What You Need to Know About Hiking the Skyline Trail in Jasper
PHOTO: Dawn at Maligne Lake. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Those who make the journey to isolated Jasper National Park are in for a treat — but you’re definitely going to be roughing it here. Located in western Alberta, it is the largest park in the Canadian Rockies, an expansive 4,200 square miles. Despite being significantly larger than its southern-rival Banff (2,500 square miles), Jasper received about 1.5 million less visitors in 2014.
That’s good news for wilderness lovers, especially those looking to disappear for a few days. And Jasper’s flagship backpacking route, the Skyline Trail, is perhaps the most epic way to discover the destination.
Jasper National Park can be reached via Calgary or Edmonton. Both are four- to five-hour drives. The journey from Calgary is much more scenic, though, winding its way through Banff National Park and the Icefields Parkway.
The Skyline Trail is 27 miles in length with more than half above treeline. In good weather, it can be completed comfortably in as little as three days, two nights. Many choose to take their time and break the trail down into shorter segments, and one of the best things about the Skyline Trail is that it is designed with such flexibility in mind.
The trail passes through six campsites, each positioned in scenic locations below treeline near or next to flowing water. The amount of campsites and the fact that they are well spaced along the trail allows hikers to choose their own adventure.
If you’re tackling it in a standard weekend, plan to stay at Tekarra and Snow Bowl. For me, they were the most scenic, combining pine forests, rivers and landscape views. Regardless, you will walk through all six. Reservations at the campsites are required and can be made by calling the Jasper Trail Office.
You can start the Skyline Trail from either the Signal or Maligne Lake trailheads. I recommend starting from Signal because you get the most boring part of the trail, a fire road with no views, out of the way in the beginning as opposed to letting it be an anticlimactic end.
When to Go
The Skyline Trail is best enjoyed between late June and early September.
What You Need
Be prepared for cold weather, possibly even snow. Much of the trail is above treeline at high elevations, which makes it vulnerable to snow storms, high winds and plummeting nighttime temperatures.
The campsites are at lower elevations in forests and it might not snow, but you still might experience cold temperatures and muddy conditions due to snowmelt from above, if you go during summer. Be sure to bring a tarp to put under your tent for this reason.
To beat the cold, you should have an insulated sleeping pad, and your tent should be at least three-season, as should your sleeping bag (a four-season bag would make things much more comfortable). Consider luxury items like hand warmers and hot water bottles.
Each campsite has pre-strung lines to hang your food, just make sure you have a dry sack to keep it safe overnight. Fires are prohibited, so bring a gas backpacking stove for cooking.
Jasper is grizzly bear country, which makes bear spray a smart thing to carry.
Buy a map of the Maligne Lake region to help you appreciate your surroundings and navigate in case of confusing trail conditions. It goes without saying that you should carry lots of layers — preferably of the quick-dry variety — and rain gear.
How to Recuperate
The town of Jasper has many ways for you to recuperate after a few hard, potentially cold days in the high-alpine wilderness. First, defrost at Miette Hot Springs, a beautiful and scenic hour’s drive from town. Then satisfy the post-hike beer craving at Jasper Brewing Company. Finally, put your feet up and treat yourself to a comfy bed and outstanding lakeside lodging at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.
More by Will McGough
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