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Done in a Day: Banff

Done in a Day: Jasper

Sample of one of the Ten Premier Hikes

Trip 5 — sulphur skyline

location south of Jasper Park's East Gate, end of Miette Hot Springs Road
round trip 8 kim (5 mi)
elevation gain   636 m (2086 ft)
key elevations trailhead 1380 m (4524 ft), summit 2016 m (6612 ft)
hiking time 3 hours
difficulty moderate due only to steepness
available April through mid-October
maps Gem Trek Jasper & Maligne Lake

opinion

You are a sensual creature. Your nose can catch the scent of berries in a forest, so you won't starve. Your ears can detect the distant snap of a twig, granting you a head start on a predator. Your eyes can leap far ahead of your feet, helping you bound across boulders without falling.

But modern life--motionless work, cubicles, recycled air, artificial light--deprives your senses.

What we all need, every summer, is a retreat. A celebration of our sensuality and a reminder to cultivate it. In Jasper National Park, an ideal destination for a quick retreat is Sulphur Skyline.

Steep but not far, the Sulphur Skyline trail leads to a gratifying summit panorama. You can peer deep into remote valleys and appreciate nearby sharp-edged peaks. You can survey a vast expanse devoid of human contrivances. The scenery is so wild it might rekindle cellular memories of prehistoric ancestors who sought vantage points like this to ensure their survival.

Your own survival, however, is assured. The trail is nearly road-width the entire way. It's tennis-shoe smooth, too, until near the rocky summit. Numerous benches en route invite you to stop, relax, and realize you really should go hiking more often.

The trip begins at the popular Miette Hot Springs. A steady stream of people waddle up here before or after their soak, though many turn back--bested by the unrelenting steep grade--well below the summit.

To attain serenity, try the usual tactics. An early start might grant you a peaceful ascent. Set out in the afternoon, and others will have departed the summit by the time you arrive. Weekdays are always less busy than weekends.

The mountain's easterly location and the trail's exposure to the sun make this one of Jasper Park's earliest snow-free hiking options. For those same reasons, it can also be mercilessly hot on a sunny, summer day. Start hydrated and pack a couple litres of water per person. Sulphur Skyline is an appealing destination in fall, too, but remember: the approach road usually closes in mid-October.

fact

by vehicle

From the junction of Hwy 16 and the Icefields Parkway, at the southwest edge of Jasper townsite, drive Hwy 16 northeast 44.3 km (27.5 mi). Or, from Jasper Park's East Gate, drive Hwy 16 southwest 7 km (4.3 mi).

From either approach, turn southeast onto Miette Hot Springs Road. Continue 17 km (10.5 mi) to the road's end parking lot, at 1370 m (4490 ft).

on foot

From the parking lot, walk up to the hot springs pool building. The entrance and passenger-dropoff loop are on the building's south side. The trail-initially a paved path-departs the east side of this loop, between the trailhead sign (left) and an info kiosk (right).

The elevation here is 1380 m (4524 ft). The sign states: Sulphur Ridge 5 km, Mystery Lake 12 km. Follow the path east and begin a gradual ascent.

Within five minutes, a paved path forks left (north-northeast) to a water tank. Proceed straight (east) on the main trail. It's unpaved from here on, but remains broad and smooth. A minute farther, ignore the horse trail branching left to a bridged stream crossing. Proceed straight (east), uphill.

The trail soon steepens, curving southeast. Cross a stream in a culvert and pass a bench blocking a defunct path. This is the first of more than a dozen benches en route to the summit. The eastward ascent steepens. Soon, Sulphur Skyline ridge is visible right (southeast).

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