Maligne Lake and Spirit Island in Jasper • All You NEED to Know

Maligne Lake is a glacial lake in Jasper that is just a 45-minute drive from the town of Jasper along the stunning Maligne Lake Rd. It is one of the most serene lakes in all of the Canadian Rockies and is prized for its astounding natural splendor.

It’s well worth a visit for anyone visiting the Canadian Rockies, and is a must-stop if you’re in Jasper for a few days. Here’s everything you need to know about traveling to Maligne Lake and Spirit Island.


All You Need to Know About Maligne Lake


Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake is a premier destination in the Canadian Rockies for scenic beauty. It’s the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies and a must for any visitor to Jasper National Park.

Its serene natural beauty and picturesque views are prized around the world. The grandeur of the lake as countless glaciers run off into the lake below from the Hall of Gods is beyond compare. On a sunny day, the waters of Maligne Lake sparkle a dazzling cerulean blue.

maligne lake

Maligne Lake stretches from the boat docks for 22km past the famous Spirit Island to the base of the Coronet Glacier. Spirit Island is a small peninsula island that sits 14 kilometers from the docks at Home Bay.

The small island is now world-famous for its resplendent scene that is treasured around the world. It feels more like the landscape of a dream than reality.


What Wildlife Can You See at Maligne Lake?

An expansive forest of pine and spruce trees flank Maligne Lake. It makes for a wonderful habitat for many wildlife including mule deer, wolves, elk, caribou, bears, moose, and mountain sheep.

The waters also draw in birdlife that includes Bald Eagles, Osprey, and Golden Eagles. That being said, don’t come expecting to see any or all of that wildlife — especially wolves or caribou.


Why is Maligne Lake so Blue/Emerald?

maligne lake

The blue waters of Maligne Lake vary as the water moves from the inflow to the outflow of the lake. This is due to the glacier sediment deposited at the lake’s start in a box canyon.

Melting glaciers run into the lake and deposit rock flour which in turn refracts the sunlight and produces the signature color. As the water flows out of the lake the rock flour settles and causes a shift in color from one end of the lake to the other. If you take a cruise on Maligne Lake you may notice that the further south on the lake you travel, the closer you get to glaciers, the more the lake shows off an emerald color.

maligne lake
Maligne Lake on an overcast day, you can see the water is not that blue

There are a plethora of things to do around Maligne Lake all year round. In the summer, visitors can hike, canoe, fish, or hop on a tour boat. While the winter months are great for cross country skiing.

The gorgeous blue waters of Maligne Lake make look very tempting for a swim, but the glacier-fed lake remains cold for swimming year-round. While we haven’t taken a dip in Maligne we’ve been in many Jasper and Banff lakes and can attest to their temperature that at most reach a few degrees above freezing.

maligne lake
Stopping at Medicine Lake on the Drive to Maligne Lake

Even the drive to Maligne Lake is eye-watering as you drive from Athabasca Valley through Maligne Valley. From the townsite of Jasper it is roughly 45km and passes the worthwhile stops of Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake, both are fed from the outflow of Maligne Lake.

There is no notable outflow from Medicine Lake as the water travels through underground caves before reemerging in dramatic fashion in Maligne Canyon.

maligne lake road
On Maligne Lake Rd

Spirit Island Jasper Information

spirit island

Spirit Island is a small island that sits along the lakeshore of Maligne Lake in Alberta, Canada. It’s prized for its spectacular landscape and photos of the picturesque island circle around the globe for its idealistic landscape.

The island is surrounded by emerald blue glacier waters and flanked by staggering mountains that form a box canyon referred to as the “Hall of Gods.”

Most interesting enough is the vast majority of the year it is not an island as it is connected to the lakeshore. Spirit Island is a spiritual place for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. Mountains are considered the physical representations of ancestors, and since the island is surrounded by the same mountain range it is immensely treasured.


How to Reach Spirit Island

On a Tour

There are only two ways to reach Spirit Island and they are both by boat. The vast majority of visitors to Spirit Island will visit the popular cruise tour with the Pursuit Collective. The boat ride is around 30 minutes and provides amazing views of the lake along with some history from a tour guide.

Personal Watercraft

The other way to reach Spirit Island is by personal watercraft such as a canoe or kayak. No internal combustion engines are allowed, but small electric trolling motors are permitted. Paddling can take up to 4-5 hours each way and is recommended for those with paddling experience.

