Glacier-fed and surrounded by impossibly high mountains, Maligne Lake is an epic multi-day canoe trip destination in the Canadian Rockies.
Boat tours exist, but these operate on a strict schedule and only show less than half of Maligne Lake’s beauty.
Paddling Maligne Lake is a more relaxed and personal experience, offering a sense of serenity you just can’t get on a crowded motorboat. It’s also exceptionally rewarding.
Having visited many of the most popular paddling destinations in Canada, I can also tell you that Maligne Lake offers one of the best canoe trip experiences anywhere.
Pardon the pun, but it blows most lakes out of the water!
In this post, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about planning a Maligne Lake canoe trip. Here’s what to expect –
- About Maligne Lake
- Our experience
- Maligne Lake paddling and camping guide
Published November 2021, last updated February 2023.
Before heading to Maligne Lake:
- Remember to bring the 10 Essentials
- Know how to stay safe and also avoid negative bear encounters
- Understand how to Leave No Trace to help keep Maligne Lake beautiful
- Be prepared to pack out everything you bring with you
- Check out our recommended gear for backcountry trips
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An introduction to Maligne Lake
At 22.5km in length, Maligne Lake is the longest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. Lying in a glacier carved valley, it is surrounded by huge peaks.
The highest mountains are at the southern end, providing the perfect backdrop to paddle towards.
The water colour changes as you travel south as well, becoming more turquoise thanks to the presence of rock flour from the glaciers.
One of the most photographed places in Canada, Maligne Lake is visited by millions of people each year. The majority of visitors explore the lake with the help of Maligne Lake Cruise, which runs daily boat tours in summer.
Aside from the tour boats and Parks Canada’ own vessels, Maligne Lake is open to paddlers and electric motorboats only.
Maligne Lake is a protected place within Jasper National Park, which is located in Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 as well as the traditional lands of the Beaver, Cree, Ojibway, Secwépemc, Stoney, and Métis.
Maligne Lake is best known for Spirit Island, which sits just over half-way down the lake.
Though technically a peninsula, this tiny forested island provides the focus of one of Canada’s most magnificent, and iconic, views. It also a place of great spiritual significance for local Indigenous people.
Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris painted the classic Spirit Island scene in 1924, after spending a summer sketching and camping at the end of the lake.
The popularity of this scene was further increased when Kodak included a photo of Spirit Island taken by Peter Gales in a showcase displayed in New York City in the 1960’s.
Spirit Island is only reachable by water. It is the main destination for Maligne Lake Cruise tour boats, which usually operate between 9am and 6.30pm. Most tours offer just 15 minutes at the Spirit Island viewpoint.
Paddlers, on the other hand, can spend unlimited time there during the day and evening (camping is prohibited). Sunset and sunrise are particularly magical.
Visiting Spirit Island is a definite highlight of any Maligne Lake canoe trip.
Our Maligne Lake canoe trip experience
As keen paddlers, Maligne Lake had been on our list for a number of years.
In 2021, we decided it was time to prioritise it and combine the trip with the (relatively nearby) Berg Lake Trail. Unfortunately, the latter didn’t work out due to trail closure but we went ahead with Maligne Lake anyway.
We had secured a reservation in April, during the delayed reservation launch. While we had not managed to book our ideal itinerary, we were just happy to have secured something. Our booked itinerary was:
- 2 nights Coronet Creek Campground
- 2 nights Fisherman’s Bay Campground
Read on for a quick overview of our four day Maligne Lake canoe trip. It may help you plan your own Maligne Lake adventure!
Day 1 – Paddling to Coronet Creek Campground
Launch day arrived and so did a snow storm. Yep, in August! Pulling up to the public boat dock at 7am, we could barely see a thing across Maligne Lake.
On the water by 7.30am, we decided to paddle as fast as possible to Coronet Creek Campground. After all, we couldn’t see anything anyway. Our vision was limited to the trees on the side of the lake.
On the positive side, we were completely alone. No Maligne Lake Cruise boats, no other paddlers. Combined with the lake’s relative calmness, it was pretty serene.
Passing Spirit Island at 10.20am, we were starting to get cold. About an hour later, I started to lose feeling in my fingers. Hoping beyond hope that there would be a roaring fire at the campground, we knuckled down as the lake conditions worsened.
