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The Most Beautiful Place on Earth?

Categories: Canadian Travel

My uncle, who had traveled much around the world and was an avid hiker, described it as the most beautiful place on earth. There was some third party support for this: Lonely Planet had listed the Canadian Rockies as #1 in “the most spectacular natural attraction” category. And, within the Canadian Rockies, one could easily choose the Lake O’Hara area as its crown jewel.

As a hiker, I’d long desired to go see for myself. So had my brother Wes.

Now, that’s not as easy as it sounds. Lake O’Hara is 11 km. from the main highway, just west of the Great Divide. You can either hike in (packing your tent, sleeping bag, food, etc.) or take a bus from the parking lot. There is a limit of 42 bookings per day and you can book, by phone, starting 3 months in advance. Trouble is, you also have to book exactly on that day, because it’ll be booked up before noon.

You can stand in line overnight, too, to catch a few available spots on the morning bus if you want to do only day hikes. (There is also the option of Lake O’Hara Lodge, which operates by its own rules and offers a high end experience, beginning at $550 a night, I’m told.)

Well, Wes and I successfully booked 3 days, 2 nights at the very restricted, but nice, campsite.

There are about twenty lakes in the area, in four basins, all within an hour or two’s hike from Lake O’Hara itself. All trails begin from the Lake O’Hara circuit. You can take high alpine routes or stay closer to the valley floors.

We explored a different basin on each of the three days. The first day, we chose the high alpine route from Lake O’Hara to Lake Oesa. This was probably the most spectacular route. Jaw-dropping views throughout the day. And a very pleasant hike.

That night, around the campfire, we chatted with people from across Canada, as well as Europeans from Finland, Germany and the Netherlands.

The second day we began with another high alpine route, climbing up to All Souls Prospect, again for spectacular views of Lake O’Hara and the surrounding lakes and mountain peaks, many of them outlining the Great Divide and lending support to their moniker “Rocky” Mountains.

We met and chatted with a 68-yr-old diabetic who’d just trekked through the Great Divide from Lake Louise (over several days), and was quite proud of his accomplishment. He should be; that is a challenging traverse. While chatting with him, an anxious woman came hurrying from above, informing us that there was a man on the Yukeness Ledges trail who’d broken his arm. She was heading down to the lodge to get help, and we were the first people she’d met and could we go help him. His wife was with him. We agreed, and the elderly diabetic gave us his duct tape, so that we could make a splint. We and eventually came upon the man and his wife, who had just begun making their way down.

Just as we reached the main trail back from the Ledges, we met a guide from the Lodge (already responding to the earlier woman’s request for help), who informed us that a helicopter was on its way to airlift the injured hiker to Banff Hospital.

The third day, after packing up our gear, we headed off to the Odaray Grand Prospect. This trail was voluntarily limited to 2 groups per day because it passed through a major game corridor. Again the alpine grandeur was spectacular. And on the way down, sure thing, we spotted several mountain goats on the rocky slope just above us. Then we headed over to our final basin, reaching McArthur Lake, the largest lake in the region, and celebrated our accomplishments with a chilly skinny dip. It was with regret that our three days were over.

Lakes, mountain peaks, waterfalls, flora and wildlife. The combination was magical!

Is Lake O’Hara area the most beautiful place on earth? Who’s to say? I guess it depends on what you like. I’ve also heard Bora Bora called that. I haven’t been there.

What I can say is that I have no evidence that Lake O’Hara isn’t. It trumped all other such spots for both Wes and me. And certainly the consensus of the (not unbiased) hikers we encountered there supported this. Admittedly, it is much nicer than the photos you see here, coming from someone who is certainly not among the world’s best photographers.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your nominations for the world’s most beautiful place.

And, by the way, don’t forget to encourage your friends to sign up to win a free trip to Canada’s Rocky Mountains. The launch is coming soon! And the contest will end then.

Did you know?

The deepest place on earth is the Mariana Trench at 10,994 m. This is far deeper below sea level than Mt. Everest is above sea level (8848 m.). By contrast, the deepest lake in Canada (and N. America) is Great Slave Lake, at 614 m.