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There are few places more beautiful than the Canadian Rockies once the snow falls and Jasper National Park in winter is in the middle of it all! It’s a haven for winter activities, from hitting the slopes to snowshoeing around Maligne Lake or taking an icewalk through Maligne Canyon, Jasper becomes a completely different world once it freezes over.
Instead of trying to escape the cold of winter, embrace it and head outside! My favorite Jasper winter tour is the Maligne Canyon Icewalk. It freezes over every winter, transforming into a winter wonderland filled with ice formations and frozen waterfalls.
As the deepest canyon that’s accessible to adventurers, a winter hike means you get to walk at the bottom of the canyon and see the most incredible frozen sights, far different than exploring during the summer.
We have done the Maligne Canyon Icewalk a handful of times, and plan on doing it again! While you are visiting Jasper in the winter, this needs to be added to your itinerary. Here are our top tips about taking the Maligne Canyon Icewalk, so throw on your ice cleats and parka and head into the snow!
Don’t have time to read the full article? Venture into a world of frozen waterfalls and ice by exploring Maligne Canyon in the winter. You can hike it on your own, but this Maligne Canyon tour takes care of everything you need including boots and crampons!
1. About Maligne Canyon
Maligne Canyon is the deepest (and arguably the most beautiful) canyon in Jasper National Park. In fact, it’s up to 55 meters (180 feet) deep in some places, and over 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) long. The limestone from which the canyon is carved is thought to be over 365 million years old, making it older than the dinosaurs!
The walls of the canyon are embedded with fossils, which are really cool to see. There’s also plenty of wildlife around to spot, such as elk, sheep, caribou, and even bears.
Given how beautiful the canyon is, the name “Maligne” (which means evil or ill-fated) doesn’t seem very well-suited. However, the story goes that the canyon was given this name by a ticked-off missionary who lost his horses to the rushing waters of the Maligne River in the 19th century. Obviously, that experience didn’t exactly endear him to the canyon!
His misfortune didn’t put others off visiting, though, and a bridge was built across the canyon to help visitors explore in 1914. Today, there are six bridges in total and even an equestrian trail, so it seems that the fate of the missionary’s horses has not endured.
People flock from far and wide to explore Maligne Canyon, because its incredible beauty has made it one of the most famous spots in the Canadian Rockies.
You can easily explore the canyon on foot all year round (although you will need snowshoes or crampons in the winter) and you can tailor your route to your own timeframe and fitness level, so exploring this stunning natural attraction doesn’t have to mean trekking for hours. Winter also allows you to complete the icewalk to the bottom of the frozen canyon, rather than hiking to the top.
2. Where is Maligne Canyon?
Maligne Canyon is located in Jasper National Park, and it’s actually pretty close to the town of Jasper itself. It’s roughly 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the town center to the main entrance, so if you’re driving yourself, you can get there in under 15 minutes.
There are a couple of different options as to which route you take when exploring Maligne Canyon, but most visitors park at the main entrance, which is close to the 1st bridge, and choose to start and end their hike here. You can also start at the 5th or 6th bridge instead, as both have parking lots right next to them.
3. What is the Maligne Canyon Icewalk?
The wonderful thing about visiting Jasper National Park in the winter is that certain activities are only accessible during this time of year. Canada is well accustomed to the ice and snow, and instead of hiding from the weather, people flock to it!
The Maligne Canyon Icewalk is the perfect example of Canada’s multi-season outdoor recreation scene, as it is one of the best hikes during the summer and my favorite icewalk in the winter!
Once winter hits, the once powerfully flowing rivers and hiking trails get covered in snow and ice. So instead of hiking along the trails that suspend above the canyon, you can go deep into its crevices for a completely new perspective. An icewalk is just as the name sounds, a hike on the ice. If you’re equipped with crampons, warm clothes, and trekking poles, walking on the ice isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds!
While there are a few notable ice walks in the Banff and Jasper area, such as the Grotto Canyon Icewalk or Johnston Canyon Icewalk, Maligne Canyon is by far the most impressive. It is the deepest canyon in Jasper, 55 meters (180 feet) deep in some parts, so the frozen walls tower over as you walk along the canyon floor. You’ll find frozen waterfalls, ice caves, and intricate ice formations – I am always amazed at how these occur naturally!
