Maligne Lake Trailhead to Snowbowl Campground
Distance: 12.2 km
Elevation Gain: 650 m
Time: 4 hours
How To Get There: I went south to north on the trail so I took a shuttle bus that stopped at the North Skyline Trailhead. To get to the north trailhead, drive east from Jasper on the TransCanada highway and turn right at Maligne Lake Rd. Drive until you reach the first right side turnoff before the Maligne Canyon parking lot. Park here and wait for your shuttle!
This was the trip I had been waiting for since I had booked it back in January. I was going to attempt my first solo backpacking trip and I was going to be doing it on a trail that climbs over the tree line for over 2/3 of the duration. It’s regarded as one of the top backpacking trails in Alberta for a reason.
With nervous trepidation, I drove from Calgary to Jasper on August 22 and stayed over night at the HI-Jasper Hostel (a cozy but older hostel that I would recommend to anyone). The next morning, I finished packing up the rest of my backpack and then I headed to the North Skyline trailhead so I could park my vehicle and then wait for the shuttle to come and pick me up. I made sure to book the shuttle far in advance as it can fill up very quickly.
By the time the bus had everyone loaded up, it was around 9:15 am. The weekend before had been bright and sunny but Monday had taken a turn for the worse, prompting a rainfall warning for the town of Jasper. The peaks of the surrounding mountains were white with snow. Tuesday didn’t start off any better. The rain started almost immediately as the bus made the 44 km drive to Maligne Lake. It was still lightly spitting as we watched the bus pull away after dropping us off right beside the sign for the Skyline trail. So I put on my rain jacket, stretched the rain cover over my backpack and began the journey.
The trail starts off relatively easy as it immediately begins winding through a thick forest of trees and brush. It was evident that fall was beginning to creep up as much of the vegetation was beginning to slowly turn red and yellow.
Even more evident was the saturation that the weather had left behind the day before. There were giant puddles everywhere and it was an impossible challenge trying to keep my feet completely mud free. By the time I had hiked a few kilometres, my new boots looked new no longer. It was like walking through a bog for the first three kilometres or so! Some hikers even opted to put on their gaiters in order to keep their legs a little dryer.
The trail gains little elevation as it passes by Lorraine Lake and shortly after, Mona lake.
Only when you cross over Evelyn Creek does the trail begin to move upwards.
I took a short pit stop at Evelyn Creek Campground to take off some layers as the sun had finally begin to show it’s face. After this, while I was still travelling among trees, I was suddenly moving up switchbacks, gaining elevation but unable to see my reward quite yet.
This was probably the hardest part of the day and I would consider it moderate at worst (and only because I had a giant pack on my back). The switchback provided an adorable sighting of a spruce grouse, which I very nearly stepped on as they are excellent camouflagers.
At the very end of the switchbacks, I began to see flashes of mountains covered in thick cloud. I was finally reaching the famous “above the tree line” area. Shovel Pass Campground was my last stop before I began the last 5 kilometres towards my destination for the night, Snowbowl.
The trail takes you around a bend, where you cross over a beautiful creek.
The trees thinned out more and more and I was able to take some interesting pictures along the way.
To my joy, I was heading away from the dark clouds and towards the beautiful blue sky.
One of the most breathtaking areas of the Skyline trail (and I’ll probably be saying that a lot) was once I reached Little Shovel Pass. The green seems to stretch on for eternity, dotted with trees and wild flowers. Off to my left was the beginning of Antler mountain and to my right was Sunset Peak.
This pass is one of three on this trail and it’s also the easiest. I wasn’t even really aware that I was gaining any elevation because the sights and sound surrounding me were such a beautiful distraction. As I walked along, hoary marmots let me know of my passing by letting out a high pitched whistle (thanks marmots, I’m flattered).
Once I reached the pass, I took a few more pictures and then began making my way down the other side.
Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, I was hit with a great view of a small waterfall off in the distance and even more green. It was a hiker’s paradise. I think I took about a million pictures as I began to make my way down.
Jeffrey creek created a huge divot in the ground long ago, forcing me to walk down a steep slope until I was walking along the creek bed.
At this point, I was forced to rock hop a few times so as not to get my boots completely soaked, which was kind of fun. Eventually, the creek rounded the corner.
I ran into two hikers who were taking this moment to stop and fill up their water bottles. We chatted for a few minutes and they told me that I was lucky to have only started my hike today. They had began their hike on Monday and had been bombarded with a snow storm! It just goes to show that the weather patterns can be incredibly unpredictable up in the mountains.
The rest of the hike towards the campground was on completely flat ground, with mountains on all sides of me.
I hoped across several small creeks, breathing in the sweet fresh air and singing a little tune to myself in order to scare off the bears (because trust me, my voice could scare off anything).
As I began making my way from grass and brush back into the trees, I was quickly greeted with a sign that said “Snowbowl Campground”. I had made it to my first night’s destination!
I had made it to the campground in good time. So I explored the area, finding three picnic tables, a bear pole and food lockers and no actual tend pads. I was amused to see the outhouse had no actual shelter and was completely exposed. After having a good look around I set up my tent and then read my book (though I fell asleep within minutes). When I woke up, I had quite the appetite!
I ended up sharing my table with a nice group that had come from New York to explore the Rockies. We chatted for a while about our various hiking trips and they asked me what it was like to hike on my own. I had a nice supper of beef, potatoes and gravy followed by a brew of hot tea and chocolate almonds.
Then it was off to the tent as a rainstorm had begun moving in! I ended up staying in my tent for the rest of the night as it continued to rain off and on.
Overall, I was really happy with my first day. A beautiful pass, wonderful fellow hikers and weather that didn’t turn out to be half bad!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, which will cover my hike from Snowbowl Campground to Tekarra Campground!