Skyline Trail

Jasper National Park

One of Canada's most spectacular overnight treks, Skyline Trail traverses many kilometers high above treeline in the Rocky Mountains of Jasper National Park.

Hiking Difficult

Distance
43 km
Ascent
1.5 km
Descent
2 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
1.2 km
High Point
2.5 km
Gradient
14˚
VIEW ON MAP
Skyline Trail Map

Description

Skyline Trail is one of the best backpacking routes in Canada. It is the highest-elevation trail in Jasper National park. Roughly 27 of its 44 kilometers are above treeline, granting huge views over the Rocky Mountains and a truly alpine experience. Weather up here can be brutal, with snow possible at any time of year. Good weather is common enough in the summer, but you should be prepared for anything, especially wind and rain. The trail is also notorious for mosquitos and other insects that thrive around the alpine lakes and rivers which you’ll camp beside. It is also prime grizzly habitat, so bear precautions are essential. The trail is usually completed in 2-4 days. Camping is allowed only in designated sites, which are best booked months in advance because of the trail’s popularity. Limited permits ensure that you will have vast stretches of the hike to yourself, however, and feel truly remote here among the rugged peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

Maligne Lake to Curator Camp

From Maligne Lake, the trail leads through the forest in between Lorraine and Mona Lakes. Shrouded by trees, this section is not as scenic as what is to come, but beautiful nonetheless. The rest of the trail is mostly above treeline, so you should savor the serenity of the forest while in it. A variation with better views is to start at the same trailhead but take the trail into Bald Hills. This adds 4km and some elevation gain, but earns a vantage over Maligne Lake and peaks beyond that the main trail does not. Reconnect to Skyline Trail at Evelyn Creek via a signed fire road from the Bald Hills.

Evelyn Creek (km 4.8) is the first campground option, but most backpackers will want to go farther than this on the first day. The next option is Little Shovel (km 8.3), reached after the steepening climb from Evelyn Creek up into the subalpine zone. At Little Shovel, trees are more sparse and open meadows grant great views over the valley covered thus far, plus Maligne Lake and the Bald Hills.

Continue climbing from the campground to reach Little Shovel Pass (km 10). This is the first and lowest of the trail’s three major passes, at 2200m elevation, and your first taste of hiking above treeline. Prepare for chilly and windy conditions. On the other side of the pass is the Snowbowl, a verdant basin dotted with trees and ponds, and bursting with wildflowers in August. Snowbowl campsite (km 12.2) is tucked among the trees in the bottom.

The climb to Big Shovel Pass is a big one, but considerably easier than the ascent to Little Shovel Pass, as long as weather remains fair. At the pass (km 17, 2286m) lies what is possibly the best view yet. The wind-swept peak of Curator Mountain towers above to the east, and unfolding below is a wide valley, with Curator Lake barely visible in a perched basin on the north edge, and The Notch directly above the lake. The Notch often holds snow well into the summer, so take a good look from here and anticipate what’s in store for crossing it.

From Big Shovel Pass the trail stays at about the same elevation, making a traverse above the valley on a bare south-facing slope. It dips down slightly before going back up to Curator Lake. Where it dips is the junction for Curator Camp (km 20.3), which is about 100 m down and 1 km along a switchbacking side trail. Curator is a spacious camp among the trees down in the valley. Its aesthetics as well as location approximately midway along the Skyline make it a popular camp, despite the detour required to reach it.

Curator Camp to Signal Mountain

Ascend back to the main trail from Curator Camp then a bit further to Curator Lake, where the trail levels out briefly. Take time to enjoy the views and stare down The Notch that lies dead ahead. When you are ready, tackle the climb to The Notch (km 22). This is the highest point along the trail, at 2511 m, and crossing it requires hiking through snow at nearly any time of year. Hit it early in the day if possible so the snow is firmer and easier to negotiate. The view from The Notch is well worth the work. You’ll earn the broadest view yet, with peaks to the east, west, and south all visible. But just wait, it gets even better.

The section beyond The Notch is the true “skyline” of the trail. It follows a high ridgeline void of vegetation, with nothing but wide open panoramas all around. To the south you can see the next range across the Athabasca River Valley, which includes the snow-streaked hulk of Mt. Edith Cavell. To the north is a broad, green basin with The Watchtower peak presiding proudly overhead. On a clear day you can see Mt. Robson, highest point in the Canadian Rockies, in the distance straight ahead. This traverse is relatively easy walking, sloping downward before taking wide switchbacks into the next valley.

This is the forested basin below Mt. Tekarra, which rises in sheer cliffs and rugged pinnacles to the west. Tekarra Camp (km 30.4) is in the bottom. This section requires many stream crossings and winding through dense forest. The trail again turns uphill to exit the valley and makes a rolling traverse across a sparsely treed hillside toward Signal Camp (km 35.7) and the final dip back below treeline. From Signal, it’s all downhill through the forest along a gravel road to Signal Mountain Trailhead (km 44.1).

Sources: https://www.inafarawayland.com/skyline-trail-jasper/ http://www.hikejasper.com/Hiking-The-Jasper-Skyline-Trail.html#!prettyPhoto http://www.cleverhiker.com/blog/skyline-trail-backpacking-guide-jasper-national-park https://www.campingcanucks.com/skyline-trail-jasper-national-park/ http://www.mapmyrun.com/ca/jasper-park-lodge-alberta/skyline-trail-route-1485664

Difficulty

Difficult

Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

July, August, September

Features

  • Alpine
  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area