Hiking Lake Merlin – Backpacking the Skoki Loop

Hiking Lake Merlin
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Our second day on the Skoki Loop started at the Merlin Meadows campground, 10.5-miles deep into the Canadian Rocky Mountains. If you missed our 1st day’s adventure on the Skoki trail click here to catch up. Our second day’s itinerary wasn’t as challenging as the first but with nine total miles of ground to cover it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park either. Today, Jennifer and I would start by hiking Lake Merlin, then return to camp, have lunch, pack up and then backpack over to Baker Lake.

Hiking Lake Merlin Stats:

Lake Merlin and Mount Richardson
Mount Richardson rises beautifully above Lake Merlin in the Skoki wilderness.
  • Rating: Strenuous
  • Distance: 2-miles (one-way) 
  • Trail Elevations:
    • Merlin Meadows Campground Elevation: 6,860′
    • Merlin Lake Elevation: 7,440’
    • Highest Trail Elevation: 7,526′

After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, we set out on the trail towards Lake Merlin. The most direct trail to the lake is via the north but there is another option that takes the path to the south, back to Skoki Lodge and then back to the literal fork in the trail. Hikers going that route stay to the right to arrive at Lake Merlin. Jennifer and I chose to take the most direct route and headed north away from the campground.

Hiking Lake Merlin Elevation Profile
Our elevation profile for hiking Lake Merlin (one-way).

The Mud of Merlin Meadows

The path north started off very muddy as it followed the creek away from the campground. During the summer Merlin Meadows is more like a bog, hence all the mosquitos we had to contend with around camp.

The Merlin Creek Bridge

Merlin Creek Bridge
The single log bridge on the trail to Lake Merlin.

Before long we arrived at what I will loosely call a bridge over the creek. The bridge consists of a single, long log wedged into a cross log mount on either end. The single log is reinforced with a handrail that runs between two trees on either end. That rail is then supported by a single vertical post in the middle of the bridge. The whole thing looks like it was conceived and constructed by a child. Jennifer and I tentatively made our way across this marvel of engineering and despite all odds made it safely to the other side of the creek.

A Steep Climb

From here the path loosely follows the creek flowing down from Castilleja Lake and the Skoki Lakes (traversed on day 1) far above. Before long, we found ourselves venturing away from the fairly flat terrain of Merlin Meadows and climbing 200 feet up through the woods in less than half a mile. This difficult climb was immediately replaced with an even steeper, densely tree-covered terrain gaining another 500 feet over the next half mile. Along the way, we caught glimpses of Castilleja Lake through the trees and had to cross over a tributary creek crashing down the steep mountainside. It was not an easy climb even without our heavy backpacks.

Hiking Lake Merlin

Mount Richardson
Mount Richardson rises over the landscape near Lake Merlin.

At just under 1.5 miles on the trail the path topped out and flattened off for a bit. Shortly after that, the trail drops out of the trees, revealing sweeping views of Lake Merlin sitting in a fairly large alpine basin hidden on the backside of the Wall of Jericho.

Lake Merlin

Lake Merlin is gorgeous with the towering glacier-covered cliff walls of Mt. Richardson (10,125’) rising out of the far side of the lake. Out of all the alpine lakes in the Skoki region Lake Merlin was by far our favorite and well worth the effort required to arrive at its crystal clear, reflective waters. We sat and marveled at the glaciers clinging to the cliff walls as the turquoise water lapped against the stones on the lakeshore. I could have stayed at this lake all day but alas we had camping reservations at Baker Lake, which was now 7 miles away. After about an hour of enjoying this magical lake all to ourselves, we headed back down to the Merlin Meadows Campground to collect our gear and continue our journey on the Skoki Loop Trail.

Merlin Castle Tarn

Lake Merlin Panorama
Looking down on Lake Merlin from southeastern corner. Merlin Castle Tarn is located in the alpine bowl above the tress on the right.

If you find yourself with more time and looking for more adventure in the backcountry there is a small tarn located to the north above Merlin Lake. It adds about a mile (0.6 each way) to the journey with some additional elevation gain. We did not hike it ourselves but ran into some fellow backpackers later on that said it was a nice view up there. It is located to the northwest of the lake in a nook below the peak known as Merlin Castle.

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