The Jasper Skyline Trail is one of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies. This iconic backpacking route is nearly 25 kilometres above the treeline, with unparalleled mountain scenery. Skyline is a must-do for those who love spending time outdoors. Some say it’s the absolute best Jasper hiking trail!
This summer I’ve been enjoying more hiking and backpacking. The Jasper Skyline Trail is now the longest solo backpacking trip I’ve done, and I was stretched through the journey (especially with inclement weather). Overall, Skyline Trail was an exceptional experience, and I can’t wait to do it again.
About the Jasper Skyline Trail
Location: Jasper National Park
Distance: 44.5 km point to point
Elevation: 1,410 metre gain
Time: 3 days
Best Time to Hike: Late July to September
Dog-friendly: No, as this is caribou territory.
Features: Jasper Skyline Trail is a top Rocky Mountain hike nearly 25 km above the treeline. You’ll find unmatched scenery on a clear day. There are 6 official campgrounds with toilets, food storage lockers, and water sources nearby. Overall, this iconic Jasper hiking trail is a must-do for backpackers!
Why Hike the Jasper Skyline Trail?
There are many compelling reasons to hike Skyline Trail. First, it’s easily one of the most scenic trails in Jasper—and in all of Alberta, for that matter! There aren’t many Rocky Mountain hikes that offer views above the treeline for about 25 km. Next, the reward is well worth the effort, as the elevation gain tops out at 1,410 metres. That’s very doable for most hikers over 2 or 3 days. Moreover, as one of Jasper’s most popular backpacking destinations, you’ll have other hikers around (in case you’re nervous about grizzlies!). Lastly, the 44.5 km trail includes 6 official campgrounds with excellent 2- to 4-day trip options (see below for itineraries).
Jasper Skyline Trail Booking
If you want a Skyline booking, you’ll have to be ready when Parks Canada reservations open up. Reservations typically begin in January (April in 2021) on a rolling basis, depending on the campground and type of accommodation. For popular backcountry campgrounds, such as Snowbowl and Tekarra, you’ll want to book months in advance. Purchase a backcountry permit and reserve individual campsites through Parks Canada.
All is not lost if you don’t get your Jasper Skyline booking when reservations open. Cancellations often happen three days out. Keep checking the Parks Canada website and you may find your dates.
Distances on Jasper Skyline Trail
|0||1,678 m||Maligne Lake Trailhead|
|4.8||1,824 m||Evelyn Creek Campground|
|8.3||2,233 m||Little Shovel Campground|
|12.2||2,094 m||Snowbowl Campground|
|20.3||2,100 m||Shovel Pass Lodge|
|21.3||2,070 m||Curator Campground|
|30.9||2,062 m||Tekarra Campground|
|35.6||2,014 m||Signal Campground|
|44.1||1,065 m||Signal Mountain Trailhead|
Finding the Trailhead
There are two trailheads for the Jasper Skyline Trail. There’s the Maligne Lake (south) trailhead and the Signal Mountain (north) trailhead near Maligne Canyon. Most hikers start at Maligne Lake, but some choose north to south depending on campsite availability.
I’d recommend hiking south to north on the Skyline Trail. However, if you choose north to south, be prepared for an extra 550+ metre elevation gain up the gravel fire road to Signal Mountain. Maybe some prefer to add more elevation, but there’s already enough on this trip (for me, at least!).
Read more: Maligne Canyon Hike in Jasper National Park
Jasper Skyline Shuttle
Skyline Trail is a point-to-point backcountry route that requires a shuttle (if you bring just one vehicle). Maligne Adventures is a great Skyline shuttle option. I arrived at the Signal Mountain trailhead just before 9am to catch the one-way shuttle to Maligne Lake. The 38-km ride takes about 35 minutes. Book your Maligne Valley Hiker’s Shuttle for $35 per adult. The cost was absolutely worth the convenience of having my car at the end.
Alternatively, you could park at Maligne Lake and then call a cab at the end of your hike. However, cell service can be spotty at the trailhead. I’ve also heard of hikers hitching a ride from Signal to Maligne (but you might be waiting a while…).
3-Day Skyline Trail Itinerary (+ More Options!)
I hiked the standard 3-day itinerary starting at Maligne Lake:
Day 1: Maligne Lake Trailhead to Snowbowl Campground (12 km; 4 – 5 hours)
Day 2: Snowbowl to Tekarra Campground (12 km; 6 – 7 hours)
Day 3: Tekarra to Signal Mountain Trailhead (13 km; 3 – 4 hours)
Fast hikers could choose to spend 2 days/1 night on the trail:
Day 1: Maligne Lake to Curator Campground (or Shovel Pass Lodge) (21 km)
Day 2: Curator (or Shovel Pass Lodge) to Signal Mountain Trailhead (23 km)
Some hikers take their time with 4 days/3 nights:
Day 1: Maligne Lake Trailhead to Little Shovel Campground (8 km)
Day 2: Little Shovel to Curator Campground (13 km)
Day 3: Curator to Tekarra Campground (10 km)
Day 4: Tekarra to Signal Mountain Trailhead (13 km)
During my visit, there were a few hikers coming from north to south. Most lamented the additional 550+ metre elevation gain while climbing Signal Fire Road. If it’s the only option, it might be worth it. Otherwise, I’d highly recommend starting at Maligne Lake.
Day 1: Maligne Lake to Snowbowl Campground (12 km)
After spending the morning at Maligne Lake, I started hiking Skyline Trail around 12:30pm. The first day was very gradual and did not feel overly challenging, even with a 40lb pack on my back.
Some hikers previously abandoned their trips due to the thick fire smoke in the Jasper area. So far the smoke wasn’t too bad, though some of the views were obscured. However, Lorraine Lake and Mona Lake both were attractive stops after about 2 km. While there are no tents or fires allowed at the lakes, you could enjoy a peaceful rest by the water and maybe even see a loon.