Thankfully, a collection of kayaks and canoes greeted us on the Coronet Creek Campground. After 4 and a half hours of paddling in the snow, we practically ran into camp and spent the next nine hours (!) around the fire, with a short break to put the tent up.
Needless to say, thank you to those kind Coronet Creek campers. No-one else arrived all day and I don’t blame them.
Day 2 – Coronet Creek Campground and the Coronet Creek Trail
WOW is all I could utter on our second day at Maligne Lake. We had awoken to a paradise of snow capped mountains and glaciers. Maligne Lake was like a mirror.
We spent the whole morning in awe, admiring the panoramas from the land and also the water. It was hard to reconcile our snowy paddle from the day before with the magnificence of this previously hidden scenery.
After saying goodbye to our fellow campers (one of whom was an Acadian like JR!), we set out onto the Coronet Creek Trail. This 16km long return hike starts at the back of the campground and follows Coronet Creek to the base of the Coronet Glacier.
Though not technically difficult, the trail is full of little ups and downs. It also requires a little attention to follow as its not regularly maintained. There were some stream crossings as well, undoubtedly running faster than usual after all the snow the day before!
While not a must do experience, I still think the Coronet Creek Trail is worthwhile. I enjoyed the views, especially at the start and end, and the chance to hike on a paddling trip.
Wanting to enjoy the campground’s location to its fullest, we cooked and ate dinner on the beach while watching the sunset.
Day 3 – Coronet Creek Campground to Fisherman’s Bay
Sunrise on Maligne Lake was cold but beautiful. Such tranquility just can’t be beaten! A bit of sunbathing on the dock followed, before the inevitable camp pack up.
There was no reason to be sad though, as the views somehow got even better as we paddled back down the main arm towards Fisherman’s Bay!
We couldn’t believe our luck with the perfect blue skies and calm lake conditions. Needless to say, we weren’t in any hurry to go anywhere.
Though we planned to visit Spirit Island at sunset and sunrise, we wanted to drop by during the day too. I really wanted to see what kind of experience the average Maligne Lake Cruise tourist has.
And it’s quick, to say the least. Cruise visitors have exactly 15 minutes to depart the boat, walk the short 250m loop trail and then return to the boat.
On the positive side, there’s only a max of three boats at any one time (with one leaving and one arriving) so it’s not excessively crowded. Some visitors took photos in front of our canoe.
Our next stop was Fisherman’s Bay Campground, just around the next corner. Tent set up, we then left to enjoy dinner on the side of the lake.
After the last Maligne Lake Cruise boat (6.30pm), Spirit Island was all ours. A couple more canoes came over from Fisherman’s for sunset but that was it. Being able to spend ‘after hours’ time at this iconic location was truly priceless.
Day 4 – Sunrise at Spirit Island, paddle out
Spirit Island was even quieter at sunrise. While we didn’t see any dramatic skies, the mirror reflections were spectacular. We cooked our breakfast right on the dock.
Returning to the campground, we were advised by other campers that another band of rain (likely snow) was due to sweep in during the afternoon.
After our experience earlier in the week, we decided to end our trip early to err on the side of caution. Obviously, we would lose our Parks Canada fees that we had already paid.
As it was, the forecast was absolutely correct. Looking back as we paddled away, we watched as a mist of rain started obscuring the peaks and glaciers of Maligne Lake.
We had been lucky and enjoyed the best weather while exploring the most scenic parts of Maligne Lake. The journey back felt long but was probably more interesting to us than most, since we hadn’t seen any of it on the way out!
The northern end of Maligne Lake is not as impressive as the other end, but it would probably still be classed as breathtaking anywhere else.
We rolled up to the public boat launch at 4pm, more than 50km of paddling under our belts and unforgettable scenery in our memories.
Maligne Lake paddling and camping guide
In this section, I’ll share all the information you need to organise your own Maligne Lake camping trip.
It includes parking information and detailed campground descriptions as well as reservation tips and suggested paddling itineraries.
Heads up – a multi-day canoe trip on Maligne Lake isn’t for everyone. The paddling distances can be long (itinerary dependent), lake conditions can be unpredictable and the water temperature is very cold.
Previously paddling experience is beneficial for this adventure and you’ll also need suitable backcountry gear (tent, cold weather sleeping bag, stove etc.)
Continue reading for all the essential info you need to plan your trip.
