-way) to hike up the road)

The Lake McArthur Trail

Lake McArthur
Lake McArthur has a large glacier flowing directly into the deep blue lake.

The Lake McArthur Trail is a moderately easy climb into the Lake O’Hara backcountry to the largest and deepest lake in the area. Lake McArthur is a saturated deep blue lake with a massive glacier flowing directly into the eastern shore. It is beautiful and while not the easiest trail in the Lake O’Hara area it is one of the more moderate ones.

To Schaffer Lake

Shaffer Lake
Shaffer Lake as seen from the Upper McArthur Lake Trail.

The Lake McArthur trail starts at Le Relais shelter which is located between the Lake O’Hara campground and the lodge along the O’Hara road. Shortly after starting the trail, it will split. We recommend taking the southern route known as the Big Larches Trail in and the main trail back. The Big Larches Trail climbs out of the woods and through a boulder field. In the autumn this trail pops with fall colors as the larches change. While it is steeper than the main trail it also provides variety in scenery. The two paths reconverge at Schaffer Lake. Schaffer is a shallow green lake that screams wildlife visits here so arrive in the early morning to spot the local residents. The towering Mount Schaffer rises up behind the small lake.

Which Way?

Lake McArthur Trail Map
A trail map for Lake McArthur Trail.

Once past Schaffer Lake, the path splits once again into the lower and upper McArthur Trail. The upper trail is more scenic but can be difficult with some cliff exposure. If you have vertigo or the snowpack is lingering you will most likely want to stick to the lower trail. If conditions are good, I recommend taking the upper path in and the lower path out for variety.

The Upper McArthur Trail

The upper trail passes through the trees and skirts the scree field coming off of Mount Schaffer. It then intersects with the Lower McArthur Trail briefly before splitting again and starting the more harrowing climb along the ledges and switchbacking into an alpine meadow. The meadow is beautifully covered in wildflowers for much of the summer. One final climb and the path arrives on top of a hill overlooking the rich blue lake. It is then a quick descent to the shore of Lake McArthur. This is a great spot to sit and enjoy nature for a snack or lunch before descending via the less picturesque but much easier Lower McArthur Trail.

Lake McArthur Terrain
Lake McArthur as seen on the approach of the Upper Lake McArthur Trail.

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