This 3-day paddling guide to one of my favorite multi-day excursions in the Canadian Rockies will make you familiar with all the logistics.
The excursion will take you much further down the lake than Spirit Island, where no commercial boat cruises and less than 0.1% of people, who come to Maligne Lake, ever see it!
If you plan on road-tripping through the Rockies, make sure to add this excursion to your itinerary!
Maligne Lake and Spirit Island paddling trip overview
Known for its turquoise waters fed by the glaciers perched onto the surrounding peaks, Maligne lake is one of the most sought-after destinations in the Canadian Rockies.
Maligne is a french word that means malignant or wicked. The lake however was not named so because of its, but after the turbulent Maligne River, which empties into it.
Distance and trailhead
It’s 42.6 kilometers or 26.5 miles to paddle from the North end of Maligne Lake all the way South to Coronet Creek and back. The trailhead for this paddle trip is at the boat ramp at the northernmost point of Maligne Lake.
Getting there and parking at Maligne lake
To get there it’s a 48 km (30 miles) one-hour drive from Jasper township along Maligne Lake Road. In my opinion, it’s one of the most scenic drives in the Canadian Rockies!
The boat ramp for launching kayaks or canoes is near an ample parking area. You can leave your car there overnight whilst your set out on your adventure.
Just remember not to leave any valuables in sight. Although I have traveled through the Rockies for 15 months in my van and never encountered any troubles, occasional break-in reports do appear on the Canadian Rockies hiking Facebook groups.
Whilst the paddle trip is doable in 2 days, especially if you only plan on seeing Spirit Island, I’d recommend spending at least 3 days/2 nights or even 4 days/3 nights on the lake and staying at both Fisherman’s Bay and Coronet Creek campgrounds.
The best time to do the Maligne Lake paddle trip
I have done this excursion twice already. The first time was at the end of September, and the second time, only a year later was at the beginning of September.
Both times we had fantastic weather conditions. The summer storms and haze were gone and mosquitos were nowhere to be seen.
The official backcountry camping season in the Rockies is from the end of June until the end of September, however, from July until mid-August mosquitos can be unbearable.
Since both campgrounds on Maligne Lake are right on its shore, unless you bring tons of repellent, you might regret your life choices.
If you asked me I’d say aim to do this trip from mid-August until the end of September.
Where to stay in Jasper before and after the excursion
If you plan on the excursion on the Maligne lake I highly recommend staying the night before in Jasper so you can start with fully charged batteries the next morning.
Below I enlisted a few of the top-rated places in Jasper. If you found my article helpful, consider supporting my site and booking through the affiliate links! It will cost you nothing!
Visiting Maligne Lake on a day trip
You can visit Maligne Lake on a day trip from Jasper including a boat tour to Spirit Island.
It’s an excellent option if you are short of time or roughing it out in the Canadian backcountry isn’t really for you. The tours might not offer the same intimate experience as going by kayak or canoe, but you will still get to see Spirit Island.
The boat tours can’t operate outside of daylight hours so if you plan on visiting Spirit Island at sunrise or sunset, paddling and camping is your only option.
Even if you have your own speedboat it will be good for nothing here. No other gas-motorized boats are allowed on Maligne Lake apart from those belonging to Parks Canada or boat tours.
Personally, if you’re physically able to do so, getting there by your own power is so rewarding I would recommend it to anyone.
It gives you the opportunity to go past Spirit Island into the heart of the Valley of the Gods, a place where no cruise boats venture. Pristine, untouched, and magnificent.
Reserving campsites at Maligne Lake in the summer 2023 season
A list of backcountry campsites at Maligne Lake
|Campground name||Distance from Maligne lake trailhead||Number of sites||Campground description|
|Hidden Cove||3.5 km||4||A small campground located in a sheltered cove. Great if you want to take the trip across Maligne lake easily.|
|Fisherman’s Bay||13 km||8||Located just passed the Samson Narrows and only around 1 km away from Spirit Island. Great for fishing (permits required).|
|Coronet Creek||21.3 km||8||My favorite campground. Very quiet with beautiful views near the shoreline.|
All campgrounds are equipped with bear lockers, outhouses, picnic tables, and tent pads. Bring out what you brought in policy is enforced.
