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Trip Report: Skoki Region, Banff National Park

August 1, 2016

TRIP REPORT: SKOKI REGION,
BANFF NATIONAL PARK

Words Sarah McLean
Photos by Paul Zizka

If you’ve ever been to Lake Louise Ski Resort, you may have wondered what lies out of sight just beyond the slopes. Whatever you’re picturing, it’s all that and more. The Skoki Region offers some of Banff’s premier multi-day hiking, backpacking and camping experiences. Trips are easily customized by linking various campgrounds, or tacking on exciting scrambles and side-trips. Don’t forget your camera as the mountain passes and alpine lakes on this trip will have you filling up your memory card in no time.


 

Hiking to Zigadenus Lake. Photo by Paul Zizka

Hiking to Zigadenus Lake. Photo by Paul Zizka

OUR ITINERARY

Day 1:

  • Fish Creek Trailhead to Sk11 Baker Lake Campground (13.1 km one-way)

Day 2:

  • Sk11 Baker Lake Campground to Sk18 Merlin Meadows Campground (8.1 km one-way)

Day 3:

  • Hike up Skoki Mountain (4.2 km round trip from Skoki Lodge, 531 m elevation gain)

Day 4:

  • Sk18 Merlin Meadows Campground to Fish Creek Trailhead (15.6 km one-way)

Total Distance: Approximately 36.8 km excluding hiking Skoki Mountain

Scrambling up Mt. Richardson with Hidden Lake in the background. Photo by Paul Zizka

Love This/

  • Wildlife abounds from the loons at Ptarmigan Lake to the marmots, porcupines and occasional grizzly bear wandering in the subalpine terrain.
  • If alpine lakes are your thing, this hike will be a winner. You’ll pass by two lakes on the loop (Ptarmigan and Baker Lake) with the option of tacking on side trips to five others (Hidden Lake, Redoubt Lake, Skoki Lakes and Merlin Lake).
  • Ascending two alpine passes (Deception Pass and Boulder Pass) will give you 5-star views of the backcountry.  For a truly panoramic vista of the area, hike up Skoki Mountain.
  • On your way to Merlin Meadows, stop by the historic Skoki Lodge for tea. It’s served daily (as long as the lodge isn’t fully booked) from 1:30-3:30 pm and costs $5/item, cash only.  Note that hikers aren’t permitted to pay for any other meals unless they’re staying at the lodge. Same goes for their washrooms – tempting, but they’re for lodge clients only!
  • Fall is an exquisite time to visit this area as the plentiful larch trees turn their golden hue.

→ Read more: 8 Larch Hikes in the Canadian Rockies 

Pop by the historic Skoki Lodge while you're in the area. Photo by Paul Zizka/Banff & Lake Louise Tourism.

Pop by the historic Skoki Lodge while you’re in the area. Photo by Paul Zizka/Banff & Lake Louise Tourism.

Consider This/

  • In the summer months, black flies and mosquitos can be plentiful depending on weather and wind.  At a minimum, it’s wise to pack a bug head net and a brimmed hat, as well as pants and a long sleeve shirt.
  • This area is popular, and for a reason! Expect to see other hikers heading to Skoki Lodge, as well as fellow backpackers.
  • This trek begins and ends with a 3.9-km hike along the Temple Fire Road, which is closed to private vehicles.  If there’s room in the Skoki Lodge bus or a Lake Louise work vehicle, you can try asking politely to hitch a ride, but don’t count on it! Bikes are permitted on this road if you want a cruisey way to get back down.
  • Keep in mind that porcupines abound in the area (especially at Sk5 and Sk11) and love salty treats. Bring an extra carabiner to hang sweaty gear along with your food bag on the bear poles.
Aerial view of Skoki Lodge. Photo by Paul Zizka

Aerial view of Skoki Lodge. Photo by Paul Zizka

Other Side Trips/

There are five lakes you can include as side trips: Hidden Lake, Redoubt Lake, Merlin Lake, and Zigadenus and Myosotis Lakes (known together as Skoki Lakes).  There are also several other peaks you can scramble with varying degrees difficulty including Mt. Richardson, Fossil Mountain, Brachiopod Mountain and Anthozoan Mountain (see Alan Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies for a complete list and more details).

Hidden Lake. Photo by Paul Zizka

Hidden Lake. Photo by Paul Zizka

Variations/

If you’re not keen on doing a loop and prefer a base camp, consider hiking into Baker Lake and doing day hikes from there. It’s well located to access many of the lakes and peaks in the region.  You can also complete the loop in the opposite direction, though we recommend saving Deception Pass for the way out as your pack will be at its lightest.

Packer’s Pass offers a great variation to Boulder Pass en route to Skoki Lodge, or as a day trip from one of the other campgrounds. You’ll see a clear trail zig-zagging its way up the shoulder of Ptarmigan Peak.

Hidden Lake is the closest campground (just 7.2km one-way from the trailhead) and offers another perfect base for day trips and scrambles.

Resources//

  • Additional information and reservations/permits through Parks Canada
  • GemTrek’s Map to Lake Louise-Yoho
  • Don’t Waste Your Time in the Rockies, by Kathy and Craig Copeland
  • Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, by Brian Patton & Bart Robinson
  • Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, by Alan Kane

 


Sarah McLean is a hiker, climber, skier and outdoor mama to two. She lives in Calgary and enjoys mountain adventures both big and small.