Overpacking has always been a bit of a problem of mine, so for this trip I made it a goal to pack lightly. I failed, once again on meeting that goal. For three days and two nights on Jasper National Park’s Skyline Trail, I felt like I had packed for a week. Always trying to be the optimist, the way I saw it: I was prepared, and had a few clean clothes to spare.
The words from boyfriend’s family filled my head, and made me feel better about my habit of overpacking: “prepare for all kinds of weather, as it can change quite quickly in Canada (especially in the mountains.)” I, the ever optimistic California girl, expected sunshine all three days from the forecast on the weather app, and as life would have it we ended up having some rain and even snow one night!
The Skyline Trail is one of the more famous backcountry hikes in the Canadian Rockies, and for good reason. The Skyline Trail crosses three mountain passes in the 44 km Maligne Range, boasting unrivaled views of vibrant wildflowers (if you are lucky enough to go at the right time), wildlife, glacial lakes and towering surrounding mountains. As the Skyline Trail is Jasper National Park’s highest trail, over 25 km of the trail is hiked above the treeline and gives stunning panoramic views of the varied and rugged landscape.
I was traveling alone, and thought it would be a great opportunity to go hiking with a group; I wanted to meet like-minded people on the trail and hadn’t had much experience in the Albertan backcountry. And, let’s face it, I’m terribly disorganized and didn’t secure a campsite. I decided to go on the journey with Canadian Skyline Adventures, a small guiding and trekking company out of Jasper.
Canadian Skyline Adventures specializes in showing people the beautiful backcountry of the Canadian Rockies. Their local guides are passionate about the Canadian Rockies, and make sure to tell you everything about the region during your trek.
There were three of us on this trek: the guide Sarah, Sara and myself. Sarah is in awesome guide. She knows her stuff, loves the outdoors and has a great personality to boot. Always says it like it is, which I love. She was also a skydiver, so I definitely enjoyed hearing her stories. Sara is a dedicated mother from northern British Columbia. I was inspired as she told us about her transformation through outdoor adventures. That, and she has some seriously hilarious stories! It was really wonderful meeting these two strong women and sharing the three day journey with them. I could not have asked for better people to be with.
We started our trek at Maligne Lake, one of Jasper National Park’s most famous attractions. Maligne Lake, Jasper’s largest lake, is internationally renowned for the stunning color of the water, surrounding peaks, visible glaciers and Spirit Island (accessible by boat).
We took some photos of the majestic lake, and then quickly set out to hit the trail. It was a perfect, warm summer day. The smoke from the fires had dramatically decreased, which allowed for better air quality and views of the landscape.
The trail begins in the forest, and we started our gradual ascent and in a little less than thirty minutes reached Lorraine and Mona Lakes. We kept walking, past a beautiful stream and further up to a campground. We were not going to use this campground, as we were headed to Snowbowl (about 12 km from the trailhead), a better location for those backpacking the trail for three days.
We decided to get out the mosquito incense burners and have lunch at the first campsite. We applied tons of mosquito repellant, as we were already covered in bites. TIP: Definitely do not skimp on repellant; you will encounter tons of mosquitos. The food Sarah provided us was surprisingly delicious, and as much as I enjoyed taking a food break, it was time to hit the trail.
As we continued the ascent, the trees became more sparse and the mountain peaks became visible. Hiking above the tree line is always one of the highlights of my treks, as the 360 views up there are unrivaled, especially in the rugged Canadian Rockies. In fact, the Skyline trail has over 18 miles of trail above the tree line, something many other local trails don’t offer.
From Little Shovel Campground we continued on to our final destination: Snowbowl Campground. The views are amazing here, especially during late July. The green grass and the bright wildflowers are a photographer’s dream, and there were plenty of marmots and squirrels playing in the fields.
We set up camp, had a delicious dinner and watched the sun set over the surrounding peaks. Then it was time to put our food in the bear cans and get some sleep. The second day is a beast.
As I have stated and hear every time I visit Canada: “prepare for all types of weather. It can and will change.” Even though the forecast called for abundant sunshine, our second day began with light rain. All good; I packed a rain jacket and borrowed a backpack cover (I was so happy to hear I could borrow one, as of course I forgot to bring my own).
The second day is the longest, and most difficult, part of the trek (assuming you break it down into three days and come from Maligne Lake). You will hike over 11 miles to Tekarra Campground. But it is so worth it, as it is one of the most gorgeous and rewarding hikes you will do in the area.
We began our hike to Big Shovel Pass through some gorgeous meadows full of flowers and towering mountain views. Within an hour the sun began to peek through the clouds, and it became hot again. I was instantly relieved, because I did not want to hike the infamous notch slipping and sliding. (SIDE NOTE: There is a trail around here called Watchtower Col., which goes back to Maligne Lake Road in case of an emergency. We, fortunately, did not take it.)
