This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.
Maligne Canyon is a dramatic and beautiful natural wonder in the heart of Jasper National Park. The epic power of the Maligne River has carved out a stunning canyon with walls of limestone that are over 50 meters (165 feet) deep in places!
With its impressive rock formations, blue-green water, and numerous springs and waterfalls, it’s no wonder that Maligne Canyon is one of Jasper National Park’s most visited natural attractions.
You can explore the area via a walking trail that includes several bridges over the canyon itself, and you can easily just tackle a short section of the trail if you’re not up for 2-3 hours of walking. You can also do an icewalk through the frozen canyon during the winter, which is an incredible experience! In fact, I’ve done both, and sorry summer, but winter is my favorite time to visit Maligne Canyon!
This beautiful canyon really is a must-visit when in the Canadian Rockies, and it’s open all year round! That’s why we’ve put together this guide about the 13 things you need to know beforehand so that you can enjoy some of the most incredible scenery that Jasper National Park has to offer.
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 ft) 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, especially during the summer, such as elk, sheep, caribou, and even bears.
Given how beautiful the canyon is, the name “Maligne” (which means evil or ill-fated) seems pretty wide of the mark. 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 the Maligne Canyon, because its incredible beauty has made it one of the most famous spots in the Canadian Rockies. It freezes over every winter, transforming into an ethereal wonderland filled with ice formations and frozen waterfalls. During the winter, you can actually do the Maligne Canyon icewalk through the bottom of the frozen canyon itself rather than hiking around at the top.
You can easily explore the canyon on foot all year round (although you will need snowshoes 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.
Related Read: If you want to ensure you see the local wildlife, consider joining one of the fun wildlife tours in Jasper!
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. How do you get to Maligne Canyon?
If you’ve got your own wheels, then the easiest way to get to Maligne Canyon from Jasper is to drive yourself, which takes between 10-15 minutes. There are parking lots next to the 1st, 5th, and 6th bridges, so you can park up at one of them and then hit the trails. There’s plenty of space to park, and it’s free!
You can also hike to Maligne Canyon from Jasper town center. If you’re going to do this, we recommend starting at the 5th or 6th bridges, as these are the closest to town. It should take you about two hours each way to walk, plus however long you spend exploring the canyon.
You can also cycle from Jasper to Maligne Canyon. It should take you about 50 minutes to cycle the 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) to the 1st bridge. For a shorter journey, head to the 5th or 6th bridge, both of which are roughly 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away and take around 35 minutes to reach on two wheels.
And of course, you can always take a tour of this iconic canyon. There are guided hikes available, which are great if you’re nervous about doing it independently. It’s definitely advisable to take a tour if you want to do the ice walk on the frozen canyon water during the winter.
4. How long is the Maligne Canyon Hike?
It’s 3.7 kilometers (2.3 miles) from the 1st to the 6th canyon bridge, so it takes 1-2 hours each way, depending on your pace and how often you stop to snap photos. If you walk the whole trail out and back you’ll be walking 7.4 kilometers (4.6 miles) in total, so budget around half a day for this.
You can also just do a certain section of the hike if you don’t want to tackle the whole thing in one go. Some visitors park at the main entrance and only go as far as the first bridge. The great thing about the Maligne Canyon Hike is that you can turn back at pretty much any point, so it really is up to you.
The first four bridges are fairly close together, and it only takes around 15-30 minutes to walk from the first to the fourth bridge, depending on how long you stop to soak in the views. The fifth bridge is another 15 minutes on, and then the sixth bridge is another 35 minutes away on foot.
If you don’t want to do the whole hike but do want to make the most of your time here, we recommend going from the first to the fourth bridge, as this is the most beautiful section anyway. You could do this in around an hour, with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.
5. How difficult is the Maligne Canyon Hike?
All in all, the Maligne Canyon hike is fairly easy (in the summer, that is). It’s very accessible for most people as there’s no climbing or scrambling involved. In fact, when you head from the first to the fifth and sixth bridges, you’ll be going downhill, which is nice. However, unless you’re getting picked up from one of those parking lots rather than heading back to your starting point, bear in mind that what goes down must come back up!
With that said, the climb isn’t very steep and whenever we visit, we see people of all ages and fitness levels out enjoying the trail.
There are about a dozen sets of stairs along the trail, which you’ll be going down on your way from the first bridge to the sixth bridge, and climbing up if you’re going in the opposite direction. If walking up stairs is an issue for you, we recommend starting at the first bridge and trying to get picked up from the sixth bridge parking lot, rather than hiking back again. Guided hikes are handy for this!
6. Do you have to hike the entire trail at Maligne Canyon?
Nope! In fact, we think that one of the best things about Maligne Canyon is that you don’t have to do it all in one go. You have a lot of flexibility in terms of where you start your hike, and how far you go before turning back.
Most people tend to park at the 1st bridge, which is the most popular entrance – you could even call it the “main” entrance. From there, you can choose how far along the canyon you want to hike. Lots of people only walk to the first bridge to check out the view before turning back, but we like to go all the way to the fourth bridge, because in our opinion this is the most beautiful section of the trail.
We’re not saying that it’s not worth going to the fifth and sixth bridges, but the river widens and the trail flattens out there. The most dramatic views are along the first section of the trail, and the first four bridges are fairly close together.
The fifth and sixth bridges both have their own parking lots, so you can start here if you prefer. If you do want to do the whole trail, it’s actually nice to start at one of these lots, because the views get better and the river gets more powerful as you go. Plus, there are far fewer people along this section of the trail.
If you don’t have a ton of hiking experience and are nervous about going alone, there are guided hikes of Maligne Canyon available, like this one!
With that said, those visiting in winter, will need to hike down the canyon until you reach the entrance to the canyon floor if you want to do the icewalk. That’s where you’ll find the gate into the canyon (more on that later!).
Related Read: You can also choose between different hikes to see the incredible Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper!
7. What is the best guided hiking tour at Maligne Canyon?
If you want to join a guided hike of Maligne Canyon rather than going by yourself, then we think that this tour is the best option. There’s a maximum of 10 participants, so you won’t be part of a massive swarm of tourists, and you can spend more time getting to know your fellow participants and your guide, or just enjoying the trail in peace.
We also think that this is a good opportunity to learn more about the canyon’s history, geology, and wildlife. To us, it’s one of the best tours on offer in Jasper.
For $72 CAD, this tour also includes a free return shuttle ride from Jasper. You’ll be dropped off by the main entrance, which is next to the first bridge, and then hike to the fifth bridge before being picked up and taken right back to your hotel. This means that you get to enjoy what we think is the most beautiful section of the hike, without having to worry about trekking back uphill again. And, if necessary, the tour company will also provide you with footwear and ice cleats!
You can check availability and book this guided hike in Maligne Canyon online here!
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.
8. What is the difference between the Maligne Canyon Hike and the Maligne Canyon Icewalk?
The Maligne Canyon hike is a trail involving a network of bridges that goes all around the and over the canyon. You can do this all year round, although you will need snowshoes and microspikes during the winter when there’s snow and ice on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Maligne Canyon icewalk can only be done in the winter. This is because you actually get to walk along the bottom of the canyon on the surface of the frozen water! It really is an insane experience, and one that we highly recommend if you’re in Jasper during the winter.
The Maligne Canyon hike is fairly easy to do independently, although guided hikes are available if you’re nervous about hiking alone, and we think this is a good option for people who don’t have a lot of hiking experience or only want to hike one way.
Meanwhile, it’s best to do the ice walk as part of a tour as it’s more of an adventurous and risky experience, and you’ll need safety equipment.
9. 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: December is also a nice time to visit Jasper!
10. 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 are 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 ice walk 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 ice walk 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 ice walk 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.
11. What is the best guided Ice Walk in Maligne Canyon?
Unless you’re an icewalking pro, we definitely think it’s best to go on a guided ice walk in Maligne Canyon, and this tour is our top choice! We think that it’s great value for money at $74 CAD per person, and it also includes hotel pick up and drop off, your guide, and all of your safety equipment, including your boots. So if you don’t already have crampons, snow boots, and a helmet, then the tour is probably cheaper than buying them all anyway!
This is also a small group tour, so it’s a much more friendly and personal experience. Personally, we wouldn’t really want to head out onto the ice as part of a massive herd.
