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Hiking A Loop Trail In The Skoki Area, Banff National Park

Hiking a Loop Trail in the Skoki Area, Banff National Park

Last week I wrote about my backpacking trip up to stunning Baker Lake in the Skoki area. But what I didn’t mention is the beautiful loop hike that you can do starting and ending at the Baker Lake Campground. It’s worth spending two nights at the campground so you can do this.

Read: Backpacking to Baker Lake, Skoki Area, Banff National Park

"Near Cotton Grass Pass"

Near Cotton Grass Pass

Red Deer Lakes was our first stop

Before leaving the campground for the day we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and didn’t actually hit the trail until 10 AM. Our plan was to hike about 15 kilometres with only a day pack.

We chose to hike the trail in a counter clockwise direction – for no particular reason – heading first for the meadows en route to the Red Deer Lakes. It looked like bear and moose country to us but the only living creature we saw was the Richardson’s ground squirrel. Still my brother was prepared with bear spray and bear bangers – just in case.

"We heard the Richardson's ground squirrel before we saw it"

We heard the Richardson’s ground squirrel before we saw it

"My brother armed with bear spray and bear bangers"

My brother armed with bear spray and bear bangers

Onward to Skoki Lodge

At the junction to the Red Deer Lakes we veered west towards Skoki Lodge. You have to cross Jones Pass but at most that’s a few hundred feet of climbing. From the campground all the way to Skoki Lodge the hiking is easy.

If you want to spend a night or two in Skoki Lodge reserve well in advance. The food here is amazing.

"Heading west in the direction of Skoki Lodge over Jones Pass"

Heading west in the direction of Skoki Lodge over Jones Pass

"A view of Skoki Lodge from the trail to Merlin Lake"

A view of Skoki Lodge from the trail to Merlin Lake

The option to hike to Merlin Lake

From Skoki Lodge there is a trail up to Merlin Lake. We decided to investigate but didn’t end up going all the way – just enough to get a view of Skoki Valley and the rock wall hiding Merlin Lake.

"The swimming hole near Skoki Lodge if you don't mind freezing cold water"

The swimming hole near Skoki Lodge if you don’t mind freezing cold water

There really is a fork on the trail on the way to Merlin Lake"

There really is a fork on the trail on the way to Merlin Lake

"View of the Skoki Valley from the Merlin Lake trail"

View of the Skoki Valley from the Merlin Lake trail

"Merlin Lake is behind the rock wall in the distance"

Merlin Lake is behind the rock wall in the distance

Skoki Lodge to Deception Pass

After we retraced our steps back to Skoki Lodge we had three kilometres of climbing under a hot afternoon sun to reach Deception Pass. The views were sublime in this section – especially of the Skoki Lakes and Skoki Valley.

"The turquoise coloured Skoki Lakes are off in the distance"

The turquoise coloured Skoki Lakes are off in the distance

"Looking down Skoki Valley from Deception Pass"

Looking down Skoki Valley from Deception Pass

"Remnants of snow at Deception Pass"

Remnants of snow at Deception Pass

Deception Pass to Baker Lake Campground

From the top of Deception Pass it takes about an hour to hike back to the Baker Lake Campground – and it’s all either flat or downhill.

"The approach to Baker Lake"

The approach to Baker Lake from Deception Pass

We didn’t get back to the campground till about 5 PM – so with breaks and lunch we averaged a couple of miles an hour. At the campground the deer flies were nasty late in the afternoon – but fortunately slow, stupid and easy to kill. The area does have a reputation for lots of biting insects.

On the Skoki area trails you can expect to meet horses – which we did on the way down on the third day. We also found the wildlife and the birds far more prolific early in the morning – and if you leave early enough the light is fantastic for photography too.

"Calm waters early in the morning"

Calm waters of Ptarmigan Lake early in the morning

"Beautiful light on our early morning descent"

Beautiful light on our early morning descent

"Skoki Lodge gets supplies via horses"

Skoki Lodge gets supplies via horses

"We came across willow ptarmigan in several places on the way out"

We came across willow ptarmigan in several places on the way out

"A marmot we came across on the trail"

A marmot on the trail

"three marmots frozen"

Three marmots remain frozen hoping we don’t see them

Although the Skoki area is very busy with hikers and backpackers – and is in fact one of the busiest in Banff National Park, it’s still worth visiting. You really need two nights and three days to get the full experience.

For information on trails in Banff National Park, visit their website.

Further reading on hiking in Banff National Park

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Hiking a Loop Trail in the Skoki Area, Banff National Park



Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 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 43 Comments
  1. What an amazing hike! The scenery is so pristine, and enormous. I’m not sure about the bear spray and bear bangers – did you have to use them? The idea of a bear around the next bend would freak me out a little! But then again, that scenery would be worth it. Love the pic of the horses delivering supplies – wished I was that girl 🙂

    1. @Johanna We never had to use any of the bear deterrents but just had them around in case. Interestingly that girl you’d like to be had a very strong Australian accent and was probably here for the summer.

