Okay so WOW, I have done a fair bit of hiking and camping in the Canadian Rockies, but nothing quite compares to the serene beauty and magic that the Maligne Lake canoe trip offers. If you’re asking me, I’d say a backcountry Maligne Lake canoe trip is the ultimate off-the-beaten path adventure in Jasper National Park.
Maligne Lake is the Lake Louise of Jasper and by that I mean it is one of the busiest attractions in the area. If you’re visiting the lake in the summer months, there’s going to be crowds no matter what day or what time of day you’re there. By canoeing and camping in the backcountry area of this lake, you’re able to avoid the crowds and take in the views uninterrupted.
The majority of people visiting Maligne Lake embark on a 1 hour lake cruise to Spirit Island which is actually one of the most photographed placed in Canada; yes it’s that beautiful. However if you want to see anything past this point of the lake, the only way to do it is via canoe.
So, pick up your paddles because you’re about to set sail on 42km of the most gorgeous adventure of your life!
Planning a trip to Jasper? Don’t forget to check out my trip planner! I’ll help you plan the perfect Jasper itinerary.
- Getting to Maligne Lake
- Where to rent canoes in Jasper
- Canoe vs kayak
- How to book campsites for the Maligne Lake canoe trip
- Best time of year for the Maligne Lake canoe trip
- Maligne Lake canoe trip: paddling information
- Recommended Maligne Lake canoe trip itinerary
- What to pack for the Maligne Lake canoe trip
- The history of Spirit Island
- Best places to stay in Jasper National Park
- Tips for a successful trip
This post may contain affiliate links (full disclosure). If you make a purchase through one of these links I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support & happy adventuring! – Taylor ♡
- Everything you need to know about planning a trip to Jasper
- Best things to do in Jasper
- Complete guide to the Icefields Parkway (Banff to Jasper)
- Jasper’s off-the-beaten path adventures
- Explore Jasper’s southern neighbour: Banff National Park
Getting to Maligne Lake
Maligne Lake is a 45 minute drive from the town of Jasper. On the way to the lake you’ll drive along the Maligne Lake Road which is infamous for wildlife viewing; more so in the off-season months, but there’s still great potential in the summer months too.
The drive up Maligne Lake Road, like any road located in the Rocky Mountains, is of course gorgeous. There’s a few pit stops along the way, so make sure you budget some extra time driving either to the lake or back from the lake.
We were worried about parking, but we parked in the parking lot (marked below in the map) with no permit/pass and didn’t have any issues.
Popular Pit Stops on Maligne Lake Road:
- Medicine Lake – drains significantly throughout the year. The later you visit, the lower the water levels. Where does the water go? It drains through sinkholes at the bottom of the lake and ends up flowing through the Maligne Canyon!
- Maligne Canyon – is also an extremely popular attraction in Jasper. If you want to beat the crowds, arrive earlier than later. You can hike Maligne Canyon in both winter and summer.
Also consider stopping at the Maligne Canyon Viewpoint. This is right before the turn off for Maligne Canyon and is a great spot to watch sunset.
Where to Rent Canoes in Jasper for the Maligne Lake Canoe Trip
There are a few rental options in Jasper for the Maligne Lake canoe trip. I won’t lie, these canoes aren’t going to be cheap, but they are definitely worth it for the experience. You can prebook canoes from a few places in town, or you can rent them at the lake. A cheaper option would be to transport your own canoe to the lake, if you happen to have one.
I’ve listed each of the rental options in Jasper. Each company has different prices for different sized canoes vs different amounts of people. Do your research to find which place works best for your needs.
Rental Options in Jasper:
- Wild Current Outfitters – Wild Current Outfitters has their canoes locked up at the lake (canoe launch location pinned on the subsequent map). You’ll need to pick up and return your paddles, life vests, and safety gear in town. You’ll be going to the Jasper Adventure Centre right next to the Tim Hortons for the pickup; it’s not actually called Wild Current Outfitters. They will give you the lock combination and you will lock up the canoes in the same spot when you’re done.
- Pure Outdoors – Pure Outdoors delivers the canoes and your gear to the lake – you’ll need to decide on a drop-off and pick-up time. They seem to have cheaper prices, but the delivery charge is $50 unless you have the means to transport the canoes yourself.
