Maligne Lake is one of Jasper’s coolest spots. The 22km long lake is surrounded by peaks as high as 3,470 m. Outcrops of pine trees jut into the water. It’s clear in a way that only glacial lakes really can be. It’s not Lake Louise, but that’s actually a really good thing. At Maligne Lake, kayaking and other water sports are better anyway. And with three backcountry campsites dotted along the shore, you can extend your day on Maligne into a seriously awesome backcountry experience.
Late September was at least one week too late for pleasantries. Our Maligne Lake kayaking trip started just as fall was setting in at 52° N latitude. Our toes were cold before we left the car and, of course, we did not bring the kind of gloves we really should have (the waterproof kind, in case you’re wondering). But kayaking was a great way to experience the splendor of Jasper, and an experience I’d definitely recommend.
I partnered up with PureOutdoors for my first ever kayak camping trip. I got a discount on our kayak rental in exchange for an honest review, but all opinions are my own. Here’s everything you need to know about planning this kind of trip for yourself.
At a Glance
Nearest City: Jasper, AB, Canada // Difficulty: Moderate // Duration: 2-4 days // Distance: Up to 44km
Maligne Lake is the aforementioned lake in Jasper National Park. It’s a popular spot for boat tours and water sports by day (it gets a bit crowded!) but there are also three paddle-up only backcountry sites where you can ditch the crowds and overnight. Do this.
Canoeing or kayaking on Maligne Lake is not technical. There are no rapids or dangerous currents. It’s long and skinny, so navigation is pretty straightforward. Previous kayaking experience will make it easier but isn’t entirely necessary. That said, kayaking on Maligne is most suitable for people who are active, and perhaps more importantly, persistent. Just be sure that you have the right equipment and a good idea of where your campsites are before you set out to be safe.
Entrance to Jasper National Park costs $9.80 CAD per person or $18.90 CAD per group PER DAY. If you’re planning to visit for more than 7 days, you should consider buying the Discovery Pass ($68) which includes access to 80 locations in the Parks Canada network
Maligne Lake can be explored in as little as one day, but a 3-day itinerary is better. We were given three bits of advice by the guys at Pure Outdoors before kayaking. The first was to cross Maligne Lake at its narrow points. The second was to set out before 9 am to avoid boat wake. And the third was to stick along the left side of the shore to save energy. Since Maligne Lake is 1.5km at its widest point, this info was key.
Day 1 | The Long Day: Park in the lot next to the boat ramp at the very end of Maligne Road. If you’re renting your kayak, most rental shops will have their kayaks locked up in a rack by the lake. The lake starts wide so you’ll want to paddle along the right side until it narrows and you get the opportunity to switch over. Keep in mind that the shoreline is jagged for the first 4km so you shouldn’t follow it exactly! Just hang left.
As you set out, you’ll have Leah Peak to your left. At 4km, you’ll pass the first backcountry campsite – Hidden Cove – to the right. If you’re staying here, get to camp early enough to unload your gear and continue paddling for some better views.
Continue on and keep your eye out for an orange buoy. Off to the left will be a nice picnic area where you can take a quick break if you need it. It’s 8km between Hidden Cove and Fisherman’s Bay. To get there, you’ll continue straight until you see the lake narrow (Samson Narrows) with an island splitting it. Stay to the left of the island, then hug the shore as you paddle into a cove. You might not see it at first, but continue to the most northeastern part of the cove and you’ll see the campsite. This is Fisherman’s Bay.
Staying overnight at Fisherman’s Bay is awesome! Most sites have views, but since you’re staying in a cove, you’ll have shelter from the elements, too. You’ll feel like you’re in the thick of Jasper with tall peaks and pine forests.
From here, it’s just 2km on to Spirit Island. You can either do this in the evening after you arrive (there won’t be any tourists if you go for sunset) or first thing the next morning on your way to Coronet Creek.
Spirit Island is one of the most photographed places in the Canadian Rockies. For most of the year, it’s technically connected to the shore by a narrow isthmus, but it’s named for the times it appears to be an island. The iconic view is looking down the tiny island with the few trees jutting out, and of course the stunning part is the box canyon that surrounds it and the view into the Valley of the Gods.
Day 2 | The Views: From Spirit Island, Coronet Creek is another 6km. You’ll be traveling into the Valley of the Gods (sweet name, huh?) with the Queen Elizabeth Ranges to your left and the massive Mt. Brazeau ahead. Motorized boats aren’t allowed beyond Spirit Island, so this will also be the point in the trip where you’ll have still water. If you have some time once you get there, there’s a 16km hike called the Henry Macleod Trail. If you’re tired, it’s not a bad place to sit either.
Day 3 | The Return: Wake up early to return back to the way you came. It’s 22km, but get an early start and you can knock it out with daylight to spare. If you’re keen for more nights, you can extend your trip with an additional night in Fisherman’s Bay or Hidden Cove.
There are three backcountry campsites on Maligne Lake and the only way to get to any of them is to paddle in from the boat dock. The most common itinerary is a 3-day kayaking trip where you spend night 1 at Fisherman’s Bay, night 2 at Coronet Creek, and paddle back to the boat dock on day 3. That said, you can really book it however you want. Just keep in mind that the Maligne Lake camping sites you book will determine how many kilometers you have to paddle each day.
