This winding 46 kilometer drive starts near the town of Jasper and ends at Maligne Lake. The road was built along the glacier valley running between the Maligne and Elizabeth mountain ranges. Besides the towering peaks there’s turquoise coloured glacier lakes to see along route, the rushing Maligne River and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife such as elk, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, white-tail deer and grizzly and black bears.
Hanging Valley Viewpoint
One of the first points of interest along the drive is the Hanging Valley Viewpoint. It can be hard to spot. The easiest way to find it is to watch for the 6km mark on your odometer once you get onto Maligne Lake Road from Highway 16. This spot offers a panoramic view of the Athabasca Valley. Pyramid Mountain can clearly be recognized across the valley and you can spot the Jasper Tramway on Whistler’s Mountain.
Maligne Canyon Hiking Trail
Shortly after pulling back onto Maligne Lake Drive from the viewpoint you will see the turnoff on the left for the Maligne Canyon day use area. The Maligne Canyon is carved 50 meters deep but in spots it’s only a few meters wide, making it a dramatic sight. This is a popular hiking area and a great place for photography.
Disappearing Medicine Lake
Medicine Lake is one of the most noteable highlights along the drive. It got the name from the early native people in the area who believed that it had magical powers. It’s a unique body of water that vanishes and re-appears each year. Like several lakes in this mountain valley it is continuously draining through a network of underground caves.
During the glacier runoff in the spring the water runs into the lake faster than it can drain. The lake remains until the water level starts to drop off as September approaches. By late Fall/Autumn the lake is gone leaving behind a giant mudflat and ribbon of water that flows to the drainage area.
There’s something very peaceful about Medicine Lake.
Enjoy a stroll along the shoreline and watch for pika hiding among the rocks.
There were some odd attempts in the past to plug the drain below the lake. Apparently old mattresses, sand bags and bundles of magazines were used to try and stop the water from draining away. None of them worked. It would be interesting to know if the lake bottom is still full of mattresses?
A black bear along the rocky shoreline of Medicine Lake. This is taken with a telephoto lens, always make sure to give wildlife plenty of space.
Whitewater Rafting And Kayaking On The Maligne River
At the 35km mark there is a takeout point for whitewater rafters and kayakers. It’s one of the most popular spots for rafting in Alberta. Check in town for various companies offering these river adventures.
Famous Rosemary’s Rock
At km 41 just after the road crosses a bridge there is a large rock that can be spotted in the middle of the Maligne River. It was showcased in the 1953 file “Rose Marie” starring Howard Keel and Ann Blyth. There’s debate whether the rock was named after the movie or if it was due to the fact that Rosemary Clooney was said to have once climbed it. Marilyn Monroe also climbed the rock in the 1954 making of River Of No Return. It’s quite the famous rock!
The end of the journey is the stunning vista of Maligne Lake surrounded by several towering mountain peaks. It’s the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, stretching 22.5 km’s in length.
One of the most photographed spots in Canada is here. It’s called Spirit Island. During late spring, summer and early fall it can be accessed through Malgine Lake boat tours.
The only other way to get there is by self paddling a canoe or kayak. It can be done, but it would be a daunting effort since the island is located 14km’s up the lake. If you are not up to the epic paddle to Spirit Island you can still enjoy a more casual experience on the lake. Canoe and kayak rentals are available through Curly Phillips Boathouse along the shoreline.
At Maligne Lake there is a visitor center, a cafeteria style restaurant and the pier where boat tours launch from. The boat tour is a total of 90 minutes. It offers a chance to see the mountain tops covered in glistening glaciers along the lake and the view of Spirit Island is beautiful, but unfortunately your time there is very limited. For more information see our post on Maligne Lake Boat Tours And Spirit Island.
A Short Detour Along Maligne Lake Drive
If you’re up for a little side trip near the beginning of the Maligne Lake Drive turn right onto Old Lodge Road immediately after crossing the bridge. Along the road are Edith and Annette Lakes. Watch for the exit sign for the parking area that’s located in between the two lakes. There’s picnic spots here as well as several hiking trails. Neither of these lakes are glacier fed so they are warm enough to be popular swimming spots with both locals and tourists in the summer months.
Heading further down the road will bring you to the historic Jasper Park Lodge. The property sits along the picturesque Beauvert Lake. Take a stroll along the lake walkway or rent a paddle boat to explore the water.
Tips And Directions For The Maligne Lake Drive
- The access to Maligne Lake Drive is located approximately 5 km’s east of Jasper on Highway 16
- Early in the morning is the most ideal time to see wildlife.
- Allow a minimum of two hours to drive to Maligne Lake and back to Jasper.
- Make a full day of the drive by taking in a hike at Maligne Canyon and/or booking a boat tour of Maligne Lake.
- Pack a picnic to eat along the way or wait to have a bite to eat at the restaurant at Maligne Lake.
- The best time to experience Maligne Lake Drive is May to October. It can vary year to year, but mid-September might allow you to see some of the beautiful fall colours in the trees.
Hiking At Maligne Lake
There’s a variety of trails at Malgine Lake, the Skyline Hiking trail is one of the most popular and rated as one of the best trails in the Canadian Rockies. It’s a 44 km trail that leads back to the town of Jasper. It’s usually done over a period of 2 to 6 days. The trail is above the tree line so it offers spectacular views. In the winter months Maligne Lake is a great place to cross country ski and snowshoe. Check in Jasper for companies that offer excursions to the area.
Maligne Lake Trout Fishing
Maligne Lake was regularly stocked in the past and now has a self sustaining trout population of rainbow and brook trout. The fish thrive off something in the waters here, the largest recorded rainbow trout in Alberta was caught in the lake, it was just over 20 pounds. The largest brook trout caught here is the third largest recorded in the world! Check in Jasper for companies offering guided fishing tours.