- Maligne Lake Boathouse – This is convenient, but ridiculously overpriced. If you’re looking at just renting a canoe for an hour or so check it out. Other than that, stay clear.
SIDE-NOTE: no motorized boats are permitted on the lake
Canoe vs Kayak
|PACKING ALLOWANCE||Using a canoe allows you to comfortably bring significantly more gear for the trip. Cue luxury camping items!||Using a kayak for the trip means you will need to pack much lighter and only take essential items|
|SPEED||Canoes are much slower than kayaks||A kayak will cut a significant amount of time off your trip, as they are much faster than canoes|
|PRICE||If you are travelling with a larger group you can split the cost of the canoe, making it a cheaper option||Maximum number of people in a kayak is 2, so if you have a larger group you will need more than one kayak, making your trip a little more pricey|
|# OF PEOPLE ON TRIP||Depending on the size of the canoe and the size of the people on your trip, you can fit more people in a canoe, keeping everyone together for the entirety of the trip.|
**Having more people in the canoe makes it much easier/faster to paddle
|Kayaks fit a maximum of 2 people, so if you need more than one kayak you will spend a lot of your time chasing each other around the lake to stay together|
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How To Book Campsites For The Maligne Lake Canoe Trip
Reservations for the Maligne Lake canoe trip must be made through the Parks Canada Reservations page, and like any other good backcountry trip in the Rockies, these sites fill up instantly. If you don’t get a site initially, keep checking back for cancellations and hope you get lucky.
There are 3 campsites located along the Maligne Lake canoe trip route: Paddle Campground at Hidden Cove, Fisherman’s Bay, and Coronet Creek. You can book a total of 6 nights on Maligne Lake, which equals to 2 nights per site. I personally would boycott Paddle Campground because it’s so close to the launch site, however this would be a good option if you want extra time on the lake.
Maligne Lake Campgrounds:
- Paddle Campground – Located 4km from the launch site, it features a dock, tent pads, bear lockers, picnic tables, fire pits, and a drop toilet.
- Fisherman’s Bay – My all-time favourite campsite. Like seriously ever. Located 13km from the launch site, this site features a dock, tent pads, bear lockers, large picnic tables, fire pits, and a drop toilet.
- Coronet Creek – Located 21.3km from the launch site, this site features a dock, tent pads, bear lockers, large picnic tables, fire pits, and a drop toilet. Parks Canada has also lined all the walkways on this site with rocks, giving it a super “fancy” feel. Let me add onto that, “fancy” as in fancy for backcountry.
There are picnic areas along the paddle route if you want to break. If you stop at Spindly Creek you can follow a path up a glacial stream that flows down the mountain.
These campsites are well equipped and feature huge picnic tables which are tarped, so you’re totally protected from the elements. They also have very few sites available, so it’s not crowded.
For more information on these campsites, visit the Parks Canada page.
Things to do at the Maligne Lake Campsites
- Fishing – click here for more information on fishing in the National Parks
- Day hikes – From the Coronet campground, you can access the Coronet Creek Hike (AKA the Henry MacLoed Trail) which leads up to the Coronet Glacier on Coronet Mountain. Check out Hike Bike Travel and Nomadic Moments for more information on this hike
Best Time of Year for the Maligne Lake Canoe Trip
You can (obviously) expect to complete the Maligne Lake canoe trip during the summer months. Depending on what you’re looking for (scenery, temperature, seclusion), a certain month may work better for you. I completed this trip August 8 – 10, 2021 and for the most part I had excellent weather.
- June – the ice has or is thawing at this point in the year. Enjoy seeing snow on the mountains, but be prepared for cold temperatures (especially at night)
- July – Typically the warmest month of the year in the Rockies. If you’re after a trip where you can spend some time swimming and baking in the sun, July is your month. This is also one of the busiest months of the year, so be prepared to see lots of people around the lake and in town
- August – August is variable. The beginning of the month is typically warm, however by the end of the month the mountains very well could be snowcapped. August is also a very busy time in the rockies
- September – In September you’ll avoid the crowds, however be prepared for a chilly trip. If you’re on the water/camping in the backcountry during this time year, you’ll want allllll the extra layers
Paddling on Maligne Lake
“If Lake Louise is a pearl, Maligne is the entire pearl necklace.”Mary Schäffer, explorer
Mary Schäffer damn well knew what she was talking about. Maligne Lake is really something else. You can look at photos all day long, but until you see it with your own eyes you won’t be able to truly grasp the absolute magic this place ensues.
