The Skyline Trail is one of Jasper’s most famous hikes. The three-day trip takes hikers 44km into Jasper National Park. More than half of the trail is above tree line, leading hikers through alpine meadows. Wildlife is abundant and encounters on the trail are expected, meaning caribou, big horn sheep and the ominous grizzly bear.
I chose Jasper-based guides and outfitter Overland Trekking & Tours because they offer experienced guides and have a long track record in the Canadian Rockies to prove it. I actually came across the idea of backpacking the Skyline while reading one of my favorite magazines: Backpacker. Listed as one of North America’s top weekend backpacking excursions, I was dying to get up to Jasper and throw on the backpack.
Before departure, Overlander guide, Trevor, helped me pack efficiently. There were a few other tourists in my group who had never stepped foot into a three-day hiking/camping trip, so the information was very useful.
We also went over what to do if confronted by a grizzly bear, how to keep your food away from scavengers and how to best purify water in the park. The luxury of having a guide allowed me to relax and not worry about trail finding and campsite permits. Because Jasper National Park has become so popular over the past few years, campsites fill up fast in the summer-peak season.
The first day, the trail took us along the wide ridges of the Maligne Range, rising above the lake up a gentle grade through an idyllic spruce and fir forest towards Little Shovel Pass. The first campsite lies in the alpine meadow Snowbowl, which seems to be a wonderful spot in the winter for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
The second day, I was told, should be the most scenic because the trail reaches into the alpine microclimates where there are no trees, up and over the notch at the 2510m. From the pass, we were rewarded with majestic views over the Athabasca Valley. Our second campground was down the Maligne ridge just below Mt. Tekarra.
The last day arrived and this mountain man had zero desire to head back to the big city life. We still had roughly 14 km ahead of us, but most of it downhill. On the way out, we saw plenty of caribou, and all sorts of wildlife came out of the Canadian Rockies woodwork.
One thing that impressed me by the trip was the knowledge of the guides as well as their desire to impart historical facts and relevance to us hikers. For a first-time visitor to Jasper National Park, Trevor made me feel right at home.
Physically the trail is moderately demanding. But our group took the time to smell the roses, if you will. We never “burned” the trail by hiking so fast you forget what you saw. Lunch and snack breaks were the norm and everybody always had a smile on.
The only thing missing was the grizzly bear encounter, which will have to wait until next time!