Maligne Lake is a spectacular lake in the Canadian Rockies not far from the town of Jasper. Set in a broad valley and surrounded by the glistening, snow-capped peaks of the Rockies, the lake is 22km long and is a haven for hikers and fishing enthusiasts. One of the most photographed spots in Canada, Spirit Island, is located in Maligne Lake and can be accessed in the spring and summer months via regular boat tours. From here, there’s a breathtaking vista of the lake, the mountains and three glaciers.
Maligne Lake can easily be reached from Jasper by car along a very scenic road that winds past massive mountains, turquoise lakes and mile after mile of conifer forests. This is one drive I won’t easily forget!
Mountains, lakes & a little squirrel
From Jasper, we took Highway no. 16 in the direction of Edmonton. The road basically follows the flow of the Athabasca River, a glacial river which has its origins in the Columbia Icefield. Along the way, we passed broad plains dotted with countless lakes in stunning shades of turquoise and aquamarine. We were also lucky to spot a few elk along the road, seemingly unperturbed by the motorists passing by.
We took the turn-off onto Maligne Road and the scenery changed quite dramatically. The broad plains made way for thick forests and as we drove along the foothills of the dramatic mountains, we were treated to magnificent close-ups of the geology of the area.
Several miles further, we stopped at the Maligne Canyon, a deep, narrow canyon. There are various trails which lead hikers past a series of waterfalls. Along the way, info boards tell visitors about the geology of the canyon and how it was created. Look closely at the limestone rock under your feet and you might spot some of the fossils that this canyon is famous for.
The vanishing lake
From the Maligne Canyon, the road continues past gorgeous forests and stunning panoramas of the mountains. The next stop is arguably one of the highlights of this drive: Medicine Lake. This fascinating lake is the subject of local Indian folklore due to a unique characteristic: it simply ‘vanishes’ every year! The first viewpoint has the best views as well as a number of info boards about the lake. I highly recommend a stroll along one of the trails along the lake-shore. You might spot some wildlife, like the Columbia ground squirrel.
Maligne Lake and Spirit Island
From here, the road more or less follows the shores of the lake, offering amazing vistas of the lake (full of water or mud flats depending on the season) and the mountains. We soon reached Maligne Lake and the views were simply phenomenal. The lake was a brilliant turquoise whilst in the distance, imposing snow-capped peaks and glaciers could be seen.
There’s a visitor centre and a restaurant as well as a pier from which boats take visitors to the famed Spirit island. Some of the most scenic trails in the Canadian Rockies can be found in this area such as the 44km Skyline Trail (that ends in Jasper) or the Opal Hills or Bald Hills trails which can easily be done in a day. Whichever you choose, a hike or a boat tour, the stupendous views of the lake and the surrounding mountains are guaranteed to keep you captivated.
The drive from Jasper to Maligne Lake as described above is illustrated in the map below.
View Drive from Jasper to Maligne Lake in a larger map
Note: a big thank you goes to Travel Alberta for hosting me in the Canadian Rockies.