Maligne Canyon and Lake: The Jewel of Jasper National Park

Maligne Lake from the Bald Hills. Photos by Habeeb Salloum.

Maligne Canyon and Lake’s Mesmerizing Views

By Habeeb Salloum

Regarded as one of the most mesmerizing lakes in Jasper National Park, Maligne Canyon and Lake, the pride of the town of Jasper, is famous for its deep blue water surrounded by snow-capped peaks dotted with glaciers.

The scene enthralls a visitor and just takes one’s breath away.

An elk feeding in the gorge of the Maligne River
An elk feeding in the gorge of the Maligne River

Located 44 km (27 m) southeast of the resort town of Jasper, it is enchanting in its aura. In the words of a traveler, “it is a diamond among the many gems of Jasper National Park.”

“You must see the enchanted Maligne Valley and its lake,” a shop owner told me the first time that I traveled to the town of Jasper – a beautiful resort spot in the Canadian Rockies. On this second visit I remembered his words. This time Maligne Valley with its lake and Canyon was the first item on my travel agenda.

My daughter and I began our touring by first exploring the town of Jasper, 1,067 m (3,510 ft) high and the main urban center and commercial heart of the Jasper Park.

An overgrown village of some 4,500 in winter and 10,000 in summer, it is nestled in the bosom of the Rockies amidst an unspoiled part of nature. The well-kept buildings, cuddled by towering mountains, have made it an idyllic vacation mecca.

Its first-class tourist facilities make it easy for visitors to be comfortable and at the same time enjoy the many natural attributes of the Park. Restaurants, art galleries and a varied selection of shops cater to the thousands of tourists who crowd the town, especially in summer.

Here, also, whatever the season, travellers can partake in mountain adventure and make contacts with the animals of the wild.

The next day, we left this neat-cosy resort and in less than 20 minutes we were in the serene Maligne Canyon.

Our first stop was in an area of a gorge formed by the Maligne River’s swirling and churning waters roaring from the lake, which have worn the soft limestone rocks in places 55 m (165 ft) deep. Located 11.7 km (7 mi) from the town of Jasper, it is one of the most spectacular gorges in the Canadian Rockies, incorporating an extensive above and underground river system.

Viewing the gorge of the Maligne River
Viewing the gorge of the Maligne River

As we walked toward the gorge we dallied for a while to watch an elk feeding by the pathway. Walking a little further on we saw two deer ambling by. “The wildlife is abundant. It’s a zoo!” my daughter remarked as we stopped on a bridge spanning the gorge – one of the Canyon’s six bridges, while being soaked with the spray of the swift flowing Maligne River. I stood awed by the deep spectacular gorge.

Continuing on our tour we stopped at the 7 km (4 mi) long Medicine Lake, which has no surface outlet, and disappears in autumn and winter through a series of underground channels, giving rise to the Karst topographical phenomenon – causing the lake to completely drain every year.

On the road again, we noted a series of cars stopped by the roadside. Like dozens of other tourists, we parked our vehicle to have a look. In the distance we could see a mother black bear with her two cubs a couple of tourists walking toward them to take pictures. Apparently, they did know that a mother bear with cubs will attack anyone who gets near her cubs.

The docks on Maligne Lake
The docks on Maligne Lake

Driving through a deep-green forest edged by majestic snow-capped mountains we reached Maligne Lake stunning in its beauty. Stretching for 22 km (14 mi) with a depth of 198 m (318 ft), it is the second largest glacier-fed lake in the world. Set in the imposing Maligne Valley, the lake, the largest in Jasper National Park, is surrounded by glacier-studded mountain peaks.

The lake, which freezes in winter, boasts sparkling deep-blue waters and for beauty, has no equal in the region. Gazing at this postcard of scenic delight my daughter mused, “It’s a scene made by the hand of nature for the camera.”

The lake offers a myriad of activities to visitors. They can rent canoes and kayaks, fish for trout and hike. All adventures begin at the Maligne Lake Day Lodge where the full length windows capture the glacier clad mountains encircling the lake – the most photographed spot in Jasper National Park.We stopped by the Maligne Lake Day Lodge & View Restaurant from where there is a fine view of the lake and its surrounding white capped mountains – said to be the most famous view in the Canadian Rockies.