  2. Your posts make me miss Canada so much. I am working in Asia right now … hmmmm, next Summer, I’ll be back. Can’t wait!

  3. Some fabulous views in this series, Leigh. Love those cute little creatures, too! Having to carry bear spray sounds a bit worrying to me, though…

    1. @Andrew I have carried bear spray and bear bangers around on so many hikes this year and the only time I saw a bear was in Nova Scotia when I didn’t have any bear spray. I’m actually becoming a bit blase now about bears – and feel like it’s a privilege to see them.

  4. Wow this hike looks amazing- I’m especially liking the views from Deception Pass! Just curious, did you find yourself using maps at all during this trip, or were the routes clearly marked? My boyfriend and I hope to do this hike soon, but we are quite beginners, hoping to find an adventure that is easy to navigate. Thanks!

  5. I live in Calgary and I’m looking for a nice hike for the May long weekend!

    Would this area be open then? I’m not terribly well versed with acquiring permits and things of that sort, where can I book and get any required permits for this trail?

    I’m glad you posted this experience! I really want to get on board for a nice hike like this!

    1. @Alex It’s probably a bit early but you could do the backpacking trip to Aylmer Pass and Lookout and camp beside Lake Minnewanka. You would need a Banff NO backcountry permit. Scroll down to the bottom of the page on this Banff link – If the weather is good this would be a great trip – not as pretty as Skoki but still very good. Also ask the Banff people for early season suggestions.

  6. Used this as a rough guide before hiking the Skoki Valley Loop in 3 days (finished today). Thank you for the info! The trail was absolutely gorgeous. Saw deer, ground squirrels, the porcupine from Baker Lake (hide your shoes!), and heard of bears from other hikers (thankfully didn’t encounter one though). Was a great hike

  7. Hi! Approximately what time of year did you hike the trail? We’re planning to go in June and are trying to estimate how much snow we might have.

    1. @Jazz I hiked it about the third week of July and snow wasn’t remotely an issue. Every year is so different depending on snow pack but the later in June the less chance you’ll have of running into snow.

  8. Hi! me and my girlfriend are planning to do the skoki valley loop in June-July. When trying to book a campground I was not able to find this location? Is it possible to book them? Otherwise what should I do? Are you allowed to camp anywhere in the trail?



    1. @Carlos There are a few options. The 1st possible campground is Hidden Lake before Boulder Pass (you must take a spur trail). Baker Lake Campground is where I stayed for 2 nights and did loop hikes from there. Past Skoki Lodge is the Merlin Meadows Campground. It’s a long hike into Merlin Meadows so some people break it up by staying at Hidden Lake. Hope this helps.

  9. Thanks! Sorry for all the questions! One last thing, I have not been able to book those campsite through the parks canada website, so I called them and they told me those ones are telephone-booked, is that right?

  10. Looks amazing! My wife and I are planning this for mid July. Once at Baker Lake Campground, can you leave gear there while you day hike the loops? Also is there drinking water supplied at the campground?

    1. @Dave You will need to filter your drinking water or add drops so no drinking water provided – just the lake. We left all our gear in our tent and food in a bear proof locker and took off with just a day pack.

  11. Hi Leigh. Thank you so much for the info on Skoki Loop. My boyfriend and I are heading to Canadian Rockies on Sept 25. We are spending 5 nights in Jasper doing day hikes, then 4 nights camping in Banff backcountry and then 5 nights in Banff doing day hikes. We have been researching loops to do and the Banff Visitors center recommended Skoki Loop. Sounds like you would agree. The hike they said was behind lake Louise then baker lake then hidden lake. When I researched that it looks like a 3 day hike. We have 5 days. Any recommendations on how you would make this a 5 day and where to possible double up our stay? Should we be taking snow into account as well?

    1. @Cindy Some people stay at Hidden Lake on the way in or out to shorten the hike to Baker Lake. We opted for two nights at Baker Lake and bypassed Hidden Lake altogether. You could do one night at Baker Lake, one at Red Deer Lakes (don’t have my map with me but not too far), one at Merlin Meadows and one going out at Hidden Lake. None of the days would be overly long except getting into Baker and even that isn’t bad. Or settle for 3 nights out and another fabulous day hike eg Corey Peak, Fairview Mountain. For a 5 day trip you could also look at Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park and access it via Sunshine Village over Citadel Pass. Or head for the Rockwall Trail – 4 nights/5 days in Kootenay National Park. It depends on how much you want to hike. If it’s a lot you’re pushing it hiking for 5 days in the Skoki area. Cut out one. If you’re good with easy hiking and shorter days have a look at my suggested itinerary.

  12. Hi Leigh. Thank you for the details post on the Skoki Loop. My fiancé and I are coming here in mid August and spend 4 nights in campground Baker Lake, Red Deer Lakes, Baker again, and Hidden Lake. We are thinking of doing as much day hike around Lake Louise prior hiking to Baker Lake. Is the trail hard for the first 9km and when do you think it is best to start our hike at the trailhead? Let me know if there are any other day hikes that we should not miss near Baker/Red Deer! Thanks.

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