There is no secret that the Skyline Trail is one of the most sought-after backpacking experiences in the Canadian Rockies.
These days securing a spot on a backcountry trail is more difficult than getting a ticket to a Taylor Swift concert, so when a last-minute cancellation happened in the system I knew better than to grab this opportunity before it was gone.
1. Skyline Trail Overview
Skyline Trail is a 44.1 km long backpacking trail in Jasper National Park. It can be hiked over 2,3 or 4 days, with 3 days and 2 nights being, in my opinion, the most optimal version.
When it comes down to difficulty, the Skyline Trail is one of the easiest multi-day backpacking trips in the Rockies with only 1410 meters of elevation gain and 1930 meters of elevation loss over 44.1 kilometers.
Almost 25km of Skyline trail lies above the tree line, which means you won’t be short on beautiful views of the Canadian Rockies whilst you hike the Skyline Trail!
2. When can you backpack the Skyline Trail?
The highest point of the trail – The Notch lies at 2511 m a.s.l. and it often has cornices hanging precariously over the trail even in July.
The earliest you can reserve the campsites for backpacking the Skyline trail is the end of June. That’s when I hiked the trail myself. However, to ensure the best weather conditions and the snow-free passage I’d say hold off until at least mid-July.
The camping season on the Skyline Trail lasts until the end of September. That gives you a 3-month window for backpacking it.
3. Which direction to hike the Skyline Trail?
There are two trailheads for the Skyline Trail:
The southern one is from the shore of Maligne lake, a 48 km (30 miles) 1-hour drive from the town of Jasper.
The northern trailhead – Signal Mountain, lies only a few hundred meters away from Maligne Canyon, an 10km/15-minute drive from Jasper.
You can start and finish at either end of the trail, but personally, I think it’s better to hike the Skyline trail from South to North starting at Maligne Lake and finishing at Signal Mountain trailhead. Here is why:
- Maligne Lake trailhead is higher which means you will have less elevation gain throughout the whole trail
- You will hike out of the tree line a lot sooner and already enjoy the views on the very first day of the hike
- You will be hiking up the Notch. It’s easier than descending it, especially if there is still snow on the trail. You will be able to assess what you are up against.
- You will finish the hike closer to Jasper, which means less travel time back to town and faster access to a decent restaurant, where you can grab a celebratory meal!
4. The shuttle between the trailheads of the Skyline Trail
If you have a vehicle, my advice would be to leave it at the Signal Mountain trailhead, then either shuttle or hitchhike to Maligne Lake to begin the hike.
This way, once you have completed the hike, you don’t have to worry about waiting for a ride and can just drive away to the nearest shower and to grab some proper food.
I hitchhiked between the two trailheads as I usually do. My experience is that if you don’t look like an axe-wielding psychopath killer you should be able to pick up a ride pretty easily.
If you don’t feel comfortable hitching, or it’s simply not your thing then Maligne Adventures offers a shuttle for $35 per person per way and you can book it directly on their site.
The shuttle leaves every day from Jasper’s office at 9 AM or Signal Mountain Trailhead at 9:15 AM.
Where to stay In Jasper before and after the trek
If you plan on backpacking the Skyline Trail I highly recommend staying the night before in Jasper so you can start with fully charged batteries the next morning.
Below I enlisted a few of the top-rated places in Jasper. If you found my article helpful, consider supporting my site and booking through the affiliate links! It will cost you nothing!
5. When to book Skyline Trail for summer 2023
Once the reservation system opens the spots disappear in a matter of minutes so make sure not to miss those dates and be ready to go through the reservation process swiftly!
I explain in detail how to make a reservation further in the article.
6. The cost of hiking the Skyline Trail in the summer season of 2023
As with many other backcountry trails in the Canadian Rockies, there are 3 costs involved in reserving and hiking the Skyline trail:
- Reservation fee: $11.50 per online reservation ($13.50 per phone reservation)
- Camping fee/Wilderness pass: $10.50/person/night,
- National Park Entry Fee: $10.50/person/day
If, for example, you decide to spend 2 nights on the skyline trail you will need to pay 11.50 + (2 x $10.50) + (2 x $10.50) = $53.50
For the latter consider purchasing an annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass, especially if you will be visiting any national park in Canada for more than 7 days in one year. Group and family options are also available. Click the link for the full price range options.
