The Maligne Canyon Icewalk in Jasper National Park is a truly spectacular experience. In fact, it is one of the top winter adventures in the Canadian Rockies. At 50m in height, the canyon walls tower over explorers hiking along its icy base. Around every corner there is a surprise waiting to be discovered. What will be around the next bend, perhaps fascinating rocks or ice formations, an obstacle to overcome, a cave to explore or maybe even a breathtaking frozen waterfall.
What makes this adventure even better is how accessible it is. Whether this is your first time exploring winter in the Rocky Mountains, you have a young family or are a seasoned outdoors person there is an icewalk experience suitable to your level of expertise. The Maligne Canyon Icewalk in Jasper National Park should be on every outdoor enthusiast and adventure seeker's list of things to experience during the winter in Jasper, Alberta, Canada.
Maligne Canyon is a slot canyon. This type of canyon is long and deep. Composed of soft limestone, the canyon has been eroded by water since the last ice age. This has created very interesting geological shapes. In some places the canyon is narrower at the top than it is at the bottom. This has some scientists theorizing that Maligne Canyon was once a cave that had its top sheared off by glaciers. Either way, Maligne Canyon is visually impressive.
Maligne River is primarily fed by Medicine Lake. This lake is known as a disappearing lake because the water travels underground for 14km before resurfacing in several locations in the canyon to form Maligne River.
Jasper National Park, Alberta is located in Canada's northern Rocky Mountains. It is part of the UNESCO Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. As it is situated further away from a major urban centre compared to Banff National Park it receives less tourists and is less developed. This means that the park is more natural, pristine and does not suffer from over tourism. That's not to say that you won't encounter lots of people on the Maligne Canyon Icewalk in Jasper National Park. Being one of the most easily accessible and stunning places to visit in the park, it attracts its share of mountain adventurers.
Starting across the 5th bridge, follow the trail that runs along the river. The start is not well marked as the Parks are trying to encourage people to go with a tour for safety. This will lead into the canyon and the icewalk. Portions of the Maligne River and waterfalls never freeze which makes for an enchanting winter wonderland experience. The early part of the trail follows the river's edge providing views of crystal clear waters contrasting against a snowy, forested riverbank.
Follow this path until you encounter your first frozen falls. You can't miss it, because it is right in the middle of the trail and creates a seemingly dead end. Unsure of where to go next to get around the waterfall we climbed up a steep slope to return back to the main trail. As it turns out, had we back tracked a bit we would have seen a trail on the righthand side of the river. This trail would have lead us up, around and actually over the fall. As it was, we followed the upper canyon trail for a little bit before finding a location to pop back down to the river at the second falls. These second falls are where the guided tours begin their icewalk.
Overall the Maligne Canyon Icewalk in Jasper National Park is fairly easy. It is common to see families with young children exploring the area as well. Despite much of the canyon floor being wider than it is up top, there are a few challenging sections and tight squeezes. These make for a fun little adventure within an adventure.
Scaling the rock is quite slippery, especially when it is in contact with metal ice cleats. This makes the little scramble up and down it a bit tricky but not impossible. My not very glamorous technique, was to first remove my gloves so that I could get a few good hand holds. Since, it was a nice day so I wasn't worried about the cold. Then I basically crawled up on my knees which worked a whole lot better than the people before me who kept trying to use their ice cleats on the rock. Having some experience rock climbing and knowing a few techniques helped as well.
This is spot presented us with another little challenge and an adventure within adventure on the icewalk. This is when you hope that your ice cleats are good in good condition. Not only are the ice and rocks slippery to get onto the narrow ice bridge, your hand holds are also smooth and slippery ice. Fortunately, it was easier to cross then it looked.
Maligne Canyon is filled with interesting ice formations like these stalagmites and frozen waterfalls. However, the highlight of the icewalk is being able to explore the cave behind a frozen waterfall. From inside the cave the beautiful colours of the frozen waterfall are on highlighted as the sun shines on it. The cave is big enough for several people to stand up inside at once and also has a couple of fun little entrances and exits to make you feel like you spelunking.
Should you choose to do the icewalk, know that you do so at your own risk. If this is a family adventure, be sure to watch the kids. If choosing to hike the ice walk on your own you will need to provide your own equipment and should have some previous experience with winter hiking, especially on ice and near open water.
Be sure to have the proper gear to keep you warm and safe so you can enjoy the experience. Ice cleats are a must, and a hiking pole is a good idea to help with balance and to probe soft spots on the ice before you step on it. Winter gear like snowpants and mitts are important. This it true even on a warm day if you plan on belly crawling through the cave, ice sliding and crawling up and down rocks and ice ledges. Since Maligne Canyon is in Jasper National Park a purchasing a Parks Canada Pass is required.
Although it is possible to do the icewalk without a guide, tours are recommended. The tours provide all the equipment needed to keep you safe and the guides are very knowledgeable about the history and geology of the canyon. There are many different options for Maligne Canyon Icewalk tours. Some packages include lunch at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen or are combined with other adventures like a train ride through the mountains, wildlife viewing and photography tours or a foodie tour in the Jasper townsite.
Jasper is known for its abundant wildlife. In fact, I believe that I have seen wildlife just about everything I have been to Jasper. Over the years we have spotted deer, elk, moose, mountain goats, bears and even otters. Caribou and wolves, marmots, pikas, and lots of birds can also be spotted in the Park. If you dream of seeing wildlife and want a bit more of a guarantee, then you are in luck. There are a number of outfitters and tour groups in Jasper that provide wildlife viewing experiences.
Check back for hours at other times of year.
The Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen also has a gift and coffee shop with grab and go pastries and lunches. Lunch options include dishes like chili, soup, salads, deli style sandwiches, and pastries. The gift shop is filled with local, Canadian and mountain lifestyle products. There is also a large selection of Canadian adventure books.
There's nothing quite like a cold locally crafted beer after spending a day's adventure in the outdoors. We stopped by a favourite spot, Folding Mountain Brewing. It is just outside of the Jasper National Park Gates and 15 minutes from Hinton Alberta. At Folding Mountain, they create some of Alberta's best craft beers, have a fantastic tap house and restaurant all with excellent views of the mountains. Their aim is to be a part of whatever your adventure may be. We are always happy to include Folding Mountain in our adventures.
Maligne Canyon is located in Jasper National Park. It is just about a four hour drive West of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway and is only 11 minutes East from the Town of Jasper.
The icewalk along the bottom of the canyon is only possible during the winter with January through March being the best times. As the river is still flowing underneath the ice it is important to wait until the ice is thick enough. Some years it is possible to hike the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper National Park as early as December or as late as April, but its best to check with the Parks staff or a tour company before heading out during these times.
The icewalk is about 2-3km long and will take about 2-3 hours to complete. It is considered to be an easy to moderate winter hike. There are some trickier spots that require good mobility with steep slopes and rocky or icy ledges to climb up and down from.
The Maligne Canyon Icewalk in Jasper National Park is a magnificent winter adventure that is suitable for both novice and outdoor adventure enthusiasts. The frozen falls and towering canyon walls create a magical experience that is not to be missed. No winter journey to the Canadian Rocky Mountains is complete without exploring Maligne Canyon.
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.
This, to me, is really an adventure with a capital A. Your photos really bring your story to life. I can only imagine this on a sunny winter day. It must be magical.
Thank you Diana, you're feedback means a lot. The Maligne Canyon Icewalk is magical in the winter. The upper canyon trail is amazing year round as well. I hope that you have the opportunity to explore it, maybe next season???