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.