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Spirit Island: Complete Guide with Map, Paddling Details, Boat Tour + More

Spirit Island; a name as captivating as the destination itself. Situated in the middle of a turquoise-coloured lake, this tiny island is surrounded by huge snow-capped mountains on three sides.

Only accessible by water, Spirit Island is one of the most unique places to see in the entire Canadian Rockies.

Elevated view looking down on canoeist on calm Maligne Lake, approaching peninsula with scattered trees, with background of huge mountains
Spirit Island

This post explains exactly how to visit Spirit Island in Jasper National Park, with a detailed guide to each of the most popular methods.

Having explored Spirit Island by boat tour and canoe within the last few years, I can share first-hand knowledge and also directly compare the different ways.

Here’s what to expect:

No matter how you travel to Spirit Island, this is one place you won’t soon forget!

Before visiting Maligne Lake (and Jasper National Park in general), please get familiar with the principles of Leave No Trace. Stay on designated trails, pack out everything you bring with you and don’t approach/feed wildlife.

Published March 2024. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, we may receive a percentage of the sale at no other cost to you.

Spirit Island seen through the trees and down staircase at sunset
Stairs leading to the lakeshore at Spirit Island

What is Spirit Island?

Spirit Island is a tiny island on Maligne Lake, surrounded by magnificent mountain peaks and glaciers on three sides (a rarity). It is the focus of one of Canada’s most iconic views.

Technically, Spirit Island is what is known as a tied island, in that it is connected to the shore by a spit of land.

Spirit Island is a place of great spiritual significance for local Indigenous people. The Stoney Nakoda consider mountains to be physical representations of their ancestors. The original name for the lake was ‘Chaba Imne’ (Beaver Lake).

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.

Canoe on shore near Spirit Island with sunset colours on background mountains, lake reflections
Spirit Island viewpoint (Spirit Island itself is off-camera to the right)

The popularity of this beautiful 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 1960s.

Spirit Island is only accessible by water, specifically by canoe, kayak, boat tour and electric boat.

It is not permitted to walk or approach Spirit Island, due to its spiritual significance and delicate ecosystem.

The iconic Spirit Island view is seen from an elevated viewpoint, accessed by an easy short trail from the boat dock.

View of Spirit Island in autumn with orange coloured foliage on peninsula leading to tiny forested island, with snow caped mountains in background
Spirit Island in autumn

Where is Spirit Island?

Spirit Island is located just over halfway down Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, Canada.

At 22.5km, Maligne Lake is the longest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. Spirit Island is 14km from the northwestern lakeshore, the only road-accessible area.

One of the most photographed places in Canada, glacier-fed Maligne Lake is visited by millions of people each year.

Lying in a glacier-carved valley and located at 1670m elevation, the lake is surrounded by huge granite peaks. The highest mountains are at the southern end, providing the perfect backdrop when travelling to Spirit Island.

Maligne Lake’s water colour changes as you travel along it, becoming more turquoise thanks to the presence of rock flour from the glaciers.

Jasper National Park is located in Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 as well as the traditional lands of the Beaver, Cree, Ojibway, Secwépemc, Stoney, and Métis.

Visitors to Jasper National Park must have a valid Park Pass. If you are visiting Canada’s national parks for seven days or longer, it may be worthwhile to get a Discovery Pass (annual pass) instead.

Spirit Island map

Screenshot of Maligne Lake on Google Maps
Spirit Island and Maligne Lake on Google Maps

How to access Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake is situated at the end of the 43km long Maligne Lake Road.

This winding two-lane (one in each direction) road takes around 45 minutes to drive from Jasper, as there is a 60km/h speed limit.

Wildlife sightings are fairly common on the journey – we have personally seen black bears, 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 from Jasper are also available, like this 6 hour one that includes a Maligne Lake boat tour (with stop at Spirit Island) and a stop at Maligne Canyon.

Canoe on shore with Spirit Island and huge mountain views in background
Landing close to Spirit Island in a canoe

How to reach Spirit Island

Located just more than half way down Maligne Lake, Spirit Island is only accessible by water.

There are two ways to reach Spirit Island:

  • By kayak, canoe or electric boat
  • On a guided boat tour (Maligne Lake Cruise)

There is no other way to see Spirit Island than these two methods (except if you have the funds to charter a helicopter for a flyover, but let’s assume not!)

I have visited Spirit Island by both boat tour and canoe, with the latter part of a four-day Maligne Lake paddling trip.

Side profile of Maligne Lake tour boat on left with mountainous views behind
Spirit Island tour boat

The Spirit Island viewpoint

The iconic Spirit Island vista is seen from an elevated viewpoint area on land. As mentioned above, it is not possible to walk on or approach Spirit Island itself.

The viewpoint is accessed by a short loop trail that starts and ends at the large floating dock area. The total trail is 250m long (around 4 minutes walk without stopping).

Most people walk the loop counter-clockwise, also the shortest route from the dock to the viewpoint. The path is slightly uphill with some large steps.

On the other side of the main viewpoint is a narrow set of stairs (with rails on both sides) that lead down to the lakeshore. The flat lakeshore path passes Spirit Island and returns to the dock.

Back view of JR looking at Spirit Island, a tiny peninsula in front of mountain views
The iconic Spirit Island viewpoint

Paddling to Spirit Island

Paddling to Spirit Island is both an adventurous and blissful experience. The quiet of the lake (cruise boats aside), the ripples on the water, the mountains soaring above the turquoise surface. It is also the most environmentally friendly option!

Unlike tour boat visitors, paddlers can spend unlimited time at Spirit Island during the day and evening (camping is prohibited).

Sunset and sunrise are particularly magical at Spirit Island. We’ve watched both while being completely alone.

Spirit Island is situated 14km from the Maligne Lake public boat dock (Home Bay).

It is possible to paddle to Spirit Island in one day or as part of a multi-day paddling trip.

Shore photo of yellow canoe heading towards Spirit Island, with calm water and snow capped mountains behind
Canoe heading towards Spirit Island

Spirit Island day trip by canoe

Paddling directly to Spirit Island (with no stops) takes around four hours.

Depending on your paddling experience and the weather, your exact time may take a little more or a little less. Wind and waves can significantly slow progress.

We have paddled to Spirit Island in just under three hours before, but it was very early (the lake was calm) and we canoe long distances regularly.

For most people, a one-day paddling trip to Spirit Island takes around 8 to 10 hours.

Even for experienced paddlers, 28km and 8-10 hours is a reasonably long paddling day. And that is without difficult weather conditions factored in. Maligne Lake is known to be a windy lake.

Another downside is that Spirit Island will still be busy (unless you start paddling very early). The boat tours usually operate between 9am and 6.30pm.

Sunset at Spirit Island, a small forested peninsula in front of a beautiful mountain and lake scene
Spirit Island at sunset

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.

If the day trip experience sounds too ambitious for you, I would recommend visiting Spirit Island as part of a multi-day paddling trip instead.

Staying overnight means that you don’t have to paddle to and from Spirit Island in one day. For novice paddlers, this is likely to be a much safer (and more fun) option.

Electric boats are allowed to be used on Maligne Lake. I won’t talk much about this option as most non-local visitors will not have access to a boat. Gas-powered motor boats are not permitted.

Canoe rests on shore at Fisherman's Bay beach in front of snow capped mountains and glaciers
Paddling to Spirit Island means you have the freedom to stop any time you like and take in the views!

Multi-day canoe trips to Spirit Island

While it is not possible to stay overnight on or around Spirit Island, there are three backcountry campgrounds located on the shores of Maligne Lake.

Distance from Maligne Lake public boat dock (Home Bay) Distance from Spirit Island
Hidden Cove Campground3.5km10.5km
Fisherman’s Bay Campground13km1km
Coronet Creek Campground21.3km1km

Fisherman’s Bay is the closest campground to Spirit Island, a short 15-20 minute paddle away. This makes it easy to watch sunrise or sunset at Spirit Island without having to paddle too far in the dark.

Even if Spirit Island is your main reason to go on a Maligne Lake paddle trip, I’d still recommend planning a two-night trip.

The best scenery is found towards the end of the lake (towards Coronet Creek) and a longer trip offers the chance to explore this area. It also means you’ll have two opportunities to watch sunset and sunrise.

Canoe view of calm paddling conditions on Maligne Lake, with mountains in background
Paddling towards Spirit Island at sunrise

Reservations are required for all three Maligne Lake campgrounds. It is not possible to just turn up (and camping outside of the campgrounds is not permitted either).

The Parks Canada reservation system opens in January/February each year and availability sells out quickly. The launch date is usually announced in December.

Rental canoes can be organised through Wild Current Outfitters. Camping equipment (tents, sleeping mats, stoves) can be rented at Jasper Source for Sports.

For more information about multi-day paddling trips, head to our detailed Maligne Lake camping guide. It includes itinerary suggestions, reservation tips and gear recommendations.

Set up tent and tarp on dirt tend pat, with scattered trees and mountain views in background
Fisherman’s Bay Campground on Maligne Lake (15-20 minutes paddle from Spirit Island)

Spirit Island paddling tips

  • Start early! Maligne Lake is calmest before 9am. If you’re planning to paddle to and from Spirit Island in one day, I’d suggest starting at 8am or earlier
  • 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. The lake is usually frozen from November to early June
  • Maligne Lake is a very cold lake. Even in summer, the water temperature is a chilly 4°C (39.2°F)
  • 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!
  • Paddle close to shore and wear a PDF (life jacket) at all times – it could save your life in the event of a capsize
  • The weather can change very quickly at this elevation. Wind, rain, snow and hail are always possible, even if the weather looks fine 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
  • Don’t cross in front of the Spirit Island boats – it’s unnecessary and there is a chance that they may not see you
  • Expect some wake (waves) from the Spirit Island tour boats. While they do slow down for paddlers, look out for the wake and position your boat to hit the waves head-on if you can
Mirror like reflections on Maligne Lake, with large misty mountains in background
Just some of the views on Maligne Lake past Spirit Island (see our Maligne Lake post for more)

Spirit Island boat tours

The easiest (and most popular) way to visit Spirit Island is by tour boat.

