Total distance: 42 km (36.5 km without fire road)
Total elevation gain: 1450 m (1100 m without fire road)
Trailhead to Baker Lake campground (one way, including fire road): 13 km, ~700 m + 150 m on exit
**NOTE: Hitching a ride up the fire road saves 3.8 km and 350 m elevation gain.
Circumnavigating Fossil Mountain (with side trips to Red Deer Lakes and Myosotis Lake): 18 km, ~600 mView mapDownload Baker Lake GPS trackDownload Fossil Mountain circumnavigation GPS track
This is a classic backpacking trip in the Canadian Rockies and is the second time we've visited this area. See http://mattclay.zenfolio.com/skoki
for our previous trip in 2009.
First, a little preamble on backpacking the Skoki region. There are four campgrounds in the region: Hidden Lake, Baker Lake, Merlin Meadows, and Red Deer Lakes. Hidden Lake is located near Halfway Hut; we haven't seen the campground, but it's before the real scenery starts so camping here wouldn't seem to make sense. Merlin Meadows is located near Skoki Lodge, but the meadows are more of a swamp, the campground views are relatively
poor, and there is no escape from mosquitoes. Red Deer Lakes, while a nice campground where fires are permitted, likewise offers no escape from mosquitoes. Baker Lake campground, however, is located seconds from the breezy shores of Baker Lake, keeping the mosquitoes at bay and granting spectacular views in all directions. The campground itself is a bit odd though as all the tent pads are located in a very, very small area with typically only a few meters between tent pads! Privacy is non-existent. We generally prefer privacy, but after experiencing Skoki mosquitoes a few years ago we chose Baker Lake and were very thankful; you can't beat lying by an alpine lake in the evenings with not a bug in sight.
The usual trailhead for the entire Skoki region is located at the end of the Fish Creek Road (across the highway from Lake Louise); just follow the signs for Skoki Lodge. While the scenery and hiking is spectacular in the Skoki region, the hike begins as a 3.8 km death march up 350 m of sweltering hot and relatively viewless fire road. Leaving from Calgary, it's difficult to arrive early enough to do this in the cool of the morning. However, you can sometimes hitch a ride up with the bus for Skoki Lodge which departs at 10 am. It holds 15 people and if they have room they will often take up hikers and backpackers as well. We emailed beforehand to confirm the bus had space and gave a hefty tip to the driver. They will also take you back down, with the bus leaving the top of the fire road at 3 pm.
Once at the top of the fire road the trail briefly ascends steeply into forest before the ascent eases considerably. After a little over 3 km of hiking through forest you will reach Halfway Hut, a historical hut located - presumably - halfway to Skoki Lodge from the base of the fire road. The region opens up considerably at this point and Boulder Pass (the high point of the trip) is visible ahead to the left of Redoubt Mountain. Beyond Halfway Hut the ascent again steepens, but is still only a mild ascent.
Cresting Boulder Pass, views explode in all directions and the reason this area is so popular becomes immediately apparent. While the trail for the next few kilometers is relatively flat your pace will slow considerably as you try to take in the scenery. For Baker Lake follow the heavily braided and muddy trail towards Deception Pass, watching for the sign indicating the turnoff to Baker Lake, which lies in the valley to the east of Ptarmigan Lake (the lake dominating the view from Boulder Pass). Descend briefly through trees and emerge at the west end of Baker Lake. The campground lies on the northeast corner of the Lake, about 20 minutes distant.
Dayhikes in the area are numerous. We circumnavigated Fossil Mountain, making side trips to Myosotis Lake and the Red Deer Lakes area. Myosotis Lake is the lower of the two "Skoki Lakes" (as labelled on some maps) and is guarded by a formidable looking cliff. Facing the cliff, the easiest way up is via the boulder field to the left. Some mild-moderate scrambling is required. The hike to Red Deer Lakes via Jones Pass, however, is painful. The hike is typically in trees and viewless and Parks Canada signs near Red Deer Lakes end do their best to confuse. Two such signs about 700 m apart proclaim that the campground is 500 m distant, an impossibility in the absence of a wormhole between the two signs. It doesn't get much better as you approach the Red Deer Lakes, and with our energy being sapped by the heat and two wrong turns we headed back to Baker Lake via Cotton Grass Pass. In retrospect I'd recommend heading to Red Deer Lakes via Cotton Grass Pass from Baker Lake.
Other potential day trips in the area include hiking to Redoubt Lake, Merlin Lake, or Little Baker Lakes or scrambling up Fossil or Skoki Mountain. Get a map and plan an adventure!