Bald hills is a moderately challenging hike near Maligne Lake in Jasper, Canada. This hike has some fabulous views, but the thing that made it stand out for us was how it is such a squirrel-filled wonderland! I have never met so many types of friendly (and shouty) rodents on a single hike! We were sworn at by a teeny doulas squirrel in the forest near the start. We hiked through a warren of columbian ground squirrels, and sauntered past several pikas, before meeting some photogenic marmots as well as a golden-mantled ground squirrel at the viewpoints. It’s not every day you find a trail with quite so many critters!
Apart from all those fuzzy fellas, there is a waffle house near the start of this hike. So hike as hard as you can – you can then reward yourself with waffles. It’s basically hiker’s heaven.
Bald Hills trail map
Bald Hills trail – the basics
Elevation gain: 780m
Time: 4 hours (for the whole alpine loop)
What to bring:
The 10 Essentials (as always)
Bear spray and swimming things
Facilities: Toilets at the trailhead, plus a waffle house nearby!
Dogs: No dogs allowed in this area.
How hard is it? It’s listed as difficult on the Parks Canada website, but if you are used to hiking the the Canadian coastal mountains, it is pretty easy in comparison. The trail is easy to follow and not technical.
Bald Hills trail – getting started
From Jasper, take Highway 16 North, then turn right onto Maligne Lake road. Follow the road the whole way to Maligne Lake (44km.) There are a few different car parks. Continue straight on to the furthest car park (follow signs for Skyline and Bald Hills.) The trailhead is marked with a map and information board.
If you like hiking on quiet trails, you’ll want to start early for this one. We started around 7:45am, and didn’t see any other hikers until we were heading down. We saw lots of wildlife because we were early, so the critters had not been scared off.
The trail is along a fireroad rather than a wilderness trail. It is wide, not steep and easy to hike up speedily. The first few kilometers are a little boring, with no views through the trees, but as you gain elevation you can start to see the surrounding mountains.
Steep path or shallow path
Just under 3km into the hike you can choose between a quick steep path and a longer, less steep option. We went with the shallow route on the way up and the steep route on the way down to make a loop. If I did it again, I would do it the other way around. Once you’ve made it to the top of the fireroad, you can see the first bald hills.
There are a couple of different summits at Bald Hills. The main trail has two small loops joined together. You can make your own route, but we hiked along the west side of both loops first (to the most southerly point), then returned on the east side.
Columbian Ground Squirrels
The first part of the trail above the treeline is the columbian ground squirrel zone. There are multiple burrows right next to the path. Little dudes were rushing out in front of us, or hurrying away to hide. We got to see so many fuzzy faces!
Bald Hills Summit vs Alpine loop
This is the view back to Bald Hills summit and the path through the squirrel zone. If you don’t fancy hiking the entire loop, aim for that pointy summit. It is only a little extra effort to do the entire loop, so I recommend continuing on south to see the extra views (and critters…)
The Bald Hills
Once you’re up on the ridgeline, you can see how rounded all the Bald Hills are. This is because they were completely covered by glacial ice during the Late Wisconsin Glaciation (the most recent glacial period in North America.)
The Pika zone
Right before you reach the viewpoint, you’ll walk through a rocky area. This is where you need to listen for high pitched “meeps” and watch out for pikas. This is my favourite critter of the day! They are like chubby rabbits, with round ears and super cute faces. If you look carefully you can see one running in between the rocks below. (I added a photo from Joffre Lakes too, so you can see what they look like when they’re not a fleeing blur!)
We visited the Rockies in August 2021 when there were wildfires all over BC with smoke that floated over to the Rockies. This meant that although we could see the views down to Maligne Lake should have been glorious, we couldn’t actually see much through the haze. On clearer days, those waters should be bright blue with spectacular mountains in all directions.
The smoke was worst towards the south. It was easier to see the closer mountains to the west.
Bald Hills viewpoint
At the far end of the alpine loop there is a lovely viewpoint. We had the whole area to ourselves. We stopped for a cuppa and ginger snap cookies to make the most of it.
While we relaxed, one of the local critters climbed up to see us. Marmots are a kind of large ground squirrel that live in alpine environments chomping on wildflowers. This fella was a bit larger than our cat. He inspected us, then toddled off down the other side of the mountain.
As always: “Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters their natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers.” (from leave no trace website.) If you hike here, please resist their fuzzy charms and don’t feed the critters.
On the way to the next summit, we met another marmot. This one had a mouth full of flowers if you look carefully.
This is the view backwards towards the southern summit and viewpoint. It looks far from this photo, but it’s less than 100m elevation gain, and less than 1km away.
Bald Hills Summit
This is the view looking up to the main Bald Hills Summit. It is a little steep, but not too hard as there is less than 60m elevation gain.
Near the summit we spotted a golden-mantled ground squirrel. Can you see him camouflaged in my photo below? These are a bit like chipmunks with stripes on their backs.
There are a couple of easy scramble sections along the trail near the summit. This hike is totally doable with children that are used to mountains, but keep them close near the top as there are some steep drop offs.
There are more fantastic views from the summit as well as a steep drop-off looking down to the valley.
We completed the loop by hiking along the top of Bald Hills. The way back is very steep and quite slippy, but there are some gorgeous dwarf fireweed flowers to brighten up the trail.
Bald Hills Overlook
There is one final fabulous viewpoint looking down to Maligne Lake. My photos are pretty smokey, but you can see how pretty this would be on a clear day. Maligne Lake (below) is the largest lake in Jasper National Park, famous for its azure blue waters.
We took the shortcut trail to complete the lower loop on our return journey. This trail is a lot steeper than the fireroad we took on the way up. If you ever get sore knees going down steep trails, it may be better to come up the shortcut trail and descend down the fireroad.
Bald Hills vs Opal Hills
There are two famous trails at this end of Maligne Lake; Bald Hills and Opal Hills. They are both wonderful hikes and similar level of difficulty. We did Bald Hills before lunch and Opal Hills after lunch (after meeting up with some friends.) I thought the views were a bit better from Bald Hills, but the wildflowers were better from Opal Hills. Opal hills trail is STEEP so it felt harder at first, but it’s a bit shorter.
Panoramas from Bald Hills
I’ll include some panoramas so you can sort of see the scenery, despite the haze.
Waffle Hut at Maligne Lake
You need to hike back down the fireroad back to the trailhead at Maligne Lake. Once you make it down, you can reward yourself with waffles! Yes this hike may be in the wilderness of Jasper National Park, but it is such a famous area that the facilities are pretty decent! I had chicken and waffles while Marc opted for piles of fruit and ice cream for his waffle lunch. It’s a great way to finish any hike!
Bald Hills has to be one of the best hikes we have done for meeting floofy locals along the trail. We visited when the smoke obscured some of the views, but any hike that takes me near that many critters aaaand finishes with waffles is totally worth the effort! What do you think? Would you be willing to hike into the hills to meet all those rodents?