When to book campsites at Maligne Lake for 2023 summer season
The campsites on Maligne Lake book out very early in the season. Once they open the spots are usually gone within the first few hours, with only a handful left!
How to make reservations at Maligne Lake backcountry campgrounds
Parks Canada has announced that a new and improved reservation system will be introduced in March 2023. From March 3rd you will be able to create a new account to access the system.
The cost of reserving campsites on Maligne Lake in the 2023 summer season
There are two initial costs to cover upon making a reservation and one additional one involving National Parks Entry Fee. The first two are:
- Reservation fee: $11.50 per online reservation ($13.50 per phone reservation)
- Camping fee/Wilderness pass: $10.50/person/night
You will also need a National Park Entry Fee which costs $10.50/person/day. If you plan on spending at least 7 days in a year visiting National Parks in Canada then I highly recommend purchasing the annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass at a cost of $72.25/adult or $145.23 for up to 7 people in one vehicle. This Pass is particularly handy for anyone who plans on doing a road trip through Western Canada and the Rockies.
All prices are in Canadian dollars.
Is it better to do the Maligne Lake trip in a canoe or kayak?
The best advice I can give you is that, whether you’re an experienced paddler or a relative novice, start early. Generally, the wind conditions in the morning are much less relentless.
But hey? I bet you are wondering I don’t even have a canoe and you’re already telling me about wind conditions!
So what’s better a Canoe or a Kayak? Hmm, tough choice. I’ve done this excursion in both and personally enjoyed it much more when kayaking.
If like me, you are a light packer and prefer a bit more comfort, choose a kayak. If you plan on bringing a lot more gear with you, go with a canoe.
ADVANTAGES OF A CANOE
- Higher load capacity
- Cheaper to rent/buy
- More Canadian
- More stable
ADVANTAGES OF A KAYAK
- Easier to turn and navigate
- Gear is more secure in the hideaway compartments
Where to rent a kayak?
If you’re coming to the Canadian Rockies from abroad then chances are you are not going to be traveling by boat.
Don’t worry, a company called Pure Outdoors in Jasper rents canoes and kayaks. Double canoes cost 90 CAD per day with a 25% discount for each additional day.
If you’re worried about being able to transport the canoe or Kayak from Jasper to Maligne Lake, they have you covered.
Pure Outdoors also does a drop-off and pick-up service free of charge. Life vests, paddles, water pumps, kayak skirts, floatation devices, and everything else you can possibly need for your safe passage, are also included in the price.
A few packing essentials for the Maligne Lake trip
Ideally, you want 50-70 liters of storage per person, split between two bags. That way it will be easier to store them in a Canoe/Kayak. The 30, 40, and 55L bags are equipped with backpack straps so you can use them on the Henry Macleod Trail.
Getting a good night’s rest after paddling for the whole day on the lake is essential. This sleeping pad will not only keep you insulated from the ground, but it will keep you comfy too. My advice is to go with the larger size!
I’ve had this tent for years now and used it for 3 weeks in Iceland, where it was tested against some crazy winds, as well as for every single backpacking trip I did in the Rockies. So far I have no tears and all the poles are still intact. Grab a tent footprint too, to prolong the life of your tent.
I recently left my pair in a parking lot after the hike and drove off. When I noticed my mistake it was too late to go back. I couldn’t get over it for a whole week, so I ordered a second pair without any hesitation. At 300 grams a pair, their weight is hard to beat.
Day 1: Maligne Lake boat ramp to Fisherman’s Bay Campground
Normally this would be the part of an itinerary where I start talking about trail conditions. Unfortunately, water is very hard to predict, it’s never the same twice. From the boat lunch, it’s a 13km paddle, as the crow flies, to Fisherman’s Bay campground.