Maligne Lake Overview
Location: Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Lake length: 22.5km
Time: 2-5 days
Maligne Lake is located in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. It is accessed by the paved 43km long Maligne Lake Road.
This winding two lane road takes around 45 minutes to drive, as there is a 60km/h speed limit. The entrance to Maligne Lake Road is on Highway 16, just a few minutes from the town of Jasper.
Wildlife sightings are fairly common on this road – we personally saw herds of elk and big horn sheep as well as a fox.
There is no public transport to Maligne Lake. There is a daily shuttle service from Jasper, primarily aimed at Skyline Trail hikers. Guided tours are also available, but these would not be suitable for Maligne Lake campers.
Click below to view our Maligne Lake Google Map featuring all backcountry campgrounds, picnic areas and boat launches. The orange star pinpoints the location of Spirit Island (just over half way down the 22.5km lake).
When to paddle Maligne Lake
Located at 1760m, Maligne Lake is actually frozen just over half of the year.
Maligne Lake usually starts to thaw in May, becoming ice free by the end of the month or the start of June. The timing varies from year to year, depending on the spring weather.
Fast forward past summer and Maligne Lake is frozen again by late November. The ice is not considered to be safe to travel on, however, until mid January or so.
The best months for a Maligne Lake canoe trip are July and August. These months offer the warmest weather conditions and the least chance of rain or snow.
Having said that, cold weather is possible at any time of year in the Canadian Rockies, particularly at Maligne Lake’s high elevation.
During our mid August trip, we experienced daytime temperatures ranging from -1°C up to +22°C (30°F to 71°F). On our first night, temperatures dropped to a chilly -6°C (21°F). Other nights hovered around 0°C (32°F).
A Maligne Lake canoe trip is doable in June and September too, but colder temperatures are more likely.
Maligne Lake parking
There are two parking areas at Maligne Lake, both situated just off Maligne Lake Road.
The first parking lot is for day use. It is located within just a few minutes walk of the Maligne Lake Cruise dock and Boat House as well as the Lodge and Chalet. There are two restaurants plus a waffle café.
Visitors looking to take a boat tour or walk along the shore of the lake will find it most convenient to park at the first parking lot.
The second parking lot provides day and overnight parking for Maligne Lake paddlers as well as hikers.
To reach the second parking lot, continue following Maligne Lake Road. The route crosses a bridge, passes a couple of hiking trailheads and then ends at a gate (signed Maligne Lake Warden Station). Turn left and you’ll soon arrive at the public boat launch, with a large parking lot just adjacent.
There’s a large washroom building situated in the lot, though there was no running water in the taps during our visit.
Please sure to display valid Jasper National Park admission (or a Discovery Pass) on your vehicle when parking at Maligne Lake.
Maligne Lake boat launch
Maligne Lake’s public boat launch features two floating docks, a concrete boat ramp and a shingle rock ramp.
The maximum loading time is 5 minutes to avoid congestion. It’s a pretty busy boat launch so I’d highly recommend being completely ready before unloading or loading gear.
Wild Current Outfitters stores rental canoes at the boat launch. Canoe rentals must be organised in advance, with accessories available for pick-up in Jasper. The actual canoes are secured with combination locks.
On our visit in August in 2021, there was also a huge pile of free firewood by the boat launch.
Here are the direct paddling distances between Maligne Lake’s campgrounds, picnic areas and Spirit Island.
The picnic areas have tables, outhouses and fire pits. Camping is not prohibited.
|Distance from Maligne Lake public boat dock (Home Bay)||Distance from Coronet Creek (last campground)|
|Hidden Cove Campground||3.5km||17.8km|
|Trapper Cove picnic area||4.3km||17km|
|Four Mile picnic area||5.4km||15.9km|
|Samson picnic area||10km||11.3km|
|Fisherman’s Bay Campground||13km||8.3km|
|Spindly Creek picnic area||17.7km||3.6km|
|Coronet Creek Campground||21.3km||N/A|
Maligne Lake campgrounds
Maligne Lake hosts three backcountry campgrounds, only reachable by water. Visitors are not allowed to camp anywhere else on the shore of Maligne Lake.
All three campgrounds are fairly rustic but well established.
Each campground features a boat dock, cooking area, at least one outhouse and a collection of numbered dirt tent pads. The latter are well spaced for the most part.
Campground reservations are essential but the actual tent pads are first come, first serve. Campers can only book an itinerary with two nights maximum at each campground and must stick to their itinerary.
