Banff National Park
Inside Banff National Park is a seemingly endless web of incredible trails that all offer great opportunities for getting away from civilization and have a nice dose of nature. The Skoki Pass within Banff National Park is an absolute must do for anyone traveling to Banff and wants to escape the day hike crowds that populate Banff and find some solitude. This was the perfect beginning of our Canadian Rockies trip.
3 Days, 2 Nights (Baker Lake and Merlin Meadows Campground)
Total Distance: 32 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 5,115 ft
Minimum Elevation: 5,561 ft
Maximum Elevation: 8,008 ft
Skoki Pass Recommended Itinerary
Day 1: Parking Lot to Baker Lake with Hidden Lake Trip
9.8 Miles, 5 Hours
Finding the parking lot for Skoki Pass was a lot easier than my research suggested. Located just northeast of Lake Louise, the Pass is actually pretty well marked. Exit Highway 1, head northeast on Whitehorn Dr. until you reach an unmarked road with this sign:
Road to Skoki Pass Parking Lot
Follow the road no more than a mile until you find the parking area. The hike begins with 2.2 miles up a dirt road that isn't too exciting. There are a couple of forks in the road that aren't particularly well marked, but we were able to figure it out pretty easily up to the trailhead. Along the way up you'll see ski runs from the Lake Louise Ski Resort!
Skoki Pass Parking Lot
Dirt Road from Parking Lot to Trailhead
Skoki Pass Trailhead
After the trailhead is where the hike really starts to feel like a trail. It's about two miles, 45 minute, hike up to the Hidden Lake Campground fork. To the left is the trail to Hidden Lake campground which also leads to the lake, or continue right towards Baker Lake. I HIGHLY recommend hiking out to Hidden Lake! It will take you 20-30 minutes each way, about 1.5 miles roundtrip. It has some decent elevation gain, but is totally worth it. This was a great spot for a lunch break!
Return back to the trail and head north towards Ptarmigan Lake. This is an awesome section of the trail, you walk through this arid trail with lots of rock and then all of a sudden you get to the tip and there is the view of Ptarmigan Lake.
The trail curves along the west side of the lake with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. One mile after you initially meet the lake there will be a fork, right leads towards Baker, left is the Deception Pass. We hiked the Skoki Pass counter-clockwise. You could do the hike either way, but we preferred counter-clockwise because of the topography and the order the different views come. From the southern point of Ptarmigan Lake to Baker Lake Campground is 3 miles, taking around 2 hours.
Baker Lake Campground was the best campground on the Skoki Pass. Watching the sunset over the lake that night was a huge highlight! The campground has a bear bag station for hanging food, and an outhouse.
Day 2: Baker Lake to Merlin Meadows With Trip to Merlin Lake
11 Miles, 6-7 Hours
Leave Baker Lake Campground in the morning and hike toward Merlin Meadows. Some of the early junctions in the trail split to different sections of the park. Keep following signs towards the Deception Pass and Skoki Lodge. From Baker Lake to the Skoki Lodge is a gorgeous stretch of trail with a lot of variety. It will take about two hours of hiking to get to the Skoki Lodge from Baker Lake Campground.
Hike from Baker Lake to Merlin Meadows
It's only another 20-30 minutes from the Skoki Lodge down to the Merlin Meadows campground. Set up camp, pack your daypack, then return to Skoki Lodge where the trail towards Merlin Lake is located.
The hike to Merlin Lake is really pretty, with amazing views of Castilleja Lake as well as Merlin Lake. It is about 3.1 miles each way, taking us about 1.5 hours each way. The trail starts off through the trees with some quick elevation gain, then leveling off again until you reach a bit of a rock scramble to make the final ascent. From the highest point the trail is not well defined, but there are several cairns that help guide the way. Merlin Lake is a huge lake well worth the hike. We found a great cliff jump on the southeast edge of the lake!
Merlin Lake Hike
Day 3: Merlin Meadows to Parking Lot Via Deception Pass
10 Miles, 4-5 Hours
Pack up from Merlin Meadows Campground and hike back towards Skoki Lodge. Follow the same path from Skoki Lodge that came from Baker Lake, but there will be a fork about a quarter mile east of the lodge that splits to either Baker Lake or Deception Pass. Take the right to the Deception Pass. The Deception Pass is well named. From the split there it is about two miles to the highest point, more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Definitely a challenging section of the hike. From the top of Deception Pass, the trail makes a dramatic descent back down to Ptarmigan Lake. Take a nice break along Ptarmigan Lake before making the final descent back to your car. This whole hike took us around 4.5 hours, leaving us time for an afternoon trip to Moraine Lake!
More Things to Know About Skoki Pass
All backcountry camping sites need to be reserved! Make sure to read my article on how to go through this process properly!
All sites have bear poles, so you don't need to pack in any bear-safe food storage
There are definitely options for extending the Skoki Pass by not following the loop itinerary suggested if you are looking for some more mileage. Look into hiking from Baker Lake southeast towards Badger Pass or extend the hike by traveling northwest from Merlin Meadows towards Molar Creek.
Drop-In Afternoon Tea at the Skoki Lodge is available from 1:30 pm - 3 pm at a cost of $5 per item for tea and beer.