Start as early as possible to get the best weather conditions (the winds are calmer in the mornings). Moreover, you will avoid the boat cruises that normally start at 10 am and create some serious waves ultimately slowing you down and taking away from the serene atmosphere of the lake.
A strong paddler can get to Fisherman’s Bay in 2-3 hours but a more realistic time is 4 hours. In unfavorable wind conditions, with a big load, it could take a lot longer.
If you stay close to the shore, you’ll do slightly more than 13 km, but you’ll have a much higher chance of seeing some wildlife. On my second paddle trip on Maligne Lake, I saw a black bear and several eagles.
The bear accompanied us for quite some time as we paddled along the shore. At one point it even jumped into the water and swam a few meters along the shoreline, before it got out and disappeared into the forest soon after!
At roughly 11kms the lake becomes quite thin. That’s a sign that you have reached the Samson narrows. Once you’re through, the lake opens up again and the Fisherman’s Bay campground will be in a cove on the left-hand side.
From the campsite, Spirit Island is only a 15-minute paddle away. After you set up your camp, there are no excuses why you shouldn’t go there for either sunrise or sunset. The good news is, you will probably be the only one there!
This is where I have photographed my most memorable sunrise in the Rockies to date.
Spirit Island and the story behind its name
Named after a beautiful anecdote of star-crossed lovers from rival first nation groups. Rumour has it that the two soul mates, from two opposing tribes, fell in love and used Spirit Island as their secret courtship location.
However, when the girl’s father found out about their private affair he banished her from visiting the island.
The young Romeo had no idea why his darling sweetheart stopped visiting but continued to frequent the island daily until he breathed his last lonely breath and eventually died right there on the Island, staring into the Valley of the Gods.
His spirit is said to still be waiting there, in the hope, that she’ll one day return.
Day 2: Fisherman’s Bay to Coronet Creek
After sunrise at Spirit Island, and a hearty breakfast back at camp, continue south a further 8 km to the Coronet Creek campground.
2-4 hours later, depending on your speed, you will again stand ashore.
This part of the journey is the most spectacular. You will be paddling directly into the heart of the aptly named Valley of the Gods.
Once you see it with your own eyes you will understand what I am talking about. The campground lies on the right-hand side, just past the Coronet Creek intake.
Maligne Lake is the second-largest glacially-fed lake in the world and it’s here, between Spirit Island, one of the best places in Jasper to take some killer photographs, and Coronet Creek, that you’ll see the waterfalls gushing from glaciers falling effortlessly into the lake.
Both campsites are very rustic, but very quiet, with only 8 tent pads per site. They have new dry-style outhouses (a new pilot scheme being tested by Parks Canada), fire pits, and of course, bear lockers.
Day 3 & 4: Coronet Creek Campground to the boat ramp
If you are strong enough and have limited time here in the mountains, consider paddling back to the boat launch on the last day, making this a 3-day excursion.
However, if you have time on your hands stay at the Coronet Creek campground for 2 nights and plan a total of 4 days and 3 nights on the lake.
Once at Coronet Creek there is a 16km/5 hour return Henry Macleod Trail that will take you away from the water and toward some of the glacial moraines in the area.
If you do decide to paddle back the 21 kilometers in a single day, account for around 6 to 8 hours. The last time I did this excursion I managed to paddle back in just 4 hours, but I admit that the speed at my partner and I were paddling was monumental.
We were so fast mainly due to the fact, that the wind was non-existent. Normally I would also take my time to look at the views, but on our last morning, the lake was covered with thick mist blocking them.
Whilst 21km may sound like a lot it is definitely doable. Just remember what I said about the winds! The early bird catches the worm!
If however, it’s not something you are feeling particularly excited about, you can always just stay the second night at Coronet Creek then paddle back to the Fisherman’s campsite and stay the third night there.
In this case, you will find yourself once more within close vicinity of Spirit Island, where you can take another peek at the beauty of one of the most photogenic places in the Canadian Rockies!
As always if you have any questions or tips don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! I am always happy to hear your feedback and stories of your personal experience from the trip!