Paddlers can choose from three campsites along the lakeshore to camp with the closest campsite at Fisherman’s Bay. These campsites require advance reservation and are very hard to get as they are extremely popular, especially Fisherman’s Bay in the summer. If you don’t have your own canoe or kayak to get to Spirit Island, you can rent one with Wild Current Outfitters.

Please don’t walk on Spirit Island as it holds significant cultural value for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. The cruises do not allow any walking on the island but there is a nearby overlook for visitors to appreciate the breathtaking scenery and capture photos of the iconic location.


Maligne Lake Cruise

maligne lake cruise
Boarding for our Maligne Lake Cruise

One of the most popular activities on Maligne Lake is to hop on a Maligne Lake boat tour run by the Pursuit Collective. The hour and a half panoramic cruise heads to Spirit Island 14 km up the lake. It’s around a half-hour to the island where guests get 15 minutes off of the boat for photos before the return journey.

maligne lake

You’re guaranteed spectacular mountain vistas while you cruise across the cerulean water. You can buy individual tickets for the Maligne Lake Cruise, but for the best deal consider purchasing the Banff Jasper Collective’s Banff Explorer Pass that includes the Banff Gondola and the Icefields Experience.

We enjoyed Pursuit’s Classic Cruise tour to Spirit Island, but honestly felt very rushed with only 15 minutes on the island. Their Premium Cruise gives at extra 15 minutes of time on Spirit Island.

Advanced Purchase Pricing (CAD):

The Maligne Lake cruises run from 2024 dates: May 31* – October 13th.

  • Classic Cruise – $82/adult and $53.50/child
  • Premium Cruise – Cruise9/adult and $70.85/child
  • Pursuit Rewards Cruise (for Alberta locals): $66.00/adult and $42.90/child
  • Age 5 & Under – Free if sharing a seat with adult (but they still require a ticket)
  • Kids Go Free Early Bird! Receive one free child ticket for each paying adult on the 9 AM and 9:15 AM Classic Cruise.
  • Pursuit Pass Jasper (Columbia Icefield Adventure – including Skywalk and Maligne Lake Cruise)$160.00/adult and $104/ child

Maligne Lake Camping

There are three campsites located on Maligne Lake. To get to them you will have to paddle yourself and your camping gear in. Though if you manage to score a campsite on one of these backcountry Jasper campgrounds in the summer consider yourself lucky, as they are very competitive.

  • Hidden Cove (4 camping sites): This is 4 km from the parking area and is great for novice paddlers and families who want to spend the night on Maligne Lake.
  • Fisherman’s Bay (8 camping sites): 13 km from the parking area. This is the closest campsite to Spirit Island. At 13 km it will likely take you a majority of the day to paddle here.
  • Coronet Creek (8 camping sites): 21.3 km from the parking area at the Southern end of Maligne Lake. Camp here and wake up to amazing views of Coronet Glacier.

When is the Best Time to Photograph Spirit Island

Maligne Lake - Spirit Island

Pursuit claims that the best time to photograph Maligne Lake is in the later afternoon as it gives you the best even light on Spirit Island. They even used to run a “Through the Lens” cruise three times a week, giving a 60 minute stop on Spirit Island guided by a photographer. *This is no longer offered*

While this may be the best time to photograph Spirit Island to the average visitor, the truly best time to photograph Spirit Island is at sunrise. This means you’ll need to be camping at one of the nearby campsites to catch the beauty of the first rays hitting the Hall of Gods.

Nevertheless, if you can’t score a camping reservation and paddle 14 km in for a photograph, we totally get it! Then the first cruise available in the morning, typically around 9am, or the last one of the day, are the best options.


The History of Maligne Lake

maligne lake

Maligne Lake’s original Indigenous name was “Chaba Imne” (Beaver Lake) who lived in Jasper. During the summer months, the Indigenous community frequently visited the lake for food gathering and hunting activities.

Known as the “Lake of Deep Waters” and the “Lake of Healing,” Chaba Imne held profound spiritual importance. Even today, First Nations individuals continue to visit the picturesque Spirit Island.

