Hiking Jasper’s Skyline Trail

photo of curator lake from the notchGorgeous. Beautiful. Awesome. Whatever superlatives you’ve heard describe Jasper National Park’s Skyline Trail they are all true. And if the scenery doesn’t leave you breathless the three major passes you climb over certainly will.

The Trail

The Skyline is one of the premier must do backcountry hikes in the Canadian Rockies. The 45 kilometer Skyline Trail is located within Jasper National Park Alberta Canada roughly connecting Maligne Lake and Maligne Canyon. Simply described by Parks Canada as “scenic” does not do this hike justice. Approximately 25 kms of the trail is above the treeline including a section of ridge top hiking that is out of this world panoramic.


The Skyline has four access points:

    Skyline Trailhead South is approximately 50km from Jasper via Maligne Lake Road. Cross over the bridge to access the parking lot. The trailhead is across the road to the north(ish).
    Skyline Trailhead North is roughly 1km west of the teahouse at Maligne Canyon on Maligne Lake Road.
    Watchtower Trailhead is located along Maligne Lake Road at the 18 – 19 kilometer mark. This trail joins the Skyline at km18 entering the Curator Basin.
    Wabasso Trailhead is located on Highway 93/Icefields Parkway south of Jasper. The Wabasso trail is used by horse packers to access the Shovel Pass Lodge at the Curator backcountry site. The lodge also caters to backpackers but before you get too excited this is considered a primitive lodge without the luxuries – no hot bath, no chocolate bars, and no beer.

The Maligne Lake South trailhead has a higher starting elevation and is the most common access point for the Skyline. Most hikers prefer not to start at Signal Mountain Fire Road trailhead because of the lung busting 8km climb to the first camp. We suggest that you let gravity do some of the work and end your journey with this downhill knee knocker instead!

Backcountry Sites:

The Skyline has six backcountry sites situated along the trail. In our opinion the best and seemingly most popular sites are Snow Bowl, Curator and Tekerra. However each site has it charm. From Skyline South trailhead, in order with recorded distance from the trailhead:

    Evelyn Creek (km 5.2) – The nearby mountain stream and sheltered sites give this stop its appeal.
    Little Shovel (km 8.1) – This site makes a great stop to explore Little Shovel Pass area.
    Snow Bowl (km 11.8) – Offers a wildflower display in early summer (mid/late July).
    Curator (km 20.4) – This camp is situated at the base of The Notch in a bowl with a glacial lake (note: you actually hike DOWN to the campsite making for a longer morning grind getting to the top of The Notch the next day).
    Tekerra (km 30.1) – Sits at the base of its namesake mountain with a mountain stream close by.
    Signal Mountain (km 35.7) – Within striking distance of the peak and a relatively short 8km downhill hike to end the trail.

The Watchtower route has a backcountry site at kilometer 10.

Sites hold 6 to 10 tents offering primitive basics – a tent pad, separate cooking area (exposed), bear poles (for hanging food – you are in bear country), and pit toilet (oversized upside down green margarine container with a beaver on it and of course exposed).


Backcountry access within Canadian National Parks requires a Park Pass (allows access to the park) and a Wilderness Pass (allows access to the backcountry). Advanced reservations are recommended and may be made up to 3 months in advance. Visit the Parks Canada website or drop into the local Jasper Townsite Information Centre to book your time on the trail.

The trail is not a loop so a car at each trailhead is convenient but not a must. The Maligne Lake shuttle will transport hikers to the trailhead(s). We recommend parking your vehicle at the northern Skyline trailhead by Maligne Canyon. Make arrangements to have the shuttle pick you up at the trailhead and drop you off at the south/Maligne Lake trailhead. This way when you’ve finished your hike done your car is there waiting for you.

There is no potable water supply on the trail (i.e. water fountain, coolers, taps, etc.), you must treat and/or filter and carry your own water. For the majority of the hike access to water is not a problem as you cross a number of creeks and rivers and skirt a couple of lakes. Water access at Little Shovel, Snow Bowl, and Signal Mountain is limited. Plan on filling up prior to camp to avoid having to backtrack to find water to boil the macaroni. Fill up at the lake near Curator as you are entering the longest stretch on the trail between water sources (The Notch to just before Tekerra is approximately 8kms).

Parks Canada advises that you are responsible for your own safety so please take the time to review the material provided to you when booking your trip. Of particular concern to most people are the bears. The Skyline Trail is prime habitat for both Black and Grizzly (Brown) bears. Black bears are frequently sighted near the Signal Mountain section of the trail and Grizzlies may be spotted grazing the alpine meadows. Parks Canada publishes an excellent brochure regarding safety when hiking with bears.

Recently the park has been posting ‘No Dog’ notices in areas considered critical habitat for Woodland Caribou. The entire length of the Skyline is NOT open to dogs. Rover will have to stay at home.