Campground check-in and check-out time is at 11 am, but this is not enforced. Most people leave and arrive at different times, however so there’s usually no issue.
Each campground has a cooking area features a handful of picnic tables and shared fire pits. There are also numbered lockers, which correspond with the tent pads (one locker allocated per campsite).
These lockers should be used to store all food and attractants (toiletries, trash, cooking equipment, other smelly items) overnight and when otherwise not in use, to avoid issues with wildlife.
In terms of size, these lockers are pretty big. We saw people storing coolers in them.
I have to say, I didn’t really like the outhouses at the Maligne Lake campgrounds. They basically consist of a seat above a large bucket.
There’s not a ton of privacy, though there is a rope system to warn people that the outhouse is in use. Some shelter is offered by a sloped roof as well.
Something I did really like about the outhouses was the accessibility factor. The outhouses at Fisherman’s Bay and Hidden Cove were both barrier free.
The main outhouse at Coronet Creek was elevated (stair access only), so there was a separate, locked throne toilet for disabled campers. If you need access, contact Parks Canada in advance.
Hidden Cove Campground
Number of tent pads: 4
Distance from public boat dock: 3.5km
Paddling time from dock in good weather: 45 mins to 1.5 hours
Hidden Cove Campground is the closest to the public boat dock and is promoted as an ideal family destination. It is also the smallest Maligne Lake campground, with only 4 tent pads.
We didn’t stay at Hidden Lake but we did visit. As the name implies, the campground sits in a beautiful cove, on the western side of a small island. I think it would be reasonably well protected from wind.
There is a small wooden cabin for shelter, with a woodstove. This is definitely the best place to stay on Maligne Lake when the weather isn’t that favourable!
Being so close to the boat launch, Hidden Cove is marketed as the best family campground on Maligne Lake. There is, however, no booking rules that restrict groups without children from reserving it.
Fisherman’s Bay Campground
Number of tent pads: 8
Distance from public boat dock: 13km
Paddling time from dock in good weather: 3 to 5 hours
Fisherman’s Bay Campground is the most popular place to camp on Maligne Lake. The reason is simple – it’s a very short paddle (about 15-20 minutes) from Spirit Island.
Being only 13km from the public boat dock, Fisherman’s Bay is also a very achievable one day destination for most paddlers. As mentioned above, most people paddle here in 3 to 5 hours when the lake is calm.
The campground is located in a small cove on the eastern side of the lake. It offers some fantastic views of mountain peaks (specifically Mt. Unwin, 3268m, and Mount Charlton, 3217m).
Most of the tent pads offer peek through lake views, but the beach is really where the panoramas are at! Apparently, the cove also offers good fishing.
One downside of Fisherman’s Bay is the cruise boats passing every 15 minutes from 9am to 6.30pm. Though not overwhelmingly noisy, they do take you out of the wilderness setting.
In August 2021, there was a large tarp system set up above some of the picnic tables. It provided fairly decent shelter from the elements (at least, from above!)
Coronet Creek Campground
Number of tent pads: 8
Distance from public boat dock: 21.3km
Paddling time from dock in good weather: 5 to 8 hours
Coronet Creek is the third and last campground on Maligne Lake and is situated almost at the very southern end. It is also my favourite of the Maligne Lake campgrounds.
Almost completely surrounded by soaring mountain peaks, the views from Coronet Creek Campground are nothing short of spectacular.
The fishing is apparently great too – we saw some other campers catch rainbow trout.
The campsites are a little set back from the lake so don’t really have views, but the beach is only a short walk away.
This campground is a little less popular than Fisherman’s Bay since it is a relatively long haul to reach it. Most people divide up the trip with an overnight stay at Fisherman’s Bay.
We paddled to Coronet Creek in 4.5 hours but I have to say, we were really going for it and had decent (but not perfectly calm) conditions.
If you can, I’d recommend staying at Coronet Creek Campground for two nights. The worthwhile Coronet Creek Trail (16km return) starts at the back of the campground and leads to the base of the Coronet Glacier.
In August 2021, there was a large tarp system set up over some of the picnic tables in the campground. We were very thankful for it after arriving in snow.
Maligne Lake camping itinerary suggestions
With three distinctively different campgrounds, there are numerous ways to organise a Maligne Lake camping trip.
