By Jane Marshall


Want to know where I first fell in love with overnighting in the Alberta Rockies? It was a definitive moment. It happened at Skoki.

Skoki refers to both a valley and a historical backcountry lodge. It sits at 2,164 meters in Banff National Park. You can’t drive there, which makes it all the sweeter.

The Backstory

When I was graduating from high school, and my sister from junior high, our aunt and uncle treated us to a weekend at Skoki Lodge. This involved a van ride up a gravel road followed by an 11km hike. The hand-hewn logs of the 1930s built Historic Site hugged us in tight and we snuggled under duvets and imagined we lived in the olden days.

Waking up in nature stoked something very primal inside of me. We spent our days exploring the tended trails and surrounding peaks. I knew then and there that the mountains would become a major part of my life.

Several years later I returned with my then boyfriend/future husband. But lodge pricing was not in our budget. For the first time ever, we tried backpacking, which meant an additional 4km up the fire road added on to our total trip. We slept in Merlin Meadows Campground (SK18), 1km beyond the lodge.

Next, I found myself a job at — you guessed it — Campers Village, where I’d alternately save money, invest in gear, then use that gear every chance I could.

I returned to Skoki 2 other times: Once with my mom to show her the beauty, and again after having my son Ben, when he was just old enough to carry a small pack.

This year we returned. My fifth time.

Mountain Objectives

I had unfinished business at Skoki. One of the area’s famous hikes is called Merlin Lake, a shining body of water cradle high in a rock basin. Looking to the right, way up, is a group of rock spires that form a castle-like structure. I’d always wanted to scramble the steep boulder field for a closer look, but never made it all they way.

My son Ben, too. We’d almost made it 7 years prior when he was little, but had to turn back. We’d dreamt of it ever since.

We hiked to Merlin Lake. Then the dream took form. We followed a stepped stream to a high alpine meadow and walked to where the grass met a mountainside of massive boulders. There it was, far above. We scrambled over ancient fossil encrusted boulders until we topped out in a world of stone, spires, and sky.

My children peeked in the cracks and fissures of the rock. We stayed in silence and felt the ancient quality of a place that seemed — sanctified. After so many years, we’d done it.

I was proud of my kids and the mountain sense they’d developed to be able to gain access to such a place. They were reading and understanding the land, the dangers, and the elegance.

If You Go:

Skoki is said to translate as ‘swamp.’ Be prepared for mosquitoes.