Baker Lake and the Skoki Region backpacking trail
Behind the Lake Louise ski hill is one of the best backpacking destinations in Banff National Park. Scenic Baker Lake sits at the heart of the world-famous Skoki region and makes for a wonderful backpacking trip. Alpine passes, lakes, and loads of scrambling opportunities make it a bucket list backcountry trekking destination.
From Lake Louise, drive along Whitehorn Drive towards the ski area. Take the right turn after the 1A highway, at the sign for Skoki Lodge, and park at the Fish Creek trailhead 0.6mi down. If you’re lucky grab a lift to Temple Lodge on the Skoki Lodge transport.
|When to do|
July - September
Yes - On Leash
Out and back
Baker Lake and the Skoki Region
Route Description for Baker Lake and the Skoki Region
Before heading off, here’s a little preamble on backpacking the Skoki region. There are four campgrounds in the region: Hidden Lake, Baker Lake, Merlin Meadows, and Red Deer Lakes, and all have their pros and cons.
Hidden Lake (SK5) is located near Halfway Hut and has 10 pads. We haven’t seen the campground, but it’s before the real scenery starts so camping here wouldn’t seem to make sense unless you are getting a late start.
Merlin Meadows (SK18) is located near Skoki Lodge and has 10 pads and fires are allowed. This is a great campground if you have friends at Skoki Lodge and want to meetup to hike each day. On the downside, the campground views are relatively poor and there are lots of mosquitos at certain times of the year.
Red Deer Lakes (SK19) has 10 pads and good, sheltered sites. While a nice campground where fires are permitted, the lack of views and occassional issues with mosquitoes mean this isn’t our favourite.
Baker Lake campground (SK19), has 10 pads and is in a great location, just seconds from the breezy shores of Baker Lake. This really helps keeping the mosquitoes at bay and granting spectacular views in all directions. The campground itself is a bit odd though as all the tent pads are located in a very, very small area with typically only a few meters between tent pads! Privacy is non-existent. We generally prefer privacy, however you can’t beat lying by an alpine lake in the evenings with not a bug in sight. This is one of our favourite campgrounds in the Canadian Rockies.
The usual trailhead to gain access to the Skoki region is located at the end of the Fish Creek Road (across the highway from Lake Louise); just follow the signs for Skoki Lodge. While the scenery and hiking is spectacular in the Skoki region, the backpack begins as a 2.4mi death march up 1148ft of sweltering hot and relatively viewless fire road. Leaving from Calgary, it’s difficult to arrive early enough to do this in the cool of the morning so it might be worth staying the first night in Lake Louise.
However, if you are short on time and you are lucky, you can sometimes hitch a ride up with the bus for Skoki Lodge which departs at 10 am. The bus holds 15 people and if they have room they will often take up hikers and backpackers as well. We emailed beforehand to confirm the bus had space and gave a hefty tip to the driver. They will also take you back down if there is space, with the bus leaving the top of the fire road at 3 pm.
Once at the top of the fire road the challenge is finding the start of the trail to Skoki. From the van drop-off near Temple Lodge, the path goes across a maintenance shack and a ski slope, coming out on a ski slope about 328ft above Temple Lodge. There is a prominent sign as the trail leads into the woods.
Once in the trees, go straight and do not take the branches of trail that go to the left. This is a good trail, and it briefly ascends steeply into forest before the ascent eases considerably and it is pretty mellow.
After a little over 1.9mi of hiking through forest you will reach Halfway Hut, also known as Ptarmigan Hut. This is a historical hut located that was originally halfway between Lake Louise train station and Skoki Lodge. The hut is a good place to wait out a dump of rain, however it is spartan and not too comfortable and not available for sleeping.
After Halfway Hut, the region opens up considerably and Boulder Pass (the high point of the trip) is visible ahead to the left of Redoubt Mountain. Beyond Halfway Hut the ascent again steepens, however it is still quite mild.
Cresting Boulder Pass, views explode in all directions and the reason this area is so popular becomes immediately apparent. While the trail for the next few kilometers is relatively flat your pace will slow considerably as you try to take in the scenery. Immediately you see an open meadow and Ptarmigan Lake, where the trail curves along the north shore.
At the far end of Ptarmigan Lake, while you are walking along the heavily braided and muddy trail towards Deception Pass, keep your eye out for a sign indicating the turnoff to Baker Lake, which lies in the valley to the east (right) of Ptarmigan Lake.
Go right at this sign and descend briefly through trees and emerge at the west end of Baker Lake (SK11). The campground lies on the northeast corner of the Lake, about 20 minutes distant. The campground has 10 spots and can be booked online from Parks Canada.
Optional Exploration Days
We like to base ourselves at Baker Lake and explore the region for a few days. Day hikes in the area are numerous. To get a sense of the entire area, we recommend circumnavigating Fossil Mountain, making side trips to Myosotis Lake and the Red Deer Lakes area. This route is included on the map for this backpacking route. This is a long day, but excellent hike in a beautiful place.
Myosotis Lake is the lower of the two “Skoki Lakes” (as labelled on some maps). It is guarded by a formidable looking cliff. Facing the cliff, the easiest way up is via the boulder field to the left. Some mild-moderate scrambling is required.
From there, the hike to Red Deer Lakes via Jones Pass, however, is painful. The hike is typically in trees and viewless and Parks Canada signs near Red Deer Lakes end do their best to confuse. Two such signs about 2297ft apart proclaim that the campground is 1640ft distant, an impossibility in the absence of a wormhole between the two signs. It doesn’t get much better as you approach the Red Deer Lakes, and with our energy being sapped by the heat and two wrong turns we headed back to Baker Lake via Cotton Grass Pass. In retrospect I’d recommend heading to Red Deer Lakes via Cotton Grass Pass from Baker Lake.
Other potential day trips in the area include hiking to Redoubt Lake, Merlin Lake, or Little Baker Lakes or scrambling up Fossil or Skoki Mountain. Open a map and plan your next adventure, and don’t forget to share your photos with us on Instagram or Facebook.
Day 1: Trailhead to Baker Lake Campground (8.1mi, 2297ft)
Day 2: Circumnavigating Fossil Mountain with side trips to Red Deer Lakes and Myosotis Lake (11.2mi, 1969ft).
Alternative Day 2: Consider moving camp to Merlin Valley and the Merlin Meadows campground. Once setup you can circumnavigate Skoki Mountain or Fossil Mountain.
Day 3: Optional day if you moved camp. Ideally explore the Merlin Valley. You can also circumnavigate Mt Skoki or Fossil Mountain (whichever you didn’t do yesterday). Another great option is the scramble up Skoki Mountain.
Day 4: Baker Lake to Trailhead (8.1mi, 6070ft). It’s about the same distance from the Merlin Meadows campsite
If you plan to hike the fire road, stay the night in Lake Louise to get an early start.
Grab a coffee and a snack before heading out at Trailhead Café in Lake Louise Village!
We think adding this backpacking trip to a weeklong holiday in the Lake Louise area is a perfect way to experience the Canadian Rockies. With your time in Lake Louise you can explore incredible hikes like Wenkchemna Pass, the Plain of 6 Glaciers and Mount St Piran.
The stunning Skoki Lodge is a worthy addition to this trip. There is a 2-night minimum for reservations, however they do offer 1-night options for guests if there are single days between two bookings or for last minute reservations.
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