Our third day of backpacking the Skyline Trail started off with more rain and overcast skies. The Skyline is a very popular backpacking route and as such the campsites need to be reserved over half-a-year in advance. It is impossible to aim for the best weather. You have to take what the day provides when it comes. Sadly, it was pretty evident that this was not going to be the perfect weather day.
Backpacking the Skyline Trail – Day 3
This post is a continuation of our adventure on the Skyline Trail. If you missed out on the first two days get caught up here. You can also check out our Skyline Trail Guide to start planning your own backcountry adventure.
Returning to the Skyline
We waited out the initial rain and then climbed out of our tent into the crisp morning air. Breakfast was made while listening to the ever-present sound of the waterfall adjacent to the Curator Campground. We packed up and climbed the 450-foot ascent back up to the Skyline and Wabasso Trail junction. Ahead of us, the trail rose over the third pass known as The Notch (8,201’). It is an intimidating landscape. The challenge lives up to its grueling reputation.
Backpacking the Skyline Trail over The Notch
Initially, the trail leaves the junction and climbs steeply 500’ over the next 3/4 of a mile along the western edge of the stunningly beautiful Curator Lake. Thankfully we had a break in the clouds here and this was a truly amazing traverse. There is a brief, moderate taper to the trail before it resumes an even steeper pitch rising another 650 feet in half a mile across loose scree. It is the steepest and toughest section to be found along the entire Skyline Trail. If you are not mentally prepared for this grueling and dangerous section, you might find it more than a little intimidating.
Waiting on the Clouds
We topped the pass and literally entered into the clouds. We sat atop the pass shivering in the brutal, howling wind hoping that the clouds would break. But to no avail. When we could endure the cold no longer we pushed past the Notch and onto the adjacent ridgeline.
Traversing the Clouds of the Skyline
The next two miles of our journey were through the dense clouds. We were truly hiking in the sky. Along with clouds that limited our view to only about 20 feet we also dealt with a mixture of rain, snow, and hail all driven by a howling wind. We could just barely make out the online of Amber Mountain as we quickly passed over the shoulder of the highest point on the Skyline Trail. The 2-mile long ridge is an easy traverse with very little elevation change as the path modulates over the high alpine ridgeline.
Emerging from the Clouds
On the other side of the ridgeline, the path dropped below the clouds and a stunning landscape of turquoise lakes and the rich blue Athabasca River magically appeared to the west. After meandering through the dense clouds and shivering in the rain, this break in the clouds felt like a godsend. A reward for our endurance. Along with the views to the west, the path to the north revealed itself with a beautiful alpine lake in the bowl below Mount Tekarra. Mount Tekarra is a jagged peak, the outline of which looks surprisingly similar on the eastern side to that of the western which can be seen from the town of Jasper.
Descent into the Tekkara Alpine Bowl
After 2 miles of hiking in the clouds, we started our descent from the highest Skyline ridgeline. The trail drops 350 feet down the final section of the ridgeline passing through a large boulder field. This is a unique and beautiful section of the Skyline Trail. On the other side of the boulder field, the path enters a section of long switchbacks overlooking Tekkara Mountain with a lake at the base. The switchbacks result in a 600-foot descent over the next mile and the path arrives at the bottom to the first of three succinct creek crossings.
Reaching the Safety of the Trees
After crossing over the creek the path through the alpine bowls stays to the east of the creek. It takes a more moderate descent towards the lake in the distance than the creek itself. After another mile on the trail, we passed by the lake on a bench above it, finally reaching the safety of the trees. We had spent nearly seven treeless miles on the path today. Had we come all the way from the Snowbowl Campground (which we recommend) this would have been an eleven-mile traverse without a single tree.
Once in the trees, there is about another half-mile of moderate descent to the Tekkara Campground. It’s located at an elevation of 6,785-feet and about 19.5 trail miles from Maligne Lake. While we loved the Curator Campground, the Tekkara Campground is the best campground located directly on the Skyline Trail. We recommend this stop for the second night. The views of Mount Tekkara are stunning and the creek running adjacent to the eating area makes it one of the nicest spots we have ever stayed in the backcountry. The barrel toilets are even placed so they have a little bit of privacy and yet simultaneously some amazing views.
