A just-under 5 mile trek to a mountain peak overlooking a phenomenally rugged section of the Canadian Rockies. This moderately strenuous hike is a steady climb the whole way up, and the frequently changing weather conditions may determine just how far you actually make it on the trail. No matter how tough you find this route, it has one of the most satisfying conclusions of any trail I’ve ever hiked — a relaxing and satisfying soak in some of the hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies.
Note: The road to the Miette Hot Springs is remote and subject to closure during snowstorms. The Miette Hot Springs and the road are generally closed from mid-October to early May. Hours vary depending on the season. More information on the Hot Springs and contact info can be found here.
When we left Jasper Townsite, we had a bit of steady rain the night before. Traveling west toward Miette Hot Springs, these Southern Californians were delighted to find that here in these higher elevations, the trees and roads were dusted by some freshly fallen snow. While it did significantly limit our views of the surrounding peaks, it’s tough not to smile when you know you’re literally going to be hiking through a winter wonderland.
The Sulphur Skyline Trail begins just to the southwest of the entrance to Miette Hot Springs at a clearly marked trailhead. A map gives you an idea of the landscape and ushers you on your way — first, on a paved path.
The trail begins making its way upward and never really lets up — that elevation profile looks almost like a perfect pyramid — but the good news is that it never really feels too steep. Just know that the trail itself isn’t going to give you any breaks, so stop and take them on your own if you need ’em!
The pavement on this route mercifully doesn’t last for very long, and soon you’ll be tromping through the dirt (or mud, or snow) like a proper hiker.
Obviously, if it’s icy or snow covered, expect this trek to take a little bit longer than it would otherwise.
On our way up, the chilly temperatures and brisk wind were great motivators to keep on hiking. It also helped that we got an early start so the snow hadn’t turned into that snow-mud-slush mixture that is the bane of everyone who’s ever lived in a city where winter happens.
If it has recently snowed, also watch out for overhead branches stuffed to the brim with snow … and mischievous hiking companions who are set on creating a little more personalized snowfall on your hike.
As the trail gains elevation, more views of the remote mountain valleys open up — weather depending, of course.
Even if the clouds are blocking the full panoramas, though, their presence in and around the mountaintops will help shroud them in some moody mystery. It’s still hard not to enjoy scenes like these … even if you were hoping for clear skies.
At about the 1.2 mile mark, keep to the right at the trail junction at Shuey Pass to continue your climb. The alternate trail will take you to the shores of the wonderfully named Mystery Lake or toward Fiddle Pass, deep in the backcountry. If you’re staying on this route as described and were riding a horse, this is as far as you’re allowed to go on this trail.
Here, the trail makes a bee-line south and continues its climb upward. You may have an audience as you hike, too.
At about 2.25 miles, you’ll reach a plateau with a wooden bench and some tree-free views of the peak-punctured amphitheater around you.
The trail does continue beyond this point, but as the cloud level was just above here, this is where we decided to make our turnaround for the day.
As you can see, although we didn’t get the full view this trail has the potential to offer, it also wasn’t anything we could rightly be disappointed with. It just means we have an excuse to go back the next time we visit! If the weather isn’t inclement, getting to the end of the Sulphur Skyline Trail will make this trip about 5 miles roundtrip.
Return back to the trailhead the way you came in.
And if your legs are feeling exhausted — or heck, even if you’re totally fine — consider a nice long soak in the Miette Hot Springs after you’ve wrapped up your trek!
If you want to see the historic hot springs bathhouse and the source of the springs themselves, be sure to make time for this short companion trail as well.
The trail condition is generally very good. This route does get a decent amount of foot traffic, but doesn't appear to be crowded. Trail junctions are well marked, although the sweeping views may be obscured depending on the always-unpredictable Canadian Rocky weather.
Pocahontas Campground is a moderately sized established campground near the intersection of Miette Road and the Yellowhead Highway (AB-16). Campground is reservable online.
The Pocahontas Cabins are a privately owned collection of cabins that are also located nearby.
From Jasper, head northeast on the Yellowhead Highway (AB-16) toward Edmonton. In 40.6km, turn right at Miette Road and stay on this road for 16.9km until it ends at the Miette Hot Springs parking area. The trailhead is at the southern end of the parking area. Miette Road is closed to traffic from November through April.
With recent wildfire damage and ongoing waves of COVID-19 infections and restrictions, National Forest, National Park, and other public land closures, restrictions, or social distancing guidelines may be in-effect.
If infection rates are on the rise, please do your best to remain local for your hikes. If you do travel, please be mindful of small gateway communities and avoid as much interaction as you can. Also remember to be extra prepared with supplies so you don't have to stop somewhere outside your local community for gas, food, or anything else.
Please be sure to contact the local land management agency BEFORE you head out, as these conditions are likely to change without enough notice for us to fully stay on top of them. Thanks, and stay safe!
Click here to read the current CDC guidelines for traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic.