For a perfect day in Jasper, take the Maligne Lake Cruise to Spirit Island, then dine at Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen and hike Maligne Canyon.
Disclosure: This story was written in partnership with Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection. As usual, 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 obligatory 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 the lake, and her writing about the area’s incredible scenery inspired others to visit Maligne Lake. 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!
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! My kids’ stomachs, however, have other plans. 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.
Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen
Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen, Jasper’s newest restaurant, 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 plan to come 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!
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. 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. We loved being on the edge of downtown, so it was nice and quiet, but we were only one block from restaurants and shopping. Of course, there’s great dining on site at Authentic Burger.
Know Before You Go
At time of writing, masks are required in downtown Jasper (indoors and outdoors) and all indoor places except when you are dining. Since COVID-19 rules are constantly changing, check with tour operators or hotel staff when you arrive.
Morning is one of the best times of day to see wildlife on Maligne Lake Road. Please observe the speed limit, and stay in your vehicle if you see animals.
For staff and guest safety, the Maligne Lake Cruise is running at half capacity. Guests are seated in every second row and are required to wear masks for the duration of the cruise. Temperature checks are also mandatory before boarding. Reservations are recommended to ensure you get tickets and the best price! Children 5 and under are free when sharing a seat with an adult. Book directly from Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection | Maligne Lake Cruise. 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.
For the best photos, plan to take the 4:30 pm cruise (when the sun is shining on Spirit Island). For flat water, go early in the morning.
For More Information / Reservations
For more information, or to book your trip now, please visit: