Skyline Trail Hike in Jasper National Park

One of the premier multi-day hikes in Canada

Do the multi-day hike on the Skyline Trail
Do the multi-day hike on the Skyline Trail

The Skyline Trail hike in Jasper National Park rewards you with incomparable mountain views for 25 kilometres, almost two thirds of its 44.5 km length.

This is a world class hike that ranks in the top 10 hiking trips in Canada – at least in my experience. It rewards with fantastic mountain panoramas, beautiful valleys and a few lakes.

The Skyline Trail hike in Jasper shouldn’t be missed if you’re in the Alberta Rockies. But the season for hiking the Skyline Trail is short. Don’t even think of reserving campsites until late July after the snow has disappeared from The Notch. And by the end of September – in a good year – the season is over. Backcountry campsite reservations open February 1, 2024 at 8 AM MT.

Skyline Trail hike summary

Distance: 44.5 km (27.7 miles) one way to hike the full Skyline Trail. Plan to do the hike with a shuttle.

Elevation gain: Over the length of the Skyline trail, gain 1,205 metres (3,952 feet) and lose 1,735 m (5,690 feet), assuming a start at the trailhead across from the northern end of Maligne Lake.

Time needed: One –  but only if you’re a crazy runner, and up to four days. Most people hike the Skyline Trail in three days.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Best time to hike: Mid to late July until mid-late September depending on the year.

Dogs allowed: No, because of caribou

Map: I like Organic Maps as an offline hiking app and Gem Trek Jasper & Maligne Lake for a paper map.

Don’t forget: Carry bear spray and the 10 hiking essentials

Weather: Expect any type of weather on this hike from sunny, hot days to rain and snow. Warm clothes and rain gear are a must.

Peak bagging: Interested in climbing six summits along the trail, something most people don’t? Check out this Skyline six pack blog from Parry Loeffler documented with GPX’s and how to information.

Finish trailhead: Plan to finish the hike at the Signal Mountain Trailhead near Maligne Canyon. This is where you would leave a vehicle.

Roofed accommodation option: There is the option to stay at Shovel Pass Lodge.

Backcountry reservations: Reserve campsites on the trail the minute reservations open – and that day varies from year to year. In 2024, it’s Thursday, February 1 at 8 AM MT. If you’ve missed out, check Schnerp – a website designed by an Alberta man that scans for unreserved campsites on the Parks Canada website. It costs you nothing.

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you very much for your support.

Some of the best hiking ever on the Skyline Trail in Jasper
Some of the best hiking ever above tree line for kilometres

Campsites on the Skyline Trail

The following are all the campsites on the Skyline Trail, with distances starting from the trailhead near Maligne Lake. All have bear poles and toilets – so don’t forget a length of rope, and a carabiner or two to hang your food.

  1. Evelyn Creek campground – 5.2 km (good if you have a late start; small pretty campsite by a creek)
  2. Little Shovel campground – 8.5 km (offers excellent views of Maligne Lake and Bald Hills without the crowds of Snowbowl)
  3. Snowbowl campground – 12.2 km ( a popular campsite, close to some pretty meadows)
  4. Curator campground – 20.6 km via a 0.8 km side trail (good for those of you planning to hike the Skyline Trail in 2 days)
  5. Tekarra campground – 30.5 km (a pretty campsite with views beside a large creek)
  6. Signal campground – 36.1 km (one of the quieter campsites at the top of Signal Fire Road – offering excellent views of Jasper)

Reach your waiting car on Maligne Lake Road at the Signal Mountain trailhead at 44.5 km.

The start of the trail
The start of the trail

Location map of the Skyline Trail hike in Jasper National Park

                                                     

Our Skyline Trail hike experience

What this trail delivers that most don’t is expansive mountain scenery above tree line for almost 25 kilometres. And if you start at the Maligne Lake trailhead, then the total elevation gain over the length of the trip is 1205 m (3,953 feet), a tolerable amount of climbing over just two to three days.

If you want to make the hike tougher (and who wants to do that?) start at the Signal Mountain Trailhead closer to the Jasper townsite and add 530 m (1,738 feet) more to the elevation gain. Much of that is on an uninteresting fire road.

We did this hike over three days in early September. We were extremely lucky to get the campsites we wanted at the last minute. Most people book months ahead of time and it was only by pestering the staff in Jasper National Park every day that I snagged a cancellation.

As soon as I had confirmed campsites I booked a one way shuttle for $35 pp + taxes (one way) with Maligne Shuttle. They pick you up at 9:15 AM SHARP at the finish point – Signal Mountain Trailhead – and deliver you to the start of the trail at Maligne Lake. You hike back to your car via the Skyline Trail. You could try hitching a ride at the end of the hike but to me it was worth the money to have our car waiting for us when we finished.

