Maligne Lake is a glacial-fed lake in Jasper National Park surrounded by incredible mountain peaks, wildlife, and glaciers. It’s home to Spirit Island, a sacred place of Nakoda Indigenous people and the most photographed place in Jasper. If you don’t want to paddle for hours, the only way to reach Spirit Island is by boat cruise. Here’s everything you need to know about the Maligne Lake Cruise.
The Canadian Rockies have been known for their stunning alpine lakes in all shades of blue and green. And while there are many lakes in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is undoubtedly the most popular. Stretching for 22 km, Maligne Lake is the longest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, and the most comfortable way to explore is on a Maligne Lake Cruise.
We recently went on the Maligne Lake Cruise, and let me tell you, it’s not just another boring lake cruise. The unexpected glacier views and the iconic Spirit Island are just a few features I will never forget about.
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When you’re planning your Jasper itinerary, make sure to include Maligne Lake Cruise; you won’t be disappointed. In this blog post, I’m sharing my honest review of the Maligne Lake Cruise experience and all our tips for your unforgettable visit, including more activities in the area besides the cruise.
Where is Maligne Lake?
Maligne Lake is in Jasper National Park and is often overlooked by visitors for its neighbour, Banff.
It’s located about 48 kilometres southeast of Jasper, and you can only reach it from Maligne Lake Road, connecting via Yellowhead Highway.
While it was once called by Indigenous people Chaba Imne, aka the Beaver Lake, the lake was later renamed by Mary Schäffer. Her exploration crew was the first to document the Maligne Lake after its discovery in 1908 and named it Maligne Lake, after the Maligne River that feeds the lake.
One of the easy hikes in the Maligne Lake area is the 3 km-long Mary Schaffer loop.
How to get to Maligne Lake
The only way to reach Maligne Lake is by your transport. No shuttles or public buses are operating to Maligne Lake.
From downtown Jasper, take the main Connaught Drive heading north, then turn left onto Yellowhead Highway (heading north towards Edmonton). After almost 2 km, you see a sign for Maligne Lake. Take right onto Maligne Lake Road (pictured below), which takes you to Maligne Lake.
Drive slowly, especially close to Medicine Lake, as it’s a common hangout place for bears, moose and bald eagles. I recommend timing your drive to either morning or evening when you’re almost guaranteed to see lots of wildlife.
Parking at Maligne Lake
Maligne Lake area provides a big free parking area. The 3-tier parking lots are on the left side just before you reach Maligne Lake Chalet.
If you can’t find a parking spot, keep driving on the Maligne Lake Road past the Maligne Lake Chalet. You soon cross a bridge and find additional parking on your left. This is the same parking lot visitors use when hiking the Bald Hills.
Maligne Lake Cruise Review
We booked our Maligne Lake Cruise for 4 pm in the autumn season, ensuring we have at least an hour for the drive on the Maligne Lake Road to admire the beautiful autumn colours and watch wildlife.
With 30 minutes to spare, we checked out the Lake House Café. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of meals they offer. Although they’re pricier, they also serve huge portions, so we went on the cruise with full bellies.
After the quick check-in at the dock, we boarded our boat and headed south towards the middle of Maligne Lake. Our guide explained the significance of Maligne Lake and Spirit Island to Indigenous people and lots of fun facts about Maligne Lake (some of which I sprinkled around in this blog post).
The enclosed boat accommodates around 30 people, so we could stay away from the wind or go outside on the small deck. The boat is heated with comfortable seating (but no washrooms).
The views were staggering the whole time. Apart from the mountain views, I was surprised to see countless glaciers on top of them.
Once we were past the middle of the lake, around 30 minutes into our cruise, we saw the iconic Spirit Island. After seeing it in countless photos and souvenirs over the years, it was very special to see it finally in person.
Spirit Island is located in the ‘Hall of Gods’ as Mary Schäffer named it, and you can see why the moment you arrive and notice the surroundings. This canyon is deeper by 40 meters than other parts of the lake and is surrounded on three sides by the same mountain range. A truly special place geologically and historically.
We learnt that Spirit Island is a sacred place for Indigenous People, and after more than 100 years, the Canadian government allowed them to hold their ceremonies once again. Therefore, we were asked not to go on the island.
