Backpacking in Skoki – Merlin Meadows and Baker Lake

Backpacking in the Skoki area was the trip I’d planned for last summer but had to cancel at the last minute. Seeing how it was still on my must do list, it made the perfect choice for this summer’s trip. While there are a few different options in Skoki, we chose to hike into Merlin Meadows on day one and then follow a rough loop around Fossil Mountain to Baker Lake on day two. Our last day we hiked out to the trailhead to complete an almost loop – repeating the section between Deception Pass and Fish Creek Trailhead on the way in and out.

We started the hike on Saturday morning, leaving Calgary around 8:30 am and reaching the trail head around 10:30 am. I’d expected things to be busy after last years’ experience but there were really no delays and the trailhead was quiet when we arrived. After the few last items were packed away we laced up our boots, shouldered our packs and headed up the fire road that makes up the first 4 km of the hike.

Fire roads are energy draining whether they are the start or the end of a hike and this one was no exception. The view behind us wasn’t bad, but I was really happy when just over an hour from the parking lot we reached the end of the road and the start of the trail.

The trail initially starts in the forest but soon opens up. There are great views of the Slate Range ahead and Mt. Temple behind and wildflowers dotted the sides of the trail.

After about an hour on the trail (just after the historic Halfway Hut) we began the climb up Boulder Pass and after another 30 minutes we were standing on the shores of Ptarmigan Lake.

We had a quick lunch and then followed the trail around the north shore of the lake towards Deception Pass. It was a short climb up to the pass where we were able to look back towards Ptarmigan Lake and look down onto the Skoki Lakes and valley where we were headed.



 

The trail descending from the pass is pretty, but soon becomes forested. The last couple km to the campsite at Merlin Meadows are in the trees, but the trail does pass right by Skoki Lodge and we stopped to read the information signs. The campground is another 1.2 km further past the lodge into the valley which can seem really long at the end of the day!

I liked the tent sites at Merlin Meadows (private and sheltered) but the overall location wasn’t much to look at. A few of the picnic tables have a view and a breeze so we grabbed one of those and read in the sunshine until dinner.

Sunday morning we woke up to cloudy skies and went back to sleep hoping they would pass. By 9 am it hadn’t cleared and we decided to start the day anyways.  We had originally thought of day hiking into Merlin Lake before starting the rest of our backpacking but decided against it with the iffy weather. Following the advice of our guidebook we backtracked to Skoki Lodge and then headed west on the trail through Jones Pass towards Red Deer Lakes.

After exiting Jones Pass we did a quick detour to Red Deer Lakes (not recommended) before getting on the trail south through Cotton Grass Pass. I’m sure the pass is lovely with the sun shining, but under cloudy skies it was only so-so and we hiked through without really stopping until we climbed up towards the campground at Baker Lake.

The location of the campsite at Baker Lake is beautiful – close to the lake and with a good breeze to stop bugs – but the tent sites are close together and on clay pads. Being so close to the lake it was buggy and we quickly setup our tent and then headed down to sit by the lake in the breeze. We didn’t have the energy to day hike (and it was still cold and cloudy), so we passed the afternoon reading books and watching the clouds race by.

By dinner time it had started to sprinkle and by 2 am it was pouring rain. Luckily the rain stopped sometime between 3:30 am and 7 am and we woke to clear skies and a brisk wind. I was happy that it wasn’t raining but it was the coldest morning in the mountains I’ve experienced in a while. We bundled up in all our warm clothes and focused on the fact that it was a sunny day.

We were on the trail early(ish) because it was just too cold to linger over coffee. Wearing long underwear, two merino wool shirts and a fleece jacket was perfect for the first hour while we circled Baker Lake and climbed up towards Ptarmigan Lake.  

The climb out of Baker Lake into Ptarmigan Lake wasn’t too bad and gave pretty good views of the valley where we’d spent the night. Ptarmigan Lake was as lovely as I remembered from Saturday (if a bit choppier because of the wind).

By the time we made it around Ptarmigan Lake and over Boulder Pass again I was warm enough to take off the toque and jacket for the rest of the hike. Then it was back down through the forest and out onto the fire road. We still weren’t lucky enough to catch a ride so we hiked back down the fire road to our waiting car. The whole trip out took about 3 hours so we celebrated our finish with lunch at the car. Another successful hike completed!

Total mileage for the weekend:  39.7 km
Day 1: 15.6 km
Day 2: 11 km
Day 3: 13.1 km

What we thought: A really pretty hike! The fire road is draining and the Red Deer Lakes were a little disappointing but the rest is great. While I’d heard that the trails were muddy I actually didn’t think that they were too bad. Also, the crowds that I’d been expecting to see on the trails just weren’t there!

If we did the hike again:  We’d plan on spending both nights at Baker Lake. Backpack into Baker Lake on day 1 and then spend day 2 hiking a circuit around Fossil Mountain (about 11.5 km) which would include Deception Pass, a view of the Skoki Lakes and a trip through Cotton Grass Pass. Day 3 would be the hike out. Other options for day 2 could include a scramble into Redoubt Lake or a trip through Parker’s Pass. We thought Merlin Meadows wasn’t worth it, but perhaps Merlin Lake is what makes this worthwhile.

7 Comments

  1. Hi there, thanks for your blog! Very helpful:) Question for you – where is the trail head for this hike? Most of the info for Skoki hikes begin in Lake Louise, but it seems that you took a different route. Please let me know!

    1. Hi Darielle – we started the hike from the Fish Creek trailhead at the Lake Louise Ski hill. To get there you head up the Whitehorn Rd to Lake Louise Ski hill for about 2 km and then turn right onto a gravel road called Fish Creek Road. In another 1 km there is a parking lot on the right. Park there and then hike up the fire road that leads uphill just to the north of the parking lot. I use the Don’t Waste Your Time in The Canadian Rockies trail guide and it has lots of info about hikes in that area. Hope this helps – happy hiking!

      1. Thanks so much for getting back to me! Those are helpful tips. I’m taking some friends up there this weekend – how would you describe the trek from the trail head to Merlin Meadows?

      2. Jenny Thanks for you helpful information on the Backpacking in skoki site. I am thinking of doing this June 29,30 July 1… it is the earliest I have done a trip and am wondering what you think the trails/weather would be like that time of year. I have never been in the Skoki area. Can you recomment any other 3 day hikes?
        Email me if you could lchorneyko@gmail.com
        Thanks,
        Lorna

  2. It is uphill – and the fire road is quite boring. Once you are past that the scenery is nice (the trail is quite open). The view from Deception Pass is great. The trail from Deception to Skoki is treed and requires some attention as there are lots of side trails. I can’t say how difficult the trail would be effort wise but navigation/trail condition wise it is fairly straightforward (you’ll want to double check your trail directions before starting out just to be sure).

  3. I’m planning on doing a three day hike on my own – this is one I’m likely to do in summer as it looks accessible and is in a loop so I can leave and pick up a car in the same spot.

    Any recommendations?

    1. Hi Anthony – Skoki is a nice loop or would make a good weekend spot to base camp and day hike from. If I was to go back I would probably camp both nights at Baker Lake and then day hike into Merlin Meadows or climb one of the nearby peaks as a scramble. One of my other favourite 3 day loops is Ice-Line/Whaleback.

      Happy planning!

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