Last week I did a three day backpacking trip to Baker Lake in the Skoki area of Banff National Park with my brother and my 13 year old niece – neither of whom had ever backpacked.
I’d chosen the trip to Baker Lake because it was rated as easy. But frankly anytime you’re carrying a heavy backpack up into the mountains for four plus hours it’s not easy. But it is definitely worthwhile!
Our plan was to backpack 13.2 kilometres to the Baker Lake Campground on the first day; on day two we’d do a loop hike of about 15 kilometres to include the trail to Red Deer Lakes, Skoki Lodge, perhaps Merlin Lake and then return to the campground by crossing Deception Pass. On the third day we’d just hike out.
Our hike on the second day will be the subject of another blog.
Where is the trailhead to the Skoki area located?
The trailhead to Baker Lake in the Skoki area is very conveniently located off Whitehorn Road at the Fish Creek Parking Area, just two kilometres up from the Trans-Canada Highway on the way to the Lake Louise ski area. There’s lots of free parking. Lake Louise Village is just a few minutes away too – which was a good thing as we’d forgotten to stash a bottle of wine in our packs and so were able to pick one up – at inflated prices mind you.
The first 3.8 kilometres up the dirt fire road – which is extremely steep at times – isn’t very interesting – but at least on the return it allows for a fast descent. At the end of the road you pop out near Temple Lodge. Look up the ski hill and on the left there’s a trail that re-enters the woods. It’s signed to Skoki Lodge. Follow it and once you’ve put another three kilometers behind you, the views start to open up. Now you’re into sub-alpine meadows – with patches of wildflowers around – plus some unusual looking mushrooms.
It turns out this is grizzly bear country too.
Near the Halfway Hut at the 7.1 kilometre mark there are signs warning of bears in the area. We met a family of four – with a can of bear-spray out and ready to go – who had seen a grizzly frolicking in the stream just five minutes earlier. We missed it. Maybe it was my singing that scared it off. Still we pulled out our bear spray and bear bangers just in case.
Next up is the aptly name Boulder Pass. Fortunately it can be dispatched with quickly.
Beautiful Ptarmigan Lake greets you at the top of the pass. The hiking for the next 4.5 kilometres – all the way to the Baker Lake Campground is sublime.
The Baker Lake Campground
The Baker Lake campground is at the far end of the lake. Although the setting is pretty the campground needs some work as it is showing signs of heavy use. There were tent pads – but dusty ones – that would be even worse after a rain. Plus they were packed in close together. I backpacked into the wilderness to get away from civilization – and don’t like being so close to my neighbour that I can hear them snoring. The outhouses were disgusting too – and one in particular was filled with mouse droppings. Considering there can be up to twenty people a night at the campground – at $9.80 a person plus a reservation fee – I think Banff National Park should be doing something to improve the campground. There are only four picnic tables – built with awkwardly spaced benches – so you may have to wait to cook your meal. There is an area where you can hang your food – and that at least is in good shape.
Despite my complaining – Baker Lake really is drop dead gorgeous – especially first thing in the morning when the lake doesn’t have so much as a ripple on it.
We managed to backpack into Baker Lake in about 4½ hours. Our tents were set up, and the wine was poured by 5:30. All was right with our world – except for the bloody deer flies. They did eventually disappear as the temperature dropped but be warned – the Skoki area including Baker Lake has a reputation as having more biting insects that almost any other place in the Rockies.
**Make reservations up to three months in advance by calling 1-877-RESERVE or go to the Visitor Center in Banff or Lake Louise if you want to try for a last minute permit.**
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Other posts related to backpacking you might enjoy:
- Hiking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park
- Hiking a Loop Trail in The Skoki Area, Banff National Park
- Backpacking the Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa National Park