If you don’t have a car, you can take the shuttle service from downtown Jasper.

The hike to Snowbowl Campground

You won’t be huffing and puffing when you start up the trail. The ascent is gradual and in less than half an hour you reach Lorraine and Mona Lakes. The trail along the way is quite beautiful as it’s lined with an array of lichens, mosses, and mushrooms.

Within 90 minutes we arrived at the first campsite – Evelyn Creek at the 5.2 km mark. It’s a beautiful one and not very heavily used but our goal was Snowbowl Campground – 12.2 km in from the trailhead. 

If you’re going to backpack the trail over three days, then Snowbowl is a good choice for the first night from a distance perspective though it’s seen a lot of wear.

Just after you hike past Little Shovel Campground at 8.3 km, the trail heads onto the alpine tundra. In early fall the colours are already starting. From here through to the Snowbowl Campground the views are splendid.

All manner of mushrooms along the Skyline trail
All manner of mushrooms along the Skyline trail
Evelyn Creek adjacent to Evelyn Creek Campground
Evelyn Creek adjacent to Evelyn Creek Campground
Above the treeline in no time on the Skyline Trail hike
Above the treeline in no time on the Skyline Trail hike
Colour in the hills by the 2nd week of September on the Skyline Trail
Colour in the hills by the second week of September
Coming down off of Little Shovel Pass
Coming down off of Little Shovel Pass on the Skyline Trail hike
On the way to Snowbowl Campground on the Skyline Trail hike
On the way to Snowbowl Campground on the Skyline Trail hike
Sunset on the first night out camping
Sunset on the first night out camping

Day 2: Hike from Snowbowl Campground to Tekarra Campground

Today our plan was to hike from Snowbowl Campground to Tekarra Campground, a distance of 18.2 kilometres. It was definitely a longer and tougher day than the day before, but it was also one of the hiking highlights of my life. 

The morning entailed crossing expansive meadows before beginning an easy climb to Big Shovel Pass. There is a side trip possible from here to the Watchtower Co that we didn’t do. If you hike it, enjoy views north into Watchtower Basin.

This trail provides another route back to the Maligne Lake Road should the weather turn nasty or you run into problems. There is also the Watchtower campground located 3 km from Watchtower Col.

Leaving the Snowbowl Campground
Leaving the Snowbowl Campground
Beautiful open walking on day 2
Beautiful, open walking at the start of the day
Just shy of Big Shovel Pass
Just shy of Big Shovel Pass
It's about an hour to hike to the top of the snowfield in the distance
It’s about an hour to hike to the top of the snowfield in the distance

The Notch – the crux of the Skyline Trail hik

From Big Shovel Pass it’s an easy descent to reach the junction to Curator Campground and Shovel Pass Lodge. But then it’s a stiff climb – the hardest of the entire trail to the top of The Notch, the highest elevation on the trail at 2,511 metres (8,238 feet).

The Notch can hold the snow until into August. Be prepared for some kick stepping on snow if you’re on the trail in mid-July.

From The Notch the views are glorious and the hiking just gets better and better. For the next five kilometres follow the summit ridge of Amber Mountain. This area should not be attempted in bad weather where visibility is an issue or during an electrical storm. It is fully exposed.

From here you can see the Icefields Parkway, the Jasper townsite, and on a clear day – Mt. Robson.

Heading for The Notch, the crux on the Skyline Trail hike
Heading for The Notch, the crux on the Skyline Trail hike
Getting a work-out on the way up to The Notch
Getting a work-out on the way up to The Notch
Long hike above tree line
Long hike above tree line on the Skyline Trail
Extensive 360 degree views in the mountains on the Skyline Trail hike
Extensive 360 degree views in the mountains on the Skyline Trail
Stupendous hiking above tree line
Stupendous hiking above tree line
Looking down in the direction of the Tekarra Campground
Looking down in the direction of the Tekarra Campground
On the descent towards the Tekarra Campground
On the descent towards the Tekarra Campground

Next stop on our second day of hiking – Tekarra Campground

From The Notch to Tekarra Campground it’s a distance of 8.8 kilometres. Switchback down the slope towards the lake with Mt. Tekarra on your left and Excelsior on your right. Keep an eye out for hoary marmots, bighorn sheep, mountain caribou, and white-tailed ptarmigan. The only animal we saw was a hoary marmot. 

It’s easy and scenic sub-alpine walking for the final two kilometres to the Tekarra Campground.

The only marmot we saw on the hike
The only marmot we saw on the hike
This river goes right past the Tekarra Campground
This river goes right past the Tekarra Campground
Lovely hiking until you drop down into the trees
Lovely hiking until you drop down into the trees
Hanging our food with the help of bear proof poles
Bear proofing our food with the help of poles
Our campsite at the Tekarra Campground
Our campsite at the Tekarra Campground

Day 3: Tekarra Campground to Signal Mountain Trailhead via the Skyline Trail

I hadn’t expected the third day of the Skyline Trail hike to deliver the first class scenery it did. The trail from the Tekarra campground starts with a rock-hop across the creek.

