Most people who visit Jasper National Park make a point of visiting one of the highlights of the park which is Maligne Canyon. In my opinion it is one of the two best specific destinations in the park other than the townsite itself (the other one is Athabasca Falls). Maligne Canyon is a must see for most people because it offers a view of a narrow gorge where the waters of Maligne Lake and Medicine Lake drain. Maligne Lake in particular is huge and that’s a lot of water that flows through this narrow gorge and that is why it’s so popular. The water rushes through at a tremendous speed with a loud roar. It’s both a terrifying and exhilarating sight. This rush of water also erodes the canyon walls producing all sorts of shapes in the rock. In fact the rock is quite porous so the water flows from a multitude of cracks and holes in the sides of the canyon as well as the main source being the Maligne River itself.
It’s no wonder that so many people come to see this spectacular sight in the summer. Recently the old tea house at the parking area was updated to provide three commercial attractions for after your walk around the canyon. One is called the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen which is fine dinning without compromise. For those on more modest budgets or tastes there is also a concession for take-out sandwiches and pastries. Finally there is a very large and endlessly fascinating gift shop with books, souvenirs and art that should satisfy any budget.
There remains an untold story here and that is that the best time to visit Maligne Canyon is in the winter. At some point in December and January the cold northern winds are enough to cause even the rushing and swirling waters of the canyon to freeze up. It becomes a winter wonderland of frozen falls, ice caves, icicles and just about anything else you can find in nature that’s made of ice. The best part is that you don’t even need to be a mountaineering expert to trek through this frozen wonderland. A short distance from the parking area the topside hiking path and the frozen main river that flows through Maligne Canyon meet. At this point you can simply walk out on the ice and then walk upstream until you encounter an icefall that is too high to cross. The only things you need are warm clothes, a sense of adventure and some cleats for your snow or hiking boots. Cleats provide spikes on the bottom of your shoes allowing you to walk safely on the slippery ice. I personally use Micro Spikes