From Big Shovel Pass it’s an easy descent to Curator Campground and Shovel Pass Lodge. We had lunch at the lake and took in the views before packing up and taking on the notch. The notch is famous for being the most difficult part of the trail. Prepare for a steep climb up rocks and scree. There were little patches of snow on the way up, but nothing we couldn’t handle.
Once we conquered the notch we were rewarded with amazing 360 views of the surrounding mountains, lakes and river below. And the views kept getting better as we followed the windy ridge on Amber Mountain. We stopped a few times to check out the scenery, and saw the town of Jasper, the river, the Icefields Parkway and a glimpse of Mt. Robson. We even saw some mountain goats, which probably looked a lot more graceful hiking the ridge than I did.
It’s a pretty easy hike down to Tekarra Campground, and the scenery is just amazing. We were surrounded by rugged, towering mountains above us, and walked alongside a river that leads to the campground. Once at the campground, it began to rain again, so we quickly set up camp and got ready to eat dinner and call it a night.
When I woke up the next morning, I found out that it had snowed a little that night. No wonder I was cold! But the third day was a beautiful, warm sunny day, and I was ready to experience the rest of the trail. And the thought of getting pizza in town afterwards was another huge motivation!
Honestly, I had heard that the end of the trail wasn’t very scenic (the last few miles aren’t, as you go on a fire road), so I was pleasantly surprised by this portion of the hike. From our campsite we made our way up, and were once again greeted with stunning mountain views, and tons of bright wildflowers. I had to stop and take photos every few minutes, and the scenery just blew me away! The flowers were all sorts of colors: red, orange, yellow and purple. Make sure to really enjoy your time and take it all in at this portion of the hike, as the scenery quickly changes on the descent.
We went from backcountry wilderness to a fire road in no time, and for the next few miles were eager to get back to town and reminisce on our journey. This part didn’t take long, and right around lunchtime we were back at the parking lot. I was actually pretty bummed out, as the three days went by so quickly, and I did not want to leave Jasper.
We ended up going into town and ordering pizza at a local restaurant. It was a great meal, and I enjoyed spending a little more time with my new friends from the trail. I headed into town, did my laundry and got back on the road. I took the stunning Icefields Parkway into Canmore for the night, as I was set to be back in California in just a week.
The Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park is an iconic backpacking destination for many reasons. With unparalleled mountain views, a real backcountry experience, glacial lakes, colorful wildflowers and wildlife, I have to say it was one of the most memorable treks I have been on. I highly recommend this trip to anyone visiting the Canadian Rockies. Just make sure to get your permit or book with a company!
WHAT TO BRING
Remember I said weather in the Rockies is unpredictable? Here’s what to pack to be ready for anything.
– A good backpack. Get one that fits you; you will be wearing almost 40 pounds on your back, and do not want to be miserable on the trail. I recommend the REI or Osprey backpacks.
– A tent. Each spot at the campsite holds one tent. I rented mine from Canadian Skyline Adventures but recommend North Face and NEMO.
– A good sleeping bag and sleeping mat. You will want the sleeping mat for a good comfortable sleep. I recommend Kelty, REI or Marmot sleeping bags.
– Bear Spray. We didn’t encounter any bears, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Also, put your food in the bear bins. The last thing you want is to be woken up by a hungry bear!
– A good pair of hiking boots. I used my Vasque boots for this trail, and had no complaints.
– Layers. Bring a rain jacket shell, down jacket, long sleeved shirt, short sleeved shirt, hiking pants (or shorts), 3 pairs of underwear and socks, a hat and gloves. This should be your minimum. Some people recommend rain pants; I didn’t see the need.
– A headlamp. Because you will need to use the bathroom at night.
– First aid kit and SPF.
– A camera. You’re going to want to take lots of photos! I used my iPhone and GoPro on this hike, as my DSLR would have weighed me down. And bring a solar charger (or two).
– I recommend bringing some sanitation wipes to clean up after a day of hiking. Also, hand sanitizer.
– Insect repellant. If there is one thing to not forget, it is this. Those mosquitos are hungry.
– Cooking system and food. And snacks. And a water purification system.
– Map and compass. The trail is pretty self -explanatory, but you may need this. There is really no service out here, so make sure to be self-reliant.
Founder and main contributor to This Adventure Life, Kirsten Alexis has passion for all things adventure and the outdoors. She is an avid participant in action sports, such as skydiving, paragliding, snowboarding, high-altitude trekking, mountain biking, surfing and more. She is passionate about inspiring others to live their wildest dreams as well as conserving the environment for others to enjoy for years to come.