Backpacking to Baker Lake, Banff National Park

The Crypt Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park

In early August one summer I did a three day backpacking trip to Baker Lake in Banff National Park with my brother and 13-year-old niece – neither of whom had ever backpacked before. I’d chosen the hike to Baker Lake in Banff 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 that 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 the Skoki loop hike, a distance of about 15 km to include the trail to Red Deer Lakes, Skoki Lodge, perhaps Merlin Lake and then return to the Baker Lake Campground by crossing Deception Pass. On the third day we’d just hike out.

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Wildflowers are still very much in bloom in August along Ptarmigan Lake
Wildflowers are still very much in bloom in August along Ptarmigan Lake

Hiking or backpacking to Baker Lake, Banff summary

Distance: 13.2 km (8.2 miles) one way to the Baker Lake campground.

Elevation gain: Approximately 700 m or 2,297 feet

Difficulty: Moderate to Baker Lake Campground

Time needed: 3.5 – 5 hours one way

Dogs: Permitted but must on a leash.

Best time to hike: July to September but later in the season is better for fewer bugs.

Permit: You will need a Parks Canada pass to be in Banff National Park. There are several options, with the Discovery Pass the best one if you’re planning to spend time in any of the 80 plus parks over the coming year.

Reservations: Book backcountry reservations in Banff National Park, well in advance here – starting on January 29, 2024 at 8 AM MT. You can also try 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.

Bears: Carry a can of bear spray that is accessible. Keep it in a bear spray holster, so you don’t set it off accidentally. You can also rent bear spray in Lake Louise at Wilson Mountain Sports in the Samson Mall. Be prepared to fork out between $40 and $50 a can if you buy it – and it cannot be taken on planes.

Map: The map for the hike is Gem Trek Lake Louise and Yoho. Another option is to use Organic Maps – an offline hiking app. 

Recommended reading: Camping for Beginners – What You Need to Know  

My brother & niece looking clean and fresh at the start of the trip
My brother & niece looking clean and fresh at the start of the trip

Where is the trailhead to Baker Lake and 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.

Hiking up the Temple fire road
Hiking up the Temple fire road

Where to stay the night before the backpacking trip

The trailhead is close to Lake Louise. There are several campgrounds in the Lake Louise area, but reserve well in advance.

If you’d like one last shower and comfortable bed, check out Baker Creek by Basecamp, the Lake Louise Hostel or the Lake Louise Inn

Our queen size bed upstairs in the loft at Baker Creek by Basecamp
Our queen size bed upstairs in the loft at Baker Creek by Basecamp

Baker Lake in Banff backpacking trip description

The first 3.8 km 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 3 km 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.

Lots of mushrooms in the woods
Lots of mushrooms in the woods

This is grizzly bear country

Near the Halfway Hut at the 7.1 km 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. The grade to the pass is very reasonable.

Almost at the top of Boulder Pass
Almost at the top of Boulder Pass

Beautiful Ptarmigan Lake greets you at the top of the pass. From the lake the hiking for the next 4.5 kilometres – all the way to the Baker Lake Campground is sublime.

The top of Boulder Pass with Ptarmigan Lake in the background
The top of Boulder Pass with Ptarmigan Lake in the background
No shortage of golden-mantled gound squirrels around
No shortage of golden-mantled ground squirrels around
Baker Lake is off in the distance
Baker Lake is off in the distance and the campground is at the far end of the lake

Baker Lake Campground

The Baker Lake campground in Banff National Park is at the far end of Baker Lake (figures). 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.

And 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 are new but 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 – but it’s a long hike away from the food area and the camping area. Even in 2023, you will need a waterproof bag preferably to hang all your food. (I pack my tent in a waterproof bag and move my food to it when I need to hang it.)

Tent pads - rather close together for my liking - at the Baker Lake campground
Tent pads at Baker Lake Campground – rather close together for my liking 
Poles for hanging your food are provided
Poles for hanging your food are provided at the Baker Lake  Campground

Baker Lake is a stunner

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.

It’s well worth getting up early to wander around Baker Lake, perhaps drop a line in to catch a fish (permit required), take some pictures, or just to revel in the beauty of the area.

Baker Lake first thing in the morning
Baker Lake first thing in the morning
The view down Baker Lake
The view down Baker Lake
Early morning reflection in Banff National Park
Early morning reflection
Baker Lake is supposed to be good for fishing
Baker Lake is supposed to be good for fishing
Baker Lake is beautiful in the morning light
Baker Lake is beautiful in the morning light

How long does it take to backpack to Baker Lake?