Pack out what you pack in and adhere to the principles of Leave No Trace.

Trail Difficulty:

Successfully completing and enjoying your time on the Skyline requires a good level of physical fitness and certain degree of luck regarding the weather. Completing the hike in 3 days is physically demanding requiring two strenuous days over three mountain passes – Little Shovel, Big Shovel and The Notch.

The climb to Little Shovel Pass begins past Evelyn Creek with a number of switchbacks that get you above the treeline. Your next major climb begins shortly after Snow Bowl and is a straight forward ascent of Big Shovel Pass topping out with breathtaking views of Curator Basin. From this vantage point you’ll notice the trail splits; the good news is that the trail that climbs the ridge to the right is the Watchtower trail and not the Skyline Trail. The bad news is the wall you see at the end of the basin is The Notch.

The Notch (km 22) at 2500 meters is the highest point on the trail and may be snow bound until mid July. This is the most difficult climb (and may be a scramble depending on conditions) you will face on the trail with a seemingly near vertical climb for about 1km. Making it to the top of The Notch you are rewarded with 4 to 5 kms of ridge top hiking, with awesome views of the valley (east and west), and peak after peak disappearing into the distance. On a good day Mount Robson can be seen to the west.

At this point you are completely exposed to the elements adding to the difficulty of the hike if mother nature choses not to co-operate. While on the ridge line be very mindful of the weather conditions as afternoon thunderstorms are common – usually building up from the west. Snow, winter, and white out conditions (yes read that again) may happen at any time so plan accordingly. If you’re lucky all you’ll have to contend with is the wind.

Although completing the entire trail is physically demanding the campsites can be hiked point-to-point allowing you the opportunity to slow the pace, recuperate fully and enjoy the scenery. If you have the time we’d recommend the hike over the period of 5 days and camping at the following spots: Little Shovel-Snow Bowl-Curator-Tekerra-Signal Mountain.

What to bring:

Given good weather and late season conditions (August) no special gear (i.e. ice axe and crampons) is required to complete this hike. The trail is well marked and well travelled requiring no bush whacking or off trail navigation. Good boots, a sleeping bag suitable for frosty nights, a stable three or four season tent, and supplies for however many nights you are on the trail should suffice. Also remember to pack bear spray, bug dope, toilet paper, and water treatment/filter.

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  1. Lauren January 23, 2016 at 21:18 #


    I’m planning on doing the skyline trail in the summer 2016 and I was just wondering what month is best to do the hike in and if you’re going to do the hike in 3 days where would be the 2 best camping spots, thanks :)

    • ken@tel February 8, 2016 at 14:55 #

      Hi Lauren,

      Thanks for taking the time to drop in. August is great month for the Skyline. For what you’ve described we’d recommend Snow Bowl, or Curator for a strong/motivated group for night one, and Tekerra or Signal for night two.

      Have a great trip…

  2. Jamie September 2, 2015 at 13:54 #

    I have a fear of heights. I have been told that the ridgewalk after the Notch is a thin ledge with drops on either side. is this true? Am I hyping myself up too much?
    Please give me some intel!

    • ken@tel September 3, 2015 at 20:59 #

      Hi Jamie,

      The ridge is fairly broad, metres in width in most places with more of a rolling edge than precipitous drop off. There are a couple of tighter places but nothing we can recall as “knife edge”.

      Wind will most likely be the factor that determines your level of comfort and enjoyment. Use of hiking poles may bolster your confidence through this section.

      Does that help?

      Thanks for looking us up and good luck with your trip!

    • Bruce September 25, 2015 at 10:29 #

      We did the hike labour day long weekend. Ridge walk is nowhere near as narrow as that. It is as beautiful as advertised though. Climb to the notch was tough as there was quite a bit of snow above 2100 m.

  3. Elly June 30, 2015 at 17:11 #

    Hi! This is some great info to have.
    What would you recommend for someone who does not have a car to get to the trail head?

    • ken@tel June 30, 2015 at 20:03 #


      Maligne Valley Direct Shuttle -http://www.malignelake.com/jasper-maligne-shuttle/ is what you’ll need.

  4. Peta June 28, 2015 at 17:06 #

    Thanks for the great review of the hike, Ken.
    I’ll be going to Shovel Pass Lodge in August with half a dozen friends.
    We are trying to gauge how much time we should allow to set up the two cars and catch the shuttle at the start of the hike. And, how long does it take for average hikers to go from the trailhead to Shovel Pass Lodge? We would prefer not to be hiking in the dark :) Thanks!

    • ken@tel June 29, 2015 at 08:51 #

      Hi Peta,

      We’ve never been to the lodge… But Curator’s 20-21k from the Maligne Lake trailhead, a good 6-7 hours for a strong group with light packs!

