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The Not-To-Be-Missed Maligne Canyon Icewalk in Jasper

Although it’s the end of March and the calendar says spring, it’s still very much a winter wonderland in Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park. We’re here over the Easter weekend to do the not-to-be-missed should you ever be in Jasper in winter – Maligne Canyon Icewalk.

We’ve booked a tour with Maligne Adventures – and though I’m not normally a tour person this one turns out to be incredibly worthwhile; without a tour you’d likely miss the caves (a highlight) and an understanding of what makes the Maligne Canyon Icewalk so special – and in fact unique in North America.

"Walking on a frozen section of the Maligne River"

Our group of eight starts off in Jasper by donning knee high waterproof boots. We’re also handed a pair of ice cleats which we’ll put on once we arrive at Maligne Canyon, only about a 10 minute drive from Jasper.

"Temporary bridge across the Maligne River"

We start the icewalk by walking across a new bridge, put in place after high waters last summer undermined the integrity of a long standing bridge.

And then Chris our guide – starts with the question – Why doesn’t this section of the Maligne River ever freeze? Fortunately we have a kid in the group who is happy to throw out answers. A few adults make suggestions too.

But no one gets the right answer.

"Stalagmites made of ice formed at the entrance to a cave in Maligne Canyon"

Chris our guide explaining how stalagmites made of ice formed at the entrance to a cave

"Vibrant colours in the roof of the cave"

Vibrant colours in the roof of the cave

Here’s the long answer.

Maligne Canyon lies in what is known as karst terrain, characterized by an extensive underground system of caves and fissures formed in limestone rock. The water in the Maligne River that you see flowing through Maligne Canyon comes in part from nearby Medicine Lake. The water supplying Medicine Lake itself is a combination of glacier melt (80%), snow melt (15%) and rainwater (5%).  Medicine Lake drains like a bathtub – at the bottom – and through a network of caves and fissures some of the water reaches the Maligne River. They know this because scientists put a harmless dye in Medicine Lake which in the summer reached the Maligne River in 12 hours. But when the temperatures drop, the Maligne River flow is curtailed and the dye in the winter takes 88 hours to flow underground from Medicine Lake to the Maligne River. Also interesting is that some stretches of the river which are fed by these springs never freeze because the water is coming out of the ground at about 4 degrees Celsius (39F).

"Blue ice falls"

Beautiful ice falls as you head further up the canyon

In summer, the river level is much higher as evidenced by the line of moss showing the high water mark – well above head height. Through the winter, the river level continues to drop and one can see long stretches of stranded ice well above the river bottom. This ice can be quite thick and can create long bridges that are strong enough to be walked upon.

"Standing on a thick slab of ice"

Standing on a thick slab of ice

The Maligne Canyon Icewalk turns out to be much more than just a hike.

Chris leads us into a cave – one that he’s explored to a point most mortals wouldn’t consider – more than 300 metres in from where we squatted. I’m not a cave lover but I have to say once inside it was pretty cool looking out through a layer of ice.

"all you can see is feet sticking out of a cave"

All you can see is feet as we wiggle head first into a cave

"This girl can't wait to go in the cave"

This girl can’t wait to go in the cave

"narrow passage in the canyon"

Hard to imagine the river roaring through here in the summer

"You feel small next to the frozen waterfall"

"Looking up at a frozen icefall"

Looking up at a frozen icefall

On weekends chances are you’ll see ice climbers too; they’re always fun to watch.

"Ice climbers appear on the scene"

Ice climbers appear on the scene

"Ice climber on belay"

Ice climber on belay

"Ice climver working his way up a frozen waterfall"

"Looking up out of the canyon at walls carved by water"

Looking up out of the canyon

Our last adventure in Maligne Canyon took us through a hole behind the frozen waterfall the climbers were on. It was an otherworldly view looking out through layers of ice. To get out we could easily slip through the hole we came in – but it was a lot more fun to slide down an icy ramp.

"The view from behind a frozen waterfall"

The view from behind a frozen waterfall

"Looking up into a frozen waterfall from behind"

Looking up into a frozen waterfall from behind

"Close-up of ice in a frozen waterfall"

"sliding on ice through a cave"

Me – sliding out through a passage from behind a frozen waterfall

The entire Maligne Canyon Icewalk from start to finish in Jasper took three hours. It’s easy and it’s a family friendly activity. The youngster on our trip said the highlight for her was going inside the cave.

"Elk sightings on the way in and out of the canyon"

Elk sightings on the way in and out of the canyon

Reserve well in advance if you plan to go on a weekend. The company we went with offered three tours a day – including an evening tour. The price is $55 for adults and $27.50 for children. It was worth every penny.

Have you ever done the Maligne Canyon Icewalk? 

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 55 Comments

  • Sandy Clinton says:

    This is magnificent, Leigh, and your photography remains breathtaking! xo, Sandy

  • Jeremy Branham says:

    Wow, this is beautiful! A little claustrophobic and cold but awesome!

  • Hi Leigh,
    Oh my God, this is way too interesting. The photos left me breathless – the colorful roof of the cave, standing on thick slab of ice, feet wiggling in, frozen icefall, behind icefall, etc. I enjoyed every bit of it. I’d love to this adventure one day! Thanks for introducing it to me, Leigh!

  • budget jan says:

    Gosh, we have been here in Spring, but this is mind blowingly beautiful. I agree that a tour is probably the best way to see the whole canyon and in particular the caves. The frozen waterfalls alone would make it worthwhile for me! A beautiful post.