You can spend 2-3 hours exploring the Maligne Canyon Icewalk, and it’s an activity you can come back to year after year. The ice formations change each year because it’s all a naturally occurring phenomenon, so it’s an adventure even if you’ve taken this icewalk multiple times as we have!
4. When can you do the Maligne Canyon Icewalk?
Exact dates change from year to year, as the water inside the canyon needs to be thoroughly frozen in order for you to do the icewalk. However, it’s usually available from mid-December until mid-March, which is the height of Canadian winter. So if the Maligne Canyon icewalk is at the very top of your bucket list, it’s best to visit Jasper in January or February.
Related Read: If you’re planning a Jasper trip over the holidays, check out our full guide on visiting Jasper in December!
5. What is the best Maligne Canyon Icewalk tour?
We love this Maligne Canyon Icewalk tour because it takes care of all the details for you. This is especially great if you’re not from Canada and aren’t accustomed to the snowy and icy conditions. But even as a local, I’d rather take a tour because of how easy it makes a day of adventuring!
This 3-hour tour of Maligne Canyon includes transportation from your hotel in Jasper, so if driving in the snow scares you, don’t worry about it! They also provide ice cleats, boots, and a helmet – I wasn’t kidding when I said they take care of all the details!
Once you get to Maligne Canyon, you’ll spend a few hours descending into the canyon, walking across the frozen river, and checking out the winter wonderland. Having a local guide is helpful, as they point out ice caves and frozen waterfalls, and can describe the geology behind certain rock/ice formations. It’s a day of exploration and information! We also like that this tour can accommodate up to 12 people, so you can share this experience with other outdoor enthusiasts, but it’s still a nice, small group.
You’ll want to dress warmly for this tour, and be sure to pack some water and snacks. Otherwise, the tour guides provide all equipment, transportation, and knowledge! This tour is available from mid-December to mid-March. It can be reserved in advance for $74 CAD and there’s a morning and afternoon time to choose from.
I recommend booking this tour in advance, as the season is limited. Maligne Canyon is by far the best icewalk in Canada, so don’t miss out on this adventure!
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
6. Do you need a tour to do the Maligne Canyon Icewalk?
A tour is not necessarily required for the Maligne Canyon icewalk, but we do recommend it. Icewalk tours like this one are super affordable, and it’s much easier and safer to go as part of a tour, so we think it’s definitely worth it.
For one thing, you’ll have a professional to guide you when you do the icewalk as part of a tour. For another, it saves you from having to buy safety gear like a helmet and crampons, as the tour company will provide this for you. (When we did it a helmet wasn’t required, but nowadays, tours all provide helmets to protect from potential falling ice).
If you’ve already got all of the necessary safety gear and want to do the icewalk independently, then you need to check the conditions with the Jasper Visitor Centre before you go. The ice needs to reach a certain thickness before you can do the icewalk safely, so just because the canyon water is frozen doesn’t mean it’s okay to walk on it! And obviously, tours will only run when the conditions are right.
Related Read: There are tons of amazing guided experiences in Jasper! Check out our list of the top 10 tours in Jasper for more ideas!
7. How long is the Maligne Canyon Icewalk?
One of the best parts about visiting Maligne Canyon in the winter is that you can hike for as long as you want, as it’s an out-and-back trail. The usual route is about 3-3.5 kilometers (about 2 miles) which takes you to the most impressive ice formations and frozen waterfalls. We typically spend about 2-3 hours, which is the perfect amount of time to enjoy the beautiful outdoors before getting too cold!
You’ll want to have a moderate fitness level for the Maligne Canyon Icewalk. The first part is all downhill, but you will have to walk out of the canyon at the end. It’s a bit trickier with ice cleats than just regular hiking, but most people shouldn’t have an issue with this trail!
8. Is the Maligne Canyon Icewalk worth it?
Yes, we love trekking along the Maligne Canyon Icewalk and have done it multiple times! It is the best icewalk in Canada, even better than the Grotto Canyon Icewalk in the Banff/Canmore area. It is also less crowded than Grotto Canyon, so if you go on a weekday you might even be the only one taking the icewalk and can enjoy the frozen canyon all to yourself!
