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Hiking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

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Hiking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park rewards you with incomparable mountain views for almost two thirds of its 44.5 kilometer length.

This is a world class trail that ranks in the top 10 in Canada – at least in my experience. It shouldn’t be missed if you’re in the Alberta Rockies. But the season for hiking it is short. Don’t even think of booking campsites until late July after the snow has disappeared from The Notch. And by the end of September – in a good year – the season is over.

"Some of the best hiking ever"

Some of the best hiking ever

What this trail delivers that most don’t is expansive scenery above treeline for almost 30 kilometres. And if you start at the Maligne Lake trailhead, then the total elevation gain over the length of the trip is 1205 metres (3,953 feet), a tolerable amount of climbing over two to three days. If you want to make the hike tougher (and who wants to do that?) start at the Signal Mountain Trailhead closer to the Jasper townsite and add 530 metres (1,738 feet) more to the elevation gain.

We did this hike over three days in early September. We were extremely lucky to get the campsites we wanted at the last minute. Most people book months ahead of time and it was only by pestering the staff in Jasper National Park every day that I snagged a cancellation. As soon as I had confirmed campsites I booked a one way shuttle for $25 pp with Maligne Shuttle. They pick you up at 9 AM SHARP at the finish point – Signal Mountain Trailhead – and deliver you to the start of the trail at Maligne Lake. You walk back to your car. You could try hitching a ride at the end of the hike but to me it was worth the money to have our car waiting for us when we finished.

"The start of the Skyline Trail"

The start of the Skyline Trail

You won’t be huffing and puffing when you start up the trail. The ascent is gradual and in less than half an hour you reach Lorraine and Mona Lakes. The trail along the way is quite beautiful as it’s lined with an array of lichens, mosses and mushrooms. Within 90 minutes we arrived at the first campsite – Evelyn Creek at the 5.2 kilometre mark. It’s a beautiful one and not very heavily used but our goal was Snowbowl Campground – 12.2 kilometres in from the trailhead. If you’re going to backpack the trail over three days then Snowbowl is a good choice for the first night from a distance perspective.

"All manner of mushrooms along the trail"

All manner of mushrooms along the trail

"A river early on the hike"

Evelyn Creek adjacent to Evelyn Creek Campground

Just after you hike past Little Shovel Campground at 8.3 kilometres, the trail heads onto the alpine tundra. In early fall the colours are already starting. From here through to the Snowbowl Campground the views are splendid.

"Above the treeline in no time"

Above the treeline in no time

"Colour in the hills by the 2nd week of September"

Colour in the hills by the 2nd week of September

"Coming down off of Little Shovel Pass"

Coming down off of Little Shovel Pass

"On the way to Snowbowl Campground"

On the way to Snowbowl Campground

"Sunset on the first night out camping"

Sunset on the first night out camping

Day Two on the Skyline Trail

Today our plan was to hike from Snowbowl Campground to Tekarra Campground, a distance of 18.2 kilometres. It was definitely a longer and tougher day than the day before, but it was also one of the hiking highlights of my life. 

"Leaving the Snowbowl campground"

Leaving the Snowbowl campground

"Beautiful, open walking right off the bat"

Beautiful, open walking right off the bat

The morning entailed crossing expansive meadows before beginning an easy climb to Big Shovel Pass. There is a side trip possible from here that we didn’t do, to the Watchtower Col. This trail provides another route back to the Maligne Lake Road should the weather turn nasty or you run into problems.

"Just shy of Big Shovel Pass"

Just shy of Big Shovel Pass

"It's about an hour to hike to the top of the snowfield"

It’s about an hour to hike to the top of the snowfield in the distance

From Big Shovel Pass it’s an easy descent to reach the junction to Curator Campground and Shovel Pass Lodge. But then it’s a stiff climb – the hardest of the entire trail to the top of The Notch. The Notch can hold the snow until into August. Be prepared for some kick stepping on snow if you’re on the trail in mid-July.

From The Notch the views are glorious and the hiking just gets better and better. For the next five kilometers follow the summit ridge of Amber Mountain. BUT this area should not be attempted in an electrical storm. It is fully exposed. From here you can see the Icefields Parkway, the Jasper Townsite and on a clear day even Mt. Robson.

