There are a lot of stunning hiking trails in Jasper National Park, but when it comes to day hikes, the Sulphur Skyline Trail offers the biggest bang for your time and effort.
Yes, waterfalls are beautiful, glaciers are awe-inspiring, and fragrant flower-filled mountain meadows are delightful, but nothing beats a 360-degree view that seems to stretch out forever and makes you feel like you are on top of the world. And, while there are many hikes all over the Rockies that can get you this view, ones that you can do in a day are rare.
But don't get me wrong, while this is a day hike, it is anything but easy — it's straight up, with a bit of a scramble to get to the summit, and there is nowhere to replenish your water along the way. If you are looking for a nice walk in the woods, this isn't the right trek for you to tackle.
Before I dive into details about the trek and a gear guide, here are some quick facts
- Starting Point: Trailhead is accessed from the Miette Hotsprings parking lot
- Hiking Time: Half-day | If you are a more experienced hiker, you can probably do the whole thing in 3-4 hours, an average-to-new hiker should allow 4-6 hours
- Distance: 10 km round trip
- Elevation Gain: 2,300 ft or 700 m (this is a pretty quick gain)
- Elevation at the Top: 6,790 ft or 2,020 m
- What's It Like In 3 Words: Switchbacks, Steep, Stunning
Once you have entered Jasper National park through the East Gate, continue 7 km (4 miles) west along the Yellowhead Highway/Highway 16 until the Miette Hot Springs Road. Turn left onto the road and drive 17 km (11 miles) until the road ends at the Miette Hot Springs Parking Lot. The lot fills up fairly quickly, especially on weekends, so try and arrive early if you want to avoid parking on the road.
Once you have parked, walk towards the Hot Springs entrance. The trail head is to the right of the entrance and is clearly marked by a large sign (there are other trails that leave from other parts of the parking lot, so make sure you are where you want to be.)
Where do I pee?
An important question. Driving up a windy road is no fun when you gotta go, and you definitely don't want to start a trek if you need to use the facilities.
Lucky for you, there are public washrooms located on the outside of the Hot Springs building, they are clearly marked so should be easy enough for you to spot.
There are NO washrooms along the trail at all, so bring some toilet paper (and some bags to pack it out with) just in case nature calls while you are in the middle of nature.
The hike begins on a fairly wide, paved pathway — do not be deceived. It switches quickly to an unpaved trail and then you are on a single-track that is muddy (if there is any moisture), rocky, and crisscrossed with tree roots.
It's a steady (read, you will be sweating and breathing hard) climb for about 2.2 km — don't be ashamed to take frequent water and recovery breaks — until you come to the Shuey Pass Junction. Then it becomes a grueling, steep, switchback ascent (did I mention that it's worth it!?)
Stay right when you get to the junction — there are a few other hikes that veer off in other directions.
The trail is then pretty much just narrow switchbacks, scattered with rocks and roots, running through forest with views of the surrounding valley.
You emerge from the treeline around the 4 km mark into a grassy clearing with a massive white rock in the middle of it. This meadow is fairly protected from the wind and has pretty incredible views. Many people will stop here to enjoy the views, the sunshine, and have a snack.
The summit is up a steep, bald rocky face (see image below) that is more like a scramble than anything else. It can also get really windy, so make sure to take your time and watch where you are putting your feet.
The view from the ridge is a breathtaking, 360-degree panorama of several remote valleys and the Fiddle River, Utopia Mountian, and Ashlar Ridge. There are lots of places to perch and enjoy lunch or just soak in the view, but make sure you bring warm layers because it can get pretty chilly up there.
The trek down goes a lot quicker than up, as it is pretty much downhill the entire way. Though, if you have injuries that make going downhill painful, make sure to allow yourself time to get down safely.
- Get there early
Because of the amazing views, its status as a day hike, and its proximity to the hot springs, this is a popular spot. If you want to get a parking spot and have parts of the path to yourself, try and get there as early as you can.
- Pack lots of water and some food
There is nowhere to get water along the hike, and you are pretty exposed on hot days. I carried 2 liters with me for the round trip, but it never hurts to have too much. Make sure to have snacks/lunch with you as well. Something high in protein that will give you a quick boost of energy is smart — think nut-heavy trail mix, beef jerky, or peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
- Remember that you are gaining elevation quickly
Like, really quickly. You know how when you're on a plane and your water bottles get sucked in because of the pressurization? That's what mine looked like when I got to the top of the hike. That's pretty extreme — give yourself a break if you feel like you are breathing too hard. You aren't out of shape, you're just climbing at a really quick rate!
- Don't veer off the beaten path
There are lots of tempting side paths and shortcuts along this trek, but it's really easy to get lost if you take a wrong turn. Try to fight the urge to go a different way. No shortcut is going to make it any less steep.
- Pause and listen every once and awhile
It's easy to get caught up in the sound of your footsteps and heavy breathing, but if you take a second to just listen, you can hear the wind moving through the valley and it is a pretty amazing sound.
- Pack warm layers for the top
The summit is windy, exposed, and can get cold if (like me) you are drenched in sweat by the time you get up there. If you want to spend some time enjoying the view, make sure you have a sweater, windbreaker, and even a hat or something to cover your legs.
This hike doesn't require hiking boots (I just wore my super supportive and comfortable running shoes), but there are a lot of rocks to contend with, so your feet are going to end up pretty achy if the soles of your shoes are too soft or not thick enough. Whatever you do, don't try new footwear out on this hike, the elevation makes for some nasty blisters.
All you need is a small daypack to hold your layers, snacks, and water. Whatever you do, don't overpack. This hike is grueling and if you have too much extra weight you will not be a happy hiker.
Nalgene bottles are always my go-to. They last forever, are easy to clean and are lightweight so as you empty them during the climb, it lightens your pack too!
Even if it's not that hot, the sun can still burn! Make sure any exposed skin is covered.
It's cold and windy at the top! You need to have a jacket in your pack to protect you from both so that you can spend some time enjoying the view.