Skoki Valley, Banff National Park
Text and Photography by Mike Potter
Skoki Valley is a great backcountry trip, providing some truly unique views of Banff National Park, (just look at the photo to the right) and is a good place to get off the beaten path in the Canadian Rockies and see some wildlife.
This trail from Boulder Pass along the north shore of Ptarmigan Lake and over Deception Pass is the usual approach to Skoki Valley. (The trip from the Fish Creek parking area to Deception Pass and return can be made in a long day.)
Gordon Stermann, a long time Banff resident, and owner of local guide company White Mountain Adventures, is a big fan of this hike.
“I love going in to Skoki in both summer and winter,” he says. “The route in has a tremendous variety of scenery, relatively few hikers, and is for the most part, at or above treeline. I can’t think of anything it lacks.”
Furthermore, he adds, “The Skoki Valley itself is a great base for other day hikes in summer or ski tours in winter”
A total of 16 km of travel from the parking area brings you to the backcountry campground at Merlin Meadows (1.2 km past Skoki Lodge), which serves as an excellent base for exploring the vicinity. A highlight of the campground is observing the daily routine of mountain goats on the avalanche slopes and cliffs to the north from the picnic table at your site.
Skoki Valley was named from a native word meaning “swamp” or “marsh,” which also applied to the hometown in Skokie, Illinois, of one of the leaders of the first party of mountaineers to venture into the valley in 1911.
See Fish Creek parking lot to Boulder Pass
Distance: 7.2 km (4.5 mi) – Boulder Pass to Merlin Meadows backcountry campground
Extension to day hike or backpack: 1 hour one way to Deception Pass; 2.5 – 3 hour one way to Merlin Meadows backcountry campground
Elevation Gain: 145 m (475 ft) – Boulder Pass to Deception Pass
Elevation Loss: 385 m (1260 ft) – Deception Pass to Merlin Meadows campground
Maximum Elevation: 2485 m (8150 ft)
Trailhead: Boulder Pass.
0.0 – Wooden sign at east end of Boulder Pass (elevation 2340 m). Keep left for Deception Pass and Skoki Valley (Redoubt Lake and Heather Ridge to right).
0.5 – Junction with off-trail scrambling route to Packer’s Pass from Ptarmigan Lake climbing to left; keep right along lakeshore for Deception Pass
1.9 – Sign at junction (2365 m). Turn left and begin steep climb (Baker Lake trail goes straight).
2.5 – Deception Pass (2485 m). Descend north side on steady grade toward Skoki Valley.
4.9 – Junction with well-travelled horse trail veering off to left after a creek crossing. Keep straight to avoid mud and a narrow canyon.
5.5 – Junction. Keep left for Skoki Valley (Red Deer Lakes trail to right).
6.0 – Skoki Lodge. Trail continues to rear of main building.
7.2 – Merlin Meadows backcountry campground (2100 m).
Text includes contributions by CanadianRockies.net Editor Paul Peters.