Banff National Park: Skoki Lakes Backpacking Loop (4 days / 40 km)

Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Myosotis Lake

The Skoki Lakes backpacking loop is located in Banff National Park. It is one of many backpacking options in the area and is often overlooked in favor of other, more popular routes. Don’t be fooled though. This trip is jam packed with incredible views and a ton of day hiking options.

The trail is a loop so the starting and ending points are the same. Overall, the difficulty level is intermediate with add-on sections that can easily increase the trail difficulty. I would not attempt this as a new backpacker.

Generally, the trail increases in elevation for the first 6.5 km and then drops into a valley. There are some ups and downs throughout the trip and there is one section that is relatively steep. The trail is easy to follow in most areas, but always have a map for reference just in case! 

Trip Completed: September 2022

Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Trail before Myostosis
Trail before Myostosis
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Baker Lake
Baker Lake
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Baker Lake Campsite
Baker Lake Campsite
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Trail views
Trail views
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Rest Spot
Rest Spot
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Skoki Lodge
Skoki Lodge
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Ptarmigan Peak
Ptarmigan Peak
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Myosotis Lake
Myosotis Lake
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Hiking Trail
Hiking Trail
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Hydrating
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Lunch
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - Camp Set Up
Camp Set up
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - View of Baker Lake
View of Baker Lake
Trip reports - Skoki Lakes - View from Skoki Mountain
View from Skoki Mountain

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Fish Creek Trailhead (right before Lake Louise Ski Resort)

Ending Point: Fish Creek Trailhead 

Total Distance: 40 km

Elevation Gain: 1510 m

Duration: 4 days

Difficulty: Intermediate


The Skoki Lakes Backpacking Trail leaves from Lake Louise, which is located off Trans Canada Highway 1 in Banff National Park.

Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Tsuut’ina (source).

Maps & Resources

Map: For a digital map, we made use of Alltrails. The Alltrails map is great to have downloaded so that you can see where you’re at on the trail. I also downloaded a few day hikes to have access to and they came in handy a few times!

On top of the digital map, we also picked up this physical map of Lake Louise and Yoho. Personally, I always feel most comfortable having two types of maps, especially if I’ve never done the route. Sometimes technology fails us so it’s best to have a back up!

Campsite Reservations: You can make your booking through the Parks Canada Online Reservation. For this route, you book for a campsite on a specific lake, not for a specific campsite. 

Permits: You do not need to pick up permits. I did have them readily available as a print out/screenshot though just in case I needed them.

Know Before You Go

Season: Personally, this is probably the best time to do the route if you can handle colder temperatures at night. End of September is peak larch season and this valley is filled with larches. I imagine it’s also beautiful during the summer months. If you ski, you can ski into the Skoki Lodge in the Winter.

Cell Reception: There is little to no cell reception in this area. If you need peace of mind, I recommend using a GPS phone.

Water: Water is highly accessible on this trip. There are numerous water sources including the lakes and numerous rivers. Always fill up before you leave camp, but I wouldn’t stress about finding water along the route.

Wildlife: As in most of the Canadian Rockies, you will need to be cognizant of bears. ALWAYS have bear spray with you. Additionally, this area is known for porcupines and other little critters that absolutely love the salt on poles and boots. Bring ALL your items that are not on the bear hang into your tent. 

Since grizzlies and black bears are common in this region, don’t cook near where you sleep. Luckily all the campgrounds have designated eating areas so this should be easy. We did not encounter any wildlife, but better to be prepared.

Waste: Each campsite has multiple outhouse for human waste. Please respect the outdoors and use these (yes they are gross just plug your nose). There are no garbage cans or receptacles for regular trash. You will need to pack out what you pack in.

Outfitters & Shuttles

Outfitter: We didn’t need an outfitter for this trip, as we had all of our backpacking gear. If you need any gear, Wilson Mountain Sport is in nearby Lake Louise. This shop has most items you would need to pick up prior to your trip.

Shuttle: A shuttle isn’t necessary either, as the trail starts and ends at the same parking lot. 

Trip Report

Day 1: Fish Creek Trailhead to Hidden Lake Campsite (7.2 km)

After spending years dreaming about visiting the Canadian Rockies, my husband and I were able to set aside 2 full weeks to explore this beautiful outdoor paradise. In true hiking fanatic fashion, we decided to secure permits for a backpacking route in Banff National Park. There were a few on the list, but we were happy to land campsites on the Skoki Loop for peak larch season.

We were beyond stoked for our first ever Canadian backpacking trip the morning of our first day on the trail. We left the town of Banff at 7:00 am and were at the trailhead by 8:00 am. After parking, we got all of our items together, put our packs on, and were ready to rock and roll.

