Skyline Trail – Jasper National Park

Summit Elevation (m): 2510
Trip Date: Wednesday, September 3, 2003 to Saturday, September 6, 2003
Round Trip Time (days): 3
Elevation Gain (m): 1400
Total Trip Distance (km): 42
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: With 25km of trail at or above tree line the Jasper Skyline trail is a fantastic back country hiking experience as long as the weather cooperates.
Technical Rating: TL4; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

On a nice warm week in September 2003, a group of us spent 3 days, 2 nights hiking and backpacking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park. The Skyline Trail can be run by fit people in a day, so why did we take 3? Simply because we wanted to enjoy it and because we bagged a number of summits along its length of course! I am a peakbagger, after all. I would recommend taking at least 3 days for this trail if you want to enjoy its many vistas. I think even 4 days would not be overkill.

Skyline Trail Route Map

This route is not a loop but rather a point-to-point hike between Maligne Lake and Maligne Canyon. The trail can be done in either direction, either from Maligne Canyon on the west end or Maligne Lake on the east end of the trail but the vast majority of folks do it from the lake to the canyon for the very simple reason that there is over 500 meters less height gain that way. We parked a vehicle at the Maligne Canyon parking lot and crowded into Jon’s truck for the short drive to Maligne Lake. The day was already hot but clear as we started up the steep trail from the Maligne Lake parking lot.

Day 1 – Maligne Lake to Snowbowl Campground

As we worked our way up steep switchbacks in the hot September sun, we inhaled the fresh air and enjoyed the smell of rotting vegetation that is a classic Rockies scent when summer comes to an end. Eventually we took a nice break in the forest at Evelyn Creek, where the first campground was already located. This campground is fairly close to the trail head but it was nice. We were headed to the Snowbowl campground on our first day.

After setting up camp at the Snowbowl Campground we still had plenty of daylight left. So we did what any peakbagger does and went to bag a nearby peak. After a delightful, easy scramble up Antler Ridge which included a dip in a delightful nearby tarn, we enjoyed playing cards at camp and turned in for the night – sleeping quite well thanks to a full first day.

Day 2 – Snowbowl Campground to Tekarra Campground

Day two dawned clear and cool. After a hearty breakfast we broke camp and started off up the trail again. This particular day we were planning to make it all the way to the Tekarra Campground and were hoping to scramble Curator Mountain along the way. Curator was an easy scramble from the pass and soon we were standing on her summit enjoying great views in all directions. We could easily see the Skyline trail continuing on to the infamous ‘notch’ near Curator Lake.

After descending back to the pass we continued to Curator Lake. Here things got a wee bit depressing with some height loss followed by the biggest gains of the hike up to ‘the Notch’. Thankfully the weather was perfect and so were the conditions. We made sure to fill up on water at Curator Lake.

From the top of The Notch we spotted a very easy route to the summit of Amber Mountain alongside the trail. The trail literally goes right beside the peak, so there’s very little reason for a peakbagger like myself not to tag it and claim it! After that easy summit it was time to descend many hundreds of meters down the Tekarra switchbacks to the southeast of Mount Tekarra, eventually leading to the Tekarra campground and our home for the second night.

After reaching the Tekarra Campground we set up the tents and enjoyed another great night under the stars.

Day 3 – Tekarra Campground to Maligne Canyon

The following morning Gus and Gwen hiked out to the Maligne Canyon in order to do the car pickup from Maligne Lake while Jon, Kev and I rambled up Tekarra Mountain from the campground. We enjoyed route finding to the summit and were back in camp after a few hours.

While hiking out past Signal Mountain, we decided that we might as well bag that last summit too, since it was “right there”. Yes, we managed to lug our large backpacks across alpine meadows before standing on the fifth summit of the trip. I’m not going to lie – the hike down the Signal Mountain Fire road sucked big time. In the heat and with all the kilometers that we’d scrambled and hiked over the past 2.5 days, I was *not* enjoying that long, concrete-hard surface! Not to mention, we lost many hundreds of meters of height gain. Eventually we made it down and it was with great relief that we finally hiked into the Maligne Canyon parking lot where Gwen and Gus were waiting with the vehicles.

With over 1400 meters of height gain and 1900 meters of height loss, the Skyline Trail is a lot of work. But it’s worth it. Add a few peaks and soon you’re doing over 2200 meters of height gain, but again, it’s worth it! I would recommend doing this trek from east to west and in the fall when the bugs are gone and the trail is dry and snow free (not to mention – tourist free). Don’t bother if the weather is closed in though – this trek needs clear skies and stable weather to be safe, considering the many kilometers you spend above or at tree line.

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