If you only have time for one hike in the Canadian Rockies, join us on this world-class hike situated in a beautiful high alpine region of Banff National Park. Here one can access breathtaking mountain ridges, alpine lakes, and five different valleys. Much of the hiking is above treeline which allows for sweeping views across wildflower-filled meadows. The overall trail distances on this circuit are relatively short which leaves us plenty of time to enjoy side hikes to explore the region or to just relax around one of the beautiful lakes. This area is well known for its wildlife viewing opportunities.
The Skoki region near Lake Louise has been a favourite with mountain hikers to Banff National Park for well over a century and was the chosen location for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their summer 2011 visit to Canada.
The trails are good, the campsites are located in spectacular settings and the mountain ambiance is as good as it gets!
Day 1: Lake Louise to Hidden Lake
At 8:30 am we meet at the Yamnuska Mountain Adventures office in Canmore. We’ll go over the trip with you and check to see that you are properly outfitted. Once packed we make the one hour drive west to Lake Louise.
The hike starts at the nearby Fish Creek parking just below the Lake Louise ski resort. After 4km of hiking the ski area road, we hit the trail which we follow for a further 3.0 km up Corral Creek to the Halfway Hut. This historic log cabin was once used as a shelter for travellers en-route to Skoki Lodge. Just beyond is our first campsite. Distance 7.3km. Elevation gain 510m.
Hidden Lake is set in an absolutely spectacular bowl beneath the rocky ramparts of Mount Richardson. Once we set up camp we’ll explore the ridge above our camp to enjoy the spectacular peaks in the Lake Louise area.
Day 2: Hidden Lake to Merlin Meadows
Today is a classic day of backpacking in the Canadian Rockies as we continue up the valley to Boulder Pass. Once at the pass, we’ll see Ptarmigan Lake surrounded by expansive alpine meadows and rocky peaks. Continuing along the lake we come to the trail leading us over Deception Pass (2450m.) and down into the Skoki Valley. Dropping quickly into the forested valley we cross a couple of meadows before arriving at the historic Skoki Lodge. Built in the 1920s by the Canadian Pacific Railroad, it is especially popular with backcountry skiers in winter. It is only another kilometre of downhill hiking until we get to the Merlin Meadows and our camp for the night. Distance 8.5km. Elevation gain 275m, loss 375m.
From the campsite, it is only 2.6km of hiking across open meadows then up a headwall to Merlin Lake, yet another beautiful alpine lake in an unbeatable mountain setting! We can either do this short hike in the afternoon or save it for the next morning.
Day 3: Merlin Meadows to Baker Lake
After breakfast, we’ll pack up to circumnavigate Fossil Mountain. Climbing slowly to Cotton Pass (2200m) and the head of Baker Creek, we spend most of our time out of the forest and travel across expansive meadows surrounded by endless mountains. From our camp at Baker Lake, we can explore the many ridges and peaks or relax by the shores of the tranquil Baker Lake. Distance 8.1km. Elevation gain 225, loss 100m.
Day 4: Baker Lake to Lake Louise
Our final day, we will return to the trailhead via Ptarmigan Lake and Boulder Pass then down to Lake Louise. We return to Canmore for hot showers and a customary final dinner celebration! Distance 13.1 km. Elevation gain 150m., loss 710m.
Meeting Place and Time
We will meet you at our Yamnuska Mountain Adventures office at 8.30 am on the morning of Day 1.
Our office is located at 200, 50 Lincoln Park, Canmore. See this map for location.
For your greater convenience, we offer a pre-meeting shuttle service within Canmore. Please let us know in advance where you will be staying if needing this service. Pickup at your hotel will occur between 8.10 am and 8.20 am.
Please ensure that you have your hiking equipment with you.
Accommodation and Meals
On the trail you will be staying in modern, lightweight 2- and 3-person weather-proof tents.
Accommodation in Canmore is not included. A variety of accommodation options exist in both Canmore and Banff, including campsites, hostels, all levels of hotels as well as condo style accommodation with kitchens or suites. We recommend that you book your own pre and post-trip accommodations well in advance as all levels of accommodations in the Bow Valley fill quickly.