We managed to backpack into Baker Lake in about 4.5 hours. Our tents were set up, and the wine was poured by 5:30 pm. 

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.

Late August into September would probably be best if you’re seriously adverse to bugs. 

Beautiful lighting in the morning on the hike out from Baker Lake
Beautiful lighting in the morning on the hike out from Baker Lake
Saw a coyote intent on its prey on the hike out
Saw a coyote intent on its prey on the hike out

Other hiking options on the Baker Lake backpacking trip

On the hike into Baker Lake, there is the option to visit Hidden Lake. Take a spur trail on your left, 0.2 km past the Halfway Hut. Reach Hidden Lake Campground in 100 metres. Continue through meadows and larch forest for another 1.2 km, climbing 85 m to reach Hidden Lake, located in alpine tundra beneath Mt. Ptarmigan, Pika and Richardson Peaks. 

A trip to Redoubt Lake from Boulder Pass is another option. It’s located 0.9 km from the pass. Pick up the trail to it just east of the pass. Head through boulders south of Ptarmigan Lake. Hike around Redoubt Lake by taking a rough track on the west side. Retrace your steps.

There is also the option to camp at the Red Deer Lakes Campground. It’s an easy 5.5 km beyond Baker Lake. Much of the hike is to the east of Fossil Mountain in a large meadow.

From Red Deer Lakes you could then do the easy hike over Jones Pass and continue 4.9 km to reach Merlin Meadows Campground.

I did find the trails easy to follow in the Baker Lake area
I did find the trails easy to follow in the Baker Lake area

Location map hiking/backpacking to Baker Lake in Banff


  • Click on the three dots in the top right hand corner to email a copy of the map.

A few things to take with you backpacking to Baker Lake

Compression sacks for your bulky items are hugely helpful. I always use them for my sleeping bag.

Compeed for blisters is way better for fast healing than anything else I’ve used.

Water purification tablets or a water filter are important items to include.

For wildflower fans, you might enjoy a copy of Popular Wildflowers of Alberta and the Canadian Rockies.

To make your night more comfortable, consider taking a lightweight camp pillow

Should any of your gear break, you’ll be happy to have some gear-aid patches with you. 

Don’t forget to pack a headlamp.

Hiking towards Jones Pass
Hiking towards Jones Pass

More hiking – backpacking trips in Alberta you’ll probably love

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Hiking or backpacking to Baker Lake in Banff National Park

  1. Hello! This is a great blog. Any advice for a 4 or 5 night back country trip June 20th? Worried about the early season. I have years of backpacking experience but still wondering what’s possible.

  2. @Kelly I spoke to Parks Canada people in June and they agree that it’s not just the front country that needs some money – and that the backcountry facilities should be improved. I’m sorry it hasn’t improved. I’m off to do teh Egypt Lake area this weekend and hope it’s in better shape.

  3. Hi! In 2015 I’m going to survival in Banff national park with some friends. We are very busy with it and we are searching for information. I saw a picture on Google and I came on your website. I have some questions, and I hope you would like to answer them.
    You went to banff. Only Banff while backpacking or also other parks?
    How much does it cost per person? That’s very important for us.
    When you bring your own tent, can you pick your own place to stay the night, or do you have to stay on the campgrounds?
    Do you need a guide?
    And were can we make a reservation

    I’m really looking forward to your answers!


    1. @Jamie I have backpacked in many other nearby places. Yoho and Jasper National Park are both beautiful and these trails in particular are fantastic – Skyline Trail in Jasper or the Iceline Trail in Yoho.
      You must pay to backpack in the National Parks; I believe it is $9.80 per night but you can buy a pass for about $65 good for unlimited backpacking. You must also buy a National Parks Pass and there is a reservation fee of $11.70 per reservation. The Skyline Trail and Lake O’Hara Trail definitely need reservations!!
      You must camp in designated spots even with your own tent. Usually there are bear lockers or places to hang your food so the bear doesn’t get it. That’s important and one of the big reasons for camping where you are supposed to.
      You don’t need a guide. Trails are well marked. A map is very useful though.
      You can book reservations up to three months in advance. You an also just show up and try and get cancellations.
      Email me if you need more answers.

  4. Lovely pictures! That chipmunk looks so cute and the scenic views are simply amazing. The lake truly seems like a perfect destination for a spectacular backpack adventure. Cant wait to set my foot on this fairy tale land.

  5. We never did make it into the Skoki area when we lived in Calgary. But Janice’s mother luvs hiking with a group of lady friends there (and from your pics,we can see why!) – they stay at Skoki Lodge.

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