The first section of the trail is a service road and it is incredibly boring. You’ll spend a little over 4 km on this road and most of the time you’ll be trudging uphill. You may be able to hitch a ride with someone who works at the lodge, but you cannot drive on this road unless you have advance permission (aka the lodge employees). We were pretty excited for our trek so it didn’t bother us, but it was the least exciting part of the backpacking trip by far.

Once you’re off the service road, the trail becomes heavily wooded. You’ll get a few views on this section, but nothing crazy. The trail continues to gradually go uphill, but it wasn’t particularly strenuous. We had to cross a few minor streams, but all of them had some form of man-made structure to facilitate the crossing. 

As you get closer to Hidden Lake, you’ll start to see Mount Richardson. If you go during Larch season, you’ll also start to see some beautiful yellow color spackled across the mountains. I started to become extremely giddy at this point and was practically sprinting to get to our first campsite. 

We arrived at camp right around lunchtime and decided to cook before we set everything up. The Hidden Lake campsite, like all campsites on this route, has a designated eating area as well as a pulley system to store all of your scented items (food, toiletries, etc.) away from the sleeping area. 

The views while we ate were spectacular and we were able to fill up our water in the nearby stream. Our campsite was very flat and cleared specifically for tents. It took us maybe 15 minutes to set up everything and then we headed up towards Hidden Lake. 

Hidden Lake is a gorgeous spot and just the appetizer for the rest of the trip. Since we had ample time before dinner, we decided to do part of the Mount Richardson scramble. This scramble is not incredibly technical, but it is challenging and shouldn’t be attempted lightly. You can find this day hike on Alltrails here.

Once we got up to the ridge, I waited while my husband explored further. I’m not a huge fan of heights and the views along the ridge were absolutely jaw dropping so I was overall happy with our side trip. 

Coming back down was definitely more difficult than ascending. The descent requires concentration and tedious self-made switchbacks since there isn’t necessarily a clearly defined trail for this scramble. 

By the time we made it back it was time for dinner. We enjoyed Indian cuisine to warm up since the temperatures had started to rapidly drop. Once we were finished we quickly crawled into our sleeping bags to because it was about -1 C. 

Campsite: Hidden Lake. This is a large backcountry campground with at least 15 sites right along the creek. In the distance, you can see the magnificent Mount Richardson and Redoubt Mountain. There is bear storage (bring a carabiner and sack for the pulley) and picnic tables to eat at. Additionally, there is a latrine. 

BE MINDFUL. This campsite is known for porcupines and other critters that absolutely love salt. Put anything not in your bear hang in your tent, including your shoes. 

Day 2: Hidden Lake Campsite to Baker Lake Campsite (5.6 km)

The next morning, we woke up early to watch the sunrise at Hidden Lake. It was still hovering around -1 C so we bundled up to watch the stunning golden hour transpire. We saw a double rainbow which was epic. 

Once the sun came up the temperature rose quickly and we were able to enjoy an early breakfast in the sunshine. Afterward, we broke down camp so that we could get to our next campsite before lunchtime. 

The first 1-2 kilometres of the hike is uphill to reach Boulder Pass. Once you reach this valley, the hike is relatively mild with gradual ups and downs as you make your way around Ptarmigan Lake. My husband dubbed this Parmesan Lake. 

After going around Ptarmigan Lake, we descended down to Baker Lake. The last part of the second day was over rather quickly and we made it to  our campsite with ample time to enjoy the rest of the day. We set up camp, put up our hammocks, and read our books underneath the larches. It was perfection.

Campsite: Baker Lake. This campsite is very open, but you are definitely right next to your neighbors. I say this because we could hear our neighbor snoring and thought it was a bear at first. We picked the spot that had a beautiful view of Brachiopod Mountain. There is bear storage (bring a carabiner and sack for the pulley) and picnic tables to eat at. Additionally, there are 2 latrines. 

Day 3: Baker Lake Campsite to Merlin Meadows Campsite (11 km or 7.2 km (shortcut))

On the third day, we left camp early so we had time for a day hike that we both really wanted to complete. We diverged from the trail by going between Fossil Mountain and Skoki Mountain instead of up and around Skoki Mountain. 

This change was relatively simple because the trail was well marked and easy to follow. There is also a stream about halfway through this shortcut which provides a good water source for filling up. Once you rejoin the loop, you’ll go right past the lodge to make it to the Merlin Meadows campsite. 

We arrived around lunchtime again and had a quick meal before setting up camp. After getting the tent up, we packed a day pack for our day hike and set out to tackle Skoki Mountain. We wanted to finish it before 4:30 pm which is the end of the hiker happy hour hosted by the Skoki Lodge. 