"Heading for The Notch"

Heading for The Notch

"Getting a work-out on the way up to The Notch"

Getting a work-out on the way up to The Notch

"Long hike above treeline"

Long hike above treeline

"Extensive 360 views in the mountains"

Extensive 360 views in the mountains

"Looking down towards the Tekarra Campground"

Looking down in the direction of the Tekarra Campground

"Mt. Tekarra is straight ahead"

Mt. Tekarra is straight ahead

"On the descent towards the Tekarra Campground"

On the descent towards the Tekarra Campground

From The Notch to Tekarra Campground it’s a distance of 8.8 kilometers. Switchback down the slope towards the lake and keep an eye out for hoary marmots, big horn sheep, mountain caribou and white tailed ptarmigan. The only animal we saw was a hoary marmot.

"The only marmot we saw on the hike"

The only marmot we saw on the hike

"This river goes right past the Tekarra Campground"

This river goes right past the Tekarra Campground

It’s easy and scenic sub-alpine walking for the final two kilometres to the Tekarra Campground.

"Hanging our food on the bear poles"

Hanging our food on the bear proof poles

A few helpful notes for hiking the Skyline Trail:

  • All campsites have bear proof food storage. I find it helpful to bring a few waterproof bags to store the food in.
  • If you would prefer not to backpack then strong hikers can head for the night at Shovel Pass Lodge – at the half way point, about 21 kilometres in. They provide all your meals and even a packed lunch for the next day. You can complete the Skyline Trail on the second day.
  • Dogs are not permitted on the trail because of the caribou.
  • This is grizzly bear country though we only saw scat in the first five kilometres. Take bear spray and bear bangers.

Later this week I’ll have a second post on the final day of hiking. I expected very little in the way of scenery but it turned out to be glorious.

I can’t say enough good things about this hike. The Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park delivers first class scenery as well but for a lot more effort. Hiking in the Skoki area is also beautiful but this is by far my favourite backpacking trail in the Rockies.

Have you ever hiked the Skyline Trail? What is your favourite backpacking trail?

Other post you might enjoy:

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 66 Comments

  • Ahhhhhhhh, I gotta hike this trail! It’s on my list of things to do when I get back to Canada next year (I’m in Se Asia for another winter now)

  • Marcia says:

    This is absolutely, over the top amazingly beautiful scenery, Leigh. WOW!
    Was it because it’s above treeline that you didn’t expect much scenery?

  • The views of the mountains are just incredible, Leigh! Your photos always make me wish that I enjoyed hiking more but the second you mention grizzly bears then I come back to my senses. ;) Do you not worry when you’re hiking in bear country? I think I would be a nervous wreck!

    • @Lisa I used to spend a lot more time worrying about bears than I do now. It’s such a rare occasion that you meet them that I consider it a privilege now to see one in the wild. But I do take precaution and always carry bear bangers and bear spray and I talk a lot in areas frequented by bears.

  • Charu says:

    More reasons to hike to Canada…wow!

  • Three days hiking sounds like hard work. What distances did you cover?

  • Marinela says:

    These pictures are insane!!! I am absolutely in love with the colors :-)

  • Wow, the colors in the beginning are sensational and then the views at the top amazing. I hope you brought some pepper spray to fend off the marmot.

  • Rachel M says:

    Excellent pictures. Love the vibrant colors of the scenery – but the walking … it must be hard work!

  • I’m impressed. What a great and challenging hike and you still manage to look fab on the way up the Notch! Beautiful scenery. Glad you got into the campground — persistence really can pay off.

    • @Cathy I think they were so sick of hearing from me in the Jasper Park Office that they just made it happen! It was a fantastic hike but not as hard as I figured it would be except for the hour up to The Notch.

  • Wow..another gorgeous hike. I don’t know much about Jasper NP but I want to go now. I don’t think I can do this hike though but I hope they have as much stunning scenery below the treeline. Just gorgeous scenery and I can see why this is a hiking highlight for you.

    • @Mary Jasper NP is a great family destination. Where we started the hike is Maligne Lake – and it’s the jumping off spot for a fabulous boat tour. There are easy hikes, canyon trips, waterfalls to see and always wildlife in Jasper. Come and visit!

  • Abby Ang says:

    I just love all the pictures! Excellent photos you got here. I hope that I can also do that. I really love hiking :)

  • Lauren says:

    Your photographs make me want to visit Alberta so badly now! I’ve been pinning all of your posts to my Pinterest in a Canada travel folder for future reference :)

  • This looks like an absolutely stunning hike Leigh. Thanks so much for sharing with such enthusiasm. I walked in Maligne Canyon through the ice many years ago, but I had no idea this beautiful hike was under the snow (I’m guessing it’s nearby). You’ve taken beautiful photos too. I’ll add this to my list. Lauren’s Pinterest folder is a great idea.

  • Lea says:

    Thanks for sharing this.

