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Maligne Canyon

Jasper National Park

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, easy access, 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 it 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. The adventure begins by walking down the main pathway a short distance from the parking area. The topside hiking path eventually reaches the frozen main river that flows through Maligne Canyon.

If You Go

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. All 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 because they give you superb traction. I’ve noticed that the guides that are available for hire seem to use these cleats. The can be expensive ($85 CDN in 2021) but occasionally go on sale. If you buy this brand make sure you error on the small side. If they are too big they can fall off or at minimum rattle like a chain. If they are a bit small the only downside is that they take more effort to put on. By the way I get no money or product for endorsing the cleats so this is an honest opinion. You can probably get by with the more economical cleats designed for city sidewalks but you’ll be turning back much sooner than otherwise necessary. Do keep in mind that for a canyon walk the cold is your friend. I’ve been back in years where we had a warm winter and found many open pools of water including one so larger that you had to climb up and around it. A brutally cold December will make for a wonderful time in January and February in the canyon.

These are the traction aides that will ensure you have a safe and fun time in the canyon. There are other cheaper types that may work but the Micro Spikes work well and can be used on hardpacked snow, lake crossings, ravine trails and many other places. I highly recommend them. They come in different sizes based on your boot size but the trick is to get the smallest size that you can fit over your boot so that they are tight and snug.
There are two places to enter the canyon in the winter. You can basically just walk along the trail until it meets the ice or you can pass through the gate at fourth bridge.
The previous time I was here this open water was frozen enough to allow me through. This time it was impossible to cross and it’s deeper than it looks. Fortunately, just behind where I’m standing, there was a trail that led over this rock and allowed us to continue further into the canyon.
This is one of my favourite parts of the canyon because the rock walls come so close together that they nearly form a ceiling above the ice.
Who can resist walking along to see what’s around the next corner?
Kids go wild when they see the ice caves. Come to think of it, so do the adults.
My camera sure enjoyed itself inside this ice cave. This is basically behind a waterfall.
The amazing inside of an ice cave.
Here you can see how the water – now ice – shoots out from many places along the walls. Some waterfalls seem to come out from solid rock.
This frozen waterfall got the better of me as it took two tries to get up and over it even with the cleats on. I went sliding down to the bottom on my bottom.
Both times that I’ve visited Maligne Canyon in the winter there have been ice climbers there as well. You have to let them know you want to cross and then quickly pass as they occasionally will knock some ice loose. This fellow is setting some pins in the ice. Notice that the rope is below him, not above. It’s a long way up. You can also watch them from the top once they get higher up there.

Most of the time explorers in the canyon go upstream from the starting point but there are things to see downstream too. This waterfall never seems to freeze; I’m not sure why. As you can see it started to snow and downstream there are no more walls to the canyon to block out the weather. Time to head back.
After all that walking there is nothing quite like a well made coffee and some fine dining. This is the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen and it’s just at the opposite end of the parking area for the canyon walk.
It’s a winter wonderland down there.

4 thoughts on “Maligne Canyon

  1. Popped in for a visit as suggested by BWBandy – enjoyed seeing all your amazing ice photos in this post. Thank you!


    1. Thanks for commenting and enjoying the Canyon images. Come back anytime.


  2. I’m pretty sure I been here, in my minds eye I have. It was winter and a guide took me to falls they gave me ice picks but at the time I didn’t realize where I was and now I want to return and see more. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Kelly. The canyon is definitely worth a visit in any season but the local secret is that late winter is the very best time to go. Just make sure you have the right kind of traction cleats and you’re all set.


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