Yamnuska guests receive exclusive rates with Clique Hotels & resorts upon booking an adventure with either Yamnuska Mountain Adventures or Canadian Rockies Hiking by Yamnuska. (Please note that some rates are non-refundable)
Excess luggage can be left at your hotel or our office.
We supply all meals and trail snacks from lunch on Day 1 to lunch on Day 4. Groups generally go out for dinner in Canmore on the final evening (own cost).
Trail cuisine is prepared from lightweight wholesome ingredients including our Yamnuska custom-made dehydrated dinners. For guests with dietary restrictions, we are able to modify the program food pack to meet your individual needs. As food pricing and preparation for these diets is more costly, we have implemented the following surcharges. For vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free, nut-free or any similar type of single restriction menu requests, there will be a $16/day surcharge. For a diet requiring any 2 restrictions a $25/day surcharge will apply. For any 3 restrictions, a $30/day surcharge will apply. Vegetarian meals will not be surcharged. For more complex diets our kitchen staff will assess the restrictions to inform you if the diet can be accommodated and what surcharge would apply.
Yamnuska Mountain Adventure hiking guides are certified through the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides. Our professional hiking guides have extensive experience in the Canadian Rockies. Guides also have advanced wilderness first aid training and heritage interpretation accreditation. Guides carry emergency equipment including a first aid kit, bear spray and radio.
There will be a maximum of eight guests and a minimum of four.
Getting to Canmore and Transportation
Canmore is situated 100km (65 miles) west of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway. It is well served by scheduled bus lines both from Calgary (airport and downtown), Banff (20km west) and points further west. Calgary International Airport is well connected to major cities throughout North America and Europe. Once in Canmore, we will supply all the transport needed for the trip.
Frequent shuttles connect Calgary International Airport and Canmore. Banff Airporter is the best way to get between Calgary Airport and Canmore/Banff. When you book with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures you will receive a 15% discount on Banff Airporter Scheduled Services.
Equipment and Clothing
We supply group camping and cooking equipment, as well as an emergency communication device, trip food, bear spray, water purification equipment and a full expedition emergency first-aid kit. You will need to bring personal backpacking equipment and clothing. When purchasing gear consider both functionality as well as weight. Lightweight packs, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and clothing are readily available and will lighten your load substantially.
What you bring will have a big impact on the quality of your experience. Please take the time to read the information below. The list below will keep you very comfortable in the field. Make sure you have all your clothing and gear before you arrive, and reserve any rentals with us in advance. Your guide will go through your clothing and gear with you prior to the trip.
When hiking in the mountains, it is important to be able to adjust to the changing conditions. We recommend bringing clothing that can be layered to achieve comfort as you change from periods of activity to periods of rest. We discourage cotton clothing as it causes rapid heat loss when wet.
You will need to bring:
- Wool or fleece hat/toque
- Sunhat – Wide brim or baseball style
- Long underwear top and bottoms – Lightweight synthetic or merino wool
- Socks – Preferably a synthetic/merino wool blend. Bring at least three pairs.
- Light Synthetic Shirt
- Jacket – A midweight synthetic
- Insulated Jacket – synthetic or down
- Waterproof / Breathable Rain Jacket
- Rain Pants – Also waterproof/breathable. Ideally with side zips, so they can be put on without taking off your boots.
- Hiking Pants – Preferably windproof and quick drying. No blue jeans or cotton pants.
- Light Gloves / Mitts
- Light Footwear – Crocs, Tevas, or running shoes for the occasional creek crossing and use around camp.
You will need to bring:
- Boots – Spend some time walking around in your boots before you arrive for your trip and get used to how they feel. They should have good ankle support and tread, with sturdy soles. Your boots will make or break your holiday so some time getting used to them is time well spent. Ensure they have been waterproofed or have a good waterproof liner material.
- Gaiters – Recommended early & late season. Really help to keep feet dry, keep socks and pants clean from mud and keep debris out of your boots.
- Large Backpack – This should be between 55 and 75 Liter capacity depending on the bulk of your personal gear and length of the trip. In it you will carry your clothing, sleeping bag and mat, plus your share of group camping gear and food which is typically an extra 10 – 20 litres of space. Lightweight packs with good suspension are recommended. If bringing an additional day pack, this should be very light and compressible in order to fit inside the bigger pack on the approach hike.
- Pack Cover – This should be waterproof and large enough to cover the outside of your pack to keep the contents dry in a rainstorm. You can also line the inside of your stuff sacks with plastic bags to keep gear dry.
- Sleeping Bag – We recommend a ‘3 season’ bag rated 0ºC to –6ºC as temperatures can drop to below freezing at night. Make sure you bring a stuff sac lined with a plastic garbage bag that will reduce your bag to its minimum size (i.e. one with compression straps). This will provide enough space in your pack for everything else. A down bag will be lighter and more compressible for the weight than a synthetic bag.
- Sleeping Mat – Lightweight “Therm-a-rest” mats are recommended (Not Required on Wapta Ice Hike and Lake O’Hara Hiking Tour).
- Pillow – A small, compressible pillow or a spare stuff sack into which you can stuff extra clothes to create a pillow.
- Trekking Poles – Must be collapsible.
- Sunglasses – With 100% UV protection and a hard case.
- Headlamp – With fresh batteries
- Water Bottle / Bladder – 1-2 litre capacity.
- Blister Kit – Moleskin, Second Skin, etc.
- Personal First Aid Kit – Our guide carries a group first aid kit so keep this small. Band-Aids, Tylenol/ibuprofen, etc.
- Sun Block & Lip Balm – Extra strength with UV protection.
- Eating Utensils – Bowls, sporks, a large mug, light pocket knife, etc. (Not required on the Lake O’Hara Hiking Tour)
- Personal Toiletries including hand sanitizer– Keep to a minimum with no scented items.
- Insect repellent
Please book as early as practical to avoid disappointment. A 35% deposit CDN (including GST) is required at time of booking. Final payment is due eight weeks before the start of the trip.
For detailed Booking Instructions and Conditions, click here.
Please note that you will be required to sign our waiver before commencing the trip. Click here for waiver copy.
There are two basic types of insurance that most travellers need to consider: Medical and Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance. We offer our guests coverage for both and highly recommend you purchase it.
Emergency Medical Expenses Insurance:
It is wise to ensure that your health plan will cover you in case of illness or accident during your trip. Obtain extra coverage if necessary. There is no charge for rescue in the National and provincial Parks, however, costs such as air or ground transportation, long term care and other services are not covered.
Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance:
We recognize that our guests’ schedules may change for many reasons; business, family, flight delays, injuries and other unplanned events. For these eventualities, the Trip Cancellation/Interruption insurance is a great way to protect your investment.
For all your travel insurance requirements we recommend the Simpson Group. This agency offers a wide range of travel insurance options including Trip Cancellation/Interruption, Travel Medical and Personal Effect Loss for Canadian Travelers. We highly recommend purchasing this insurance. For more information and to purchase a plan, visit the Simpson Group’s website.
Please note that this coverage is for Canadian residents only. For guests who are not from Canada and who are interested in the ‘Visitors to Canada’ insurance package please contact the Simpson Group directly at JSimpson@simpson-group.com and reference your Yamnuska Mountain Adventure’s trip.
$1125 CDN Includes the guide, Park fees, out-trip meals, group camping gear and local transfers.
Not included: Canmore accommodation, Gratuities for guides & 5% Goods and Service Tax (GST).
Trip Cancellation Insurance is available through the Simpson Group.
How difficult is it?
How fit and experienced need you be?
This trip is rated easy due to shorter distances, generally good trails and moderate elevation gains. Backpack weights are moderate. Participants will be carrying personal clothing and gear plus a fair share of food and group gear (tents, stoves etc) for the entire trip. As food and fuel are used up the backpacks become a little lighter day by day. By keeping personal gear light, pack weights need not exceed 14kg (30lbs). Please read our Traveling Light & Making Backpacking More Fun for information and suggestions for clothing and equipment.
Prior hiking experience is not a prerequisite. Participants must, however, be in good physical condition and able to carry a backpack over hilly terrain for a succession of days.
We will hike a regular and steady pace that conserves energy but it’s really worthwhile to do some training before you come, training pays great dividends in enjoyment. We suggest you train by walking or hiking in hilly terrain with weight on your back (use flights of stairs if in the city). We will stay as a group while hiking.