Other Activities to do While You’re in Jasper
Jasper National Park is filled with fun things to do and see! So besides visiting Maligne Canyon, there are a few other activities that we recommend you try.
- Stargaze and see the Northern Lights – Did you know Jasper National Park is one of the official Dark Sky Reserves? This means it’s ideal for seeing stars and the planets! Winter is also the best time for stargazing and your chance to see the Northern Lights since it is dark for so many more hours. This Planetarium and Telescope tour is the best way for you to get a closer look!
- Drive the Icefields Parkway – The Icefields Parkway is the super scenic stretch of road that connects Jasper with Lake Louise. There are tons of attractions on the Icefields Parkway including hikes, stunning blue lakes like Peyto Lake, as well as waterfalls that are frozen in the winter (Athabasca Falls, Tangle Creek Falls, and Sunwapta Falls, to name a couple).
- Winter wildlife tour – Spotting wildlife isn’t just for the summer, in fact, you can see a range of interesting wildlife in winter, too. On this winter wildlife tour your expert guide knows where to look and will also provide tons of info about the animals and the area.
- Visit Pyramid Lake – Pyramid Lake is a calm lake that offers reflections of the surrounding mountains including the symmetrical Pyramid Mountain. In the summer, you can swim, hike, canoe, and SUP on the lake. In winter, go ice skating or ride in a horse-drawn sleigh. For an extra special treat, spend the night lakeside at the Pyramid Lake Resort.
Where to Stay in Jasper
When compared to Banff (and the dozens of hotels in Banff), there actually aren’t that many to choose from in Jasper. That’s right, accommodation in Jasper is limited, and therefore it’s important to book your stay as far in advance as possible!
Here, I’ve handpicked some of my personal favorite hotels in Jasper suitable for any type of traveler with any type of budget!
Jasper Downtown Hostel (Budget Backpackers) – $
Jasper Downtown Hostel is the best place to stay for those on a tight budget. The central location, shared facilities, and friendly atmosphere make it a great place to stay. They offer budget dorm beds as well as affordable private rooms. Dorms start around $45 CAD per night and private rooms begin at $117 CAD a night.
You can book Jasper Downtown Hostel on Booking.com here.
Whistlers Inn (Moderate Budget) – $$
Whistlers Inn is the perfect place to stay if you are looking for a nice escape right in town and only a short walk from popular bars, restaurants, and attractions in Jasper. They also have a rooftop hot tub to relax in after a long day. Room prices start at $199 CAD when you book ahead.
You can check prices and availability online here.
Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge (Moderate to High Budget) – $$
Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge is the perfect place to stay for a wilderness escape in Jasper National Park. Although the lodge is right along the Icefields Parkway, it’s clean, quiet, and surrounded by nature. It’s also right across the road from Sunwapta Falls, so you’ll be able to walk to the viewpoint and hike to the lower falls.
Rooms start at $242 CAD and can accommodate between 2 – 4 adults. You can check prices and availability for Sunwapta Lodge online here.
Pyramid Lake Resort (Luxury) – $$$
Pyramid Lake Resort is beautiful, and it is set in an even more beautiful location! Pyramid Lake is the perfect place for hiking, swimming, kayaking, or even skating in the winter. Pyramid Lake Resort doesn’t cut any corners, and it’s a highly-rated hotel. It’s also a popular place to stay for those visiting Jasper on a honeymoon!
But despite being so luxurious, you can find awesome deals. We’ve seen prices as low as $162 CAD a night when you book ahead online!
Parks Canada Pass Quick Info
If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.
Single Daily Admission:
This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.
- Adult (ages 18-64) is $10.50 CAD
- Senior (65+) is $9.00 CAD
- Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE
Group Daily Admission:
If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)
- $21.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.
- Adult (age 18-64) – $72.25 CAD
- Senior (64+) – $61.75 CAD
- Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $145.25 CAD
Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!
Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.
Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Thanks for reading!
I hope you’re all set for an epic winter adventure with the Maligne Canyon Icewalk! This is one of my favorite spots to explore in Jasper National Park – especially once it’s frozen over. Even though you can see your breath here in the cold, it’s still breathtaking!
While you plan your winter trip to the Rockies, make sure to browse our other blogs about Canada! We’ve written a ton about exploring some of the best places in all different seasons. Here are a few related reads to get you started: