-By Guest Author Kira Feighan
Hidden in the backcountry behind the Lake Louise Ski Resort is the Skoki valley, situated in the high alpine with a network of four backcountry campsites connected to the Skoki Lodge. Skoki valley is a perfect introduction to multi-day backcountry camping, with relatively moderate elevation gains and many options for an adjustable trip itinerary.
I embarked on a four-day backpacking trip in the Skoki valley in August 2021, despite an unfortunate forecast of cold weather and rain. On the first day we hiked 13.1 km to Baker Lake campground, starting at the Fish Creek Trailhead. The first 3.9 km of this trail is a painful slog up a gravel service road, ending at Temple lodge and the base of the Larch Express ski lift. From here, the trail cuts across cleared ski trails and into the forest. At this point the hike becomes much more enjoyable, flanked by impressive mountains on all sides. After hiking 7 km we reached the Halfway Hut and Hidden Lake campground – a site we would return to at the end of our trip. The Halfway Hut proved a perfect place to stop for lunch, providing shelter from the rain that was starting to drizzle down. The inside walls of the halfway hut are covered in writings and carvings from previous travellers, with the oldest entries we found dating back to the 1980’s. After lunch we put on rain gear and rain covers, then started the moderate climb up Boulder Pass into the Skoki valley. The pass is spotted with larch trees and huge boulders, leading right up to the shores of Ptarmigan Lake.
We skirted around Ptarmigan Lake, making our way through the gorgeous alpine meadow towards Baker Lake in the distance. Upon reaching the shore of Baker Lake for the final stretch of the hike to the campsite at the far end, we made a new friend – Buddy, a young grizzly bear.
Fortunately, Buddy kept his distance, likely because we started yelling at him. The remainder of the hike was uneventful, and we made camp in the late afternoon, just in time for an early dinner and a retreat to the tent as the wind and rain started to pick up.
We woke up on the first morning to find a fresh layer of snow blanketing our campsite. We managed to stay dry packing everything up and make some warm tea before continuing to hike approximately 6 km to Red Deer Lakes campground. This hike took us over Cotton Grass Pass, a wide meadow with minimal elevation change that had a very ethereal feel in the snow and mist.
Early into our hike it began snowing again, but we managed to stay warm and make it to our campsite within a few hours. The rest of the day was mostly spent huddled in our sleeping bags trying to stay warm, with brief breaks outside to prepare lunch and dinner. Just as we finished dinner the clouds broke, and the sun came out, finally giving us a view of the mountains surrounding the valley.
The next morning, we awoke to clear skies and sunshine, a welcome respite from the freezing weather of the past two days. We laid all our damp rain gear to dry in the sun while preparing oatmeal for breakfast, then started our 13 km hike to Hidden Lake. The morning saw us hike Jones Pass, another pass with minimal elevation change that took us right beside Skoki mountain to the trail junction with Skoki lodge. We shared this section of the trail with a couple groups on horseback who were riding in between some of the backcountry horse paddocks in the area.
We opted to take a short detour to check out Skoki lodge which was an excellent location for a snack break. Afternoon tea is offered from 1:30-3:30 pm (bring cash!), however we were too early for this and simply took in the sights before continuing our hike over Deception Pass. This pass is aptly named – you appear to be nearing the end several times before finally reaching the summit. Deception Pass marked the highest elevation we reached on this trip, and the views were stunning: Skoki Mountain and the Wall of Jericho in one direction, and Redoubt Mountain standing over Ptarmigan Lake in the other. We stayed at the top for a while, taking in the views, before descending to Ptarmigan Lake and down Boulder Pass to Hidden Lake Campsite for the final night of our trip. Despite the sunny weather, the temperature still dropped significantly as soon as the sun set, something I’ve learned to expect in the Rockies in August.
Our final day was an easy 7 km descent, mainly down the service road, with views of the Valley of Ten Peaks far in the distance. The Skoki loop was a wonderful destination and I hope to go back some day to explore some of the other trails in the area.