    • @Jan We would absolutely have missed the caves and I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have slid out the backend of a frozen waterfall either. Plus the history of the area was fascinating – all because of a guide. We saw some people attempting the icewalk in running shoes. They had to cling to each other and every piece of vegetation they could find.

  • What an incredible walk. Your photos are stunning Leigh and once again I fell as though I am there with you except for being a lot warmer! I would like to think I’d have coped with the cave too. The view from behind the frozen waterfall is so pretty.

    • @Jenny I was reluctant to go into the cave but amazing what a little peer pressure will do. So glad I did as it was a highlight and quite the slippery experience just getting in and out. A great way to spend an Easter weekend.

  • Jackie Smith says:

    Again, I am glad you did the cave for me! Beautiful photos and a reminder that spring comes in many shapes, sizes and temperatures!

  • No I’ve never done this but would NOT miss it if I was in the Japser area! This looks like a wonderful adventure. As usual, your pictures are phenomenal. What a beautiful area!

  • Absolutely beautiful, Leigh. You’re right, it’s not to be missed. I’d even try ice climbing.

    We have karst terrain here in the Cockpit Country. I was supposed to hike there over the Easter weekend but had to postpone the trip as the guide we were supposed to go with — on one of the remote trails – got sick.

    • @Marcia Cockpit Country – I like the name. Hopefully you’ll go back again soon. Limestone certainly provides for some unique features. This ice fall looked bomb proof for top roping so I’d be game. The equipment for ice climbing though is wildly expensive.

  • Bob R says:

    Another excellent trip and suggestion.

  • Sere says:

    What a FUN and FASCINATING hike! I would totally go in the cave. Love the feet picture. I find ice to be fascinating and I have always wanted to do a ice hike. I know that northern Wisconsin has ice caves on Lake Superior that you can hike out to. Eventually I would love to be able to do that. Jasper looks awesome as well! Beautiful sights and pics!

  • Wow! That looks fun! I did glacier ice-climbing in Grindelwald, Switzerland many years ago and would love to try it again.

  • Agness says:

    Never done glacier ice-climbing but it looks like an awesome thing to do. I bet it was freezing. The scenery is just surreal!

    • @Agness It wasn’t that cold actually when we were there but in typical spring fashion the weather right now is very wintry and it would still be a great time to go. Agreed about the scenery.

  • What a great excursion! I love this and it looks so much fun despite climbing through some claustrophobic places. Beautiful pictures of the frozen waterfalls and especially the hole behind the frozen waterfall. All that looks surreal or something like you’d see in Superman’s home planet :) Yet another reason to visit your part of Canada soon.

  • Krista says:

    Hi Leigh :-) I found your blog through your comment on Jan’s interview of me this week. :-) I love these images of Jasper!! I grew up in Canada and have so many good memories of hiking around Jasper. What a stunningly beautiful place. :-)

  • Salika Jay says:

    The frozen waterfall is amazing, especially looking at it from behind the icefalls. Beautiful photos, Leigh!

  • Lisa says:

    I have always wanted to do this but I’m not sure that I’ll ever get to Alberta at the right time of the year! The frozen waterfall is incredible!

  • Awe-inspiring (would have said “awesome,” but that word has become so trite and there’s nothing trivial about these. Great photos!

  • Denise says:

    That’s a very easy no for me (in terms of squeezing through such small gaps), but I love the scenery shown in these photos and would really enjoy visiting. It looks magical.

  • What an amazing winter wonderland. I’ve explored ice caves on Lake Superior before, but it comes nowhere close to being as cool as these.

  • Outstanding photographs, Leigh. No argument from me. Maligne Canyon is a spectacular experience for several levels and types of recreation. Your photographs of chandelier ice are reminiscent of ice climbs a few years back. Tough on the knuckles but still an excellent climb. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • I was really admiring your pictures of the ice falls from the outside, but then the ones taken from behind the falls really blew me away. It looks like something from an otherworldly movie set. What an exciting hike this must have been. Is it hard to hike with knee-high waterproof boots?

  • jill says:

    Just gorgeous!! We’ll be in the area in July, I’m assuming it’ll be impassable except on a raft during that time? We’d really love to see this place.

  • Your ice walk is amazing! Love the colors of the rocks and the beauty of it all! Beautiful photos.

  • Ayelet - All Colores says:

    To be honest, I have no idea how I’ll be able to manage Canada’s winter. When we have 13 degrees C here, we think it’s freezing. However, I really want to take this hike one day. Canada as a whole seems like a spectacular winter wonderland.

  • David Rong says:

    The Maligne Canyon Ice walk pictures are awesome. I was there in summer, and I believe your pictures are much better than mine. I’d like to ask your consent for me to use the 13th picture (from top) in my “Canadian Rockies Tour Guide”, which is an App to be posted on Android. If you agree I will buy it, or pay royalty to you.
    Thanks!

    David Rong

  • These photos are stunning! Even though we’re from Canada, we’ve never done anything like this. I love the area around Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise. Next time I’m home, I’m going to look into this!

    Cheers

  • Thanks for another fantastic post Leigh. I did this walk many years ago and it remains a highlight. Your stunning photos really bring back special memories. Loving your blog. Jane

    • @Jane I’m so glad to hear you have visited my pat of the world. I think the Maligne Canyon Icewalk over-delivered on scenery.

      • Tracey says:

        Finally went on the Ice walk this past weekend. We are in Jasper a lot-usually skiing. So very glad we took the day to do this tour. Had the same guide, “Chris” was just great!! I will go again for sure. I can also say it is a bucket list activity. Nature is so beautiful, you just have to slow down to take it in.

      • @Tracey Isn’t it a fabulous outing and I really think going with a guide – which I am usually loather to do – adds so much to the experience.

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