YOHO NATIONAL PARK: Elizabeth Parker Hut

The Elizabeth Parker Hut is located in one of the most beautiful settings in North America: the Lake O’Hara area of Canada’s Yoho National Park. This article describes the experience of staying in the hut.

Elizabeth Parker Hut has simple and elegant log architecture that makes it a timeless place to stay

As a quiet and introspective kind of fellow, the thought of staying in a hut with 23 other people was scary. But I was won over on this Canadian Rockies trip by two hut experiences; in this story I’ll describe the experience of staying in Yoho’s Elizabeth Parker Hut, where we stayed for four nights.

Four of us shared the hut with an adventure tour group of ten Japanese people, mostly middle-aged, and their two young Japanese-Canadian guides. The Japanese spoke few words of English, and only one of us was adept at learning any words of Japanese, so we depended upon the Japanese-Canadian guides to be translators. They were both friendly guys with a good sense of humor, and had long ago learned to span different cultures with a smile. One highlight was the last night both our groups were together, when one of the guides played 1960s and 1970s American folk songs, so some of us, ahem, older people, knew a lot of the words. The hut was pulsing to the tune of John Denver’s Country Roads, with the Americans singing along, and the Japanese, who didn’t understand any of the words, clapping along. It was great fun!

A Japanese adventure travel group occupied one big table during meals, while our Seattle Mountaineers group took the other

Elizabeth Parker Hut sits in perhaps the most stunning setting in North America, a small subalpine meadow surrounded by towering and shapely peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Originally built in 1919 (with its associated Wiwaxy Cabin in 1912) by the Canadian Pacific Railway to promote tourism to this most beautiful part of Canada, the hut was later transferred to the Alpine Club of Canada.

The ACC was created in 1906, with Elizabeth Parker among several founders. Ms. Parker, a feminist of the time and a fiery journalist who loved the mountains, was adamant that she wanted to see a Canadian alpine club, rather than just a section of the comparable American club. Her patriotism won the day, and the ACC has had a vital presence ever since. In fact, while researching this brief article, I found that the ACC has even expanded into New York’s Adirondack Mountains, where it maintains a beautiful log cabin for members to use as a hut, located on about 100 acres in the Keene area (an old stomping ground of ours).

Towering Wiwaxy Peaks rose prominently above our cabin

For people who stay at the hut, there is a beautiful kitchen, with a full complement of pots and pans of all sizes. We hauled water in buckets from a nearby creek, and one of the morning jobs each day was to boil water in big pots, so the kitchen was always steamy in the early hours. There are propane lights, but before dawn and after dark, headlamps are a must if you want to know what’s cooking. And what’s cooking for Karen and I was our normal backpacking meals. The Japanese ate healthier fare prepared by the guides, including boiled rice, lots of fresh vegetables, seaweed, and fish. It looked and smelled great!

The kitchen is wonderfully equipped, and includes propane stoves so that hikers don’t have to cook out in the elements

Sleeping arrangements are cozy. A giant bunk bed, made for 16 people, stretches across the whole room. Eight people on the top and eight people on the bottom snore in unison after the 10:00 p.m. lights out. The changing room consists of the interior of one’s sleeping bag, which takes a bit of getting used to but is not bad. Heat is provided by an efficient wood stove, so the interior is comfortable, except when the stove is over-stoked and the temperature soars. The climb to the upper bunks is fun, and takes me back to my Boy Scout days of staying in remote cabins. Which reminds me, staying in a hut is a lot like those old Boy Scout outings, except that there are girls in the cabins at Yoho.

Bunks and drying rack shared by all the occupants

After days of hiking in the rain and snow, gear gets pretty wet. In the hut there is an ingenious pully system that raises and lowers two big drying racks, so stuff can quickly dry in the heat at the peak of the cabin. Boots are discouraged in the cabin; we left those at the door and ran around in our stocking feet.

Midnight rambles to the outhouse are a necessary part of hut living; fortunately that gave us a chance to check on the weather. One night it was snowing, another night it was clear and moonlit–a magical experience.

