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Maligne Lake Cruise | When + how to visit Spirit Island in Jasper

Jasper Spirit Island on Maligne Lake

In Canada last summer, my dad insisted on taking us on a Maligne Lake Cruise in Jasper National Park. His exact words being, “Lake Louise is junk.”

Admittedly, I had some doubts about this. Not just because Lake Louise is one of the most stunning pieces of natural landscape I’ve ever seen, but because my dad’s poetic imagination can veer towards hyperbole at times. I was dead wrong though. Maligne Lake left me breathless in ways that Lake Louise could never dream of doing (as much as I hate admitting my dad was right). ๐Ÿ˜‰

What’s so special about Maligne Lake anyway?

You’ve probably heard of Lake Louise. After all, it’s maybe the most famous lake in the Canadian Rockies, acclaimed worldwide for the incredible colour of its glacial water and stunning mountain backdrop. It’s near and dear to my heart too. After all, it’s where my hubby proposed to me.

But what if I told you that Maligne Lake really does put Lake Louise to shame?

In 1908, her first sight of this incredible body of water caused explorer and artist Mary Schaffer to say “If Lake Louise is a pearl, Maligne is the entire pearl necklace.

And you know what? She was absolutely right.

It’s not just because Spirit Island, one of the most photographed places in Canada, can be found on Jasper’s Maligne Lake. It’s because the colour of the water on this massively long finger lake shifts from emerald to blue to turquoise right before your eyes. Surrounded by a truly awe-inspiring and rare box canyon that Mary Schaffer called “The Hall of Gods,” you really expect Zeus, Apollo and Aphrodite to take a seat, while you watch.

maligne lake and the queen elizabeth ranges, maligne lake cruise

You can only see the magnificent Hall of Gods by taking a Maligne Lake Cruise

Words simply cannot do justice to the flawless grandeur of Maligne Lake (neither can my pictures). It’s just one of those places you simply must see with your own eyes.

A Maligne Lake Cruise: the best way to see Jasper’s Spirit Island

Chances are you’ve seen images of Spirit Island without actually knowing its name. A photograph of Spirit Island by Peter Gales hung in New York’s Grand Central Terminal as part of Kodak’s Colorama showcase in the 1960s. And in 2014, Apple used a picture of Spirit Island to show off the photographic capacity of their latest iPad.

Jasper Spirit Island on Maligne Lake

Jasper’s Spirit Island (on the right) can only be seen by taking a Maligne Lake Cruise

For most people, the best way to see Maligne Lake and Jasper’s famous Spirit Island is via a Maligne Lake Cruise.

In fact, the ONLY way you can set eyes on this iconic image, is from the water. For the Stoney Nakoda First Nation that originally inhabited the Jasper area, Spirit Island is sacred. They believe that mountains are physical representations of their ancestors, and Spirit Island is surrounded on 3 sides by the exact same mountain range. This is incredibly rare and makes it hallowed ground – one that should be revered, but never walked upon.

Booking a Maligne Lake Cruise

Sure, you can see Maligne Lake just by standing on the dock. It’s still undeniably stunning, but you’d be missing out. The best parts of the lake, the parts that’ll stay etched in your memory long after you’ve left – like the Hall of Gods and 3 massive glaciers – can only be found 45 minutes into a Maligne Lake Cruise. Because it’s a massive finger lake stretching 22.5 km long, you’re truly only seeing the tip of the iceberg if you stay on dry land.

On the cruise, you’ll learn about the lake’s history, it’s wildlife, what makes Spirit Island so famous, and why the forest around Maligne Lake is a tinderbox just waiting to be lit. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and light-hearted, plus had great suggestions for what and where to eat in Jasper.

I usually just show up in places and hope things work in my favour… and to be 100% honest, it usually does. However, in this case, it’s not only to your advantage to plan in advance, it’s almost necessary. You can just show up at the lake, and hope there are still tickets available, but I personally wouldn’t chance it.

Ticket office for the Maligne Lake Cruise

You can show up here, and hope that Maligne Lake Cruise tickets are not sold out.

Tickets for JUST the Maligne Lake Cruise are $85 per person, if you buy them independently, on-site. That is, if they’re not sold out. The extra $30 or so you’d spend for a pre-paid tour, which includes transport back and forth from Jasper Town an hour away, plus a few other stops, really makes it worthwhile AND great value.

The tour will pick you up from your Jasper hotel, stop at the Maligne Canyon for a 30 minute hike (also gorgeous), and Medicine Lake, before departing for Spirit Island on a GUARANTEED cruise of Maligne Lake.

This is one of the best things to do in Jasper, and the cruises will undoubtedly sell out, especially in the busy summer months. Be sure to reserve your Maligne Lake Cruise tour well in advance.

