Backpacking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

The Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park is considered to be one of the best multi-day hikes in the Canadian Rockies.

Skyline Trail stretches for 44 km (27 miles) and it can be done over 2, 3 or even 4 days. There are extreme trail runners that do it in one! Personally I call them crazy.

The trail makes its way through 3 major passes along the Maligne Range stretching from the shores of Maligne Lake to the northern trailhead at Maligne Canyon.

It is also handily split up by very well located campsites at the creeks, which flow down from the nearby glaciers and snow drifts. 

A truly remarkable journey filled with glacial lakes, alpine tarns and mountain vistas.

Trekking Guide to Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park In Canada

Curator Lake - A backpacking guide to the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

At which end should I start hiking 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 mile) 1 hour drive from the town of Jasper.  The northern trailhead – signal mountain, lies only a few hundred metres away from Maligne Canyon, an 11km/15 minute drive from Jasper.

I think the better option is to start the hike at Maligne Lake and finish at the Signal Mountain. This trailhead lies at a higher elevation so it will be a bit easier. Another advantage is that once you get up to the ridge, past the infamous notch, the views will be all in front of you, not behind you. 

Approaching the Little Shovel Pass - A hiking guide to the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

If you have a vehicle, my advice would be to leave it at the northern trailhead, then either shuttle or hitchhike to Maligne Lake to begin the hike. We hitchhiked between the two trailheads as we always do. As long as you don’t look like an axe wielding psychopath killer you should be able to pick up a ride pretty easily. It took us about 2 minutes.

This way, once you’ve completed the hike, you don’t have to worry about waiting for a ride and can just drive away, probably to the nearest shower and to grab some proper food.

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. 

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! 

A Few Packing Essentials For The SkYline Trail

Osprey Ariel AG 65 liters

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 on 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. 

Skyline Trail Breakdown

The View after The Notch - Information on the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

The track is well set up with multiple campsites that contain the usual: bear lockers/hooks, running creek water, outhouses (minus the house) and cooking areas. As usual, don’t expect any luxury in the Canadian backcountry.

There’s one lodge halfway through near the Curator campsite which has better toilet facilities but they are not available to the general public, just to their own patrons.

It was the first time for me using outhouses without the actual house on this hike. It was a bit nerve wracking sitting on the throne in the middle of nature where at any moment another hiker could pop up and see you doing your business.

The Big Shovel Pass - A backpacking guide to the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

The hike starts from near the last of 3 car parks, you get to, when arriving at Maligne Lake.  It’s well sign posted. 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 $2.50 per bag per day. One bag filled with laptops, passports, hard drives and a few camera lenses cost us 10$ for our trip. A very low price for a lot of peace of mind. 

Part 1: Maligne Lake to Snowball campsite via Little Shovel Pass

After the Little Shovel Pass - A backpacking trip on the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

Maligne Lake is a stunning stop before embarking on your adventure, consider doing a cruise to Spirit Island. It’s also home to many trail heads for the best hikes in Jasper and a multi-day paddle trip to Spirit Island and Coronet Crek.

The Elevation Profile for the Skyline Trail
Source: Parks Canada

As you can see from the elevation profile. The trail head 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. 

A hiking guide to the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

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 ridge line and The Notch early in the morning when the light is best. 

One of the 5 major creek crossings on the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park.

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 in to warrant staying at. Instead your first night should be at either Little Shovel or Snowbowl. 

A Short Snowy Section - A hiking guide to the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

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. 

Maligne Lake Trail head to Evelyn Creek: Around 1.5 hours

Maligne Lake Trail head to Little Shovel: 2.5 – 3.5 hours

Maligne Lake Trail head to Snowbowl campsite: 4 – 6 hours

Part 2: The Big Shovel Pass and Curator Campground

Looking Toward the Big Shovel Pass - A backpacking guide to the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

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 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. 

Little shovel to Curator: 4 – 6 hours

Snowbowl to Curator: 3 – 5 hours

The Notch on the right hand side - A hiking excursion on the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

Part 3: Curator Lake, The Notch and the Skyline Ridge


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 ridge line which 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 eye-gasm, 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 campsite. 

Curator to Tekarra: 5 hours with lots of stops for photos and lunch on the ridge

Curator to Signal Campground: 6.5 hours

Part 4: Tekarra Campground to the Signal Trailhead

The Tekarra Campground below Mount Tekarra - One of the best campgrounds on the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

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 ankle waterproof hiking boots are a must unless you want to squelch 44km and end up with trench foot. 

The Skyline Trail Toward the Northern Trail Head - A hiking guide to the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

From Tekarra campground the trail heads uphill for a few kilometres as you approach your descent on 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 which 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.  

Tekkarra to the Signal Trailhead: 3 – 5 hours

Skyline trail extensions

Mount Tekarra - A hiking guide to the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

Wabasso Lake

If you can’t book the campsites you’d like or don’t have the time to do the entire trail, or are fed up with the weather halfway through then from Curator Campground you can hike down on the Curator Trail through the forest emerging out near Wabasso Lake.


Alternatively you can head east on the Watchtower Trail to the Maligne Lake Road. Both of these are options that can be considered when planning your trip. Also if you’ve still got energy, which I certainly didn’t, there’s a side trip to the summit of Signal Mountain.

Additional tips for backpacking the Skyline Trail

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’s 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.


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

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