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Backpacking To Baker Lake In Banff National Park

Backpacking to Baker Lake in Banff 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 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 to Skoki Lodge and back to Baker Lake on the second day is the subject of another blog.

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 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

How the hike to Baker Lake in Banff National Park unfolds

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 kilometres 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 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.

Read: Tips for Staying Safe in Bear Country

Next up is the aptly name Boulder Pass. Fortunately it can be dispatched with quickly.

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
Wildflowers are still very much in bloom in August along Ptarmigan Lake
Wildflowers are still very much in bloom in August along Ptarmigan Lake
Baker Lake is off in the distance
Baker Lake is off in the distance

Baker Lake Campground, Banff National Park

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.

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.

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

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.

Baker Lake early in the morning
Baker Lake early 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

Time to hike 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. 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.

**In non-COVID years make reservations up to three months in advance online or 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.** 

Beautiful lighting in the morning on the hike out from Baker Lake
Beautiful lighting in the morning on the hike out from Baker Lake

Further reading on backpacking in Alberta

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The overnight hike to Baker Lake in Banff National Park

Backpacking to Baker Lake, Skoki Area, Banff National Park

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 20 Comments
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  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!

    Regards,
    Jaimie

    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 – The 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. Lol – two years later and your comments on the Baker Lake campground are still accurate…! I didn’t enjoy the configuration of the tent sites, either, and the outhouse was in very poor condition (lots of porcupine chewing). It is, as you mentioned, stunning and a joy to photograph!

    1. @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.

  5. 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.

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