Keep in mind, though, that you can only stay on Maligne Lake for six nights maximum, with two nights maximum at each campground.
After making your reservation, you must also stick to your planned itinerary (unless leaving early).
When planning your itinerary, it’s important to consider your paddling skills and experience first. The weather and lake conditions are fairly unpredictable on Maligne Lake. Err on the side of caution rather than ambition!
Two night Maligne Lake itinerary
An ideal two night itinerary for strong paddlers with a limited schedule would be:
- 1 night at Fisherman’s Bay
- 1 night at Coronet Creek
A stop at Fisherman’s Bay breaks up the outgoing journey, with a chance to see Spirit Lake at sunset or sunrise. The return journey is long and should be started early (before 8am if you can), for the best chance of calm lake conditions.
Not a strong paddler? I’d recommend this itinerary instead:
- 2 nights at Fisherman’s Bay
The 13km paddle to Fisherman’s Bay is more achievable for novice paddlers. On the second day, consider taking the opportunity to paddle to Coronet Creek and back. The journey will be faster with less gear in the boat.
Three night Maligne Lake itinerary
Most of the paddlers we met on Maligne Lake were following this itinerary:
- 1 night at Fisherman’s Bay
- 1 night at Coronet Creek
- 1 night at Fisherman’s Bay
This itinerary offers shorter, easier paddling days and a chance to stay at two different campgrounds. There are also multiple chances to see Spirit Island at sunrise or sunset.
Four night Maligne Lake itinerary
Our ideal four night Maligne Lake itinerary would be:
- 1 night at Fisherman’s Bay
- 2 nights at Coronet Creek
- 1 night at Fisherman’s Bay
This relaxed itinerary allows for easy paddles between the campgrounds, plenty of time to soak up the scenery and an extra day at Coronet Creek to explore the Coronet Creek Trail.
Despite getting onto the reservation system within the first 30 minutes after launch, we were unable to secure this itinerary for ourselves.
Our final itinerary was:
- 2 nights at Coronet Creek
- 2 nights at Fisherman’s Bay
I would only recommend this itinerary to strong paddlers. 23km is a long way to paddle in one day, especially since Maligne Lake can be temperamental.
We also found this itinerary to be a bit anti-climatic. The best scenery is at the end of the lake (towards Coronet Creek) so we didn’t feel the need to spend another night at Fisherman’s Bay at the end of the trip.
Family friendly Maligne Lake itineraries
We met a number of families with young children while paddling Maligne Lake.
Itinerary suitability really depends on your family’s paddling/backcountry experience and personal travel style, but here are some ideas incorporating the family orientated Hidden Cove Campground:
- 1 night at Hidden Cove
- 1-2 nights at Fisherman’s Bay
- 1 night at Fisherman’s Bay
- 2 nights at Coronet Creek
- 1 night at Hidden Cove
Maligne Lake camping reservations
Camping reservations for Maligne Lake usually launch in January or February each year. Check this Parks Canada webpage for the announcement.
In 2023, reservations will open on March 20, 2023 at 8am MT.
Reservations can be made online or by phone (1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783).
Maligne Lake is a very popular destination. The majority of campsites will be booked within an hour or two of the reservation launch, with dates in July and August disappearing first (sometimes within minutes).
If you have a specific date, week or itinerary in mind, I’d highly recommend being ready for the reservation launch to secure your spot. If not, you will likely have to rely on cancellations closer to your desired trip date.
For last minute availability (the day before or the day of), you can check in person at the Parks Canada Information Centre in Jasper on 500 Connaught Drive.
With Maligne Lake being so popular however, I would keep your expectations low. Cancellations are more likely when rain or snow is forecast.
How to reserve a Maligne Lake campsite
- On reservation launch day, navigate to the Parks Canada Reservation Service homepage prior to the opening time (at least 10-15 minutes)
- You’ll see a holding screen, which explains that you’ve been put into an online waiting room. This helps to prevent server overload
- At launch time, the page will automatically refresh
- Everyone waiting in the online waiting room will be randomly assigned a place in line to access the website. Your number will be displayed and the estimated wait time. When it’s your turn, the page will automatically refresh again
- Click the ‘Backcountry‘ tab then ‘Backcountry Zone.’ Select Jasper from the drop down and then choose your arrival date, party size and amount of tent pads
- Select ‘Maligne Lake Trailhead‘ from the drop down menu and then click ‘Search’
- A map will appear below. Click on ‘Maligne Lake‘ (right hand side of map with canoe icon)
- Click the green* diamond next to your first campsite. Scroll down and click ‘Add to Stay‘ at the bottom of the right hand sidebar
- The screen will refresh and return to the map. Click the green diamond for your next desired campsite and, again, ‘Add to Stay.’ Repeat as needed
- When finished, click the green Reserve button in the ‘Your Stay’ section (just above the map)
- If the campsites are still available, the next screen will display your reservation details, along with Parks Canada rules. Tick both boxes and select ‘Confirm reservation details‘
- At this point, your reservation is in the shopping cart and held. As long as you complete payment within 20 minutes, your reservation is secure
- Click ‘Proceed to Checkout‘ to log into your Parks Canada account and pay for the reservation’
*Green signifies available. If the diamond is red, it is unavailable. In that situation, click the ‘Calendar’ icon next to the map and look for green ticks indicating availability
Before the reservation launch day, take some time to practice the above process to ensure you know exactly what to do on the day and increase your odds on getting the itinerary and dates you want.
Be sure to open a new Parks Canada account prior to the launch date. Due to the platform change, everyone needs a new account in 2023.
Don’t panic if you get a very high waiting line number – other popular destinations open for reservations on the same date as Maligne Lake.
Be flexible with your dates and have multiple options/itineraries ready.
Prepare to compromise if needed but remember that cancellations are possible too.
After successfully reserving your campsites, print off the confirmation email. Bring this with you to Maligne Lake.
Change(s) to your reservation can be made up to 2pm on your scheduled day of arrival, but there is a fee.
Maligne Lake camping fees
There are three fees to pay when camping at Maligne Lake.
|Fee type||Amount in $CAD (per person)|
|Backcountry overnight permit fee||12.75/night|
|Daily admission fee to |
Jasper National Park
21.00/family or group
Both backcountry overnight permit fees and reservation fees are paid at the time of reservation, while the daily admission fee is paid upon entry into Jasper National Park.
Spending 7+ days in Jasper National Park? It’s better value to purchase a Discovery Pass to cover the mandatory National Park admission fee. A Discovery Pass offers unlimited entry into Canada’s National Parks for one year.
The reservation change fee is $11.50 if made online, $13.50 by phone. This includes changes to camping dates or campground location.
If you cancel your Maligne Lake reservation at least 3 days prior to arrival, you will receive a full refund minus a cancellation fee ($11.50 online, $13.50 by phone) and the original non-refundable reservation fee.
Maligne Lake canoe rentals
Don’t have your own boat to paddle Maligne Lake? No problem – here are some of the most popular options!
Wild Current Outfitters offers canoe rentals directly on Maligne Lake, though bookings must be pre-arranged. Paddles and safety equipment are picked up at the Jasper Adventure Centre.
Pure Outdoors rents canoes and kayaks. Rentals can be picked up at the Jasper store or delivered directly to the Maligne Lake public boat dock (additional fee).
On-Line Sport & Tackle rent canoes, rowboats and freighter boats, with or without electric trolling batteries. They are located in Jasper but have some boats at Maligne Lake (pre-arrange rental first).
Stumbled on this post and only want to paddle Maligne Lake for a few hours? Pursuit rents canoes, kayaks and rowboats by the hour at the historic Maligne Lake boathouse.
Which to paddle: canoe or kayak?
Maligne Lake can be paddled with both canoe or kayak. Wondering which to choose for your Maligne Lake camping adventure? Let me first clarify which is which.
Most canoes have an open deck. Canoeists propel themselves with a single bladed paddle, while sitting on a bench or bucket seat. While solo canoes do exist, most are designed for two or more people. The canoe is an iconic symbol of Canada.
Kayaks, on the other hand, usually have a closed deck. Kayakers propel themselves with double bladed paddle, while sitting on a low seat with legs outstretched in front of them. Kayaks are built for one or two people. Some fit a third person, usually a small child.
The below comparison features sweeping generalisations but should give you a good idea of the main differences between these boats.
|More efficient in difficult weather conditions||Better stability overall|
|Easier to learn||Greater freedom of movement|
|Stored items have better |
protection from weather/waves
|More storage space|
|Usually lighter||Higher weight capacity|
|Faster||Easier to pack|
Canoes are also usually cheaper to rent than kayaks.
