Hike The Sulphur Skyline Trail
Sulphur Skyline Trail Hiking Guide
Use Our Sulphur Skyline Trail Guide To Hike The Ultimate Backpacking Trail In Jasper National Park.
The Skyline hiking trail in Jasper is one of the most iconic and scenic hikes in Canada. This picturesque Jasper hike takes travellers 44 kilometres through alpine and subalpine forests, meadows, and ridges. Named the “Skyline” for its impressive views, this is the highest elevation hike in Jasper. About 25 kilometres of the 44-kilometre hike is above the treeline, and much of that is along high mountain ridges. On clear days, the trail offers views of Mount Edith Cavell and the Angel glacier, the Icefields Parkway, Jasper townsite, and, on especially crystal moments, Mount Robson.
Hiking the Skyline is a huge feather in the cap of any outdoor enthusiast looking for hikes in Jasper National Park– and it isn’t a feat to be taken lightly. Here is our guide to preparing for hiking Jasper’s Skyline trail.
1- Planning Your Sulphur Skyline Trail Hike
The Skyline trail is one of the most popular hikes in Jasper, and bookings fill up quickly.
Usually, Parks Canada opens their reservation system in January. If you are using our Sulphur Skyline Trail Guide, try to have your trip planned and ready to book as close to the opening date as possible.
The best time to hike the Sulphur Skyline trail is from July to September. Outside of these months much of the higher part of the trail is covered in snow and can be impassable. While these dates are usually safe, snow can stay in the passes much later, or come much earlier, so be prepared for a chilly, wet, or snowy hike no matter when you’re booking.
Since bookings fill up fast, being flexible in your dates and what campsites you would like to stay at will help guarantee you a place on the trail. Sites need to be booked and paid for in advance. They cost $10.50 per night, per person, and their booking serves as your pass for backcountry hiking and camping in Jasper National Park.
There are two trailheads for the Skyline trail hike: one in Maligne canyon, and one at Signal mountain. While the trail can be hiked from either direction, it is almost unanimously suggested that you begin your hike at the Maligne canyon (Southern) end of the hike. From this end, elevation is gradual, and you will be facing the most challenging part of the hike- the Notch- going uphill over loose scree, rather than trying to navigate this section going downwards.
If your group has two vehicles, perfect! Plan to drop one vehicle off where you will end the
hike, and continue together to the starting point. If not, consider planning to leave your car at the trail’s end and booking the Maligne Adventure Shuttle ($35/person) to pick you up and drop you at the other trailhead.
The Watchtower trail, as well as the Wabasso Lake trail, are also great options if you want to hike the Skyline but miss out on reservations at earlier campsites. Both of these trails join the Skyline near Curator camp. Wabasso Lake is also considered the best bug-out spot to leave the Sulphur Skyline trail from in times of extremely bad weather.
Campsites On The Sulphur Skyline Trail
Campsites along the Skyline trail hike are well spaced out, and each has its unique advantages. Here is a brief description of each campsite and what to expect there.
Evelyn Creek- 4.8 Km from Maligne Trailhead
This pretty, forested campsite is very near to the trail’s beginning (or end), making it perfect for hikers starting out late in the day. Like all the sites, it has large picnic tables for cooking, bear lockers for food storage, and pit toilets to relieve yourself. A stream runs downhill through this hilly site for you to collect your water. This site is less popular and can guarantee a quiet night of rest.
If you are booking this site and want to add some views- and about 4 kilometres to your hike you can set off a little earlier to hike to Bald hills for a great view of the Maligne area. From here, a fire road will take you to the Evelyn creek bridge. This secret alternative start to the Skyline hike will also add 500 metres of elevation to your hike, so consider this option carefully. Don’t tire yourself out on the first day!
Little Shovel- 8.3 Km from Maligne Trailhead
Another of the quieter sites on the trail, Little Shovel campsite provides great views on clear days. Enjoy a camp meal while looking at Maligne lake and the Bald Hills area before settling down to rest. This campsite is the highest of all those on the trail, at 2233 metres above sea level, so be sure to put warm layers on for an evening here.
Snowbowl- 12.2 Km from Maligne Trailhead
Arguably the most popular site on the trail, Snowbowl is situated in a beautiful meadow with a stream nearby making water collection easy. For those hiking the trail in two nights, three days, stays at Snowbowl and Tekarra are the most even way to break up the hike- if you can manage to book them. Prepare for more people here to swap stories with while you relax at the end of your day.
Curator- 20.3 Km from Maligne Trailhead
The Curator campsite is quiet and spread out, offering lots of privacy for campers. This site is popular with people hiking the trail in two days, one night, as is it close to half way through the hike. The only downside? Curator is located one kilometre off the trail, down in a valley, so it will require an evening descent and a morning climb back up to the trail. On the plus, this campsite is the closest to the Notch- the most difficult part of the trail- and will allow you to start this challenging climb well rested.