We really enjoyed the company of the Japanese; one of the men called me a “picture master,” and he was certainly the flute master. We loved hearing him play his bamboo flute outdoors, with the notes floating over the frosty landscape …

The flute master on a frosty morning; the flute master writes his own blog at http://keiichiwaseda.blogspot.com/

As I mentioned, Elizabeth Parker Hut was built early in the previous century. Lake O’Hara became a favorite destination of the Canadian Group of Seven painters, who created some of the best landscape paintings of the 20th Century. One of the group, J.E.H. MacDonald, painted an interior of Elizabeth Parker Hut circa 1925; it is interesting to view the painting in comparison to the hut interior now: Lodge Interior, Lake O’Hara (you will need to scroll through a group of beautiful paintings to get to this one).

A blazing fire helps dry our wet boots and clothing

One of the Japanese-Canadian guides, preparing breakfast by headlamp in the predawn

Each day, Cathedral Mountain snags the first and last warm sunlight of the day, providing encouragement to the frosty valley below

Half a dozen of us could easily be preparing meals at the same time

With scenery like Mount Huber outside the hut, it is simply a remarkable place to stay!

Some of our Japanese friends on the last day of their trip

Our group at breakfast; the Japanese group had departed the day before, leaving five of us in the hut for one night

Le Relais Day Shelter is the place where hut dwellers catch the bus back to civilization. In addition to the warmth inside, the shelter sells coffee, hot chocolate, and best of all, huge slabs of carrot cake (I had one most days after hiking). This shelter is half a mile from the Elizabeth Parker Hut.

Elizabeth Parker Hut is surrounded by the stunning mountains of the Canadian Rockies

Visits to the Lake O’Hara region of Yoho National Park are severely restricted by Parks Canada; even day hikers have to take a bus in for the day and their numbers are regulated (42 per day maximum). To make a hut reservation, a good first step is to read the Alpine Club of Canada’s Elizabeth Parker Hut Information. Then review the policies of Yoho National Park regarding Lake O’Hara. This should get you started; remember that demand is high and supply is low, so be prepared to jump on the phone to make reservations at the first moment possible. It will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.

This Seattle Mountaineers photography trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore. Yoho National Park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies and perhaps in all of North America. For more information about Yoho National Park, go to the Parks Canada web site.

For other entries in my weblog about Yoho National Park, go to Ice and Wolverine and Early Snow and Night at Yoho.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.


An account of a September hiking trip in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, with descriptions of the Mount Assiniboine Lodge and Naiset Huts.

Our Naiset Hut, the Forget-Me-Not

After a long night, with five of us sleeping in a cramped cabin, one of my hutmates asked: “Seriously, dude, have you ever been tested for sleep apnea?” Snoring and snorting in my sleep is an issue: if not for me, then certainly for people I sleep near. Such is hut living for a few days; it takes a person out of their spacious home and tosses them in with other people for a terribly cozy experience. Yet I would certainly do it again.

Ten of us came to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, which is wedged between Banff and Kootenay National Parks, by helicopter. Yes, hikers do come in on foot, but it is a two day backpacking journey for many, which cuts down the time in the splendid high country. So our Mountaineers group chose a twelve minute helicopter ride to whisk us to the shore of Lake Magog, which sits in the mighty cirque of Mount Assiniboine and a ring of other magestic peaks. The helicopter whizzed past rock glaciers and old burns and several lakes, and zoomed close to an immense rock face, finally setting down in a meadow with a blade-driven blast of snow. From there we schlepped our gear to the Naiset Huts area, about a half mile away.