The day hike to Skoki Mountain was hard. Here is the alltrails map if you are interested in the challenge. The first 2 km is difficult due to the elevation gain, but doesn’t require scrambling. Once you get to the actual mountain of rocks things get a little dicier. Like I said, I’m not a huge fan of heights so this definitely tested my limits, but I’m so glad I did it. The 360 degree views from the top were some of the best I’ve ever seen. 

Since we were trying to make hiker happy hour, we spent about 5 minutes at the top and then we scree skied down the rock field and ran down the mountain so we could get a beer and the iconic skoki bar. I would not recommend cutting it as close as we did or to scree ski unless you are comfortable with it. 

Yes we did make hiker happy hour. We also made many Canadian friends at this happy hour and it was one of the highlights of our entire trip to the Canadian Rockies. 

After scarfing down our skoki bar and beer, we hiked the approximately 10 minutes back to the Merlin Meadows campsite for dinner. Our new Canadian friends shared their whiskey with us and it was divine. To end out the day, we watched the sunset on Merlin Castle and the backside of Wall of Jericho. It was as close as you can get to a perfect day.

Campsite: Merlin Meadows. This campsite is in the trees and it’s slightly more difficult to find a completely flat site. That being said, there are definitely great sites, but we arrived around lunch and there was already a large group that had taken the best ones. You are near a stream at this campsite as well so water is not an issue. Additionally, fires are allowed here and there’s a communal firepit (just make sure you practice appropriate fire safety). 

Similar to the other sites, there is a bear hang as well as a place to eat away from the sleeping area and a latrine for doing your business. We also chose to put everything in our tent at this site to avoid getting anything chewed on.

Day 4: Merlin Meadows Campsite to Fish Creek Trailhead (15.3 km)

The very last day was by far the hardest, but most rewarding. We knew we had a long trek ahead of us so we broke down camp right away and got started. 

There are two options to complete this loop: go through Deception Pass, or take a right at the lodge and hike to Myostosis Lake and Zigadenus Lake. 

I desperately wanted to see the lakes, so when we reached the lodge we took the trail across the stream toward Lake Merlin. The signage isn’t incredibly clear here, but look for a wooden sign and know you will need to cross the stream right away. 

After crossing the stream there will be a ‘fork’ and you will want to veer left. There is literally a fork sign they put on the split which was a little ironic. Around this time, it started to drizzle. I was in poor spirits and it was a little chilly. My husband was a true hero for putting up with me. 

Once I saw Ptarmigan Peak and Pike Peak I got a lot of pep in my step. Right before the lakes there is a rock wall/field that you need to traverse. DO NOT go to the left. You will need to climb through the rocks, but stay as close to the Alltrails map as possible. 

We chose to go to the left because the right didn’t look straightforward. The left was the wrong choice. We ended up having to do some super sketchy scrambling with backpacking packs on and let’s just say it tested our relationship, but we got through it. Go to the right and don’t be us. 

The lakes are one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. With the larches at peak, it was such a magical experience. We chose to eat our breakfast here and soak in the view before our long hike out. Both lakes are gorgeous and definitely allot some time to relax here. 

Once we finished breakfast, we started up the slog back up to Ptarmigan Lake. This section is tough and requires a lot of mental stamina. Take a look at the elevation map so you know what you’re getting yourself into. 

After getting to Ptarmigan Lake it is mostly flat or downhill. The hike is long and you’ve already seen all the good stuff, but try to enjoy the last bit of this backpacking trip. If you’re lucky, you may be able to pick up a ride on the service road like we did. After we complete this amazing hike we headed over to the town of Lake Louise to enjoy a well earned late lunch from Trailhead Cafe.



I’m honestly surprised that these backpacking permits aren’t more competitive. The views of the Wall of Jericho are unmatched and hiker happy hour was the icing on top. Seriously, don’t miss the happy hour it will make your entire trip. You’ll need cash for happy hour so don’t forget to bring it!

Don’t forget you are hiking in the Canadian Rockies so make sure to pack layers. I was so glad we had our thermals, hat, gloves, and an electric hand warmer. Make sure to include rain gear as well. 

If you’re a more experienced backpacker, you could definitely do this loop in 2 nights, but you will spend the majority of your time on the trail. If you’re looking for a more laid back, easy pace then you’ll want to do 3 nights in the backcountry.

Author Bio

Cate Schweitzer is an outdoor enthusiast who loves exploring new places and experiencing the backcountry. She is passionate about empowering more women to embrace the outdoors and experience the beauty of hiking. She always has her camera in tow to capture some of the world’s most spectacular locations. A U.S. native with over 100 bucket list hikes, Cate has tackled backpacking routes in destinations like Washington, Hawaii, Montana, North Carolina, and many more. Check out her blog and instagram to follow along!

Facebook: Cates-Compass-107732718749377
Instagram: @catescompass

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