Skyline Trail – Jasper National Park (28 mile point-to-point)

 

Trip Overview: This ~30 mile route offers unparalleled views of Jasper National Park as you traverse a high elevation ridge in the Maligne Range and cross over three mountain passes. The terrain is varied along the trail as you pass through forests, meadows, and long, windswept ridge. +/- 6,000 feet of elevation over the course of this trek with a peak elevation of 8,250 feet. Highlights include expansive views of the Canadian Rockies, alpine lakes, mountain streams and meadows, and a contiguous ~15 mile section of trail above the treeline. The majority of the images here are from a trip at the end of July. Unless otherwise noted all photos were taken by Brian Lang and are reused with permission.

Overall map of the Skyline Trail route in Jasper National Park. The hike is divided across two days (Day 1 magenta, Day 2 yellow).
  • Map of the Skyline Trail from Parks Canada (JPEG)
  • Topographic map of Jasper National Park for purchase (amazon link)

Jump to Day 1: Maligne Trailhead to Curator Camp
Jump to Day 2: Curator Camp to North Skyline/Signal Mountain Trailhead

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Preparations:

Click here to read more about Permits

Permits:  Backcountry camping permits are required for all overnight stays along the Skyline Trail. Permits are limited based on a strict quota system, so you must plan far in advance of your trek if you plan to tackle the Skyline Trail in a multi-day trip. Permits can be reserved online (https://reservation.pc.gc.ca/). In the past, reservations have opened up between January and April, so it is best to check in early January to see when the expected reservation opening date is. Quotas are frequently filled within 24 hours of reservations opening so you need to be fast! When you are reserving your permit online, you are required to pick the specific campsites you will be staying at each night of your trek. Be sure to study the route beforehand so you know which campsites to target when reserving.

Click here to read more about Logistics

Logistics: Most backpackers hike the Skyline Trail as a one way trek over 2 or 3 days. In addition, it is generally recommended to hike the trail from south to north, starting at Maligne Lake. In order to get between the two trailheads before/after your trek, you can utilize a private shuttle service. Maligne Adventures operates a shuttle for hikers which costs CA$35 per person (https://maligneadventures.com/shuttle/). After you park your car at the North Skyline/Signal Mountain Trailhead the morning of your trek, the shuttle will pick you up and bring you to the Maligne Lake Trailhead. From there, you start your hike to the north and eventually end up back at your car.

Difficulty: The difficulty level of the Skyline Trail largely depends on your proposed itinerary. The itinerary described in this report completes the route in two days and thus is quite difficult (average of 15 miles a days). When hiked over the course of three days, the Skyline Trail is more moderate, yet still challenging. Your specific itinerary will likely depend on campsite availability. You can find more information of the location of the different campsites along the trail at the Parks Canada website. For the two day itinerary, it is most common to spend the night at the Curator Camp. For three day itineraries, most hikers choose to camp at Snowbowl Camp the first night and Tekarra Camp the second night.

Over the course of the trek, the Skyline Trail is well marked, so hikers usually have no issues with route finding. That said, the weather in the Canadian Rockies can be very unpredictable so backpackers should be prepared for all conditions. Snow can fall on the Skyline Trail at anytime of the year, so you should have a good map (and possibly a GPS device) and be comfortable with route finding.

Supplies: There are bears, both black and grizzly, in Jasper National Park, so you need to properly store you food and scented items. All designated campsites along the Skyline Trail have have food storage lockers, so you are not required to carry your hard-sided bear canister (though they are recommended). Campsites also have bear poles for hanging your scented items with an Ursack if you so choose. Given the presence of grizzly bears in the park, backpackers are also smart to carry bear spray along this route.

Below is a list of the gear I recommend for backpacking the Skyline Trail:

Hiking clothes

Clothes for camp

Hiking gear

Camp gear

Random

Food and drink

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Day 1: 12.9 miles; +2,900 / -1,700 feet; Maligne Lake Trailhead to Curator Camp

Map of the Day 1 hike along the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park, from the Maligne Lake Trailhead to Curator Camp (magenta line) 
Elevation profile of the Day 1 hike along the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

On day 1 of this two day itinerary on the Skyline Trail, you hike from the Maligne Lake Trailhead to the Curator backcountry camp. The route starts with a slight climb through a forested area with a few lakes. At the 3 mile mark, you reach the Evelyn Creek Camp, the first of the backcountry camps along the trail. After this point, the trail climbs more steeply for the next 6 miles as the trees gradually begin to thin out. At the 6 mile mark, you pass through Little Shovel Pass and then descend down into the Snowbowl area. The popular Snowbowl Camp sits at the 7 mile mark. Here the trail passes through a beautiful meadow. Miles 7 through 11 take you across the meadow and up to Big Shovel Pass. The view gets more and more expansive as you climb up the large ridge. At the point the terrain is much different than the forests and meadow you just hiked through. After the pass it is just a downhill hike to the Curator backcountry Camp.

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Day 2: 16 miles; +2,200 / -5,200 feet; Curator Camp to North Skyline/Signal Mountain Trailhead

Map of the Day 2 hike along the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park, from Curator Camp to the North Skyline/Signal Mountain Trailhead (yellow line)
Elevation profile of the Day 2 hike along the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park 

On Day 2, you hike mostly downhill but still need to cover 16 miles. The first 10 miles of the hike are above the treeline, providing great views in nearly every direction. That said, this section of the trail is also the most dangerous in terms of exposure to bad weather events. The hike starts with a 1,500 foot climb past Curator Lake and up to The Notch, a section of the Skyline trail that can be impassable early in the season. There are great views throughout this part of the hike, so it makes for a great start. After you pass through The Notch, you slowly descend across a ridge line passing Amber Mountain, Centre Mountain, and Mount Tekarra. The scenery in this whole section is great, though it can be cool and windy here. After the 7 mile mark, the trail flattens for a couple miles until you pass Signal Mountain at mile 10. From this point on, you descend quickly through the forest until you reach the ending trailhead. These last several miles can be a trudge, making it all the more rewarding when you finally reach your car.

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Here are some similar trip reports!

Loowit Trail – Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (30 mile loop)

Four Lakes Loop – Trinity Alps Wilderness (20 mile trek)

Yosemite Highlights Loop – Yosemite National Park (40 mile loop)

Rae Lakes Loop – Kings Canyon National Park Backpacking (41 mile loop)

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