The forest trail continues past Evelyn Creek Campground, the smallest on Skyline Trail. You’ll find 4 campsites, picnic tables, food storage lockers, and a barrel outhouse (see below). The creek is an excellent water source nearby, but is too close to the trailhead for me (unless starting later in the day). It’s about 3 km more to Little Shovel Campground, which is larger with seven tent pads, but the water source is less impressive. After Little Shovel, the path leaves the forest and enters marvellous subalpine tundra with mountains towering above.
I arrived at Snowbowl Campground around 4:30pm, after about 4 hours and a 12-km hike with plenty of stops for pictures. Snowbowl is a great first-night option due to its distance from the trailhead, but the water source is 500 metres away. However, there is a trickle in the campsite, so I filtered from this small pool for drinking. Snowbowl is in the forest, with many trees to tie tarps on a rainy day. Don’t forget to store your food in the lockers.
Day 2: Snowbowl to Tekarra Campground (19 km)
After Big Shovel Pass, you’ll reach the Curator Junction. At this point, you can either head toward Curator Campground, Shovel Pass Lodge, and the Icefields Parkway, or continue on toward The Notch. I continued on past Curator Lake and then up The Notch. The heavy rain poured and the wind roared, but thankfully no thunder or lightning. You would not want to attempt the completely exposed Notch in an electrical storm.
My second day on Skyline was consistently rainy, foggy, and a bit smokey from the BC wildfires. The rain calmed enough for me to pack up my tent, eat some breakfast, and hit the trail by 9:30am. Snowbowl to Tekarra Campground is about 19km, and includes the highest point on the trail—The Notch—at about 2,511 metres (8,238 feet). There are plenty of water sources before Big Shovel Pass. On a hot day, you’ll want to fill up as there is no water until closer to Tekarra Campground.
After The Notch, the hardest part is finished!Now it’s a gradual 8.3 km (mostly) downhill to Tekarra Campground. This ridge walk is typically where hikers see incredible 360 degree Rocky Mountain views. Sadly, views were obstructed by the heavy fog and smoke that filled the air, though the skies cleared periodically (and briefly). I’ll have to return someday to see more.
Follow the cairns (rock piles) and yellow markets to stay on track. I arrived at Tekarra Campground after a total of 6 hours by 3:30pm.
Day 3: Tekarra to Signal Mountain Trailhead (13 km)
After a good night’s rest, I crossed the river beside Tekarra for my third and final day on Skyline Trail. I’d seen the worst of the rain the day before, and was thrilled by the scenery in the day ahead. I started the 13-km hike around 10:15am. This entire stretch took about 3 hours and 15 minutes.
The trail meanders through the forest and then opens up to grand alpine view. You can see the Maligne River Valley and mountain range off in the distance. Again, the fog and smoke made it challenging to see everything, though we had some clear areas.
The final 9-km is through dense forest on the Signal Fire Road. You won’t find spectacular views here, but you’ll likely see signs of wildlife (I saw elk scat). I was very glad to see my car in the Signal trailhead parking lot (thanks to Maligne Adventures!).
Food on the Trail
Food storage lockers are found at every campground. Never store food or other animal attractants (like garbage) in your tent. There should be plenty of space to store your meals in the lockers. I like to put my food in an ultralight drybag, for protection from the elements and to easily remove from my pack.
Toilets on the Trail
Each campground is equipped with composting barrel toilets. However, the construction doesn’t create the type of privacy that some might expect, so be courteous to your fellow backpackers. Snowbowl had a board to place across the trail when the toilets were in use.
When nature calls outside of the campgrounds, find a spot at least 70 metres away from the water source and trail. Dig a hole about 12 to 16 centimetres deep and loosely bury when finished. Don’t use too much toilet paper.
Skyline Trail is full of wildlife. I saw (many!) hoary marmots, gophers, and a loon. Other hikers have come across deer, elk, and caribou. And of course, Jasper is bear country. I saw a large black bear on the Icefields Parkway, but didn’t see bears on the trail. But both black and grizzly bears frequent Skyline.
Respect the wildlife you encounter. Maintain distance and protect their environment by leaving no trace. Further, since you’re in bear country, bring bear spray and even animal deterrents (air horn or bear bangers) to avoid negative encounters. While I didn’t see any predators on the trail, I did almost step in some scat…. But was it bear or cougar?
Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the tent, especially if the weather turns sour. If you’re interested in comfort camping, the only option is Shovel Pass Lodge near Curator Campground. This backcountry facility includes the main lodge and 7 individual cabins. I hear the meals are absolutely delicious as well, including supper and the next day’s breakfast and packed lunch. Shovel Pass Lodge could be a great option if you want to leave your tent at home and buy your meals on the trail. You’d definitely have a lighter pack!
Know Before You Go
Fires: There are no fires permitted on the Skyline Trail.
Dogs: Dogs are not allowed on this trail as it’s a caribou range.
Bikes: Bikes are not permitted from Maligne Lake to Signal Mountain fire road.
Short-cuts: Stay on the trails and don’t take shortcuts.
Escape route: If there’s poor weather or The Notch is impassible, the Wabasso Trail is a rough 15-km route that leads from Curator Campground to the Icefields Parkway. This is a steep decent of 1,100 metres. There is cell reception at the Wabasso Trailhead.
The best time to hike Skyline Trail is late July until the end of September. If you attempt the trip too early, you’ll likely be post-holing through snow The Notch. This is one of the reasons why Skyline can be difficult to book. This incredibly popular trail has a very short hiking season.
Jasper Skyline Trail Map
Have you backpacked along Skyline Trail? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below.
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