This past Thanksgiving Weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving) we set out for a 5-night Maligne Lake Backcountry Canoe Camping Trip. Maligne Lake is in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. It is a world-famous destination for its remarkable beauty. As such, we were looking forward to exploring Maligne Lake in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Canoeing on Maligne Lake highlights include visiting Spirit Island, paddling through The Hall of the Gods, exploring beautiful locations that most people never see and going for a hike that is only accessible by first paddling 21.3km to get to the trailhead.
At 21.3km long it would be easy enough to paddle the length of the lake in a day if the weather is good. However, we wanted to spend a little more time and really enjoy the experience. We originally booked a 4-night Maligne Lake Backcountry Canoe Camping Trip. Our plan was to drive out to Jasper and spend the night near the lake so that we could get an early start the next morning. We would then paddle to Fisherman's Bay for a night before heading to Coronet Creek on the far end for two nights and then stopping at Fisherman's for one more night on the way out. However, we ended up adding one more night to the trip by canoeing Maligne Lake to Hidden Cove instead of camping near the Town of Jasper, Alberta, Canada. Our trip looked like this;
- Day One - Hidden Cove, 4km
- Day Two - Fisherman's Bay, 10km
- Day Three - Coronet Creek, 11.5km (West side of the lake)
- Day Four - Coronet Creek, 12.5km Hike
- Day Five - Fisherman's Bay, 8.6km (East Side of the lake)
- Day Six - Paddle out, 13km
Maligne Lake, pronounced Mah-Leen is the longest lake in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It is the second largest glacier fed lake in the world! The lake was named by Mary Schäffer Warren after Maligne River which drains the lake. Maligne is a French word for wicked. The river got its name from Father de Smet a Flemish, Catholic Priest and Missionary that had a very frustrating time trying to cross it. Fortunately for us, the lake did not live up to its name on this trip. In fact, it was incredibly peaceful.
Maligne Lake is a world-class multi-day paddling trip that should be on every enthusiasts bucket list. Because of the limited number of camping spots (there are only 20 campsites on the entire lake), Canoeing Maligne Lake is also an exclusive adventure. This means that it is essential to make reservations well in advance. I was in the queue and ready to go on the opening day for Parks Canada, Jasper National Park Backcountry reservations. By the time, I made it to the front of the line, Thanksgiving Weekend in October was the only time still available for me to book our Maligne Lake Backcountry Canoe Camping Trip. Everything else had filled up.
Hidden Cove Campground is a short 4km paddle from the boat launch on Maligne Lake. It is an easy paddle that took us about 40minutes. As such, it is an ideal destination for the first night of camping when getting a late start. or for those new to canoe camping.
Have you ever heard the world be completely silent? That was our experience at Hidden Cove. There was no noise. No sounds made by vehicles, planes, or people. There was no breeze to rustle the leaves, and the water was perfectly calm. The birds and the animals were all silent too. Absolute quiet. The world was just incredibly still and peaceful. I have never experienced silence like this before.
I gave canoeing on Maligne Lake and Adventure Seeker award for cutest campground and Loo with the best view. Hidden Cove is a cozy little four site campground. It is hilly so each campsite is tucked into its semi-private little nook. There is a common area near the dock which has a fire pit and picnic table. Hidden Cove also has a cookshack which doubles as an emergency warming hut. Inside this little cabin is a wood burning stove, an emergency wood supply, benches and a table was well as a writing desk with a paddlers log book to sign. All of the campgrounds on Maligne Lake have food storage lockers.
It was a cool and frosty morning when we woke up at Hidden Cove. It was 10:30am before we warmed up and were ready to paddle to Fisherman's Bay. By this time, the tour boats were running so we would need to contend with their waves. Other than waves created by the boats, the water was calm, and it was a beautiful day for canoeing in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. From Hidden Cove it is an easy 10km paddle to reach Fisherman's Bay Campsite. This stretch took us about 2 hours. Fisherman's is on the opposite side of the lake from Hidden Cove. Because the Maligne Lake Cruises run constantly throughout the day, the best place to cross is at Samson Narrows.
We thought we were clever reviving an old backcountry packing trick by bringing a box of wine with us. The intention was that we could have wine for the duration of our trip. Unlike packing a wine bottle which is always big and heavy, a bag of wine will get smaller and lighter over time. That is all still true. However, boxes of wine now have holes in them. Unfortunately for us, the bag of wine got smaller and lighter by spilling into the canoe as we paddled to Fisherman's Bay. Lesson learned, packing a box of wine is no longer a clever idea.
On the bright side, we arrived at Fisherman's Bay around lunch time, so we sat in the sun on the dock and enjoyed a picnic. After the chilly morning and getting camp set up, we went back to the rocky beach to enjoy the warm afternoon sun.
Fisherman's Bay is tucked into a sheltered cove on the East side of Maligne lake. There are eight campsites here. Each one is large enough for a single tent. Campsites three & four are the closest to the lake and have the best views.