In this basin there are three lodging choices. For the affluent or those who want to be most comfortable, there is the Mount Assiniboine Lodge, which offers rooms in a small lodge, as well as pleasantly rustic cabins with stunning mountain backdrops (and real sheets!). The lodge serves good meals and provides guide services, though the only toilets are outhouses–pleasant outhouses, to be sure, but outhouses nonetheless. The cost of the lodge and

The Mount Assiniboine Lodge was originally built in 1928 by the Canadian Pacific Railway to promote train travel

cabins is $260 to $420 per person per night for summer rates, as of 2010, and slightly lower during the winter ski season. While we were in the vicinity, a group of dentists were having a conference at the lodge, combined with hours of fly fishing. A small tour group of hardy Japanese tourists also stayed at the lodge. The dentists were busy on their iPhones and laptops during the conference, so there was at least some connection with the outside world. The lodge serves tea at 4:00 pm each day, so those of us who wanted the English/Canadian experience of high tea could at least take a rustic tea in the lodge’s log dining room.

The second lodging opportunity, much less expensive at $20 per night per person and where we stayed, is the Naiset Huts. These are a group of five approximately 13  x 15′ cabins, modeled after trapper cabins of long ago, each sleeping six people on padded bunks in hostel style. Each cabin has a wood stove for warmth, which occupants heat using Presto logs purchased from the lodge. These structures are dark and cramped, but keep hikers warm and dry when necessary. The surprise bonus at the huts is the central cookshelter, which is a beautiful new log cabin, built in

The log cookshelter is an inviting place during a snowstorm, but take off your boots before entering!

2006 by BC Parks. This spacious shelter provides propane lights and a propane stove, as well as a place to get out of the weather or to gather for games or reading in the evening. Again, outhouses are the bathroom choice, but one of them is a wonderful and sweet smelling composting toilet, constructed with aromatic cedar, with a piece of natural artwork on the wall and a glassless window showing the forest and Grizzly Bears outside. Which reminds me: it might be a good idea to carry bear spray on a midnight ramble to the outhouse, given that bears also ramble about at midnight. In early autumn, go easy on the Presto logs, we put one whole one in the stove and soon had the cabin temperature up to about 90 degrees F!

The Naiset Huts were used by a variety of people during our stay, including a German couple who had backpacked in with the idea of camping, but the early autumn snow and cold convinced them to stay inside. There was also a pair of hardy Canadians from Ontario, and our group of ten Americans, among others..

There is a third lodging option, and that is a BC Parks campground about a mile (two kilometers) from the lodge. I didn’t visit the campground, so I can’t comment on its comfort or aesthetics, but I did meet a man who moved from the campground to a hut, during our stay, because a Grizzly Bear paid a visit to his camp. Enough said! But if you only want to spend $10 per night, the campground is your ticket.

Our plan, as a photography group from the Seattle area Mountaineers, was to take day hikes radiating out from the huts. The big advantage of staying in a

Muddy boots from a wet trail

hut, rather than backpacking, is that on a day hike I can carry just my camera pack rather than all the camping gear. This is important, because my camera pack grows heavier with each lens I bring. In addition, when I am tired from backpacking, I am less likely to have the gumption to work for still another photo.

Our group consisted of people who wanted to photograph the park, so we already had a lot in common. The different personalities and backgrounds made for a fun time. There was Barb, already our friend, who celebrated her 82nd birthday during the trip (and outhiked us on the uphill grades!). Her son, Rob, kept us constantly entertained with improvised comedy, such as his rock

Rob enjoying rock radio

Rob on his stone phone; as a primitive communications instrument, it only had eight number keys!

radio and stone phone (see the pictures!). Then there was Elston, who spent his working life as a corporate man and then transformed himself in retirement into a big and burly guy with shoulder length blond hair who looks like a mountain man. I was the dullest one among us!

Members of our Mountaineers group at afternoon tea in the Mount Assiniboine Lodge

On the evening of Barb’s 82nd birthday, a grand cake was prepared, consisiting of ten Hostess Twinkies piled up log cabin style and topped with candles. As the special honoree, Barb enjoyed her Twinkie with 82 wild strawberries gathered during the day’s hike. It was a wonderful birthday!

Mmmmm … Twinkies with wild strawberries!

