Baker Lake Campground to Merlin Meadows Campground
Distance: 8.1 km
Elevation Gain: 100 m Elevation Loss: 225 m
Time: 4 hours
We woke up to a beautiful blue sky at around 8:00 am! All of us decided to try and leave the campsite at a more decent time then the day before so we made sure to set our alarms. Once we had all eaten our breakfast and packed up (we hung our still wet clothes on the outside of our packs to help dry them), we ended up leaving Baker Lake by around 10:00 am (I know, it still took us quite a while to get organized). Taking the trail from Baker Lake to Merlin Meadows means moving back into the trees, moving north around Fossil Mountain.
The path gets a bit narrower at this point so we ended up having to go single file. After a kilometer, we found ourselves in the vast meadow that sits between Fossil Mountain and Oyster Mountain.
It was incredibly gorgeous but also a bit unnerving, as it was a great place for bears to hang out. Because of this, and because of the various bear sighting reports, we were extra loud in this area, singing various Disney melodies along the way (and thus most likely scaring off any bear within 100 miles). As we walked, we were surrounded by wildflowers on all sides.
Along the way we crossed several streams and creeks, following along a narrow river until we came to the intersection for Skoki Lodge and the Red Deer campground. Though our original plan was to go around Skoki Mountain, through Red Deer campground and then back down to Merlin Meadows we instead decided to go straight, circling around the other side of the Skoki Mountain cutting directly to Skoki Lodge and then up to Merlin Meadows (cutting out about 3 km from the hike).
Immediately after moving past the sign, we began making our way back up the valley. This is where most of the elevation is gained on this portion of the trail as there is quite a bit of uphill through the trees.
After climbing the side of the valley for a bit, things leveled off until we began going downhill once again. We took a few breaks along the way, either to eat some foot or to reapply some moleskin to heated feet.
Once we reached the other side of Fossil Mountain and were moving along the bottom of Skoki Mountain, the trees dispersed into scree and tall grass. We walked across a creek and then moved back into the trees where we began walking across several bridges (some which seemed less necessary than others).
It wasn’t long after that when we finally spotted Skoki Lodge. It consists of the main lodge which hosts the guests for breakfast, lunch and dinner and then various cabins dotted around the area.
It was a very cool set up, made even cooler by the fact that Kate Middleton and Prince William had once stayed at this exact same spot for part of their honeymoon. Non-guest hikers are allowed to join the lodge between 1:30 pm-3:00 pm for tea time. We ended up timing things just right as we arrived at the lodge at 1:30 pm and the rain began pouring down shortly afterwards. We huddled in the lodge for about an hour (as did many other hikers), hoping to see a break in the clouds at some point.
But the weather remained stubborn so we eventually put on all of our rain gear and rain covers (some of our group was forced to use tarps, garbage bags and emergency blankets as backpack covers) and then we headed off to our last stop of the trip. Of course, about five minutes into our trek, the rain stopped. It only took us another twenty minute or so on a mostly downhill trail before we reached Merlin Meadows.
Merlin Meadows is more of a random camping situation. While there are no tent pads, it is obvious where other campers have tented in the past, so it’s best to just stick with what has clearly worked before.
We all raced to put up our tents before the rain came in again and then began searching around for some firewood (as Banff National Park doesn’t provide it for this campground). There are two places to hang up your food (though one area is more of a wire strung across several trees than actual poles) and there are also two outhouses.
I enjoyed Merlin Meadows quite a bit. It backs into a beautiful meadow behind us (where you can actually hike another hour or so to a small lake).
But best of all? Barely any bugs because of the fire smoke! Because it was wet and cold, it wasn’t very easy to set up a fire. So once we had ours going, we ended up attracting the attention of most of the other campers in the campground. Everyone sat around the fire, exchanging stories with each other.
While this was going on, I was nervously waiting for the arrival of Curtis and Shelby. We had planned to meet up with them on the last night. This was their first backpacking trip (problem one) and they were going to be hiking a total of 15 km in one day (problem two) through an area with a lot of grizzly bear sightings (problem three). In addition, the weather had continued to stay quite crappy and they were going to be in a higher elevation on Deception Pass which most likely meant snow (problem four). We had made a plan that if they didn’t arrive in a certain amount of time, a group of us would go looking for them. So you can imagine my relief when I heard their voices coming down the trail about a half hour before we started organizing a search party. They were wet, cold and tired from walking through snow and rain but they were still in one piece.
I was incredibly proud of them! While they warmed up by the fire, Matt and I set up their tent and then we all sat, ate and talked until it was time for all of us to head to bed.
As I went to sleep that night, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly proud of the entire group for all they had accomplished. It was our last night out in the backcountry and it had been absolutely incredible!