The water in Maligne Lake enters at the South end of the lake and drains in the North. This means when you initially start your paddle from the launch site you will be paddling against the current. However on the way back you’re paddling with the current.
Wind & Weather
The Maligne Lake canoe trip is a multi-day excursion which means you will be exposed to different weather conditions. Have all the gear you need and be aware that the conditions on the lake can be dicey. Leave early to avoid the wind (normally calm until 9am), or else your trip could look like this.
Paddling near shore hides you a bit from the elements and gives you a chance to see wildlife. It also puts you off the path the cruise boats take and allows you to take breaks on shore. Paddling in the middle of the lake will cut a bit of distance/time off your trip, however if it’s windy you have no shelter and are more at risk for tipping if the wind picks up.
Time spent paddling depends on a few factors: strength of paddlers, how many people paddling, canoe vs kayak, wind, other weather conditions. I have listed my time spent paddling in the section below, however plan to spend more time paddling than what I have recorded.
Maligne Lake Canoe Trip, Day 1: Launch Site To Fisherman’s Bay Campsite
Day 1 of the Maligne Lake canoe trip began with a 13km paddle to Fisherman’s Bay campsite. This end of the lake is surrounded by low-lying mountains and honestly compared to the rest of the lake is not that impressive. But let’s be real, it’s Maligne Lake, so it’s still beautiful. We were paddling into a bit of wind on this section of our trip, but we made it to the campsite (with no stops) in about 2.5hrs, however we are decently fast paddlers.
Upon getting closer to the campsite you will have a great view (to your right) of an i n c r e d i b l e glacier (pictured below). I’ve never seen a glacier in such a unique shape before – this was definitely the day 1 highlight of the Maligne Lake canoe trip.
Fisherman’s Bay campsite is THE most mazing campsite I’ve stayed at. You get to see a hint of what’s to come at Spirit Island, a glacier across the way, and we were greeted by a deer who hung out at our campsite all day/night.
I would recommend walking along shore back the way you paddled to watch sunset – we were lucky to have a great sunset the night we were there and also saw the deer that had been hanging around our campsite swim across the lake (magic).
Steps away from the tent pads is a great shoreline. It’s rocky, but it’s nice and shallow. Good for dipping your feet in/going for a quick swim.
Maligne Lake Canoe Trip, Day 2: Spirit Island To Coronet Campsite
Watching sunrise at Spirit Island is a MUST if you complete the Maligne Lake canoe trip!!! During the day the island is full of tourists from the boat cruise. However if you go in the morning chances are very good that you will have this place to yourself.
We paddled to the island bright and early the next morning with blankets and our cooker in hand. Luckily we were the only people there and were able to watch the fog roll in and out while watching the tiniest bit of Alpenglow come over the mountains.
Spirit Island is a spiritual location for the Stoney Nakoda people, and I can understand why. Sitting there knowing we had one of the most beautiful places in the world all to ourselves was the most amazing feeling. The energy in this spot is so uplifting and positive. I have truly never felt more lucky to be in a place and I have never felt so grateful for life and nature than I did in this moment.
Valley of the Gods to Coronet Campground
After watching sunrise we returned to camp, packed up our gear, and hit the water. Past Spirit Island you will enter the Valley of the Gods, which is rightfully named. This section of the lake is surrounded by uniquely shaped mountain peaks & ridges, along with absolutely massive, flat rock faces. A highlight of this section are the waterfalls streaming down the mountains which you can then find along shore where they enter the lake.
I’ve attached some photos below, but the mountains in this area are SO big that the waterfalls don’t even show up on camera! You’ll have to see it with your own eyes to believe it.
