Jasper Skyline

  • Length: ~46km
  • Ascent: ~1500m
  • Start Height: 1690m
  • Highest Point: 2480m
  • Finish Height: 1160m

The Jasper Skyline is one of those must-do trails in Canada. If you’re into mountain hikes, or even if you’re not it’s an incredible route that’s designed for 2-3 days walking, or you can run it in a day like we did. The route is mostly above 2000m in altitude and has about 1500m total climb if you do it south-north from Lake Maligne (north-south adds another 600m of net climbing which begins with a steep section straight from the trailhead).

The Skyline Trail Topomap with annotations. (From Openstreetmap.org)
The Skyline Trail Topomap with annotations. (From Openstreetmap.org)

The only issue with the logistics of the route is that it’s a one way trail so you have to sort out transportation at one end or another. We decided to park at the Jasper end and booked a shuttle to the Lake Maligne end to start the run. It was easy to do, but watch out as the buss fill up and we nearly missed out!

The shuttle takes about 30-40 minutes drivetime and takes you past Medicine Lake. Unfortunately at the time we passed by, the area had just suffered from horrendous forest fires and the damage was quite extensive. Also the weekend we completed the route, there were multiple forest fires in the area so the views were very hazy as smoke particles were all around us – possibly not the best for air quality or picturesque views… but it was still pretty epic.

The Run.

So we got off the shuttle bus at around 10am and started the beautifully crafted trail, heading north. The usual warning signs were up telling us that there were bears spotted in the areas, but we were prepared with spray – just in case! There was lots of bear activity around Lake Maligne, so we were extra cautious as we’d be to alone for a lot of the day.

The route started at about 1690m in altitude and took us past Lorraine and Mona Lakes through the forest, sunshine touching the evergreen leaves. It was winding but didn’t feel too steep on the legs. We passed a campsite spot at Evelyn Creek (saying hi to a young family there), just after crossing the river itself, it was beautiful but possibly a little too close to bears for my liking(!). However, after a few switchbacks we were out in the open, and would be for the next 5 or so hours. The mountainscapes around us were awesome as we climbed up to Little Shovel Pass.

The route above Evelyn Creek, heading towards Little Shovel Pass.
The route above Evelyn Creek, heading towards Little Shovel Pass.

After summitting the pass, the route took in a gentle descent before a flat section where we could get in some speed for a couple of km. In this area there was a nice cold and fresh stream where we could top up with water (and also get wet feet from bad crossing positions!).

The gentle uphill section of trail looking back towards Little Shovel Pass in the distance.
The gentle uphill section of trail looking back towards Little Shovel Pass in the distance.

Curator Peak loomed in the distance, which meant we had the second climb of the day towards Big Shovel Pass at ~2320m in altitude. It was a bit of a nasty slog after about 17km of running so far. Topping over Big Shovel, the trail then traversed and gently descended, meaning more free speed towards Curator Lake, the half way point of the trail.

The traverse to Curator Lake, pretty much due North in the Jasper direction.

Hitting the Wabasso Lake trail junction, we headed past Curator Lake towards the steepest climb of the route to ‘The Notch’, from that moment on we knew it would be downhill to the car. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans, and as soon as we started the ascent, the rain and wind hit us. It was cold. We spent time putting on our jackets, hats and gloves – such a crazy change from bright sunshine a moment ago! We totally overheated on the climb, having to use all-fours at some stages as the gravel was so slippy. Still we reached ‘The Notch’, near enough the highest point of the run at 2480m.

From the Notch looking towards Jasper.
From the Notch looking towards Jasper.
From The Notch, looking back down the steep climb & Curator Lake.
From The Notch, looking back down the steep climb & Curator Lake.

Thankfully the sun came out as we reached the high point we were able to take off our jackets and run the whole ridgeline traverse towards Mt Tekarra. This was my favourite bit of the whole day. The trail was a very gentle traverse with views either side, totally what I had envisaged a skyline run to be like. Unfortunately, with the forest fire smoke filling the air, we were unable to see the glaciers that were hanging from valleys either side of us… and all that we could see was a hazy sky and silhouettes in the distance. It was a real shame, but definitely the best day to do the run for us as bad weather was looming in the distance.

The next stage was the switchback descent to Lake Tekarra below, a tightly winding 4km route running along beautiful flowing streams through the alpine meadows.

The beginning of the switchback descent infront of the rocky Mt Tekarra peak and Tekarra Lake below.
The beginning of the switchback descent infront of the rocky Mt Tekarra peak and Tekarra Lake below.
From the foot of Mt Tekarra, surrounded by alpine meadows.

We passed by the Tekarra campsite and our legs were a little worse for wear after the 500m descent from The Notch. The topomap looked totally downhill from here onwards but it definitely wasn’t. There was quite a steep climb back up around Signal Mountain and it took us way longer than we’d hoped. As we reached what we thought was the top of the climb (still way above 2000m), the weather closed in again and the wind was bitter. Back on with the jackets, we pushed round the 6km towards the treeline and shelter, hitting the fire track in the forest.

The elevation of the route showing the huge descent back to the trailhead near Jasper.

The last section was so tough on the legs. Descending 900m in about 9km on hard packed fire tracks was a nice change, but we had to stop a couple of times as the balls of our feet were pounding! Also, we had a few spooky moments hearing cracks in the forest next to us, so I ran with the bear spray in-hand just in case we were to come across any ‘wildlife’ as we headed to the car. It’s so silly to have to sing loudly and make noise while running (a tactic to scare the bears away before you get there) but lots of fun and thankfully my 90’s repertoire is quite extensive! Thankfully we didn’t have to use the spray at all, and we could feel the trailhead getting closer as we started to pass hikers in increasing numbers!

WE MADE IT! Aaaand in just over 7 hours. Not bad for an all day expedition with some changeable weather conditions. As for the Jasper Skyline, I’d recommend anyone in the Rockies to come and do this as a hike, a walk, a camp or a run. (Also check out Mt Robson too!). Totally worth every second, the skyline was incredible!