  • Manda says:

    Not sure if this is still active, but I’m struggling to find where the Signal Campground is on any map. I read that it is on the descent on the final leg of the trail, but can’t find any other information than that. Did you see signs for it on your hike? Are you aware of any other resources about the campground? Thanks in advance.

  • Jane says:

    Hi :)
    I was wondering if it is a good idea to do the hike without a guide? We are a young couple from switzerland and gonna spend our vacation in canada next july. We wanna do the hike in two days and spend the night at shovel pass lodge. we don’t have any experiences in hiking in canada. Would you recomend us to “book” i guide? if yes where could we do that?
    Many thanks for your help in advance, Jane

    P.S. great pictures! :)

    • @Jane This is actually a straightforward hike but don’t do it till the end of July as the snow can stay for a long time and make the climb up the pass right after Shovel Pass Lodge very difficult. On the other hand, if you don’t have a lot of hiking background you could hire someone. I’d just say go prepared for all weather, have a good map and know how to read it and carry a can of bear spray each.

  • Cass Bergeron says:

    This is beautiful! I was wondering tho is it necessary to stay at a camp site or are you allowed to just set up your tent along the way? We are from northern Ontario so are used to camping in any locations but we have yet to experience the Rockies. Also if you do have to stay at a camp are the prices reasonable? Thanks!

    • @Cass In the national park you are supposed to stay at a campsite to minimize impact of the area. In fact you have to book them WAY in advance. Price are about $16 a night but don’t quote me on that.

  • Sydney says:

    Hi!

    This looks great! Were flying in from Northern California in June and thinking of doing this Skyline trail. It’s our first time to Banff and were SO EXCITED!!! If we only have 3 days in Banff do you think this is the best backpacking trip to do? I’ve read a bit about Bowlake,
    Morraine lake (so blue incredible), Peyto Lake and would love to sneak in a hotspring maybe Banff hotsprings. Will we see a gorg lake on this trail? Thanks for your help!! Sydney

  • Fallon says:

    I have a question about campsite reservation. Do you have to book specific campsites (ie. Snowbowl Campground and Tekarra Campground)? or can you book based on the trail you are choosing and sleep at a campsite depending on how many km you have covered that day? Thanks!

  • Angela says:

    Last year, 2014, I hiked skyline trail with my 6 year old. Three nights was perfect for him. We are doing it again this year, by his request, as he says often that it was one of the best parts of his life so far. My pack was 32pds, he had no pack. We hiked with a motorcycle tent for one… just squished in at night. We will bring extra bug stuff this year, as that was the only issue on our trip last year. I highly encourage parents to buy the book, “The littlest Hiker”, and then step out in faith with your kids for a back country adventure (and a lot of prep and research). I think this is the most beautiful, diverse, and rewarding trail!

    • @Angela So great to hear about kids hiking this trail. Way to go. I started my kids off on overnight jaunts at about 8 and haven’t looked back. Do you have another favourite kids backpacking trip?

  • Kayla Des Brisay says:

    My Husband and I are doing this hike (only to curator and back) end of July! I’m extraordinary excited. Last year we did the tonquin valley, it was beautiful yet I’m much more excited about this one! I ready this blog post over and over amping myself up!

    • @Kayla Hope you have a marbelous time. I have yet to do the Tonquin Valley – on my list.

      • Daffi says:

        Great & helpful post! my daughter & I are coming to the Rockies next month, and your suggestions look perfect! I am in a moderate shape, and willing to challenge myself (60 yo :-)) but was concerned about the trails being marked, especially to the Notch. Would you kindly advise? thanks!

      • @Daffi They are very well marked but still carry a map just to keep your bearings.

  • Maya says:

    I guess you can not bike this trail?

  • jamie says:

    Im quite afraid of heights. Will Skyline be a challenge for me?

  • Jennifer Morris says:

    What amazing pictures, thank you so much for posting this! I live in Calgary and my family enjoys a lot of dayhikes in the Kananaskis/Banff area. I’m already planning on stepping it up next year and doing some bigger overnight hikes with my husband and two boys (will be 8 and 11), and this has easily just made it’s way to the top of my list!

  • Karl says:

    Great write up and photos! Do you think July 10th would be too early for this trek? And any option to extend it to 3 nights, 4 days? Thanks!

  • Jen says:

    Leigh I am visiting Jasper for three days this coming September. What would be a comparable day hike in that area? Is there anything at all that is a challenge and would be a moderate 8 hour day?

