As the tour boat speeds across the turquoise waters the awesome majesty of the Canadian Rockies continues to unfold before me. I’m standing outside of the boat cabin on the rear deck, and the wind from the boat’s passage is trying to blow my cap off. I have to finally remove it, as I’m too busy taking picture after picture of the spectacular unfolding mountain vista to want to deal with an errant cap.
We’re cruising down Maligne Lake south of Jasper. The 22 Km (14 Mile) long lake lies at the south end of Maligne Lake Road. Separated from the Banff/Jasper Highway by the rugged Maligne Range, this 46 km. (29 mi.) road follows the glacial valley separating this range from the neighbouring Queen Elizabeth Ranges. The main access to this road is along Highway 16 (The Yellowhead Highway), approximately 5 km. east of the Jasper townsite.
Maligne Lake is the largest natural lake and the second largest glacier-fed lake in the Canadian Rockies. Ringed by snow-and-ice-capped mountains, the lake stretches past serene Spirit Island right to the melt-water channels of Coronet Glacier. The lake is both fed and drained by the Maligne River, entering the lake from the south and draining it to the north. The name Maligne is French for “wicked”, called so by a French Jesuit explorer describing the river’s condition as he tried to cross it.
At the road terminus at the north end of the lake is a restaurant and gift shop, and the Maligne Lake Scenic Cruise Company, where you can book a 90 minute interpretive cruise down the lake to Spirit Island, described by Readers Digest as the most scenic cruise in Canada. The glass enclosed and heated cruise boats depart hourly from ice-out in the spring until late fall. Heritage Tourism guides provide sightseers with a running commentary of the local history, geology, wildlife and glaciology of Maligne Lake during the cruise. No roads continue south past this point, so the boat cruise is the only way most people get to see the splendor of Maligne Lake. For the more adventurous, there is a nearby boathouse renting rowboats, canoes and kayaks that allow the opportunity for a leisurely personal journey on the lake.
Maligne Lake was originally known to the natives as Chabma Imme, or Beaver Lake. It was found in 1907 by Mary Schaeffer, a wealthy Quaker from Philadelphia, who learned of the mysterious lake. Following a map obtained from Samson Beaver, a Stoney tribesman, Mary found the lake and later wrote about her adventures, making the area a popular tourist attraction in years to follow.
Spirit Island, about 14 Km down-lake, is one of the most famous publicized images of the Canadian Rockies. The cruise boat stopped at the island briefly to allow us to stroll a short path and photograph this spectacular island setting. A neat feature at this site is the solar-powered washrooms located behind the boat dock, reputedly costing $200,000 to build. The day we toured it was calm, with a sun-and-cloud mix sky, and the setting at Spirit Island rivaled anything found in tourism brochures.
Tickets can be bought at the office on Maligne Lake, but in July and August you’re liable to find that by the time you get there the day’s cruises are already sold out. It’s better to buy in advance at these times. You can do so online at their website, or there is a ticket office in the town of Jasper, at 616 Patricia St. We went there and got a package deal – the cruise and the Jasper Tramway together, and saved $9 per person.
On the road into Maligne Lake you drive by Maligne Canyon, which is well worth an hour stopover in itself. You also drive by Medicine Lake , which is a scenic stop. There is a great photo op just at the very north end of the lake that provides a great shot of the whole lake with the mountains as a backdrop.
If You Go
Guest author Gene Chambers is author of three secondary school textbooks on computer studies in data processing, and the following travel articles:
Article and photos: © by Gene Chambers