David and I have been mesmerized by winter photos of Maligne Canyon for years now and somehow it was even more wonderful than I had imagined. We walked along the bottom of one of the deepest canyons in Jasper National Park to get up close and personal with statuesque frozen waterfalls, the smooth curves of the canyon walls, and even an ice cave! Keep reading for everything you need to know about The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk and why you need to go.
About The Area
The area surrounding Maligne Canyon is extremely unique and plays an important role in the formation and waterflow of the canyon. The limestone walls have been carved and smoothed by water that originates in the beautiful Maligne Lake by way of mountain glaciers. From there, a river corrals this stunning turquoise water into Medicine Lake.
Here`s where it gets a little bit more interesting. Think of Medicine Lake as a giant bath tub with the drain pulled out of the bottom. The water goes underground into a limestone cave system that feeds Maligne Canyon through several different springs year round.
This is particularly significant when it comes to the frozen waterfalls you`re probably dying to see in this canyon. While there are a few true waterfalls that freeze; the majority of the incredible ice formations are actually frozen springs.
The cave system supplying these springs maintains a constant temperature of a few degrees year round. This means that the water will trickle out of the sides of the canyon all winter long creating these famous and everchanging “frozen waterfalls”.
Maligne Canyon Trail
Maligne Canyon Trail is located about 10 minutes northeast of Jasper with two main access points. The parking lot at The Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen and the Fifth Bridge Parking Lot.
The trail, paved and accessible to hikers of all abilities, features five bridges built across different areas of the canyon. The waterfalls and winding river below reach a depth of more than 50 meters in certain areas. Hikers can explore the 3.4 kilometer trail year round with exhilarating views and a ton of local wildlife.
The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk Tour
This 2.5 hour tour starts off at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen. Our guide gave a safety talk and geared us up with boots, cramp-ons, and helmets. From there, we began the tour along the Maligne Canyon Trail.
Crossing Bridges 1-3, our knowledgeable guide taught us about the water and cave systems of the canyon and surrounding area. We also learned about the wildlife, plant species, and fossils that call this canyon home. The first section of the canyon is too deep and dangerous to explore on the ground, so we peered down and soaked it all in from above.
Once we crossed the fourth bridge, though, that`s when the real fun began. Our guide led us down onto the floor of the canyon through a gate on the side of the path. From there we made our way back up towards Bridge Number 3. Our first stop was into a small ice cave that forms differently every year on the side of the canyon.
“Being able to go inside and explore was definitely one of our highlights. You could actually hear and see the water trickling down inside the ice. So cool!”
The next 30 minutes were absolutely magical with frozen springs and one of a kind limestone walls everywhere we looked. Our guide was great at getting us all through the ice and slush and making sure we could take full advantage of the photo ops!
After exploring for a few hundred meters, we turned around and got a second look at the frozen dreamland we had just walked through. We then continued down the canyon a ways before popping back up onto the trail and all the way to the Fifth Bridge. At this point, we got on a bus that returned us to Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen.
What to Wear
Dress for the weather! While you are provided with tall insulated rainboots, spikes, and a helmet, the rest of your clothing will be important in allowing you to enjoy your tour to the fullest. It was -18°C when we started, so we both dressed in full long underwear, a fleece layer, and a down jacket. I also wore snow pants and heated socks which I can`t recommend enough!
Can You Go On Your Own?
Technically yes. Would I recommend it? Probably not, at least not the first time. Our guide was so knowledgeable and took extra care to ensure that we got through the canyon safely. The slush can be waist deep in some areas and she was able to navigate us through without getting soaked!
There is only one gate that the public is technically allowed to enter through. We would not recommend attempting the other areas and access points that have been blocked off for safety reasons. It`s an icy (DUH!), deep, and hazardous canyon – take the necessary steps to protect yourself!
As we were leaving, we passed several people who were not prepared whatsoever attempting to complete the ice walk. If you`re looking for a hike you can do in sneakers, with no crampons, with dogs, etc., you’re going to want to stick to the upper trail.