Opal Hills Trail, Jasper National Park

The Opal Hills trail in Jasper National Park is a steep one that rewards with a lush meadow, mountain views, and the chance to see stunning Maligne Lake from above. You only need a half day to knock off the 8.2 km round-trip hike so it’s a good one if you want to tie in a boat ride on Maligne Lake, lunch beside Maligne Canyon, or perhaps a short hike to Moose Lake, accessed from near the start of the Bald Hills trail. 

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Lush walking on the Opal Hills hike
Lush walking on the Opal Hills hike

Opal Hills trail summary

  • You will need a Parks Canada pass. You can purchase daily passes butt the best option if you’re planning to visit one of more than 80 national parks and national historic sites – more than six times in a year is the Discovery Pass.
  • The Opal Hills trail is part out and back hike and part loop hike. 
  • The best time to do the hike is from June through October. 
  • This is not a family-friendly hike as it’s very steep.
  • Dogs are not permitted on the Opal Hills trail.
  • Carry accessible bear spray as this hike takes you through grizzly bear country. We also saw two moose at the top of the trail near the meadow.
  • Always back the hiking essentials.
One of the two moose we saw on the Opal Hills hike
One of the two moose we saw on the Opal Hills hike

Pertinent stats for the Opal Hills trail 

Distance: 8.2 km (5.1 miles) loop

Elevation gain: 460 m or 1,509 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Time needed: 3 – 4 hours return.

Location: Jasper National Park at the parking lot near Maligne Lake

Map needed: Gem Trek Jasper & Maligne Lake

Don’t forget: Let someone know when you expect to finish the hike.

At the trailhead: You’ll find a route map and toilets at the start of the hike.

You share the first part of the Opal Hills trail with the easy Mary Schaffer loop
You share the first part of the Opal Hills trail with the easy Mary Schaffer loop

How do you get to the Opal Hills hike trailhead?

From Jasper, drive approximately 5 km east on Highway 16. Take a right at the lights onto Maligne Lake Road. Cross a bridge over the Athabasca River and continue for 44.3 km to reach Maligne Lake. Make a left into the main parking area before the lodge. Stay left and drive to the third and highest parking lot. We found there were fewer cars here, so it wasn’t hard to find a parking place.

Opal Hills trail hike description

Once you’ve found the right parking lot, you’ll have no problem finding the trail sign for the Opal Hills hike. The hike starts off easily enough as you start off hiking on a flat trail beside a meadow. The first part of the trail is family friendly as it shared with the Mary Schaffer Loop trail for a couple of hundred metres.

In short order you’ll start hiking up a very steep trail through lodgepole pine forest. At the 1.6 km mark, where the formal Opal Hills trail begins, reach a junction. Go right or counter-clockwise – though in all honesty, I’m not sure if it matters a lot as both parts of the loop that make up the Opal Hills trail are steep. (See the route northeast of Maligne Lake on the map below.)

Map of the Opal Hills trail
Map of the Opal Hills trail

Climb 460 m (1,500 feet) in short order, popping out at the top in a verdant meadow with a pretty mountain backdrop. You won’t find much in the way of trees here – though there are a few outliers. Most of the vegetation is dense shrubbery, interspersed with wildflowers. You can see the trail curving to the left once you reach the meadow. 

To get a view of Maligne Lake, you need to climb one of the grassy hills. From there, you’ll also be able to see Bald Hills, a top hike in the Jasper area. We were going to hike up the first hill that we came to (note the 400 m trail heading up the hill at the first intersection you reach at the meadow on the map above), but there were two moose quite literally in the way. Instead, we continued following the Opal Hills trail through gentle meadows as it curved left or southeast and started to descend back into the forest – at the 4.7 km mark.

Beautiful views of Maligne Lake
This is the view of Maligne Lake from the Bald Hills hike but if you climb a hillock on the Opal Hills trail you should be able to see Maligne Lake as a ribbon of turquoise water

The descent through the forest was more interesting than I expected it to be – chiefly on account of numerous open areas filled with swaths of wildflowers. At the 6.6 km point, arrive back at the loop junction. Go right to continue to the parking lot and complete the 8.2 km loop.

The Opal Hills trail is not nearly as busy a hike as the Bald Hills hike – but with the vibrant colours in the meadows and the option to get a view down Maligne Lake, it’s well worth a half day of your time. 

The Opal Hills hike is initially steep and in the woods
The Opal Hills hike is initially steep and in the woods
The intersection of the out and back trail and the loop trail - we went right here and descended on the trail on the left
The intersection of the out and back trail and the loop trail: we went right here and descended on the trail on the left
The Opal Hills trail heading through te meadows
The Opal Hills trail heading through te meadows
Getting up to the meadows
Getting up to the meadows
Getting into a treed section of the hike
Getting into a treed section of the hike
Patches of wildflowers seen on the descent
Patches of wildflowers seen on the descent
Lots of arnica around on the descent
Lots of arnica around on the descent

Insider suggestions post Opal Hills hike

Hungry after the hike? The View Restaurant, with Maligne Lake views would be a great choice for a meal. Alternatively drive down to Maligne Canyon – which is worth the hike – and enjoy a meal with a view of some falls at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen. You can also pick up snacks at the Maligne Lake Gift Shop near the Boat House.

If you would like to see more of Maligne Lake, book a Maligne Lake Cruise and visit Spirit Island – one of the most photographed places in the world because of its beauty.

Take your time driving the Maligne Lake Road. It travels through a wildlife corridor so the chances of seeing deer, elk and grizzly bear, especially early in the morning and late in the day are quite high. The road gets busy – frustratingly so at times, so aim to go early or later in the day, if there is plenty of daylight.

The early morning beauty of Maligne Lake
Early morning beauty of Maligne Lake

Where to stay in Jasper

In summer, Jasper like Banff gets very busy, so be sure to make reservations well in advance. Most hotels have at least a two week window before your arrival where you can cancel but confirm before you book. It’s always VERY obvious.

If you’re into camping, read Everything You Need to Know About Camping on the Icefields Parkway.

You can’t beat the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge for its location at any time of the year. It’s also the priciest place to stay.

Choose the Maligne Canyon Hostel for an affordable option.

The Crimson Jasper is conveniently located and within walking distance of all the downtown restaurants. Also, immediately next door is the restaurant Terra – serving delicious locally sourced food.

For an out of town choice the Pyramid Lake Resort would be an excellent option, especially with lots of water activities on Pyramid Lake.

Whistler’s Inn offers a convenient location with nicely renovated rooms – despite the appearance of the somewhat worn lobby.

Enjoy a sunset over Beauvert Lake if you stay at Jasper Park Lodge
Enjoy a sunset over Beauvert Lake if you stay at Jasper Park Lodge

More hikes in Jasper National Park you might enjoy

For multi-day hikes in Jasper National Park check out these trips.

For day hikes try one of these ones.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The beautiful Opal Hills trail hike in Jasper National Park