Medicine Lake

Medicine Lake is also lovely

Maligne Lake Canoe Rentals

It’s also possible to see Maligne Lake and Spirit Island independently. For most people, a Maligne Lake Cruise is the best way to go, but if you’re more of a DIY person about the wilderness type, you can rent canoes, kayaks or rowboats and paddle there yourself.

boathouse for maligne lake canoe rentals

Look out for the historic boathouse on the shores of Maligne Lake to reserve your boat by the hour, or for the day. Availability is limited, and on a first-come, first-served basis, with prices starting at $60 per hour. You’ll want to start early anyway, because paddling to Spirit Island can take 4 hours, each way.

CHECK OUT THESE OTHER GREAT TOURS IN THE JASPER AREA.

Maligne Lake Weather

Pray for clear skies along the way, because according to our guides, the area only gets 4-5 days of full out sun per year. You won’t be any less awed during your Maligne Lake Cruise though. The “Hall of Gods” box canyon is so majestic that a cloudy day simply can’t diminish it. But a sunny day just makes it that much better.

To say we got lucky is an understatement. The rain stopped the moment we stepped on the boat, and started again the moment we got off!

views from the maligne lake cruise

There’s no way a few clouds could ruin this view

The weather is super unpredictable in the Rockies, so make sure you show up prepared. I’d bring an umbrella, warm coat, cover for your camera or phone, and maybe even a change of socks.

How to get to Maligne Lake & Spirit Island in Jasper

Maligne Lake is located 44 kilometres south of Jasper town. It takes approximately 1 hour to drive there on your own.

There is no public transport to Maligne Lake, but there are shuttle buses geared towards hikers doing the multi-day Skyline Trail available. Buses depart Jasper Town at 9AM, and arrive at Maligne Lake an hour later. A one-way adult ticket costs $33 + taxes. However, unless you plan to spend the night at the historic Maligne Lake Chalet, or are ACTUALLY hiking, the shuttle is useless for a day trip. The return to Jasper Town is at 10AM, and costs an additional $33.

highway to Maligne Lake

The road to Maligne Lake

If you reserve a Maligne Lake Cruise in advance, transport to and from your Jasper hotel is included (and it’s a lot cheaper and more convenient).

Where to stay in Jasper Town

I’ve personally stayed at the Athabasca Hotel in Jasper. It’s one of the few budget friendly options in town (not including dorm / hostel beds), and it does sell out months in advance. If you’d like to stay there, book as early as possible, especially for the summer season.

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A Maligne Lake Cruise: how to see Spirit Island & the Hall of Gods in Jasper, Canada. #malignelakecruise #spiritislandjasper #spiritisland #canadianrockies #albertaparks #malignelaketour #malignelake #jaspernationalpark

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Maligne. Don’t know if it’s done on purpose, but that’s the feminine of the adjective “evil” in French… but the place looks anything but! Could it be some way of keeping the crowds of tourists, especially neo-Latin-speakers away? Brilliant place.

    April 9, 2019
    • Shelley @Travel-Stained #

      Haha. You totally called it. That’s exactly where the name comes from. A French priest used maligne to describe the intense river that flows from the lake in spring. Haha I should probably include that in the post.. :p But yeah, definitely one of the jaw dropping places I’ve seen the world over. That Hall of Gods is just WOW.

      April 10, 2019
  2. I have heard of Lake Louise and it’s on my to-visit list. Never heard about Maligne Lake. From what you showed and experienced, it does sound just as beautiful and stunning a visit. Lol I guess I will need to visit it for myself and Lake Louise to get a feel of which is more stunning. It does seem a bit of a hefty pricetag for the cruise but it seems to take you deep into the lake and the other side, so probably worthwhile.

    April 9, 2019
    • Shelley @Travel-Stained #

      I grew up in Alberta, and I’d never heard of Maligne Lake either! It’s a real shame, because Lake Louise, while incredibly beautiful, is always crowded with tourists, and parking is a real issue. I’d say Maligne Lake is definitely more dramatic and stunning. Haha yeah $85 seemed expensive to me too, especially after living in Asia, but Canada is kind of expensive that way for these types of things. In Vancouver, we wanted to walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but it was $30 just to do that (we didn’t do it). $85 is actually super reasonable for Canada (sadly).

      April 10, 2019
  3. Oh what a beautiful place! And your photos are great. I was in Jasper many years ago but didn’t go to Maligne. Guess I’d better go back!
    Alison

    April 10, 2019
    • Shelley @Travel-Stained #

      Jasper is soooo much better than Banff, dontcha think? Banff of course is stunning, but it’s become so touristy. That extra 3 hours to Jasper seems to have insulated it a bit from the tourist trail. Yes, please go back and see Maligne Lake. It was unbelievable! ๐Ÿ™‚

      April 11, 2019
  4. so beautiful, reminds me a lot of Bariloche in Argentina

    April 10, 2019
    • Shelley @Travel-Stained #

      Gahhh we missed Bariloche when we were in Argentina. Adding it to the list! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      April 11, 2019
  5. Never heard of it, but we are long overdue for a trip to this area and will absolutely remember this gem!

    April 10, 2019
    • Shelley @Travel-Stained #

      Most people stop at Banff and Lake Louise, but head a little bit further to Jasper and it’s so much better. Nature at its finest and most dramatic, with far less people around to disturb it!

      April 11, 2019

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