My guess is that earlier in the season the waterfalls would be gushing more due to more snow melt.
We made it to the campground in about 3.5 hours, taking our time along the way to check out the waterfalls and Spindly Creek.
Unfortunately I don’t have photos of this campsite, but the campsite is in the trees and the area is encased by huge rock faces. The entire campsite is lined with rocks, so the walkways to the tent pads, cooking area, and bathroom are all clearly defined. Its actually super cute and gives the campsite a “homey” feel.
We got there late in the day and had a huge paddle the next day so we didn’t get to hike Coronet Creek, but if you have the time I would recommend this for sure.
Maligne Lake Canoe Trip, Day 3: Coronet Campsite Back To Launch Site
When we woke up on day 3 of the Maligne Lake canoe trip, it was raining, so we decided to stay in our tent until it stopped. When we emerged we were the only people left; kind of a creepy feeling.
We were wondering why everyone had left SO early, but as soon as we hit the water we found out. The entire way back (22km) we were paddling directly into the wind, getting slapped by huge waves which were formed by a combination of wind & cruise boats.
We paddled in the middle of the lake to try to cut off some distance, however this meant we were exposed to the elements. At one point the wind and waves caught us just in the right spot and our canoe almost tipped. This water is COLD, so that would have sucked.
^This is a good reason to tie your gear to the canoe. I used this rope, fed it through the straps on our packs and tied it to the canoe.
It took us 6 hours to make it back to the launch site, which all things considered is actually a fantastic time. Let me just say I have never been so tired in my life. LEAVE EARLY is my advice for anyone doing this paddle, especially if you know the weather is going to be dicey.
Here’s a video of us getting absolutely destroyed approximately 3 hours into the return paddle.
All things considered, the Maligne Lake canoe trip was unreal and has been the best and most beautiful adventure of my life.
Recommended Maligne Lake Canoe Trip Itinerary
So as you previously read, my Maligne Lake canoe trip itinerary consisted of 1 night at Fisherman’s Bay, 1 night at Coronet Creek, then a massive last day to paddle back to the launch site. Reservations are hard to come by for this trip, so take what you can get. However in a perfect world I would recommend the following Maligne Lake canoe trip itinerary:
- First night: camp at Fisherman’s Bay
- Second night: camp at Coronet Creek (optional: add a second night here if you want to hike Coronet Creek)
- Third night: camp at Fisherman’s Bay
Additional notes for the Maligne Lake canoe trip:
- Fisherman’s Bay is by far the most beautiful campsite I have ever stayed at – make sure you stay at least one night here
- Catch sunrise from Spirit Island when you camp at Fisherman’s Bay
- Add a night (or 2 nights) camping at Paddle Campground at the beginning and/or end of th Maligne Lake canoe trip if you want to spend more time on the lake
What to Pack for the Maligne Lake Canoe Trip
Normally when I’m packing for a backcountry trip I’m focused on packing the least amount of items with the highest amount of functionality and efficiency. However that is for when you’re walking your gear in. This is the Maligne Lake canoe trip which means ✨l u x u r y i t e m s✨
I’ve written a detailed post with everything I take on a normal backcountry trip here, so make sure to check that out for all the basics.
Specific to the Maligne Lake canoe trip I would recommend bringing extra blankets to sit on while you’re paddling as well as for warmth. You’ll also need a toque and multiple pairs of gloves in case they get wet. Additionally, I found having the following items made the trip more comfortable OR these are items I wish I had:
Stash your gear in a large dry bag to ensure it stays dry. We were given one from Wild Current Outfitters when we rented our canoe. Alternatively wrap your gear up in a tarp.
These will keep your hands dry and warm and are incredible if it rains. Alternatively toss a pair of rubber gloves over your glove liners
Feel free to get crazy with the luxury items! Bring a cooler, a big cooker, a portable hammock, board games. Anything your heart desires because you don’t have to carry it✨
The History of Spirit Island
IMPORTANT: Spirit Island is a spiritual place for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. It is extremely important that you view Spirit Island ONLY from your boat or on the clearly defined pathways leading from the docks. Do not walk on the island!