  • Carl says:

    Hi Leigh, we wanted to do the Skyline Trail mid-august this year, but the camping grounds are already pretty packed. The only reasonable combination of available campsides suggested an alternative route with start from Lake Medicine and hike to Watchtower camp side to spend the first night, second day hike to Snowbowl campside (maybe including side trip to The Notch) and third day walk out to the trailhead at Maligne Lake. Does that sound like a good plan to you? Do you know anything regarding the difficulty level of the Watchtower section?

    • Hi Carl,

      I’m looking at a map and a description. I have a few concerns.I have never done the Watchtower Basin but it sounds buggy and wet at lower elevations. It’s an option granted but not a great one. If you still do it – any chance you could go out the other way. I think the most scenic part of the trip – if the weather Gods cooperate is up to the notch and then the vast stretch above treeline and down to the Tekarra Campground. Another option – a 2 day one is to hike into Shovel Pass Lodge – spend the night – and hike all the way out the next day. It’s doable because you don’t need to carry a tent or food – just snacks. Option #3 – go during the week so you can do the whole hike. It’s such a great one!

      • Carl says:

        Hi Leigh, thank you very much for your reply and advise. I have the same concerns, especially since I read that there might be issues crossing Maligne River depending on its water level because the bridge has been destroyed by a flood a couple of years ago. I was thinking about Shovel Pass Lodge as well and will give that a second look. Unfortunately, there are literately no camping grounds available beyond Snowbowl during the time we’re in Canada (which is four weeks starting end of July). If nothing works, we will choose another trail, maybe Tonquin Valley. Any thoughts on that one?

      • @Carl I haven’t done it but it’s supposed to be very beautiful – though muddy early in the season with some flies. I don’t know when you’re coming but I would also recommend the hike to Mt Assibniboine (you really need 4 days), the Rockwall Trail – 4 days too min and the Egypt Lake backpacking trip if its in July for the wildflowers. Closer to Jasper the Jonas Pass – Poboktan Pass- Brazeau Lake combo over 3-5 days would be excellent. The same with North Molar Pass – Fish Lakes.

  • Jim Semple says:

    Your photos are spectacular and you trail description is excellent. Seven of us are planning to hike the Skyline Trail in early August. Day One is from Maligne Lake to Shovel Pass Lodge where we will stay for two nights, and then on Day Three we plan to hike up through the notch and on to the end of the trail. Is it realistic to cover the 44 kms in just two hiking days? Or might it make sense on Day Three to just return the same way we came? Is the second half tougher than the first half?

    • @Jim There are a lot of people who do the trail in 2 days. It would be a very long day to get from Shovel Pass Lodge to the Maligne Canyon trailhead but if you’re fit, I’d do it. Otherwise you shortchange yourself on the trail & don’t get the chance to see some of the best scenery on the trip. From the Tekarra Campground the first 2 hours are interesting. Once you hit the road it’s just a trudge – especially at the end of a long day – BUT if the weather is cooperative then I think the hike from the Notch onwards is memorable.

  • Daniel says:

    Great article! I’m booked in on July 15th for a couple nights to do the hike over three days. Reading this, I’m wondering if I’ve booked in a bit too early! So, with that in mind, what kind of conditions could I expect up top? If you can’t do the Notch or any other of the high parts, is it easy to go around and pickup the trail? Is the trail well marked?

    As a novice backcountry hiker, am I biting off more than I can chew with this one?

    Thanks all!

    Dan

    • @Daniel It was a low snow year so I think you’ll be absolutely fine. I was just in Jasper and saw very little snow in the mountains. The trail is VERY well marked. Just keep your pack weight light – the essentials but pack weight is the biggest drag on a trip.

  • Tyler says:

    I am looking to hike/backpack this trail in early August. I have only done relatively easy hikes in terms of the terrain. I am in physical shape to hike this trail, but I am worried about the slopes, switch backs, and the parts that in general aren’t too safe. How much of the trail is like that? Also, could someone do the Skyline trail as their first backpacking trip? We would do it in 3 days.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Tyler,
      You can definitely do it in three days but I highly recommend training as much as possible, making sure your hiking boots are broken in and your equipment is good. Pack as light as possible but safely as that makes a world of difference.
      No need to worry about the slopes or switch backs. The crux of the hike is on the second day ascending up to the Notch which will likely remain snow covered. This is a popular trail so it will be well trampled down. It’s more a matter of pacing yourself. Once above the notch you’re into grand country (did you read my 2nd blog – https://www.hikebiketravel.com/28271/hiking-skyline-trail-jasper-national-park-part-ii/) but you’re above treeline for some time. If a storm blows up this section could get nasty. You need to be prepared for that – and the possibility of retreat should there be thunder/lightning. There is a route out via Watchtower Creek as a backup.

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