However, a short trail through the trees with a perfect view of Spirit Island exists. The place is as magical as I imagined, and it’s one of my top recommendations for the best things to do in Jasper. We could spend 15 minutes on shore, which is plenty for a walk, lots of photos, and taking the views in.
Maligne Lake Cruise schedule
The Maligne Lake Cruise typically operates daily from the end of May to mid-October. The exact schedule varies from year to year due to weather conditions.
The planned schedule for 2024 is:
- May 31 to June 21, 2024 – 9 am to 5:30 pm
- June 22 to September 2, 2024 – 9 am to 6 pm
- September 23 to September 29, 2024 – 9 am to 5:30 pm
- September 30 to October 13, 2024 – 9 am to 4:30 pm
There are usually 9 departures a day, starting at 9 am with the last cruise at the time of the closing (5:30, 6 or 4:30 pm). The early morning and late afternoon departures often offer a quieter and more serene experience.
For the best pictures of Spirit Island, I recommend booking the Maligne Lake Cruise for late afternoon when the sun’s golden rays beautifully shine on the landscape, emphasizing the turquoise lake. Because the cruise is very popular, book in advance, as it fills up days before departure during the summer months.
If you’d like to see Maligne Lake in winter, the Maligne Lake Road is open and offers a gorgeous drive through the snowy landscape. However, the lake usually freezes in November and is covered with snow till April/May.
Maligne Lake Cruise prices
The prices for the Maligne Lake Cruise are as follows:
- Adults (18-64): Approximately 82 CAD/person
- Youth (6-15): Approximately 53 CAD/person
- Children (5 and under): Free
- You can book your tickets here
It’s important to note that Maligne Lake Cruise (and other activities offered by Pursuit, such as Banff Gondola up the Sulphur Mountain) operates on dynamic pricing. That means the higher the demand, the higher the price, so you can expect higher prices during summer weekends.
Make sure to download your tickets in Jasper before you head out, as there’s no cell signal or Wi-Fi in the Maligne Lake area.
Best time for Maligne Lake Cruise
I recommend booking the Maligne Lake Cruise for early morning or late afternoon. The water is calmer, and the sun is gentler, making all the beautiful colours pop without the harsh reflections. You also have a higher chance of seeing wildlife on Maligne Lake Road when driving to Maligne Lake.
We went on the cruise in late September when colourful leaves popped, and they added gorgeous colours to the surroundings. The lake’s water level was lower, so the Spirit Island was a peninsula. When the water is higher in spring and summer, it’s an actual island.
How long is the Maligne Lake Cruise?
The classic Maligne Lake Cruise, the most popular option, lasts approximately 1.5 hours. During this time, you’ll explore the lake’s history and have 15 minutes on shore to check out the famous Spirit Island.
Is the Maligne Lake Cruise family-friendly?
The Maligne Lake Boat Cruise is family-friendly and suitable for visitors of all ages. The serene and informative cruise is an ideal way to introduce children to the natural wonders of the Canadian Rockies while providing a relaxing experience for adults.
For families with young children, it’s worth noting that children aged 5 and under ride for free. The mid-cruise walk on shore by Spirit Island is the best, especially if you have a toddler like us and can’t expect them to sit still for an hour.
The 2 most popular guided tours on Maligne Lake
Guided sightseeing tours are an excellent choice for travellers seeking a hassle-free and informative experience. A reputable platform for booking tours and activities is Viator, which offers several options for guided tours that include much more than the Maligne Lake Cruise.
These tours typically include transportation, knowledgeable guides, and opportunities to explore the area in depth. The most popular tour options include:
- Jasper National Park Tour – Maligne Valley, Medicine Lake and Spirit Island: A half-day tour departing from Jasper checking out the limestone Maligne Canyon, stopping at Medicine Lake and an option for Maligne Lake Cruise or a guided walk once you arrive at Maligne Lake.
- Jasper Wildlife and Waterfalls Tour with Maligne Lake Cruise: A half-day tour departing from Jasper and stopping at Maligne Canyon, Medicine Lake, with Maligne Lake Cruise included, with a big emphasis on the wildlife watching
Is the Maligne Lake Cruise worth it?
Absolutely! The cruise provides excellent views you otherwise wouldn’t see, and experiencing the sacred Spirit Island is a cherry on top that you don’t want to miss.
You can easily plan to spend the whole day at the Maligne Lake area to truly enjoy it, including the drive to get there, the cruise, hikes, and several stops for wildlife watching.
Things to do at Maligne Lake
Aside from the Maligne Lake Cruise, the area offers many activities, making it a must-visit destination in Jasper National Park. Here are some of the highlights:
Get on the water
You can rent a kayak, canoe or pedal boat right on the shore of Maligne Lake (from 65 CAD/hour). Alternatively, you can bring your own kayak, fill out the self-certification permit located on the shore or online (no fees involved), and have fun.
Maligne Lake hikes
Jasper is a hiker’s paradise, and the Maligne Lake area has several hikes for various skill levels. After your cruise, you can embark on a hiking adventure to Bald Hills or try easier trails, such as Mary Schäffer Loop or Moose Lake Loop, with fantastic views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Bald Hills Hike
- Distance: 12 km (about 3-4 hours)
- Elevation gain: 550 m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- For all stats, details, and a full trip report, read about our Bald Hills Hike
Mary Schäffer Loop
- Distance: 3.2 km (about 1-2 hours)
- Difficulty: Easy
Moose Lake Loop
- Distance: 2.7 km (about 1-2 hours)
- Difficulty: Easy
- Download the hiking map here
- Maligne Canyon: While you’re driving to or from your Maligne Lake Cruise, make a stop at Maligne Canyon, an impressive and deep canyon where you can walk around, cross several bridges, or try walking on the bottom during a Maligne Canyon Icewalk if you visit in winter.
- Stargazing: Jasper National Park is designated as a Dark Sky Preserve, which means it offers some of the best stargazing opportunities in the world. After a day of exploration, don’t miss the chance to gaze at the Milky Way and countless stars in the night sky.
Where to stay near Maligne Lake
Maligne Lake area doesn’t offer any accommodation options, no hotels or campgrounds, except backcountry campgrounds, which are only reachable by canoe.
However, if you’d like to immerse yourself in Jasper’s natural beauty, the closest campground to the Maligne Lake Road is Snaring River – details below, and a few hotels I personally recommend.
Snaring River Campground
- Operating dates: mid-May – end of September
- Amenities: outhouse, picnic shelter, drinking water
- Fees: 25 CAD per night per campsite (including a fire pit)
- Number of sites: 62
For more details and pictures of campgrounds in Jasper, read our comprehensive Guide to camping in Jasper National Park.
Pyramid Lake Resort
Located by the iconic Pyramid Lake in Jasper, Pyramid Lake Resort offers cozy chalet-style accommodation with kitchenettes, lake views, complimentary fat bikes in winter, an outdoor hot tub, a sauna, and more.
Read our full review of Pyramid Lake Resort here.
Forest Park Hotel
Forest Park Hotel is located on the edge of town, so there are many wildlife viewings. It has modern rooms with upgraded kitchenettes, an amazing onsite restaurant, a big indoor pool with a hot tub, and more.
Which boat cruise is better: Lake Minnewanka or Maligne Lake?
While we enjoyed both the Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff National Park and the Maligne Lake Cruise in Jasper National Park, if I had to choose just one, I’d go with the Maligne Lake Cruise.
Lake Minnewanka Cruise offers spectacular views, but they don’t change much. On the other hand, Maligne Lake Cruise’s views are on a whole new level. The area is more pristine, with lots of glacier views along the way. The cruise is longer and takes you to visit Spirit Island, the most popular photography spot in Jasper National Park, which you can only reach with the cruise or kayaking for several hours.
Essential info about visiting Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park
To visit any national park in Canada, you must purchase a Park Pass (daily or yearly).
- 10.50 CAD per person for a daily pass, 21 CAD for a group/family
- 72.25 CAD per person for a yearly pass, 145.25 CAD for a group/family
The yearly Discovery Pass is valid for all National parks in Canada. You can purchase it at the gate when you enter the national park, in the Visitor’s Centre or online here.
Enjoy your time at Maligne Lake!