The docks edging the restaurant, the best eating place on the shores of Maligne Lake, had a series of boats standing by, waiting for customers. After enjoying lunch, like the 40,000 annual tourists who visit the lake, atop its waters, we joined in a 90-minute scenic boat cruise to Spirit Island.

The cruise boat
The cruise boat

Known as the icon of the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island, located on the southern end of the lake, is a small islet that can only be reached by private boats or cruise vessels. The stop allows passengers to walk the island and stop at a viewpoint that offers a spectacular panorama of the lake and mountains.

Gently the boat began to move. It was a calm day and not one large wave broke the serenity of the turquoise waters. Our boat moved at a slow pace in order not to make waves that could be annoying to the small boats that we passed.

A model of Jasper National Park
A model of Jasper National Park

Our guide seemed to love his job as he entertained us with his historic and geographical stories about the lake intertwined with anecdotes and jokes. The scenery around us was eye-bulging and I continued to be entranced with the aura of lake waters caressing the feet of the majestic mountains until we docked on Spirit Island.

When I asked our guide why this tiny bit of land in the Lake is called ‘Spirit Island,’ he replied, “There are many mythical stories about the name.” From these the one that I liked best was a romantic Indigenous peoples’ tale which relates the story of two youthful lovers from two tribes who were not on the best of terms. They would meet secretly on the island in a blissful world.

However, when the young woman’s father, one of the tribes’ chiefs, found out about their forbidden affair he banned her from ever returning to the island. Heartbroken, her lover continued to return again and again throughout his life to the Island, hoping to see his beautiful lover. She never came and eventually he died on the island, where his spirit still lives.

With the departure from Spirit Island our exploration of Maligne Lake ended. We had come to see why within the Jasper area, there is no competition in the beauty of its setting. After our tour, the saying that ‘once you have seen it, Maligne Lake will forever hold a place in your mind’, seemed appropriate.

Another view of Maligne Lake
Another view of Maligne Lake

That night, comfortable in our four-star Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in the town of Jasper, I reminisced about our tour of the Maligne Valley and Lake. It had been a fulfilling experience.

The sky-reaching mountains, colorful surrounding vistas, the colorful lake with its disappearing water and Spirit Island with its romantic legends all made the tour worthwhile and a destination anyone would choose more than once.


How to Get to Maligne:

The town of Jasper is situated about the same distance from Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta’s capital – about a five-hour drive. Both have excellent air, road and rail connections. Also, there are good rail and bus connections with Jasper. However, the ideal way to travel trough Jasper National Park is to rent an auto and explore the park. The roads inside the park are excellent and the viewpoint sites are endless. In addition, there are excursions offered from both Calgary and Edmonton.

Important Sites, Not Mentioned, to See in and Around Jasper:

Jasper Tramway, the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada. It transports one to Jasper National Park’s alpine tundra where there are unprecedented views, six mountain ranges, glacial fed lakes, the Athabasca River and the scenic town of Jasper.

Miette Hot Springs, about 60 km (37 mi) east of Jasper. At 53º C, they are the hottest mineral springs in the Rockies. However, their waters are cooled to 40º and chlorinated for bathers.

Pyramid Mountain and Pyramid Lakes, just 8 km (5 mi) from the heart of town, it is well worth the trip just to view the beauty of the two lakes in the shadow of the towering Pyramid Mountain.

Top Place to Stay In Jasper:

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge – the hotel, spreading along the curve of Lac Beauvert, a short distance from town, incorporates a golf course and combines the ultimate in luxury with tranquillity and natural beauty. A village unto itself, it consists of lavish log cabins and cedar chalets. 1 Old Lodge Road, Jasper, Alberta, Canada T0E 1E0. Tel: TOLL FREE: 1(866) 540-4454 or (780) 852-3301. Fax: (780) 852-5107.

Some Interesting Tours to Take From Jasper:

Jasper Adventure Centre offers these tours: Maligne Valley, Canyon and Lake Tour – cost with boat cruise $109.

Miette Hot Springs and Watchable Wildlife Tour – cost $74., and The Columbia Icefields Tour from Jasper – cost $129. Toll Free: 1-800-565-7547.

Maligne Tours Ltd., specialize in tours to the Maligne Valley, Canyon and Lake – cost with boat cruise $103.95.

For Further Information:

Tourism Jasper, P.O. Box 568, Jasper, Alberta, Canada TOE 1EO. Tel: (780) 852-6236 Website:

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