7. Accommodation along the Skyline Trail
A list of campsites
|Campground||Distance from Maligne Lakeake Trailhead||Distance from the previous campground||Number of sites||Campground Elevation|
|Evelyn Creek||4.8 km||3.5 km||4||1824 m|
|Little Shovel||8.3 km||3.9 km||8||2233 m|
|Snowbowl||12.2 km||9.1 km||8||2094 m|
|Curator||20.3 km||9.6 km||8||2070 m|
|Tekarra||30.4 km||4.8 km||8||2062 m|
|Signal||35.7 km||8||2014 m|
How to book campsites on the Skyline trail
A new and improved reservation system will be introduced on March 2, 2023, on the Parks Canada website. You will be required to set up a new account with Parks Canada. Use the time before the reservations launch to familiarize yourself with the new system.
Amenities and campsite rules on the Skyline Trail
- Bear lockers
- (stinky) outhouses
- benches for cooking food
- running creek water (not treated)
- grey water disposal
- no dogs allowed
- no hammocks allowed
- no fires allowed
Shovel Pass Backcountry Lodge
Shovel Pass Lodge is Jasper National Park’s oldest backcountry lodge. It was established over 100 years ago and rebuilt in 1991. Today it offers 7 guest cabins and a log chalet with a dining room and kitchen.
The lodge is located near the Curator campsite, ca 20,3 km from the Maligne Lake trailhead.
Thanks to lodge amenities (food, linens, blankets, etc), you can turn the Skyline Trail into an ultralight backpacking experience and flash it in just two days!
How to reserve Shovel Pass Lodge + the cost
During the summer season of 2023, the lodge stays from July 20 to August 31. You can send a reservation request directly on the lodge website.
The cost per person/night is $329 CDN + 5% GST. Prices include accommodation, dinner, breakfast, and a lunch bag.
Single occupancy: $60.00 surcharge/night + 5% GST.
8. A few packing essentials for the Skyline Trail
You can see me wearing this backpack in the photo above. When I first tried this backpack on I had no idea how its anti-gravity harness system will positively influence each backpacking experience, I’ve had since. Guys following my site you should check out the men’s version.
Getting a good night’s rest after hiking with a heavy load the whole day is essential. This sleeping pad will not only keep you insulated from the ground, but it will keep you comfy too. My advice is to go with the larger size!
I’ve had this tent for years now and used it for 3 weeks in Iceland, where it was tested against some crazy winds, as well as for every single backpacking trip I did in the Rockies. So far I have no tears and all the poles are still intact. Grab a tent footprint too, to prolong the life of your rent.
I recently left my pair in a parking lot after the hike and drove off. When I noticed my mistake it was too late to go back. I couldn’t get over it for a whole week, so I ordered a second pair without any hesitation. At 300 grams a pair, their weight is hard to beat.
9. Skyline Trail: stages breakdown
The hike starts from near the last of 3 car parks, which you get to when arriving at Maligne Lake. It’s well-signposted. If, like us, you’re not comfortable with leaving valuables in your vehicle overnight.
The Three Sheets Laundry in Jasper (close to the visitor center) will store your belongings for a few dollars per bag per day. A very low price for a lot of peace of mind.
Stage 1: Maligne Lake to Snowball campsite via Little Shovel Pass
Distance: 12.2 km
Walking time: 3-4 h
Maligne Lake is a stunning stop before embarking on your adventure, consider doing a cruise to Spirit Island. It’s also home to many trailheads for the best hikes in Jasper and a multi-day paddle trip to Spirit Island and Coronet Creek.
As you can see from the elevation profile. The trailhead at Maligne Lake (on the left) is much higher than the Signal trailhead (on the right).
By doing it in this direction you spend the 8.5km section from Signal Campsite to Signal Trailhead going downhill instead of uphill.
The best two campsites on the entire trail are Curator and Tekarra and the 10km that separates them is the most visually exciting part too.
Try and spend at least one night at either of these sites then, regardless of which direction you’re doing the trail, you can tackle the ridgeline and The Notch early in the morning when the light is best.
Personally, I don’t like to rush, and did the Skyline over 4 days (3 nights). For me, and probably most people contemplating doing this trail, the campsite at Evelyn Creek isn’t far enough to warrant staying at. Instead, your first night should be at either Little Shovel or Snowbowl.
The trail from Maligne Lake slowly rises through the forest, which can be very wet and muddy throughout the entire season, until it breaks through the tree line just after the Little Shovel Campsite.
The first one of three major passes is now in front of you. This one, at 2200m elevation, is called Little Shovel Pass and snow can be found here until mid-July, sometimes later. Marmots can be seen sunbathing in the alpine meadows and the wildflowers are spectacular from mid-July onwards.
Stage 2: Snowbowl to Curator Campground over the Big Shovel Pass
Distance: 9.6 km
Walking time: 3-4 h
After spending a night at either Little Shovel or Snowbowl, you will have a relatively easy day over the Big Shovel Pass at 2286m toward the Curator campground.
This is when the trail starts to get interesting and it’s when you’ll first see The Notch, where snow lingers until August.
After the pass, the trail bends right before descending over 100m down and 1km away from the Skyline Trail where you can find the Curator Campsite.
That’s one thing you have to bear in mind, the Curator Campsite is not strictly on the Skyline Trail, if you’re staying there then your total distance will be 46 km instead of 44 km.
Stage 3: Curator Lake, The Notch, and the Skyline Ridge
Distance: 9.6 km
Walking time: 3-4 h
Leave early from Curator Campsite, this way not only will the views be at their prime, but the snow at the Notch, if there is any, will be at its most supportive.
The trail to the shore of Curator Lake is around 100m so it shouldn’t be missed.
After passing the lake, the well-worn path becomes very steep until it reaches the highest point, the Notch at 2400m. Congratulations, you’ve done the hardest part, now enjoy the views that follow.
From passing the Notch the trail flattens and you walk along a scenic ridgeline that offers jaw-dropping vistas of the surrounding ranges, in particular, Mount Edith Cavell and on a clear day the Canadian Rockies tallest mountain, Mount Robson.
After a few kilometers of the most intense eyegasm, the trail then slowly descends through the rocks and fields toward the prominent Mount Tekarra.
The muddy path leads past flowing streams and small lakes until you reach the campsite.
Stage 4: Tekarra Campground to the Signal Trailhead
Distance: 13.2 km
Walking time: 4-5 h
The Tekarra campground lies next to the longest of river crossings on the trail, in the shadow of Mount Tekarra, a huge slab of raw rock.
In late June / early July when all the snow is melting, the trail fords 5 streams each with varying difficulty but all easily manageable.
The number one complaint from hikers we heard on the trail was wet feet. Not because the trail was too difficult or poorly maintained but because of inappropriate footwear.
We saw a lot of people in running shoes or trainers. To make your experience more pleasant, above the ankle, waterproof hiking boots are a must unless you want to squelch 44km and end up with trench foot.
From Tekarra campground the trail heads uphill for a few kilometers as you approach your descent on the north-western slopes of the Maligne Range.
Make the most of it because, not before long, you’ll be back within the tree line with no views at all.
Once you pass the Signal Campsite you’ll step foot onto the Signal Fire Road, a well-maintained gravel road that will take you to the northern trailhead.
This part of the trail, similar to the start is within the tree line and not particularly exciting but it’s something that has to be done. Bears are common here so stay vigilant and make lots of noise.
10. Skyline trail early escape route
If you can’t book the campsites you’d like, don’t have the time to do the entire trail, are fed up with the weather halfway through or it’s still early in the season and the Notch is not passable then use the escape route!
From the Curator campground, you can hike down on the Curator Trail through the forest emerging out near Wabasso Lake onto the Icefields Parkway. The trail is 16km long and at times very steep. It takes approx. 3-4 hours to get down.
11. Skyline Trail: 2,3 and 4-day itinerary examples
2-day Skyline Trail itinerary
|1||Maligne Lake to Curator Campground||21.1 km||6-8 h|
|2||Curator Campground to Signal Trailhead||24.6 km||7-9 h|
3-day Skyline Trail itinerary
|1||Maligne Lake to Snowbowl Campground||12.2 km||3-4 h|
|2||Snowbowl Campground to Tekarra Campground||18.7 km||5-6 h|
|3||Tekarra Campground to Signal Trailhead||13.2 km||4-5 h|
4-day Skyline Trail itinerary
|1||Maligne Lake to Little Shovel||8.3 km||2-3 h|
|2||Little Shovel to Curator||13 km||4-5 h|
|3||Curator to Tekarra||9.6 km||3-4 h|
|4||Tekarra to Signal Trailhead||13.2km||4-5 h|
12. Additional tips for backpacking the Skyline Trail
Always check the trail reports before leaving for any closures, bear sightings, and weather conditions. You can view them on the Trail Conditions in Jasper website.
In June and July, there are lots of mosquitos. Come prepared with repellent, long sleeve tops, gloves, and possibly a face net.
Cancellations on the Skyline Trail
If you don’t have a booking all is not lost. Consider popping into the Visitor Centre in Jasper for any last-minute cancellations. Cancellations are very popular on this trail.
The sun at these altitudes can be fierce, take a sun hat, UV-protected sunglasses, and above 30 SPF sunscreen.
Waterproof high-ankle footwear is essential early on in the hiking season (June – July) when the trail is very muddy.
The parking lot at the northern trailhead is tiny and extremely busy. In high season I saw cars parked along the road. If you can’t find the spot, consider using the shuttle from Jasper