Mary Schäffer was a wealthy Quaker and artist from Philadelphia and was inspired to explore the Rockies in search of Chaba Imne after hearing about its beauty and wonders from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation people. She received a map in 1907 from Samson Beaver, an Indigenous guide and settler. Mary set out on an expedition from Banff and reached the lake and valley. She reached the lake in 1908 and explored the valley extensively.

maligne lake

Her writings and paintings about the lake are what would, in turn, bring more tourists to the area in the coming years. Mary was so taken by Maligne Lake’s natural beauty and said that “if Lake Louise is a pearl, Maligne is the entire pearl necklace.”


Boating on Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake Boathouse

The original boathouse built by Donald Philips in 1928 rents a number of canoes, kayaks, and rowboats. Taking a paddle on Maligne Lake is a wonderful activity to enjoy on a warm summer day. You can rent boats by the hour or the full day to make the most out of the backcountry offerings along the lakeshore.

maligne-lake-boathouse

Boats are reservable online and it’s best to arrive 30 minutes ahead of your scheduled time so you can sign waivers, get ready, and go over safety briefings. Boat rentals operate rain or shine so remember to take a look at the weather forecast before booking.

Pets are allowed on the boat rentals, though please prepare for them accordingly. The water is very cold, usually around 10 degrees Celsius in mid-summer. While humans are provided a PFD from the boathouse staff, pets are not.

Visitors can use their personal non-motorized watercraft on Maligne Lake.

  • Location: Maligne Lake Boathouse
  • Canoe Cost: $80 hour / $160 day
  • Single Kayak Cost: $65 hour / $130 day
  • Double Kayak Cost: $80 hour / $160 day
  • Pedal Boat: $100 +$50 additional hour
  • Rowboat: $75 hour / $200 day
  • Large Rowboat: $100 / $225 day
  • Season: June to October

The Boathouse 2023 Operating Hours Are:


June 9 – June 23: Daily, 10 AM – 5 PM
June 24 – September 4: 9 AM – 5 PM
September 5 – October 1: 10 AM – 5 PM

Book your boat rental online


When Is The Best Time To Visit Maligne Lake?

The best time to visit Lake Maligne and Spirit Island is from mid-June to late October. This is the timeframe that Maligne Lake has thawed from the winter and boat cruises are operational.

maligne lake

However, the winter months are still worthy of a visit because of the gorgeous drive and cross-country ski trails around.


Fishing on Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake Cruise Natasha

You’re permitted to fish on Maligne Lake on your own. To fish in the park you are required to have a National Park Pass, fishing permit, and be aware of current regulations. This means you know fishing limits and can identify the various fish within the park. No live bait fishing is allowed in the park.

Kids under the age of 16 are allowed to fish on their accompanied pass, but their catch is included within the permit holders’ daily limit. For the most up to date fishing information please reference Park Canada’s website as it changes seasonally.

Fishing permit price:

  • Daily – $12.75
  • Annual – $ 44.25

Things to do at Maligne Lake

maligne lake
Boat Cruise

I’ve already mentioned this above, but the most popular thing to do at Maligne Lake is enjoy a boat cruise to Spirit Island.

Kayak/Canoe/Stand Up Paddle

The Maligne Lake Boathouse rents out water devices so you can get out on the water during the summer!

Walk the Mary Schaffer Loop Trail
Walk the Mary Schaffer Loop Trail

This is an easy 3.2 trail with only 82 meters of elevation gain near Maligne Lake. It will loop you through some beautiful forests and starts and ends at Maligne Lake. It’s a great winter activity! This is the busiest trail near Maligne Lake so try to get on the trail early morning or late evening.

Walk the Moose Lake Loop

This is a similar trail at only 2.7 km, but has slightly more gain at 109 meters. The trail starts at Maligne Lake and gets you to the quiet Moose Lake!

Opal Hills Loop Trail

If you want a longer and more demanding hike near Maligne Lake, check out Opal Hills. At 7.9 km and 520 meters of gain, it’s rated as a hard hike. You’ll find it’s not traveled so often and will likely only pass a few other groups on the trail. It’s fantastic as a winter snowshoe, but also in the summer when you can get to the lake viewpoint.

Bald Hills Loop

At 15km and 780 meters of gain this a longer day hike option near Maligne Lake. It’s quite steep and demanding at points so make sure you pack the right gear and enough water. Your effort for this hike will be rewarded at the end with absolutely amazing views.


How to Get to Maligne Lake?