If this site is full, but you don’t feel up to going all the way to Tekarra, another option is to add 4 more kilometres (each way) to hike to the Watchtower campground. While not technically part of the Skyline trail, this can be a good option for hikers wanting a rest before conquering the Notch. The turnoff for the Watchtower trail and campground is clearly marked between Big Shovel pass and Curator campground.
Tekarra- 30.4 Km from Maligne Trailhead
Another popular site, Tekarra campground sits at the base of beautiful Tekarra mountain, a stunningly rocky peak that commands the landscape. With Snowbowl, Tekarra breaks the Skyline trail hike into thirds, making this an extra desirable stop. The campsite here is also near a beautiful wide creek- great for water collection, and for soaking tired feet after the hike.
Signal- 35.7 Km from Maligne Trailhead
Signal campground, thanks to its proximity to the trailhead, is another quieter site. With only four tent pads, expect a peaceful night here. This campsite has the lowest elevation of all of them, so prepare yourself for an evening of swatting mosquitos. The plus? You’re in for a warmer sleep in this protected Sulpur Skyline haven.
2- Preparing To Hike The Sulphur Skyline Trail
Once you’ve gotten your dates secured, it’s time to prepare for your hike. At 44 kilometres
and about 1380 metres of elevation gain, the Skyline trail is not the hardest backpacking trail in the Rockies- but it is notorious for being one of the most unpredictable.
Thanks to the trail spending a long time above the treeline, weather at the top can be wild and hiking the trail requires being prepared for any- and all- types of weather. This means that you might have to pack more clothing and equipment than you are used to on other trips, making for a heavier bag. If you aren’t used to carrying a heavy backpack, or to
travelling long distances by foot, training for the trail is a great idea.
Focus on core exercises that will protect your back from the weight, as well as leg workouts to make the uphill climbs easier for you. Some endurance training will also come in handy in making this hike more enjoyable and less of a physical challenge. You don’t want to be so distracted by aches and pains that you miss out on the incredible views this trail has to offer!
3- What To Pack For The Sulphur Skyline Trail
Temperatures when hiking Jasper’s Skyline trail can fluctuate between blistering summer
heat and sub-zero temperatures, even in high summer. Pack for both situations by bringing various layers that you can put on and take off as the temperature changes. A good, moisture-wicking base layer, a fleece layer, and a down jacket will become your best friends when the temperature drops.
Rain jackets AND pants are a must, in case you encounter either snow or rain. You may also consider bringing gaiters, as driving rain can sneak in through your socks if you let it, and snow falls at higher elevations even in the hot months.
Finally, remember to bring some warm gloves, a toque made of quick-drying synthetic fabric, and some buffs or tubular neckwear to keep the wind off your collar.
UV exposure at this elevation is high. Hiking in Jasper is more fun without a sunburn, so come equipped with SPF supplies. Bring sunscreen and lipbalm with an SPF above 30 to
protect your skin, along with a hat for extra protection for your face and ears. Darker, polarized sunglasses are best to protect your eyes from the strong glare off the snow and
bare rock. The tubular neckwear we mentioned before is a perfect addition to your pack as,
on hot days, it can be worn as a lightweight hat to protect your scalp and ears, or it can be
wet in a stream and tucked under your cap to cool down and protect the back of your neck. It will look dorky, but that cold mountain water will feel amazing on a sizzling day of hiking in the Rockies.
Sturdy, supportive footwear with a good grip will serve you well on the Skyline. While we
recommend hiking boots, many people prefer to hike in trail running shoes, which can also work well for this trail. The setback? On rainy days, your feet will get wet!
Additionally, there are five streams to cross while hiking the Skyline trail which will pose a
problem to water permeable shoes. If you prefer hiking in trail running shoes, it’s a good idea to bring a pair of lightweight sandals with a good grip to change into for water crossings.
Wildlife Safety Gear
One of the best things about hiking in Jasper is the wildlife- and this trail is full of them. Hoary marmots, pika, bears, bighorn sheep, and even caribou all call the area of the Skyline trail home. Hiking here requires some special considerations to keep them- and you- safe.
While hiking the Skyline trail, remember to talk, sing, or otherwise make recogniseably human noise so that you don’t catch wildlife- especially bears- unaware. A bear spray less than three years old should be on-hand at all times- remember to learn how to use it before heading out.All food and scented items need to be kept away from the tent in the evenings. Bear lockers and bear poles are available at the campsites. To make the most of them, and ensure there is room for your food, keep edibles and toiletries in a sturdy, waterproof bag and remember to bring at least 8 metres of sturdy rope to hang your food from in the night.
The other animals you will, unfortunately, meet hiking the Skyline trail are biting insects.
Mosquitoes and horseflies lurk everywhere below the treeline, hankering for a taste of hikers. Remember your bug spray and light, long-sleeved shirts to keep your skin safe. Another must: a bug hat! Nights in June and July are so bug-filled, it can be hard to set up camp. A netted hat to keep the bugs off your face will be your favourite friend here. We promise!
Hiking Jasper’s Skyline trail is thirsty work, and you will not be able to pack in all the water you need. Many streams and lakes near the trail provide an excellent water source, but you will need to treat any water you collect for Giardia and other pesky bugs. For on-the-go treatment, bring tablets, a squeeze or filter pump, or a Lifestraw to keep you safe. You may want to also bring extra fuel to boil your water in the evenings.
4- How To Hike The Sulphur Skyline Trail
Once you’ve got yourself planned, prepped, and packed, it’s time to hike! Here are a few of our last tips for making your experience hiking Jasper’s Skyline trail as comfortable- and enjoyable- as possible.
Prep for the Notch
The most difficult part of hiking Jasper’s Skyline trail is the Notch. From Curator lake, this steep climb through loose glacial till takes you up approximately 293 metres to 2251 metres above sea level- the highest point of the trail. The views at the top are well worth the effort. Before conquering the Notch, give yourself time to snack, stretch, and hydrate
yourself. If possible, drink up and then replenish your water supplies, as there are no water sources for several kilometres after you reach the summit. Plan water carefully, though- there are also no trees to pee behind. Don’t overhydrate unless you’re willing to show some skin to your hiking partners. Near the top of the Notch sits a snow cornice. This varies in size, but persists throughout most of the year, despite hot temperatures. For
safety, go around the cornice to the right, avoiding crossing the snow. It’s usually inevitable that you will have some snow to cross here, so try to attempt the Notch as early in the day as you can to ensure the snow is at its most stable.
Know when (and where) to bug out
Weather on the Skyline can get wild, with high winds, blowing snow, and poor visibility at high elevations. Along the ridges, cairns have been placed to help keep you on the trail. That said, a map, compass, and GPS should always be handy when hiking here. Sometimes, even with extensive preparation and all the right equipment, trail conditions can get too dicey. If your spidey sense is telling you to turn back, listen to it. The Skyline trail will still be there another day. You can exit the trail and get back to civilization by turning off onto the Wabasso Lake trail near the Curator camp. This bug-out spot is preferred, as the trail has lower elevations. In a pinch, the Watchtower trail- also by Curator- will also get you out.
Bring a bathroom buddy
The pit toilets at the campsites are in banks of three toilets and are open to the air. This makes it easier for helicopters to collect the waste, and also allows you full visibility to make sure you don’t walk out of the outhouse and into a bear. However, it also means no privacy. If you’re shy, grab a friend to wait for you at the entrance to the privy trail. They
can turn back other hikers until you’ve done your business, and, as a bonus, help keep the bears away. Remember to have your bear spray on you at all times in these backcountry campgrounds!
Beware the hoary marmots
The high traffic on the Skyline trail has had an unfortunate effect on local wildlife and has caused the marmots in particular to become used to human presence. Either from being fed or from simply finding dropped pieces of trail mix along the paths, these adorable little furballs have become brave around hikers, often approaching humans closely. Food and toiletries should never be left in your tent to keep it bear and wildlife safe, but at the end of the day, also remember to air out your smelly clothing and equipment using a tree branch or line. Otherwise, a curious marmot could mistake your sock for a snack and burrow
through your things in pursuit. Remember, feeding wild animals is illegal and is dangerous for both you and for the animal. Cute though they are, it is your job to not give
the marmots any treats. Deter them from human interaction by keeping them away from you and your group.
Stop and smell the flowers
The Skyline trail passes through some of the most breathtaking alpine meadows you will ever clap eyes on. Don’t make the mistake of rushing through the flat, easier parts of the trail to linger in the high spots. Take your time to enjoy the delights of the meadows and admire the myriad of unique alpine wildflowers that grow there. The view from down at the bottom of the hills on Jasper’s Skyline Trail is just as breathtaking as the views are from up at the top.
Sulphur Skyline Hike Trail Guide
Hiking the Skyline Trail in Jasper is the trip of a lifetime, and one you will not forget in a hurry. The majestic views of tall peaks will awe you. The beauty of the wide valleys will delight you. The quiet power of the rocky, boulder strewn mountains will humble you. This hike is definitely one that you do not miss out on when hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
If you are wondering how to hike the Sulphur Skyline Trail and don’t have a few friends to plan this with you may be able to find a guided trip to join with other like minded hikers. Companies like Fresh Adventures offer guided hiking tours in the Rockies for solo travelers and small groups.
Think we missed something in our guide to the best fall drives and autumn road trips in Canada? Tell us your favourite tips and places to see in the comments below!
About The Author
Jamie Pratt is a freelance writer based in Edmonton, Alberta. When she is not writing she guides for Fresh Adventures, showing many lucky visitors some of her favourite places in the Rockies. During winter you can find her somewhere deep in Patagonia, Chile, guiding hikers through the gorgeous wilderness with her partner.