For the First Nations people, Spirit Island is a significant spiritual location. As such, it is forbidden to set foot upon it. The reason for this is that it is the location of a heartbreaking Romeo and Juliette legend. This is where the Romeo and Juliette of this story met and fell in love. Like Shakespeare's story, these two were also from rival nations. When the Chief, Juliette's father found out he forbid her from ever returning to the island. Heartbroken and never knowing what had happened, our Romeo kept returning to the island for the remainder of his life hoping to be reunited with his love. It is said that he eventually passed away on the island and that his spirit remains here, still waiting for his love to return to him.
Canoeing along the western shore from Fisherman's Bay to the Coronet Creek Campground on Maligne Lake is 11.5km long. This trip took us under 3hrs including a stop at the Spindly Creek Picnic Area. Tour boats don't go beyond Spirit Island. So, the only way to see this half of the lake to have a boat with a small electric motor or to paddle there. They say that less than 0.1% of the people that visit Maligne Lake ever see this half of the lake. Which makes for a compelling adventure when planning a Maligne Lake Backcountry Canoe Camping Trip.
The southern half of Maligne Lake is known as The Hall of the Gods. This name was coined by Mary Schäffer Warren who is credited for being the first non-Indigenous person to explore Maligne Lake. What makes her even more impressive as a female adventure seeking pioneer was that she led a surveying party of the lake. At the time women were forbidden from even accompanying a surveying party.
The Hall of the Gods is a fitting name for this part of Maligne Lake. Here, the mountains rise steeply out of the water and are the highest mountains on the lake. This is a spiritual place for First Nations people as they believe the mountains are the embodiment of their ancestors. Making the name even more fitting.
Spindly Creek Picnic Area is the only rest stop on the southern half of Maligne Lake. Altogether there are four picnic areas around the lake. They all have big signs making them easy to see from the water. Each picnic area has fire pits, picnic tables and pit toilets.
Coronet Creek is the campground that is the furthest south on Maligne Lake. With no waves created by tour boats hitting the shoreline this is the most serene campground on the lake. Coronet Creek Campground has eight campsites ensuring that adventure seekers will feel like this is their secret spot to enjoy during a Maligne Lake Backcountry Canoe Camping Trip.
Henry MacLeod worked with Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). He is credited as being the first non-Indigenous person to see Maligne Lake. Since he was searching for railway routes he quickly moved on from the area. This resulted in Mary Schäffer Warren being the First non-Indigenous person to explore Maligne Lake.
By this point on the canoe trip, we were eating dehydrated backpacker meals. Our Thanksgiving Dinner was a dehydrated Irish Shepard's Pie with no wine, because of course we spilt it days ago. Admittedly, not the best Thanksgiving we have ever had. However, I did pack mini pies for us.
One of the other couples that was enjoying Thanksgiving at Coronet Creek was doing so in style. They brought a cooler with a ham steak, potatoes, salad, and dessert. It looked fantastic and left us wondering why we hadn't thought or bringing a cooler with us.
What a perfect Thanksgiving morning, not only was it the warmest morning of our Maligne Lake Backcountry Canoe Camping Trip, but we also got the most amazing sunrise! It is hard not to feel grateful on a day like this.
Don't jinx yourself. I may have made a comment about how lucky we were to have perfect weather for our entire trip. I should have known better because the trip wasn't over yet. We awoke to fierce winds in the middle of the night. Having a light canoe is great, however the wind can blow it away. Being alone on the lake, we couldn't risk anything happening to the canoe, so we got up to pull the canoe further up and tie it to a tree. Thankfully, it was still there in the morning. However, it looked like our nice weather was running out.
I find beautiful sunrises and the threat of a weather system to be good motivators to get out of bed quickly in the morning. Our goal, as we watched the clouds roll in was to paddle as far as we could before being caught by the rain. It turns out that was a little under an hour and 5km into our 13km paddle for the day. We pulled over at a random location on the shore to put on our rain gear and pack covers to keep our gear dry. Luckily, despite the rain, the lake was still calm which made for a chilly but easy paddle.
As luck would have it, the sun came out shortly after we pulled the canoe out of the water. It turned out to be another beautiful fall day in Alberta. We were looking forward to enjoying a fresh meal (aka not dehydrated) and a cool craft beer as a post-Maligne Lake Backcountry Canoe Camping Trip treat. As is our post-Jasper adventure seeking tradition, we stopped at our favourite craft brewery, Folding Mountain Brewing. Lunch did not disappoint. The fries may have been the best fries of my life, but that could also be 6-days in the backcountry me talking. Regardless, Folding Mountains likes to share in people's adventures, and we are happy to oblige. Plus, they have great beer, good food and a fantastic environment.
Maligne Lake is a world-class multi-day paddling adventure that lives up to the hype. A multi-day Maligne Lake Canoe Trip should be on every paddling enthusiasts list. Even for those new to canoeing and backcountry camping, this is a great trip as it can be easily modified into shorter one or two-night versions.
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What an epic adventure. The photos are amazing. I liked the bits of history woven into your story. And I laughed aloud at your latest bear spray mishap. Including a video on how to properly use bear spray was hilarious.
Thank you Diana. I'm glad that you enjoyed the stories and that my mishaps made you laugh. I am hopeful that I won't have a third mishap the next time I am in the backcountry.