Jasper in winter
Driving Maligne Lake Rd in the Winter

Maligne Lake is roughly 45km from the Town of Jasper. To get there, get on the Yellowhead Hwy and take a right on Maligne Lake Rd and continue on this pretty much the whole way till you get to Maligne Lake.

Maligne-Lake-Road

If you have the time, I suggest stopping at Maligne Canyon, as it’s a great beginner-friendly Jasper hike. And definitely don’t miss Medicine Lake on your way in. Keep your eyes out for moose, sheep, and elk – Maligne Lake Road is one of the most well-known places to see wildlife in the park!

You’ll know you’ve reached Maligne Lake when you get to the end of the road. There are multiple big parking areas to park at, as well as outhouses, and a whole dining and cafe area to enjoy the sunshine and views.


Maligne Lake FAQ

Is there food offered at Maligne Lake?

Yes! The Lake House Café has both Grab and Go food as well as hot food service. There’s also the Waffle Hut, which is pretty self-explanatory for the type of food they serve, and The View Restaurant. All of these dining options only operate from June to October.

How long is the Maligne Lake Boat Tour?

The duration of the Maligne Lake Cruise is around 1.5 hours, with a premium cruise taking 2 hours, excluding the loading time. It’s advisable to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled departure. That way you can park, check in, and get your tickets.

Is the Maligne Lake Cruise wheelchair accessible?

Their facilities are accessible to standard wheelchairs in most cases. However, they have a limited supply of accessible boats, so it’s best to contact them before booking your tour at +1.888.900.6272.

Is the Maligne Lake Cruise pet-friendly?

It’s best to leave your furry friends at home as they are not permitted on the Maligne Lake Cruise, but pets are allowed (leashed) at Maligne Lake.

Is the Maligne Lake Cruise kid-friendly?

Yes! The whole Maligne Lake and Spirit Island experience is kid friendly, though strollers are not permitted on the boat.

Will you get wet on the Maligne Lake Cruise?

It’s pretty unlikely you will get wet unless it is raining. Still, the boats are covered, guests are allowed to step outside whenever they wish.


Where to Stay in Jasper National Park

canoeing in jasper
The Fairmont sits right on Lake Beauvert,

One of the best places to stay in Jasper is the Fairmont Park Lodge. We enjoyed one of their Lakeview rooms for three nights and had a fantastic time. The Fairmont sits right on Lake Beauvert, which in my opinion, is one of the most stunning lakes I have seen in Jasper.

The Fairmont is comfortable and spread out. It’s not your standard hotel, but instead, there are plenty of individual cabins, so you can easily keep your distance from other guests. There’s a heated pool to enjoy in the winter and summer. They also have a boathouse where you can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards.

There are a few restaurants on-site, which are all delicious! Make sure to try Orso Trattoria for a nice night out.

The best cabins in Jasper

Other Fantastic Places to Stay in Jasper


Our Top Recommended Jasper Tours


Hopefully, this will help you experience Maligne Lake and Spirit Island to the fullest!

If you have any other questions leave a comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.


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About Cameron

Cameron is a resident of Canmore, Alberta. After traveling the world for six years, he settled down in the beautiful Bow Valley with Natasha. He has been featured as a travel expert with numerous publications worldwide and has spoken on several occasions about the power of travel. He has a passion for all things in the Canadian Rockies and loves to spend his time snowboarding, scrambling, camping, biking, and trail running. Conservation is a deep fundamental in his life, and he aims to inspire others to care about our natural world. You can learn more on the about us page.

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3 thoughts on “Maligne Lake and Spirit Island in Jasper • All You NEED to Know”

  1. We have very much appreciated your blog and have gained much knowledge from it. We are planning our once in a life time trip to Banff and Jasper next week (August 29 – September 5), staying in Canmore. We are wondering what your thoughts are concerning the wildfire haze? Would we be wise to postpone our trip to next summer, or do you feel we would still be able to experience the beauty of the area?

    Reply
    • Hi Dave,

      Wildfire haze can change day by day, and even hour by hour, so it’s near impossible to know what will happen next week. It’s best to check forecasts on the FireSmoke.ca website at https://firesmoke.ca/forecasts/current/. It’s only really semi accurate up to 24 hours in advance. Other than that you can look at all the webcams around the park to see what the air looks like. The best ones are the Lake Louise ski resort webcam, downtown Canmore webcam, Town of Banff webcam, and Emerald Lake webcam.

      Reply

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