Hidden Cove (4km): Hidden Cove is a newly opened family campground with 4 sites. It’s semi-primitive but you’ll have access to a picnic table, pit toilet, food storage, and a fire ring, plus a shelter with a picnic table and woodburning stove. Getting there takes 45 min – 2 hours, making this an easy introduction for beginners or kids. And while the site is nice, you’ll really need to continue on if you want the best views of Maligne!
Fisherman’s Bay (13km): Fisherman’s Bay is an 8 site campground with a shared fire pit, pit toilet, picnic tables, and food storage. Just 2km from Spirit Island, the campground has an ideal mix of rugged isolation and views. Getting there can take up to 5 hours depending on the weather.
Coronet Creek (21km): Beyond the boat wake, Coronet Creek is a super beautiful place to spend a night amongst peace and quiet. It’s a place for hiking and fishing or doing nothing much. But 21km of paddling is a real effort. There are 8 sites here with shared fire pit, pit toilet, picnic tables, and food storage.
How to Book Maligne Lake Camping
When you book a campsite, you’ll get your backcountry camping permit. Reservations for the summer come available in January for the year, and it is competitive! There are only 20 tent pads, so be sure to book as far in advance as possible.
How to Book: To make your reservation, visit Parks Canada’s Reservation Site. For your reservation type, select “Backcountry Camping”. Then select your arrival date. For your park, select “Jasper” and “Backcountry Campsites”. This will update the page, and again, you will select “Maligne Lake”. Then select your party size, the number of tent pads, and access point. There’s an $11CAD reservation fee and a backcountry camping fee of $9.80CAD per person per night.
Get a site? Lucky you. You’ll receive a confirmation email that you should print and be prepared to have on you.
Didn’t get your site? Change the dates or look at availability for other sites on the lake. While most permits are sold online, it’s very common for people to cancel or change their plans. Check back or call 1-877-RESERVE in the weeks prior to your trip.
Renting a Kayak or Canoe
Unless you’re traveling with your own, you’ll need to rent a kayak or canoe for Maligne Lake. While there’s a boathouse on Maligne Lake that rents canoes, kayaks and rowboats (from $165CAD per day), we opted to rent from Pure Outdoors because of better rental rates (from $80CAD per day). Here’s what you should consider in choosing between a kayak or canoe.
Canoe or kayak? This will depend on how much you can bring, how quick you can travel, and how comfortable you’ll be on your trip. Sea kayaks are built for long-distance travel. They have limited carrying capacity, but you’ll move quickly and they’re the best choice if you don’t have much gear. Canoes, on the other hand, can be nice if your gear is bulkier. They can carry up to 1,000-1,200 lbs and you’ll be able to sit upright which can be comfier. The drawback of a canoe is that you’ll move a bit slower.
Single or Double? Traveling on your own or with someone else? It can be cheaper and easier to share, but of course, you risk epic fights when sharing a tandem vehicle.
Summer or Winter? If you’re traveling in the summer or a day trip, you can opt for an open kayak. For winter travel, you’ll more likely want a sea kayak or lake canoe. Firewood and extra gear will take up a lot of extra space.
Cost? Canoes are generally cheaper to rent than kayaks. Lake canoe rental cost $80CAD for the first day and $60CAD for each additional day. The sea kayak rental was $120 for the first day and $90 for additional days. On top of that, there is a $50CAD delivery fee that covers up to four boats.
Pure Outdoors is a local gear rental shop in Jasper. You can rent gear for year-round adventure with canoes, kayaks, and SUP boards in the summer and skiing, snowboarding, and gear for other snow sports in the winter. The guys are super friendly and happy to advise on weather conditions and best routes.
Where to Find It: 632 Connaught Dr, Jasper, AB
Good to Know
When to Go
The best time of year to visit Maligne Lake is between May and October. That said, this is also the most crowded time of the year. Go during the shoulder season (late spring or early fall) to get the best weather relative to the crowds.
How to Get to Maligne Lake
There is one access point to Maligne Lake which is the Maligne Lake Trailhead or the boat dock. It’s roughly a 50-minute drive on Maligne Road from Jasper Town. If you’re not traveling by a private car, Maligne Adventures runs a shuttle in the summer (from $17.50) or you can join a group tour that takes you to the lake.
Maligne Lake Boat Tours
If you’re not up for kayaking, boat tours are another popular way to experience Maligne Lake. Cruises are run by Maligne Lake Cruise (from $75). The boats are weather dependent and run between May and October.
Planning a Maligne Lake kayaking trip? Ask your questions or leave comments below and I’ll do my best to help you out with your trip.
JamesFebruary 18, 2021 at 9:19 pm
Which of the three campsites at Maligne Lake tends to be the most crowded, and which is the least?
Taylor RecordApril 19, 2021 at 9:42 pm
Hey James. These sites are pretty low-capacity, so none feel crowded. That said, it’s probably busy in order of difficulty with Hidden Cove getting the most traffic and Coronet Creek the least. Hope you enjoy the trip!