Then it’s an hour of gradual climbing around Tekarra Mountain onto the slopes of Signal Mountain. The views from Signal Mountain of the Maligne River Valley are superb.

Tekarra Mountain is beautiful first thing in the morning
Beautiful Tekarra Mountain first thing in the morning
It's easy rock-hopping across the creek in September
It’s easy rock-hopping across the creek in September
Distant mountain views across the Maligne River Valley
Distant mountain views across the Maligne River Valley
Contouring around Tekarra Mountain on the last day of the Skyline Trail hike
Contouring around Tekarra Mountain on the last day of the Skyline Trail hike
Looking back to where we'd been the day before - on the far ridge
Looking back to where we’d been the day before – on the far ridge
Looking across the Maligne River Valley from the Skyline Trail hike
Looking across the Maligne River Valley from the Skyline Trail hike
Hiking in this landscape is phenomenal
Hiking in this landscape is phenomenal
We're on the lookout for caribou - but see only one lone deer on the Skyline Trail hike
We’re on the lookout for caribou – but see only one lone deer on the Skyline Trail hike

The final stretch the Skyline Trail hike

The last 7.5 kilometres of the trail are on an old fire road with some views early on and then nothing but dense woods.

Still, between mushrooms and bird sightings, there was enough to hold our attention to the very end. We knocked off the 13.5 kilometres in four hours, with lots of stops for photos.

Avoid starting the Skyline Trail at the Signal Hill parking lot – our finish point. You end up adding 530 m (1,738 feet) to your total elevation gain. 

The Spruce Grouse have got to be one of the dumbest birds out there!
The Spruce Grouse have got to be one of the dumbest birds out there!

A few helpful notes for hiking the Skyline Trail

All campsites have bear-proof food storage. I find it helpful to bring a few waterproof bags to store the food in. And an extra carabiner or two always comes in handy.

If you would prefer not to backpack, then strong hikers can head for the night at Shovel Pass Lodge – at the half way point, about 21 kilometres in. They provide all your meals and even a packed lunch for the next day. You can complete the Skyline Trail on the second day.

Dogs are not permitted on the trail because of the caribou.

This is grizzly bear country though we only saw scat in the first five kilometres. Take bear spray that is no more than three years old and know how to use it. The bear spray should be easily accessible and not be hanging off the top of your pack.

Read: Tips for Staying Safe in Bear Country

Skyline Trail bookings need to be done the minute reservations open

This trail is exceedingly popular. There is a very short window in which to hike it – mid-late July until late September. In 2023 they have changed the way reservations are handled and you need a new Parks Canada account. Book reservations by calling 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783) beginning at 8 AM MST on March, 2023 or online here. Be flexible in your planning and avoid weekends.

I can’t say enough good things about this hike. The Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park delivers first class scenery as well but for a lot more effort.

Hiking in the Skoki area is also beautiful as is the Tonquin Valley Trail, but the Skyline Trail is by far my favourite backpacking trail in the Rockies.

Before you start the Skyline Trail hike

I think it’s always a good idea to have a paper map in case the batteries in your GPS or cell phone dies. This Jasper map covers much more than just the Skyline Trail.

A few items that might come in handy on your trip include Tenacious Tape – for gear repairs, Compeed for blisters (I swear by it) and a camp pillow so you get a good night’s sleep.

Where to stay in Jasper before or after the Skyline Trail hike 

For a beautiful hotel in a stellar location choose the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.

For an affordable option book in at the Maligne Canyon Hostel.

The Crimson Jasper has great rooms.

A an out of town option on a lake check out the Pyramid Lake Resort.

Whistler’s Inn offers a convenient location with nice rooms, despite appearance when you first enter the hotel.

Serene setting in front of the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Serene setting in front of the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Camping gear for those traveling a large distance

It’s easy if you live in Alberta to throw all your gear in the car and go on a multi-day hiking trip like the Skyline Trail. But if you’re coming from afar it can be a hassle especially if you only need a tent and camping gear for part of your trip. I have a friend in Canmore who has a son with a company that rents tents and gear in Banff and Canmore (and also Vancouver). Check them out at Rent a Tent Canada.

Click on the photo below to share to bookmark on your Pinterest board.

The amazing Skyline Trail hike in Jasper National Park

 

  1. Last year, 2014, I hiked skyline trail with my 6 year old. Three nights was perfect for him. We are doing it again this year, by his request, as he says often that it was one of the best parts of his life so far. My pack was 32pds, he had no pack. We hiked with a motorcycle tent for one… just squished in at night. We will bring extra bug stuff this year, as that was the only issue on our trip last year. I highly encourage parents to buy the book, “The littlest Hiker”, and then step out in faith with your kids for a back country adventure (and a lot of prep and research). I think this is the most beautiful, diverse, and rewarding trail!

