For a perfect day in Jasper, take the Maligne Lake Cruise to Spirit Island (open May 31, 2024 – October 13, 2024), then hike and dine at Maligne Canyon.
Disclosure: This story was written in partnership with Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection, but all words and opinions are my own.
Maligne Lake Cruise
Maligne Lake is beautiful at any time of day, but mornings are most magical when mist rises from the still water. As we take in the expanse of blue dotted with canoes, we breathe deeply, savoring the fresh mountain air. It is cool and crisp with a hint of lodgepole pine.
Flanked by 3,000+ metre (9800+ feet) high snowcapped peaks and glaciers, Maligne Lake is a must-see when in Jasper. Formerly known as “Chaba Imne” (translation: Beaver Lake) by local Indigenous people, the glacier-fed lake stretches 22 kilometres from end to end. Rock flour from glacial erosion gives the the Canadian Rockies’ largest natural lake its stunning color.
With Captain Jordan at the helm, our guide, Jen, does the safety spiel before sharing some stories about Maligne Lake. Although we’ve been on the interpretive lake cruise before, we learn something new every time. For example, did you know Mary Schäffer’s connection to Maligne Lake? Thanks to Sampson Beaver of the Nakoda First Nations, and his hand-drawn map, Schäffer (explorer, botanist, author, and photographer) and her guides were able to find the remote lake in 1908. She is thought to be the first white woman to see Maligne Lake, and her writing about the area’s incredible scenery inspired others to visit. Over a century later, we are following the intrepid explorer’s footsteps in style; on a cruise boat versus makeshift raft.
As we pass a massive, ancient rock slide (half a billion cubic metres of rock came down thousands of years ago), Jen tells us to hold on and get ready for a little fun. An oncoming cruise boat passes by and our boat bobs in its wake. We laugh and wave, then pop onto the back deck to get a few photos. The scenery is as beautiful as it is diverse. Jagged peaks and ridges dominate the skyline, but there are also glaciers and waterfalls.
Our destination is Spirit Island, a sacred spot for the Nakoda, and one of Jasper National Park’s most photographed places. While you could paddle there in half a day (it takes about 4 hours to go 14 kilometres), “at a cruising speed of 32 km per hour,” the cruise get you there much faster allowing more time to explore Maligne Valley. In other words, you can enjoy the cruise, have lunch on a gorgeous patio, and hike Maligne Canyon – all before dinner!
Enjoy the Maligne Lake Cruise, have lunch on a gorgeous patio, and hike Maligne Canyon – all before dinner! #myjasper #pursuitlifeTweet
Before we know it, we’ve arrived at “the Hall of Gods,” the box canyon in which Spirit Island is located. Mary Schäffer aptly named it so in 1908. We disembark and follow the path to stunning viewpoints, and notice how intensely blue the water is here. A fault has created a trench, so the lake is 40 metres deeper here than other parts of the lake (90 metres deep vs. 50 metres). With dramatic peaks surrounding the island’s turquoise pool, it’s easy to see why this is a special place. Geographically, it’s pretty unique too; it is surrounded on three sides by the same mountain range.
On the return leg of the cruise, Jen makes the rounds greeting each passenger and answering their questions. She advises a couple on how to do Maligne Lake as an overnight canoe trip, and gushes about how much she loves living in Jasper. Her enthusiasm is infectious and makes me feel like renting a canoe right away!
Before more exploring, however, we need to eat. With tummies grumbling in anticipation of smokehouse goodness, we say farewell to our wonderful guide and captain, and drive to Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen for lunch.
Know Before You Go
The Maligne Lake Cruise runs from May 31, 2024 – October 13, 2024, weather permitting. The Classic Cruise is 1.5 hours including 15 minutes on Spirit Island, and the Premium Cruise is 2 hours with a longer stop on Spirit Island.
- Arrive half an hour early to check in.
- When to go: For the best light, plan to take the 4 pm or 4:30 pm cruise (when the sun is shining on Spirit Island). For flat water and nice reflections, go early in the morning.
- Reservations are recommended to ensure you get tickets – and the best price! Alberta residents can save up to 20%, and children 5 and under are free when sharing a seat with an adult.
Book your cruise here: Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection | Maligne Lake Cruise.
Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen
Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen is located at the Maligne Canyon Trailhead. With a smokehouse-inspired menu and rustically elegant decor, you will feel right at home in a sun dress or hiking attire. From the patio, you can hear the Maligne River roaring below; and on a chilly day, you can sit by a fire and keep warm. We’ve dined here three times this year and will be back!
Lunch fare includes hearty sandwiches and flatbreads with pulled pork, chicken and homemade barbecue sauce, or beef brisket; salads; Canyon Poutine with bacon (our fav!); a bison burger; and more. There are even vegetarian and gluten-free options, plus a kids menu. Save room for dessert; everything is amazing!
Hours: Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen is open daily during the summer, and Wednesday to Sunday in the off season. Note there is an annual closure from October 15-December 14. During this time, try Terra at The Crimson Hotel in downtown Jasper instead.
Stretch your legs at Maligne Canyon, a cool slot canyon that is only a few metres wide and over 50 metres deep. Viewing platforms and bridges provide ample opportunities to peer into the depths, and interpretive signs provide information on how the canyon formed, and what plants and animals live here. If you’re lucky, you’ll see black swifts that nest in the canyon!
The trail is 3.7 kilometres one way (to 6th Bridge) with 110 metres elevation gain, but if you’re short on time, you can turn back at the 4th bridge or Wedding Cake Falls (between 4th and 5th Bridge).
Where to Stay
Stay at The Crimson, “Jasper’s newest hotel, inspired by nature.” Spacious, stylish rooms; studios; and suites with full kitchens are available so you can truly feel at home. The location, on the edge of downtown, makes it nice and quiet, but when you want to go out, restaurants and shopping are only a block away.
Amenities include an indoor pool and hot tub, fitness centre, private dining room, banquet & meeting facilities, and onsite dining. Terra, Jasper’s newest restaurant, features locally farmed and foraged fare and creative cocktails.
A Parks Canada Discovery Pass / daily admission fee is required to stop in Jasper National Park.
You are in bear territory! Read our Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and carry bear spray on the trails just in case.
Morning and sunset are the best times of day to see wildlife on Maligne Lake Road. Please observe the speed limit, stay in your vehicle if you see animals, and never feed wildlife! You could be fined up to $25,000!
For More Information / Reservations
For more information, or to book your trip now, please visit:
What to Bring
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Good hiking boots, a down hoody or fleece, toque, gloves, and windproof/waterproof shell are recommended year round. Trekking poles are useful for long hikes, steep descents, or when you’re carrying a heavy pack. You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a first aid kit, headlamp, GPS / compass, and map of the area, sunscreen (this mineral sunscreen is fragrance free, paraben free, and reef-friendly), bug spray (this Deet-free one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), and bear spray. Carry bear spray in a Bear Spray Holster or Scat Griz Bear Spray Running Belt.
A Garmin inReach Mini 2 satellite communicator is highly recommended for contacting Search & Rescue and emergency contacts in the event of an emergency, or communicating with friends and family when you are out of cell phone range. You can send text messages and your GPS coordinates via satellite (but a monthly plan is required)!
In snowy/icy conditions, traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Valhalla Pure Outfitters), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Valhalla Pure Outfitters and Sport Chek) are recommended. See our Fall Hiking Gear Guide for recommended clothing and gear.