Backpacking the Skyline Trail – Day 4
The fourth day of our adventure backpacking the Skyline Trail started with another brief rain. Because of the rain, we opted for another slow start. While some treeless terrain lies ahead it is much shorter and the risk of afternoon thunderstorms was not as perilous. As the morning stretched on the rain stopped and the clouds started to break apart. We still had plenty of time for the journey out. And hope for a beautiful day.
Crossing the Tekkara Creek
Initially, the Skyline Trail crosses over the creek adjacent to the Tekkara Campground. This wide creek crossing requires some rock hopping as there is no bridge to assist hikers. Once on the other side, the trail begins a moderate climb ascending 300 feet over the next mile and a half. This leads to what feels like another pass but is just a nook in the ridgeline.
The Beauty above the Treeline
Nearing the nook the trees fall away and the path once again enters the treeless alpine terrain. Through this alpine section, the treeline remains in sight as the Skyline Trail traverses the terrain just above it. The next two miles are gorgeous with the beauty of the alpine terrain rising above the Maligne Valley. This landscape is only surpassed by the gorgeous views of the Athabasca River flowing through the Jasper Valley with numerous richly-colored turquoise lakes dotting the landscape. This section of the Skyline Trail also looks like an ideal place to find mountain goats or bighorn sheep although we spotted neither.
Signal Mountain Overlook
Nearing 23 miles on the Skyline Trail, the path drops back into the treeline where it intersects with the Signal Mountain Fire Road. It’s a rather wide gravel road but deteriorates in certain sections to nothing more than a narrow dirt path. Before continuing down the trail, we decided to take a left turn and climb the 3/4-mile and 250-foot ascent to the Signal Mountain Overlook (6,907’). The viewpoint is spectacular giving hikers a view of the town of Jasper as well as the valley of the Athabasca River. From this vantage point, we could even see the glacier-covered Mount Edith Cavell. This overlook was a highlight of hiking the Skyline Trail and most people do not take the opportunity to see it. We highly recommend the spur to this stunning location.
Back on the Skyline Trail and headed down the old Fire Road the path quickly passes by the last backcountry campground known as the Signal Campground. This campground would not make much of a stopping point as it is too close to the Signal Trailhead and it is located in one of the least scenic spots on the Skyline Trail.
The Final Long Descent
After passing by the Signal Campground the Skyline Trail enters a long moderate descent that drops 2,800’ over the next five rather dull miles. This is by far the least scenic section of the otherwise stunningly beautiful trail. It moderates from a wide gravel fire road to a narrow wooded path and back again. The only point of note is at about 2.5 miles into the descent it does pass by a smaller trail that leads back towards the town of Jasper via Old Fort Point. The last mile of the trail is especially flat as it crosses through an extremely dense section of forest. The wind was once again blowing and the trees here creaked ominously as if heeding a warning of impending doom.
The Signal Mountain Trailhead
We arrived safely at the Signal Mountain Trailhead where our long journey had begun 4 days earlier by sticking out a thumb on the side of the busy Maligne Lake Road. Returning to our truck camper, YOLOM, we found a half-eaten (by wildlife cause it was covered in poo) breakfast burrito sitting on the hood of our truck. Not sure why someone would leave a rodent-enticing breakfast treat on someone else’s vehicle but people can be terrible sometimes. Don’t be that guy. While we passed on finishing off the burrito we choose to head into Jasper for a well-deserved meal at The Raven Bistro. A great way to end a long and amazing journey in the backcountry of Jasper National Park.
Backpacking the Skyline Trail
Due to the weather, our backpacking the Skyline Trail journey was not what we had anticipated. Despite the lackluster weather we still had an amazing time. Beyond the stunning views, the Skyline Trail is home to beautiful creatures, richly colored turquoise lakes, tranquil waterfalls, and rugged mountain peaks. The hike is easily one of our favorite backcountry adventures in the Canadian Rockies and we can’t wait to go back and hike it again.