Pursuit operates Maligne Lake Cruise from late May to early October.

There are up to 14 daily departures during the summer months. Boat tours usually run between 9am and 6.30pm.

Two cruises are available:

  • Classic Cruise – 1.5 hours (up to 13 times daily), $82/adult
  • Premium Cruise – 2 hours (once daily), $109/adult

The Classic Cruise consists of a direct boat ride to the Spirit Island dock, 15 minutes at the viewpoint and then a direct trip back.

While 15 minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time, it is enough to walk the trail loop, take plenty of photos and admire the view.

The Premium Cruise takes place in the late afternoon. Some people say that this time of day has the best light while Pursuit hints that wildlife opportunities are more likely.

The longer cruise spends 30 minutes at the viewpoint area and a longer boat ride (with a floating stop at Pincushion Bay).

Two blue and white Spirit Island boat tour boats parked at floating dock at northern end of Maligne Lake, with snow capped mountains visible behind
Maligne Lake Cruise boats waiting at the floating dock

The Spirit Island cruise experience

I would recommend reserving a cruise in advance to avoid disappointment.

I booked two weeks ahead of our late September trip and about half of the scheduled departures were already sold out.

Plan to arrive 30 minutes before your reserved departure time. The parking lot is about five minutes walk from the main dock.

Please note that there are no washrooms at Spirit Island, so use the facilities on land before joining the line.

Looking ahead to backs of seated passengers, all looking left at the mountainous scenery outside
Maligne Lake Cruise boat interior

Cruise tours include an interpretive guide, who narrates the scenery on the way there and back. They allow time for questions on the return journey.

The boats hold around 40 people, usually a good mix of families and couples of all ages. There are leather bench seats and large windows but guests can walk to the open back deck and take in the views from there as well.

If you choose to do the latter, keep in mind that there is room to stand only and there isn’t much to hold onto. Wake from the other boats can smash into the side of the boat quite strongly.

The boat schedule is timed in such a way that when one boat arrives at Spirit Island, another is usually just about to leave.

Floating boat dock at Spirit Island and turquoise coloured lake surface with mountains behind
Spirit Island boat dock (note the stairs leading to the viewpoint on the right-hand side)

Spirit Island: Boat cruise vs. paddling

Of course, as an advocate of paddling and outdoor adventure, I will always say that canoeing to Spirit Island is the most scenic and memorable experience.

This is especially true if you want to see Spirit Island during sunrise, sunset or without boatloads of tourists hovering.

Visiting Spirit Island with no one else around is really quite a magical thing. Most of the photos included in this post were taken on our canoe trip.

Spirit Island dock on right with reflective lake views, huge mountains above and on the lake surface
Taking in the morning views from the (empty) boat dock at Spirit Island

But if you only have a couple of hours to spend in the Maligne Lake area or don’t have the ability to paddle a canoe to Spirit Island, the boat cruise is the way to go.

While I do understand the environmental concerns (noise, water pollution) surrounding the cruise boats, I also appreciate that the service provides accessibility to people who would not be able to see Spirit Island otherwise. I took the boat tour with my parents.

Sunset at Spirit Island, a small forested peninsula in front of a beautiful mountain and lake scene
Spirit Island sunset

And in my mind, the boat tour is a better alternative to a road. Perhaps an improvement would be fewer boat departures and more time spent at Spirit Island.

Thinking beyond the time restriction issue and general crowdedness, another significant disadvantage of the boat tours is that they only offer a glimpse of the magnificent scenery on Maligne Lake.

The best views start around Spirit Island and get even better further down. On the positive side, this means that the southern end of the lake is more peaceful for paddlers.

JR paddles away from the camera towards snow capped mountains on Maligne Lake
Paddling Maligne Lake

Where to stay in Jasper

I’d recommend spending at least two nights in Banff. In that time, you’ll be able to see some of the park’s most impressive sights and also enjoy the charm of the compact townsite. Of course, three or four nights would be even better!


Campers have a choice of campgrounds in Jasper – we usually stay at Whistlers Campground, which was completely renovated a few years ago


The Mount Robson Inn is a solid downtown accommodation pick, with free breakfast and a range of room configurations (great for families/larger groups)


Treat yourself to a stay at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. The upscale resort is located on a 700-acre lakeside property with a spa, heated pool, golf course and restaurants

Wooden bridge with fence leading onto small island on Pyramid Lake with collection of trees. A mountauin rises above the island in the background. The trees are highlighted with golden autumnal colours
Pyramid Lake near Jasper

Other posts you may find helpful:

Maligne Lake: Complete Camping and Paddling Guide

Ultimate 2 Week Western Canada Road Trip from Vancouver: Itinerary, Tips & Map

Canadian Rockies Road Trip Loop: Detailed 9 to 12 day Itineraries + Map

12 of the Best Wells Gray Waterfalls: Trip Planning Guide + Map

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