Since we have own both types of boat, we did have a debate which to bring on this trip. In the end, the canoe won as we couldn’t resist the idea of bringing such as iconic boat on such an epic paddling trip!
Maligne Lake wildlife
Jasper National Park is home more than 50 different mammals, including elk, moose, caribou, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and porcupines.
Paddlers have the benefit of being able to move quietly, something that can result in more wildlife sightings.
If you do see any wildlife, remember to keep a respectful distance. This allows the animal room to escape. Be careful to clean up properly after eating to ensure that you do not accidently feed any animals.
All smelly items (food, toiletries etc.) should be kept in the campground storage lockers overnight and when not in use.
With both grizzly bears and black bears being present in this area, it’s important to know what to do if you do see a bear. Jasper National Park produces an excellent guide (‘Bears and People’, see bottom of this page).
Despite Maligne Lake’s popularity and easy-to-access location, it is a relatively remote destination. You must be prepared to be self sufficient while camping at Maligne Lake.
There is no cellular phone signal after leaving Highway 16. Maligne Lake is also not consistently patrolled by Parks Canada. Anticipate a rescue to take a long time.
We left a detailed trip plan with a family member before leaving and also carried an InReach satellite device in case of emergency.
- Maligne Lake is a very cold lake. Even in summer, the water temperature is a chilly 4°C (39.2°F). Paddle close to shore and wear a PDF (life jacket) at all times – it could save your life in the event of a capsize
- Start paddling early. Maligne Lake is calmest before 9am
- The weather can change very quickly at this elevation. Wind, rain, snow and hail are always possible, even if the weather looks perfect when you set out
- Keep an eye on the sky while paddling. If it looks like bad weather is coming in, paddle closer to shore and consider getting off the lake
- Cross the lake only if you need to and if the conditions are favourable. The narrowest part of the lake is close to Fisherman’s Bay and Spirit Island
- While the Spirit Island tour boats do slow down for paddlers, they still create some wake (waves). Keep an eye out for these waves and position your boat to hit them head on if you can
- Don’t cross in front of the Spirit Island boats – it’s unnecessary and there is a chance that they may not see you
- Wear layers and bring clothing suitable for both warm and cold weather. We experienced temperatures ranging from -6°C to +22°C (21°F to 71°F) during our mid August trip!
General canoe paddling advice
If you’re a novice canoeist (or you just haven’t paddled in a while), you may find the following tips helpful:
- When entering and exiting the canoe, stay low and close to the middle of the boat
- Paddle on opposite sides of the canoe – this moves the boat forward in a straight (ish!) line and also helps to keep it stable
- Once ready to start paddling, be sure to situp straight, place the blade in the water at a vertical angle and pull it towards you
- The paddler at the back of the canoe has more power and influence over steering – choice the strongest and heaviest person to sit at the back
- Try to keep in sync with other paddlers
- Remain sitting while in the canoe – don’t stand up or sit on the side of the boat
- Don’t make sudden movements or rock from side to side
- High winds can cause dangerous conditions on lakes. Be prepared to return to shore quickly if the wind picks up
- Since no-one has to carry it, it can be tempting to bring lots of food and equipment on a paddling trip. Be sure to leave at least 8cm / 7 inches of freeboard (space between the water level and the top edge of the boat) else you may find your boat swamped with water in waves
Essential items to bring on a Maligne Lake camping trip
Besides all of your camping gear, clothing and 10 Essentials, I’d recommend bringing the following items for your Maligne Lake paddling adventure:
- Firewood. If having a campfire is a high priority for you, bring some firewood with you. It should be from Jasper National Park to avoid the transportation of invasive insects
- Printed reservation. Don’t forget to bring a copy of your camping reservation, just in case a Parks Canada staff member requests to see it
- Fishing permit. Planning to fish on Maligne Lake? Be sure to purchase a National Park Fishing Permit before leaving for your trip
- Sunscreen, sunglasses and a sun hat – The reflections on Maligne Lake can be strong even on cloudy days
- Protection for electronics. When not in use, protect your phone from splashes with a waterproof pouch. Bringing a DSLR? I’d suggest a Pelican case
- Hiking boots or shoes. If you plan to potentially hike the Coronet Creek Trail, be sure to bring some decent hiking shoes. It’s not remarkedly difficult but sandals or flipflops are not enough
- Bear spray. Both grizzly and black bears live in the Maligne Lake area. Bear spray is helpful to have as a last resort, in the unlikely event you have a negative encounter
- Tarp. Consider bringing a lightweight tarp for additional shelter at the campgrounds
- Water purification equipment or water. Bring 4-5 litres of water per person per day, or something to purify the lake water. We used the MSR Trailshot. For a larger group I’d recommend a base camp filter like this
Where to stay before and after paddling Maligne Lake
Besides the three backcountry campgrounds, there is no other accommodation at Maligne Lake. The nearest accommodation is the HI Maligne Canyon Hostel, located 37km up the Maligne Lake Road.