It has actually been quite difficult to find information regarding the history of the Stoney Nakoda people (or more accurately, Ĩyãħé Nakoda First Nation) and the island, so if you have any good resources please link it in the comments below!
Stoney Nakoda People
What I have found is that the Stoney Nakoda believe that mountains are physical representations of their ancestors. Spirit Island is a place of significance to them because the island itself is surrounded (on 3 sides) by the same mountain range, which is quite rare.
The Stoney Nakoda also placed great emphasis on maintaining balance in nature. For this reason they practiced controlled burns in the area. Without the controlled burning nowadays, Mountain Pine Beetles have become a problem and have thrown nature out of balance; hence the orange, dying trees that now exist on Spirit Island.
Due to its geography, access to Spirit Island is extremely limited. The two options for viewing Spirit Island are via canoe/kayak or the Maligne Lake Cruise. I personally think it’s much more rewarding to canoe there and work for the views, however if you’re short for time the cruise is the way to go.
But seriously… Canoeing to the island and watching the sun rise was actually one of the top moments of my life. If you have the chance to do this, DO IT!!!
Best Places To Stay In Jasper National Park
The best place to stay in Jasper depends on your price range. So, here are a few suggestions for every budget:
- Cheap(er) hotels in Jasper – Jasper Gates Resort, Overlander Mountain Lodge
- Mid-range hotels in Jasper: Tonquin Inn, Whistler’s Inn, Lobstick Lodge, Astoria Hotel, Sawridge Inn
- Luxury hotels in Jasper: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Pyramid Lake Resort, Mount Robson Inn
- Cheapest lodging options: camp at Wapiti or Whistler’s campground (camping info). Alternatively stay at one of Jasper’s hostels; HI Jasper and Jasper Downtown Hostel.
- Best cabins in Jasper: Miette Mountain cabins, Tekarra Lodge, Patricia Lake Bungalows, Jasper East Cabins
- See all Jasper lodging options here
Planning a trip to Jasper? Don’t forget to check out my trip planner! I’ll help you create the perfect Jasper itinerary.
Tips for a Successful Trip
- Know what you’re getting into! The Maligne Lake canoe trip is a multi-night excursion in which you must paddle 40km+ in variable conditions. Totally doable, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend unless you have some paddle/backcountry experience
- Load the weight in the back of the canoe – this makes it easier to steer
- There are some dining options located at Maligne Lake for some pre-trip motivation or for some post-trip celebration. You can also get some grab-and-go food from the gift shop to take with you on your trip
- Bring a rope! I’ve heard horror stories of people’s canoes flipping. If you tie your bags to the canoe, no chance you’ll lose your gear
- Get up early and paddle over to Spirit Island to watch the morning Alpenglow at one of the most photographed spots in Canada
- Leave early to ensure you paddle in calm water (usually calm until 9am). This was a grave mistake I made. The consequence? A 6 hour, 22km paddle in direct wind fighting against white cap waves. l i t e r a l h e l l.
Discover More Adventures in Jasper
Jasper is one of the famed Canadian National Parks and for good reason. Jasper is home to striking mountains, vibrant alpine lakes, glaciers, and abundant wildlife.
You can find all my Jasper hiking and travel resources here, but the following are some highlight content you don’t want to miss:
- How to plan the perfect trip to Jasper
- Multi-day canoe trip on Maligne Lake
- Maligne canyon: Summer & winter ice walk
- Complete guide to the Icefields Parkway
- Beautiful alpine lakes in Jasper
- Best things to do in jasper
- Hiking trails in Jasper
Explore More Rocky Mountain Destinations
Jasper is just one of the 4 Rocky Mountain National Parks in Canada. If you’re visiting the Canadian Rockies you’ll want to also check out Banff National Park, Yoho National Park, Kananaskis Country, and Kootenay National Park.
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About The Author
HI, I’m Taylor – the voice behind The Holistic Backpacker.
After moving to Banff National Park in 2020 I became an outdoor adventure enthusiast and vowed to never stop exploring.
I now spend my days travelling the world, climbing mountains, and spending nights under the stars in the Canadian Rockies backcountry.
I created The Holistic Backpacker so I could share my adventures and help connect people like you with the same amazing experiences.