Backpacking to Baker Lake, Skoki Area, Banff National Park
Last week I did a three day backpacking trip to Baker Lake in the Skoki area of Banff National Park with my brother and my 13 year old niece – neither of whom had ever backpacked.
I’d chosen the trip to Baker Lake because it was rated as easy. But frankly anytime you’re carrying a heavy backpack up into the mountains for four plus hours it’s not easy. But it is definitely worthwhile!
Our plan was to backpack 13.2 kilometers to the Baker Lake Campground on the first day; on day two we’d do a loop hike of about 15 kilometers to include the trail to Red Deer Lakes, Skoki Lodge, perhaps Merlin Lake and then return to the campground by crossing Deception Pass. On the third day we’d just hike out.
Our hike on the second day will be the subject of another blog.
My brother & niece looking clean and fresh at the start of the trip
The trailhead to Baker Lake in the Skoki area is very conveniently located off the Fish Creek Road, just two kilometers up from the Trans-Canada Highway on the way to the Lake Louise ski area. There’s lots of free parking. Lake Louise Village is just a few minutes away too – which was a good thing as we’d forgotten to stash a bottle of wine in our packs and so were able to pick one up – at inflated prices mind you.
Hiking up the Temple fire road
The first 3.8 kilometers up the dirt fire road – which is extremely steep at times – isn’t very interesting – but at least on the return it allows for a fast descent. At the end of the road you pop out near Temple Lodge. Look up the ski hill and on the left there’s a trail that re-enters the woods. It’s signed to Skoki Lodge. Follow it and once you’ve put another three kilometers behind you, the views start to open up. Now you’re into sub-alpine meadows – with patches of wildflowers around – plus some unusual looking mushrooms.
Would you eat this mushroom?
It turns out this is grizzly bear country too. Near the Halfway Hut at the 7.1 kilometer mark there are signs warning of bears in the area. We met a family of four – with a can of bear-spray out and ready to go – who had seen a grizzly frolicking in the stream just five minutes earlier. We missed it. Maybe it was my singing that scared it off. Still we pulled out our bear spray and bear bangers just in case.
Next up is the aptly name Boulder Pass. Fortunately it can be dispatched with quickly.
Slogging it up Boulder Pass
Beautiful Ptarmigan Lake greets you at the top of the pass. The hiking for the next 4.5 kilometers – all the way to the Baker Lake Campground is sublime.
The top of Boulder Pass with Ptarmigan Lake in the background
No shortage of curious chipmunks around
A Richardson’s ground squirrel enjoying the sun
Wildflowers are still in bloom along Ptarmigan Lake
Baker Lake is off in the distance
The Baker Lake campground is at the far end of the lake. Although the setting is pretty the campground needs some work as it is showing signs of heavy use. There were tent pads – but dusty ones – that would be even worse after a rain. Plus they were packed in close together. I backpacked into the wilderness to get away from civilization – and don’t like being so close to my neighbour that I can hear them snoring. The outhouses were disgusting too – and one in particular was filled with mouse droppings. Considering there can be up to twenty people a night at the campground – at $9.80 a person plus a reservation fee – I think Banff National Park should be doing something to improve the campground. There are only four picnic tables – built with awkwardly spaced benches – so you may have to wait to cook your meal. There is an area where you can hang your food – and that at least is in good shape.
Tent pads at the Baker Lake campground
Poles for hanging your food are provided
Despite my complaining – Baker Lake really is drop dead gorgeous – especially first thing in the morning when the lake doesn’t have so much as a ripple on it.
Baker Lake early in the morning
The view down Baker Lake
Early morning reflection
Baker Lake is supposed to be good for fishing
So beautiful in the morning light
We managed to backpack into Baker Lake in about 4½ hours. Our tents were set up, and the wine was poured by 5:30. All was right with our world – except for the bloody deer flies. They did eventually disappear as the temperature dropped but be warned – the Skoki area including Baker Lake has a reputation as having more biting insects that almost any other place in the Rockies. I was testing out a band from Mosquitno - and it did seem to keep the mosquitoes away but it had no affect on the deer flies. Pity.
**Make reservations up to three months in advance by calling 1-877-RESERVE or go to the Visitor Center in Banff or Lake Louise if you want to try for a last minute permit.**
Have you been backpacking into the Skoki area before? Which campground did you stay at – and what did you think of it?
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