    1. @Angela So great to hear about kids hiking this trail. Way to go. I started my kids off on overnight jaunts at about 8 and haven’t looked back. Do you have another favourite kids backpacking trip?

  2. I have a question about campsite reservation. Do you have to book specific campsites (ie. Snowbowl Campground and Tekarra Campground)? or can you book based on the trail you are choosing and sleep at a campsite depending on how many km you have covered that day? Thanks!

      1. Do you remember the exact dates that you did his hike? I’ve timed the fall colors wrong in the Yukon and I’d like to try to time it a bit better when I hike here.

  3. Hi!

    This looks great! Were flying in from Northern California in June and thinking of doing this Skyline trail. It’s our first time to Banff and were SO EXCITED!!! If we only have 3 days in Banff do you think this is the best backpacking trip to do? I’ve read a bit about Bowlake,
    Morraine lake (so blue incredible), Peyto Lake and would love to sneak in a hotspring maybe Banff hotsprings. Will we see a gorg lake on this trail? Thanks for your help!! Sydney

  4. This is beautiful! I was wondering tho is it necessary to stay at a camp site or are you allowed to just set up your tent along the way? We are from northern Ontario so are used to camping in any locations but we have yet to experience the Rockies. Also if you do have to stay at a camp are the prices reasonable? Thanks!

    1. @Cass In the national park you are supposed to stay at a campsite to minimize impact of the area. In fact you have to book them WAY in advance. Price are about $16 a night but don’t quote me on that.

  5. Hi 🙂
    I was wondering if it is a good idea to do the hike without a guide? We are a young couple from switzerland and gonna spend our vacation in canada next july. We wanna do the hike in two days and spend the night at shovel pass lodge. we don’t have any experiences in hiking in canada. Would you recomend us to “book” i guide? if yes where could we do that?
    Many thanks for your help in advance, Jane

    P.S. great pictures! 🙂

    1. @Jane This is actually a straightforward hike but don’t do it till the end of July as the snow can stay for a long time and make the climb up the pass right after Shovel Pass Lodge very difficult. On the other hand, if you don’t have a lot of hiking background you could hire someone. I’d just say go prepared for all weather, have a good map and know how to read it and carry a can of bear spray each.

  6. Not sure if this is still active, but I’m struggling to find where the Signal Campground is on any map. I read that it is on the descent on the final leg of the trail, but can’t find any other information than that. Did you see signs for it on your hike? Are you aware of any other resources about the campground? Thanks in advance.

  7. This looks like an absolutely stunning hike Leigh. Thanks so much for sharing with such enthusiasm. I walked in Maligne Canyon through the ice many years ago, but I had no idea this beautiful hike was under the snow (I’m guessing it’s nearby). You’ve taken beautiful photos too. I’ll add this to my list. Lauren’s Pinterest folder is a great idea.

  8. Your photographs make me want to visit Alberta so badly now! I’ve been pinning all of your posts to my Pinterest in a Canada travel folder for future reference 🙂

  9. I just love all the pictures! Excellent photos you got here. I hope that I can also do that. I really love hiking 🙂

  10. Wow..another gorgeous hike. I don’t know much about Jasper NP but I want to go now. I don’t think I can do this hike though but I hope they have as much stunning scenery below the treeline. Just gorgeous scenery and I can see why this is a hiking highlight for you.

    1. @Mary Jasper NP is a great family destination. Where we started the hike is Maligne Lake – and it’s the jumping off spot for a fabulous boat tour. There are easy hikes, canyon trips, waterfalls to see and always wildlife in Jasper. Come and visit!

  11. I’m impressed. What a great and challenging hike and you still manage to look fab on the way up the Notch! Beautiful scenery. Glad you got into the campground — persistence really can pay off.

    1. @Cathy I think they were so sick of hearing from me in the Jasper Park Office that they just made it happen! It was a fantastic hike but not as hard as I figured it would be except for the hour up to The Notch.

  12. This is absolutely, over the top amazingly beautiful scenery, Leigh. WOW!
    Was it because it’s above treeline that you didn’t expect much scenery?

  13. The views of the mountains are just incredible, Leigh! Your photos always make me wish that I enjoyed hiking more but the second you mention grizzly bears then I come back to my senses. 😉 Do you not worry when you’re hiking in bear country? I think I would be a nervous wreck!

    1. @Lisa I used to spend a lot more time worrying about bears than I do now. It’s such a rare occasion that you meet them that I consider it a privilege now to see one in the wild. But I do take precaution and always carry bear bangers and bear spray and I talk a lot in areas frequented by bears.

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