During my transformation from your average working man to a global and outdoor adventurer, I took a job driving boats and giving tours on Maligne Lake, located at the end of 55 kilometre dead end road in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The nature of its location, away from the main tourist trail further south near Banff, and the journey to get there turns off most time-constrained or lazy travelers … that is their loss, as Maligne Lake is a place of raw beauty, of peace, and of abundant wildlife.
Those that plan ahead and make the trip are amply rewarded … this post will aim to get you to steer your sails in the direction of this emerald-green gem in Jasper’s crown, for she will seduce you with her beauty, leading to many returns in the future and rave reviews to family and friends!
After buying a ticket from the head office, stroll down the brick pathway and be boarded by very friendly and knowledgeable guides (many of which I know personally still at this time of writing!) Take your seat aboard one of seven possible boats, all of which are heated, because it gets cold here …
… even in July (23 centimetres fell over two days in 2010 when this photo was taken)! Most of the time, the weather is quite enjoyable, if a bit brisk. Maligne Lake is at 5,500 feet (1,700 metres) in elevation, so it is a hill station in terms of weather when you compare it to Jasper, as temperatures are 3-5 degrees cooler than in town. Bring a hoodie or a coat, just in case.
The cruise takes you 14 kilometres down the 22 kilometres long lake, with ample vistas of towering snow-capped mountains everywhere you look, as the boat heads into a rare example of a box canyon (where a mountain range wraps around in a “U” shape) that has a lake in its core. The second photo above shows where our boats cannot go, as Parks Canada limits our operations as a compromise that keeps part of the lake away from the noise impact of our diesel motors.
The destination of your journey is the world famous Spirit Island, which graces the desktop backgrounds of many computers around the world, and after Lake Louise is one of the images most strongly associated with the Canadian Rockies. Which is amazing, considering how many fewer tourists make it up here compared to Lake Louise, but shhhhhh! Don’t tell anybody else that, ok? Don’t want to start a stampede or anything…
If you have a canoe and some camping gear though, you can get a camping permit from Parks Canada and go back there yourself to Coronet Creek, where a backcountry campsite will have you leaving with the idea of what it truly feels like to be alone in an expansive wilderness, apart from all other influences of man!
If you not up to the 22 kilometre in, 22 kilometre out epic paddling journey, you can still see a lot within the northern confines of the lake within an afternoon. Rent a canoe, kayak or rowboat from the boathouse and explore numerous hidden coves and islands. Don’t forget to take a rod and reel if you are a fisherman/woman (get a license from Parks first though) and stake out a hidden spot and pull in one of the many brook or rainbow trout in the lake – they were stocked in the lake many generation ago and have thrived since then!
If you’re planning an itinerary to the Canadian Rockies, leaving this place off your list would be a sin. Even you just hike around the head of the lake and have lunch at the cafe on-site, it will still make for a very memorable afternoon!
Have you ever been to Maligne Lake? Feel free to share your stories below!