Magical Maligne Canyon Ice Walk

by - Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Maligne Canyon, in Jasper National Park, is home to the Canadian Rockies' most spectacular and accessible ice walk. For only a few months each year, you may descend to an icy world straight out of Narnia and tread on the frozen river. As you travel through the canyon, walls of limestone rise higher on either side and grow closer together 'til you can almost touch them with arms outstretched! Stunning 30 metre tall ice falls and sparkling ice caves await in the inner recesses of the canyon. Plan to spend a few hours in this enchanting canyon. Maligne Canyon was the highlight of our trip to Jasper last March and is a winter must-see! 


Maligne Canyon Ice Walk At a Glance

When to Go: January to mid-March is usually best time. Go midweek to enjoy the falls without crowds, and check the Jasper National Park Trail Report before you go!
Distance: 4.4 km  (2.4 km hike + 2 km ice walk)
Elevation Gain: 100 m elevation gain
Time: Allow 3 hours
Nearest Washrooms: Pit toilets at the parking lot 
Stroller Friendly: No (also NOT RECOMMENDED for baby wearing due to the risk of falling on ice)
Distance From Jasper: 11 km
Parking/Trailhead: Start from Bridge 1 near the Maligne Canyon Restaurant and Gift Shop (CLOSED from October to April). Alternate start: Bridge 5 parking lot.

Magical Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

Route Description

See the Parks Canada Map here.

Starting from the trailhead near the restaurant, with ice cleats or microspikes on, look for little fossils just past the fossil interpretive sign. Going further, observe potholes scoured from the canyon walls by rushing water over thousands of years. Head down the stairs to First Bridge and watch your step as it's slippery!

From First Bridge, you can see ice falls. Continue on to see bigger ones! By the time you reach Second Bridge, the canyon is at its maximum depth of 50 metres.

Ice falls and potholes in Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park
Near Third Bridge, there are several ice falls frequently visited by ice climbers. These are the ones you will visit on the canyon ice walk!
Ice Falls at Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park
By the time you reach Fourth Bridge, the canyon has widened and the walls are less vertiginous. Stay left at the fork to stay close to the river, and watch for a canyon access sign on your left. If you get to Fifth Bridge, you've gone too far.

Maligne Canyon - Canyon Access Point
Enter at your own risk!!

Ice Walk


From the canyon access, head up the canyon back towards First Bridge. Depending on conditions, you should be able to go as far as Third Bridge (the trail is somewhat sketchy beyond with hazards overhead and underfoot). Take care on uneven and inclined surfaces and go slow to prevent slips and falls.

Near Fourth Bridge, you will notice several ice flows, including ice coming out of a cave. While it would appear that Elsa has been at work, there are several underground streams from Medicine Lake (15 km away) feeding the ice. This water rejoins Maligne River downstream later in the year.

Ice flows at Maligne Canyon
Ice cave at Maligne Canyon
Carry on to a beautiful "grotto" festooned with moss and natural ice sculptures. We could've stayed in this splashy spot all day looking for naiads, but the ice falls beckoned.

Grotto in Maligne Canyon
Natural ice sculptures, Maligne Canyon
The falls are a short walk up the canyon. They appear bigger from the riverbed, and different colors depending on how the light hits them. We spent a long time exploring in and around the falls.

Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Behind the Falls at Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

Turn back after the large ice falls, or if conditions look unsafe (see below).

The turnaround point - the canyon floor was collapsing


Exploring Further

Return the way you came, and continue down the river bed towards Fifth Bridge, to Wedding Cake Falls. Fed by springs, these falls do not freeze in winter.

It is another 1.6 km one way to Sixth Bridge.

Wedding Cake Falls, Maligne Canyon

Alternate (short) route

If you are short on time and just want to do the ice hike, start from Bridge 5 and head towards Bridge 4. The canyon access is between Bridge 5 & 4.

Required Gear

  • Warm, waterproof hikers
  • Microspikes or instep crampons (ice cleats not recommended as they do not do well on uneven terrain)
  • Rock/snow helmets recommended
  • Extra clothes, socks and mittens 
While the ice walk can be done unguided with proper footwear and precautions, tours offer insight into the area's history and geology, and provide you with the required safety gear. Three-hour guided tours include the use of insulated boots, trekking poles, and microspikes. The Jasper Visitor Centre can recommend local tour operators.

Know Before You Go

Hazards include, but are not limited to: rockfall, falling on ice, and falling through thin ice. Please check trail conditions before you go and be aware of your surroundings. Stay off of thin ice and watch for trees and rocks overhead that could fall into the canyon.

Trees and rocks could fall into the canyon! Be aware of your surroundings!

Fun Facts

  • Powerful forces of nature shaped this canyon over the past 10,000 years.
  • The highest parts of the canyon are 50 metres above the river!
  • The narrowest sections of the canyon are only 2 metres wide!
     Source: Parks Canada

Where to Stay

There are several accommodation options in the town of Jasper or nearby Hinton. We enjoyed Jasper Park Lodge's attractive and newly renovated rooms on our visit.

Conclusion

Maligne Canyon is a magical must-do winter walk in Jasper National Park! Put it on your bucket list!

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