Karen and I eat simply during these trips, with freeze-dried backpacker meals and instant coffee (ugh!). Our goal is to keep meals as simple as possible so that we can concentrate on photography. Others prepared more elaborate meals, including fried potatoes and meats that made the cookshelter smell

Cookshelter interior

wonderful. In the evenings, some of us read while others played a simple dice game or chatted with the Germans and Canadians. It was pleasant to get out of the cold and into a warm and steamy place (steamy because we had to boil all of our water).

After dinner and reading for a while, we pulled on our boots and walked to the outhouse by headlamp light, then to the hut. We then lit half of a Presto log in the stove, which warmed up the cabin enough to get to sleep. Karen passed out earplugs to anyone who didn’t want to listen to me snore, then we would say our goodnights, as in:

“Good night, John-boy.”

“Good night, Mary Ellen.”

“I love you …”

“You better!”

Our hut had a couple of other inhabitants; we believe that at least two critters lived under the cabin floor in the crawl space. These rodents are also known to biologists as “Bushy-tailed Wood Rats,” but when I called them by that name, everyone seemed to focus on the “rats” part and got squeamish. So I started calling them by the more Disneyfied name of “Pack Rats,” which is more socially acceptable. Every night, the Pack Rats would venture out from the cabin to harvest wildflowers. In the morning, there would be little bouquets of purple asters neatly clipped to a length of about 6 inches, with the flower still attached, stashed on a stump and on bare earth in front of the cabin. We felt like they were leaving us gifts, though they might have simply left the piles hoping that the sun would dry the flowers for winter use. Karen and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary on this trip, and purple asters were the wildflowers we gave out at our 1972 “hippie wedding” in Ann Arbor’s arboretum, so the little “gifts” had sentimental value.

We had hippies on our mind during the trip; we learned a Canadian common name for the seed stalks of Western Anemone (commonly called “Towhead Baby” in the US) is “Hippie Sticks,” because the seed head looks like the hair of a 1970 flower child. Great name!  Anyway, getting back to asters and Pack Rats, Karen decided to borrow a couple of purple aster flowers to use as eyes on a snowman she wanted to build.

But then we couldn’t find any snow, until our last night at Mount Assiniboine, when it began to snow steadily. After enough accumulation, Karen and Barb and Eileen made a snow lady that they christened “Hippie Chick,” who had the starry-eyed look of a young hippie woman, with her aster eyes. Purple haze, indeed! Meanwhile, Rob and I were out photographing the snow falling heavily about the lodge and cabins. It was magical.

Detail of “Hippie Chick,” our official snowlady for Mount Assiniboine

By next morning, the overnight 4″ snowfall transformed the landscape beautifully and gave us the opportunity to photograph snowy mountains and trees while waiting for the helicopter, which eventually set down in a maelstrom of whirling snow.

Mount Assiniboine Lodge during a snowy twilight

Our hut, like the others, had short doors suitable only for Hobbits. More than one head was bumped!

Karen at our Forget-Me-Not hut

The Ranger Cabin, now occupied by lodge staff since BC Parks eliminated its back country rangers in a budget cutting move

The lodge cabins have some wonderful rustic furnishings

The lodge has plusher cabins than our huts, and with better views, such as this cabin overlooking Lake Magog and the cirque of Mount Assiniboine

A graceful sign for the Aster, one of the Naiset Huts

The Mount Assiniboine Lodge outhouse sports a satellite dish, making me wonder if the stalls have big screen televisions

Trails lead out in multiple directions from the hut and lodge areas

The Ranger Cabin during an early autumn snowstorm

A rustic interior detail of the lodge

The chefs put out their aprons and kitchen towels behind the lodge to dry

Barb and her son Rob emerge from the helicopter at the end of the trip

The helicopter landing after a commute from the lodge

This Seattle Mountaineers trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore, whose love of all things wild in Canada is clearly evident. Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a British Columbia park wedged between Banff and Kootenay National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. For more information about transportation to and facilities in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, go to the British Columbia Parks website.

For another story in my weblog about Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, go to Grizzly Bears.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.