Most Maligne Lake paddlers stay in the Jasper area before and/or after their trip.
If having a shower before or after your trip is a priority, consider Whistlers Campground near Jasper. There are 781 individual campsites with as many as 18 combined washroom/shower buildings (you’ll never be more than 25m walk away).
We stayed at Whistlers before and after our Maligne Lake canoe trip, both times without a reservation. It’s a popular campground and all sites are reservable.
Due to its large size, however, there’s a good chance of cancellations. If you don’t have a reservation, arrive as early as possible to try and snag a spot.
Wapiti Campground also has showers and is just down the road from Whistlers. It’s smaller, with 363 reservable campsites available in summer.
Further down the Icefield Parkway is Wabasso, a 231 site campground best suited tenting, and motorhomes and trailers under 27 feet.
Hotels and lodges
Jasper has a host of accommodation options. I’d suggest booking early, however, as summer prices are high.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge – Perhaps the ultimate destination for a post-Maligne Lake debrief, the luxurious Fairmont overlooks Beauvert Lake and has a 10,000 foot spa.
The Crimson Jasper – This modern, welcoming lodge is within easy walking distance to everywhere in downtown Jasper. There is an on-site restaurant but many other options very close by.
Overlander Mountain Lodge – Heading east after your Maligne Lake canoe trip? This beautiful property is located just outside the Jasper National Park gates and features cosy lodge rooms, historical cabins, modern chalets and an excellent restaurant.
Other things to do in Jasper National Park
Maligne Lake is only one of many spectacular attractions in Jasper National Park.
9km of the Maligne Lake Road travels alongside pretty Medicine Lake. There are a number of scenic viewpoints, with one of the best located at the northwestern edge of the lake.
Another worthwhile stop on the Maligne Lake Road is Maligne Canyon. Swirling water has carved an intricate path through this deep (up to 50m!) and narrow canyon, leaving waterwalls, fossils, potholes and plenty of beauty in its wake. Allow for a 2-3 hour hike.
If you only have time for one hike, I’d suggest heading to the Mount Edith Cavell area. The Cavell Meadow Trail (8km return with 500m gain/loss) takes in stunning views of the Angel Glacier and surrounding meadows as well as beautiful wildflower meadows.
As the hottest mineral springs in the Rockies, the Miette Hot Springs are the perfect place to relax and unwind after a Maligne Lake canoe trip.
The Sulphur Skyline Trail offers a great ‘bang for buck’ hike on the eastern side of Jasper National Park. Climbing 700m in elevation over 4km, it’s a bit of a workout, but the 360 degree mountain panoramas are definitely worth it!
The Athabasca is the largest river system in Jasper National Park. The 23m Athabasca Falls may not be very high but are immensely powerful. This rewarding roadside stop is in the Icefield Parkway.
Check out these other Alberta posts next:
Climbing Mt Norquay’s Via Ferrata, Banff
11 Things to Do in Sundre, Alberta (& Why You Need to Go ASAP!)
Exploring Rat’s Nest Cave with Canmore Cave Tours
Hiking the Kananaskis Valley from Mount Engadine Lodge
15+ Fun Things to Do in Calgary For Adults
5 Awesome Alternatives to Banff, Alberta
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Thursday 19th of May 2022
Wow! This is an amazing detailed guide! Thank you Gemma!
Sunday 22nd of May 2022
Thanks so much for letting me know Ilan :)
Monday 31st of January 2022
Thanks for the info Gemma. It's been on my wife's and my bucket list for a while. We live in Edmonton and have done day trips, and have been wanting to do a multiple-day trip. Wish us luck when we try to book sites on February 2. Dean.
Tuesday 1st of February 2022
Best of luck Dean! Have multiple itineraries ready so you can adapt quickly if needed.