Photo by Keir Lamar
I love water. I love being around the water, on the water, in the water – you name it! So I was very excited to go on a Maligne Lake boat cruise with Pursuit! The day started like almost every day of our late-spring trip to Jasper National Park: with rain. We had prepared for this cool, drizzly weather, but we were craving a little sunshine by this point.
Bundled and ready to go, we made the drive to Maligne Lake. The trip from the town of Jasper takes about an hour. There is no gas along the way, so make sure you fill up before leaving town! The winding, mountain road has a reduced speed limit because it is teeming with wildlife, especially during the rainy weather. Bears often escape the trees to stand in the rain because their fur is better equipped to handle the steady rainfall, rather than the heavy drops that fall after accumulating in the trees. There were many bear jams along the way, but most people were behaving themselves around these wild animals. For the best advice on how to coexist with wildlife, see this article by Adam Mertens at WildSmart.
The beautiful drive offers stunning mountain scenery and travels the length of Medicine Lake, a “retreating lake” that fills in the spring with winter’s runoff and dwindles down to a river in the later summer and fall. It was full when we drove past, and it looked like a calm lake rather than a slow-moving, backed-up portion of river.
We arrived at Maligne Lake, and we were excited to take a look around before getting on our cruise. The lake itself is stunning, with the famous blue water typical of glacier fed lakes in the Canadian Rockies. It has an interesting history. It is the largest, naturally formed, glacial-fed lake in the Canadian Rockies. The area also houses the iconic boathouse, built by famous mountaineer and guide Curly Phillips. You can rent canoes and kayaks at the boathouse to explore the lake yourself.
The cruise boats are docked nearby. We checked in and decided to explore, since we were a few minutes early for our cruise. There are hiking trails along the lake that offer stunning views and relatively easy excursions, as well as trailheads to multi-day backcountry adventures. The waffle house and the chalet offer food and refreshments if you’re hungry after your drive. We grabbed some snacks, sat on the stunning patio and watched the boats on the water. The clouds were starting to part at this point, and they hinted at the prospect of some sunshine.
When the time came, we loaded onto the boat. It was a very comfortable vessel that has been impeccably maintained and it gleamed with a fresh coat of paint. The boats have a covered seating area as well as an exterior viewing deck, so you can be outside if you want, or you can stay protected from the elements. It made the voyage comfortable, despite the chilly weather.
Our boat was named Mary Schäffer, and each tour boat carried the name of a famous Jasper explorer. Once on board, our captain, Mel, expertly got us underway. Our guide, Jenn, gave us a quick safety rundown as we exited Home Bay, and then she filled our tour with interpretation about the valley, mountain peaks and the glaciers. She also told us the story of Mary Schäffer, including the assistance she got from First Nation’s guides that allowed her to explore and survey this area. Jenn was hilarious and very knowledgeable. She made the tour memorable with her explanations and commentary.
When we arrived at world-famous Spirit Island, we had some time to explore. Spirit Island itself is actually a small isthmus that has spiritual significance to the First Nations people who used to frequent this area. There are some ancient artefacts still on the island, as well as new items of worship as the First Nations continue to use this location. We didn’t actually go to the island, but we stopped at a point of land directly behind it with a short trail that leads behind the isthmus.
It’s the view surrounding Spirit Island that draws people to this location time and time again. It’s stunning. The tall and jagged Queen Elizabeth Range wraps around the end of the lake, creating a magnificent backdrop of iconic Rocky Mountain peaks. Even with the heavy clouds, it was breathtaking. We took the classic photo of the island and a few others as we explored the trail. We had about 15 minutes on land, which allowed us to have some fun and appreciate the beautiful scenery.
We experienced some time outside on the return trip. With the exception of the tour boats, only electric motors and paddle craft are allowed on Maligne Lake. The tour boats are limited in their reach, and they cannot access water beyond Spirit Island. There are some great backcountry campsites on the lake, accessible only by boat. We plan to return and paddle to some amazing camping.
As we came back into Home Bay, the clouds began to part and we could see blue sky! It made the mountains look amazing as they glistened in hints of sunshine. We docked back by the chalet, where we had started the adventure. Our Classic Cruise took about 90 minutes from start to finish. Pursuit offers other boat tours, including the Premium Cruise with guided interpretation at Spirit Island, and the Lens Cruise that includes a professional photographer.
We grabbed a snack at the chalet before making the winding drive back to the town of Jasper. We were so enamoured with the area that we decided to return for a day on the water, with rented boats and fishing gear, to further explore this amazing lake. Next time you're visiting Jasper National Park, make the drive to Maligne Lake and try a cruise to Spirit Island. You'll be glad you did!