This guided hike allows you to experience the magic of the frozen Maligne Canyon in a safe and educational way. You’ll head downhill through the canyon itself and observe the fascinating ice formations and sculptured walls as you go, and you’ll learn more about the area as whole, including the mysterious Medicine Lake, which disappears every winter as part of a crazy natural phenomenon.
You can check all details and book our recommended icewalk tour online here!
12. How much does it cost to visit Maligne Canyon?
Once you’re inside Jasper National Park, Maligne Canyon is free to visit. There’s no fee to park there or hike between the bridges, unless you want to do a guided hike or ice walk.
However, to be inside Jasper National Park, you will need a Parks Pass, the prices for which are as follows:
- $10.50 CAD for adults per person per day
- $9 CAD for over 65s
- Free for anyone under 18
- $21 CAD per day for up to 7 adults traveling in the same vehicle
A Parks Pass is valid from the date of purchase until 4 pm the next day, so you can get two days of use out of a single pass. If you’re spending a while exploring the Rockies, then you might also want to weigh up the cost of purchasing a Discovery Pass, which is valid for a year across all of the national parks in the country.
A Discovery Pass costs:
- $72.25 CAD for adults per person
- $61.75 CAD for senior citizens
- Free for under 18s
- $145.25 CAD for up to 7 adults in the same car (best value for families or groups who will spend a few days in national parks)
13. Is visiting Maligne Canyon worth it?
Yes, absolutely! It really is one of the most beautiful places in Jasper National Park, and we love the fact that you can hike around for as long as little as you want. In our opinion, it’s a must-visit! Plus, it’s close to the town of Jasper itself, so it’s really accessible and easy to get to.
Related Read: While you’re in town, be sure to visit a few of the best restaurants in Jasper!
Other Activities to do while you’re in Jasper
Jasper National Park is just filled with fun things to do and see! So besides visiting Maligne Lake, there are a few other activities that we recommend that you check off your to-do list. They are:
- Whitewater rafting – Jasper is one of the best places in Alberta to go whitewater rafting with a few different rivers nearby. For an adrenaline-filled rafting experience complete with class 3 rapids, opt for this rafting tour. It has nearly all 5-star reviews and costs $123 CAD per person. For something a little calmer and family-friendly but just as highly rated, choose this scenic rafting experience for only $85 CAD each.
- Spirit Island – Maligne Lake is arguably the most famous lake in Jasper National Park. At Maligne Lake you can hike, canoe on the lake, or eat at a lakeside restaurant. However, the best activity at the lake is this scenic Maligne Lake Cruise which takes you out on the water for the best vantage point. The cruise also takes you to the famous Spirit Island, which is so picture-perfect that you’ve likely seen it on Instagram before.
- 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 the Columbia Icefield. If you’ve ever wanted to walk on a glacier, you can do that at the Columbia Icefield on this guided hiking tour that takes you onto Athabasca Glacier. If you aren’t much of a hiker, join this bus tour onto the glacier instead – you’ll still stand on the glacier but no hiking is required!
- 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 makes it a great place to stay. They offer budget dorm beds as well as affordable private rooms.
Patricia Lake Bungalows (Moderate Budget)
Patricia Lake Bungalows are a great place to stay if you want a comfortable stay for a reasonable price. There are some standard rooms as well as some units with kitchenettes. There is a hot tub on-site as well as a playground for children and the location is close to town, but far enough that it is quiet and relaxing.
You can check prices and book Patricia Lake Bungalows on Booking.com.
Whistlers Inn (Moderate to High 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 (pictured above) – need I say more?
You can check prices and availability on Booking.com.
Pyramid Lake Resort (Luxury)
This place 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!
You can check availability and book on Booking.com.
For more detailed info on the best hotels and areas to stay in Jasper, read our blog!
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.
Thanks for reading!
Trust us, Maligne Canyon is easily one of the best activities in Jasper. No matter the weather, it’s a great experience for the whole family.
We hope this blog has answered any questions you might have about visiting Maligne Canyon, and if not, feel free to comment below and we will get back to you!
Be sure to also check out our other blogs about Jasper National Park include a few related reads below: