12-Step-Guide To Backpacking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

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 and I happened to be travelling through the Rockies at the time, I knew better than to grab this opportunity before it’s gone.

This article not only will give you tips on how to secure your own spot on the Skyline Trail, but it will ensure that you will have your adventure planned to a T.

1. Skyline Trail Overview

2022 Summer Backpacking guide to Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park
Approaching the Tekarra campground

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/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 elevation loss over 44.1 kilometres.

Almost 25km of Skyline trail lies above the treeline, 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?

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Mount Tekarra

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?

Skyline Trail Jasper National Park 8

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 metres 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:

  1. Maligne Lake trailhead is higher which means you will have less elevation gain throughout the whole trail
  2. You will hike out of the treeline a lot sooner and already enjoy the views on the very first day of the hike
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
Skyline Trail Jasper National Park 6

4. The shuttle between the trailheads of the Skyline Trail

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The ridgeline after crossing the Notch. The highlight 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 offer 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 2022

Reservations for the Skyline Trail for the summer 2022 backpacking season open on February 2nd, 2022, at 8 AM Mountain Time.

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 summer season 2022

As with many other backcountry trails in the Canadian Rockies, there are 3 costs involved in reserving and hiking the Skyline trail:

  1. Reservation fee: $11.50 per online reservation ($13.50 per phone reservation)
  2. Camping fee/Wilderness pass: $10.50/person/night,
  3. 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.

7. Accommodation along the Skyline Trail

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Setting up our tent on the Curator campground

A list of of campsites

CampgroundDistance from Maligne Lakeake TrailheadDistance from the previous campgroundNumber of sitesCampground Elevation
Evelyn Creek4.8 km3.5 km41824 m
Little Shovel8.3 km3.9 km82233 m
Snowbowl12.2 km9.1 km82094 m
Curator20.3 km9.6 km82070 m
Tekarra30.4 km4.8 km82062 m
Signal35.7 km82014 m
Campsites along the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

How to book campsites on the Skyline trail

  1. Go to the Parks Canada Reservation Service Website
  2. Set up or Sign into your account (Make sure to set up an account before the reservation system opens)
  3. Choose a backcountry camping as reservation type,
  4. Pick your arrival date
  5. Pick ‘Jasper’ and ‘Skyline Trail’ as your backcountry experience
  6. Pick your party size and tent pads number
  7. Choose Maligne Lake Trailhead as your access point
  8. Choose the Availability Calendar Tab and see what campsites are available for what dates
  9. Pick your site for each night.
  10. Click reserve

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

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Shovel Pass Lodge cabins

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 2022, the lodge stays from July 14 to September 4. You can send a reservation request directly on the lodge website.

The cost per person/night is $ 298 CDN + 5% GST. Price includes accommodation, dinner, breakfast and a lunch bag.

Single occupancy: $50.00 surcharge/night + 5% GST.

8. A few packing essentials for the Skyline Trail

Skyline Trail Jasper National Park 21
The Curator Lake on the way to the Notch

Osprey Ariel AG 65 liters

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

Sea to Summit Comfort Light Sleeping Pad

Getting a good nights 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!

MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person tent

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.

Black Diamond Carbon Trekking Poles

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, 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, 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 centre) 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 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.

From 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 kilometres 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

Skyline Trail Jasper National Park 39
Tekarra campground with Mount Tekarra in the background

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 kilometres 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

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Wabasso Lake

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 sample 2,3 and 4-day itinerary

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2-day itinerary

DayStageDistanceWalking Time
1Maligne Lake to Curator Campground21.1 km6-8 h
2Curator Campground to Signal Trailhead24.6 km7-9 h

3-day itinerary

DayStageDistanceWalking Time
1Maligne Lake to Snowbowl Campground12.2 km3-4 h
2Snowbowl Campground to Tekarra Campground18.7 km5-6 h
3Tekarra Campground to Signal Trailhead13.2 km4-5 h

4-day itinerary

DayStageDistanceWalking Time
1Maligne Lake to Little Shovel8.3 km2-3 h
2Little Shovel to Curator13 km4-5 h
3Curator to Tekarra9.6 km3-4 h
4Tekarra to Signal Trailhead13.2km4-5 h

12. Additional tips for backpacking the Skyline Trail

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Trail reports

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. 

Mosquito warning

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. 

Sun protection

The sun at these altitudes can be fierce, take a sun hat, UV protected sunglasses and above 30 SPF sunscreen

Proper footwear

Waterproof high ankle footwear is essential early on in the hiking season (June – July) when the trail is very muddy.

Parking

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

Marta
Marta

Hi! I am the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.

6 Comments

  1. Hi! Amazing post! I really enjoyed reading this. I have a quick question, is there anywhere you can suggest to park at or near the Signal Mtn Northern Trailhead, that way you can take a shuttle to the start of the Trail at Maligne Lake and then finish at the car.

  2. Hi! Thanks for all the info! What about water on the trail? Are water sources close to the campgrounds, Is there water along the way so we don’t need to carry 2l.? Thanks!

    • Hi Isabelle. Thanks for visiting. The campsites are always placed near water sources (usually a stream), but I would recommend that you bring some kind of water treatment system. I have the platypus gravity filtering system and it works great! Let me know if I can help further.

      • Thanks for your reply! I actually also have the platypus gravity!! 😉
        What about water along the way? so we don’t have to carry too much?

        • there were streams on day one and the last day, but not many possibilities to fill up when hiking across the Notch and on the ridgeline. It’s also highly season dependent. The later in the season it is the drier the streams are. I would recommend that you just bring enough water when staying at campsites.

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