      Enjoy you’re time on the Skyline…

  5. Zuzana May 22, 2015 at 16:32 #

    Hi, thank you for amazing overview of this beautiful hike. I am planning on doing it his hike with my boyfriend 28-30 June 2015. We are prepared for quite a bit of snow in the Notch, but I was just wondering what are the chances of having decent sunny weather during this 3 days and what is the weather like usually in the end of Juner?!? I know it’s recommended mid July-August, but that’s unfortunately impossible for us during this time, so I m wondering if we have any chance to get some decent weather and we are able to pass the Notch. We are both in decent shape. Thank you in advance for your insight!

    • ken@tel May 24, 2015 at 02:55 #

      Hi Zuzana,

      Weather-wise you should be okay. One thing to keep in mind (if you’re not from Canada) – July 1st is a holiday (Canada Day) and the Park will be busy including the trail (relatively).

      Enjoy you’ll have a fantastic time!

  6. Meg&Omer February 13, 2015 at 09:54 #

    Thanks so much for the details. We’ve been planning a trip to Jasper in mid-June (only time we both could take time off) for a few months now, and we’re recently crushed to hear that both Skyline and Tonquin Valley loop will be closed at that time, and if not, would be completely snow bound. Any thoughts on weather conditions in early July / mid July vs August or September?

    Thank you!!

    • ken@tel April 1, 2015 at 00:47 #

      Meg and Omar, Thanks for dropping in! Early July higher elevations will still be snowbound but may be passable. If you only have one chance, your odds are much better August onwards.

    • Meg&Omer April 1, 2015 at 07:12 #

      Thank you so much for your reply! August it is! :)

      • ken@tel April 7, 2015 at 11:37 #

        Have an awesome time! Any questions, let us know.

  7. Heather Owsianski December 15, 2014 at 08:31 #

    Hiked the Skyline Trail in August, 2014 and it unfolded as your post description, complete with 30 degree C weather. Awesome experience! We hiked it in 3 days and yes, it was demanding for a couple of “mid 60” year olds. Thoroughly enjoy following your posts.

    • ken@tel December 22, 2014 at 10:12 #


      Congratulations! Thanks for the update, and glad to hear everyone made it. Berg Lake next?

  8. Kessie September 21, 2014 at 07:33 #

    Thanks so much for the awesome info!!
    Planning on hiking Aug 2015. Is there a way to access a map of the area or any other links you would suggest?

    Also wondering what type of weather to expect for mid August so I can determine what type of clothing to bring

    Thanks so much!!! Getting excited and it’s Sept

    • ken@tel November 15, 2014 at 10:30 #


      Thanks for the kind words… Parks Canada/JNP offers a Back Country brochure on their website with a rudimentary map that should fit your needs – follow link.

      August may be the weather sweet-spot. Typically August is hot and dry; prone to afternoon thundershowers. Have said that, we’ve experienced snowstorms mid-August at elevation. Plan accordingly.

      You’ll have a great time. We’re excited for you!

  9. colette murphy April 27, 2014 at 19:32 #

    We are thinking of doing this hike with our 13 and 15 year olds. We are in good shape but not very experienced hikers. This would be the first major hike our children would be undertaking.

    Can you share any reservations or tips to make this a safe, enjoyable trip for all.


    • ken@tel May 20, 2014 at 23:41 #


      Thanks for the message… We replied via email. Contact us if you have any further questions.

  10. Robert March 8, 2014 at 15:50 #

    Thank you for a brilliant overview of this trip! I plan on making this trek solo this summer 2014 – a year after discovering the possibility on a hike up Bald Hill, and your breakdown was yet another shot of “yes I can”! Much appreciated!

    From a questions standpoint, my current tent, used for for motorcycle camping, is a Mountain hardwear Drifter 3, but I’m leaning towards perhaps a four season? I’m convinced that my future multi day hikes will be geared more towards adventures above any given tree line, and am curious as to thoughts on the “ideal” tent. Again, much appreciated!

    • ken@tel March 9, 2014 at 13:02 #

      Glad you found the post useful. Have an awesome time! We’re currently using a Nemo Tenshi for our backcountry adventures.

  11. Heather Owsianski January 6, 2014 at 12:19 #

    Thanks so much for the informative post. Hoping to hike August, 2014.

    • ken@tel January 6, 2014 at 17:43 #


      Good luck in August! Any questions please let us know.

  12. Lindsay August 30, 2013 at 19:43 #

    Thanks so much for posting this! I am hoping to hike this trail in September! I appreciate all the details. Thanks again!

    • ken@tel August 30, 2013 at 21:50 #


      Enjoy the Skyline, colours should be wonderful in September. Thanks for dropping in!

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