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11 Things to KNOW about Visiting Spirit Island in Jasper

11 Things to KNOW about Visiting Spirit Island in Jasper

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Spirit Island in Jasper is one of the most iconic and breathtaking sights in the Canadian Rockies – and trust us, that’s not an easy title to claim! 

However, with its stunning backdrop of mountains, towering trees, and shimmering waters, it’s easy to see why Spirit Island is one of the most photographed places in the world. In fact, big companies like Apple and Kodak have even used its scenery in commercials!

We’ve visited Spirit Island a couple of times now, and it is always as beautiful as we remember. My mom even has one of our photos of Spirit Island hanging on a wall in her house.

As is so often the case with rare and beautiful places, Spirit Island isn’t super accessible (in fact there’s only one cruise you can take!) but it’s actually pretty easy to reach when you know how. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you plan your visit to Spirit Island and make sure that you snap those coveted photos of this majestic spot.

1. About Spirit Island

A canoe at Spirit Island, Maligne Lake, Canada
Just stunning!
Bailey walks the dock at Spirit Island on Maligne Lake, Canada
Spirit Island isn’t the only attraction!

Spirit Island is a small but spectacular island found in Jasper National Park. It sits in the middle of a large, azure lake, against a dramatic mountain backdrop. 

It’s a tied island, which means that it’s attached to the mainland by a sandbar, and we’re not lying when we say that it really is the kind of place that takes your breath away (cue the ‘Top Gun’ theme song…)

In fact, you can only take a boat out to Spirit Island during the summer months when the water levels rise due to snow melt and separate it from the mainland.

As you might guess from the name, Spirit Island holds great spiritual significance for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, who believe that the mountains are physical manifestations of their ancestors. The island is surrounded by the same mountain range on its north, east, and west sides, and therefore is considered to be a very powerful and sacred place.

There’s also a sad but beautiful story about Spirit Island. A young man and woman met on the island and fell deeply in love, but they belonged to rival tribes and had to keep their relationship a secret. They continued to meet on the island, until the girl came clean to her father and he banned her from ever returning.

Her lover carried on visiting in the hopes that he would see her again, but he never did. Eventually, he died on the island, and according to Stoney Nakoda folklore, his spirit still roams the island searching for his lost love. (Someone pass the tissues!)

Of course, due to the significance of the island, you aren’t allowed to actually walk onto Spirit Island. But you can admire it from the main shore, which is the best vantage point anyways if you ask us!

2. Where is Spirit Island?

A boat sits at the dock at Spirit Island, Jasper National Park
Spirit Island is in Maligne Lake!

Spirit Island sits about halfway along Maligne Lake, a long, narrow alpine lake within Jasper National Park in the Alberta Rockies. The name sounds kind of ominous, but the lake is actually super calm and beautiful.

The island sits around 14 kilometers (8.7) miles from the docks at the edge of the lake, and about 65 kilometers (40 miles) from Jasper town in total. So although it feels super remote, it’s not actually that far removed from civilization in the grand scheme of things!

From Jasper, it’s less than an hour’s drive to Maligne Lake, and therefore visiting Spirit Island is considered one of the very best things to do in Jasper.

3. How do you get to Spirit Island?

A boat travels to Spirit Island on a cruise from Maligne Lake, Jasper
It’s either a canoe or a boat!
A person canoes around Spirit Island on Maligne Lake, Canada
The canoe trip is long!

First, you’ll need to travel to Maligne Lake. You can drive there from Jasper in around 50 minutes, or join one of our recommended tours in Jasper if you don’t have your own wheels. We thought that it was a pretty easy journey and along the way you’ll pass by Medicine Lake, which is also very beautiful

Once you reach Maligne Lake, the only way to access Spirit Island is via the water, which means that you can’t hike there. There’s only one cruise that you can take, and visitor numbers are limited to protect the island’s fragile ecosystem and natural beauty. 

Boats run from 10 am until 4 pm between June and early September, so it’s one of those summer-only activities in Jasper. It’s a 90-minute round trip to Spirit Island from the boat dock on Maligne Lake. We were actually a little surprised by how quick the whole experience was! 

Or, if you’re feeling active and adventurous, you can kayak out to see Spirit Island – but you’ll need more than 90 minutes for this! 

You can rent a kayak from Maligne Lake Boat Rentals, which costs $190 CAD for a single kayak or $205 CAD for a double. It takes 4-5 hours each way, so it’s not exactly a short trip (be ready for sore arms), but you’ll have loads of time to soak up the spectacular views.

It will take you a full day to paddle there and back, so it’s best to set off early if you want to do it in a single day. Or, you can head to Fisherman’s Bay campsite, which is around 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from Spirit Island and has amazing views. There are only 6 sites, so you’ll need to reserve a spot well in advance through the Parks Canada website. This is a really awesome way to see Spirit Island if you’ve got the time.

Related Read: Heading to Lake Louise next? Check out the best stops on the drive between Jasper and Lake Louise!

4. Can you walk on Spirit Island?

Bailey walks the pathway along the shores of Maligne Lake looking out at Spirit Island
The entire area is stunning!
Bailey poses for a photo at Maligne Lake looking over at Spirit Island
I could stare for hours!

No, you can’t walk on Spirit Island since it’s a sacred place for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation and it also has a very delicate ecosystem.

However, we thought that the views from the water were pretty amazing, and if you travel to Spirit Island with the cruise, it will also dock next to a short trail that leads to a viewpoint. The trail is only around 300 meters long so it can barely be considered a hike, but it’s the ideal spot to snap some photos of the island. You’ll have some time to explore the trail and take photos before heading back on the cruise.

If you kayak to Spirit Island, then you’ll be able to view it from different angles and have a good look around, but you still can’t go ashore.

5. What can you expect on the Maligne Lake Cruise that visits Spirit Island?

View of a glacier from the window of a cruise to Spirit island in Jasper National Park
View of a glacier from the window of a cruise to Spirit Island in Jasper National Park

The cruise to Spirit Island is a pretty short and sweet experience, lasting around 90 minutes in total, so it’s easy to fit into a busy day exploring Jasper.

When you get to Maligne Lake, you’ll see plenty of signage for the parking lot. Once you’ve parked up, follow the walkway through the forest which will take you to the edge of the lake where the ticket office and boathouse are. Boats depart from here roughly once an hour, usually on the hour, between 10 am – 4 pm.

On the boat, there’s informative commentary about the area as well as an insight into the history and importance of Spirit Island, as well as the lake’s ecology and wildlife, so it’s worth paying attention! We’re nature lovers, so we found this super interesting. Otherwise, you’re just looking at pretty views – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s always good to learn something new.

The boats are glass-enclosed and heated so that you’ll stay nice and warm, since it can get chilly out on the lake, but you’ll still be able to take in the views. There’s food and drink available for purchase if you get peckish, but since the cruise is only 1.5 hours long, we managed to hold out.

Halfway through the cruise, you’ll dock next to the trail to the viewpoint, which is only around 300 meters long. You’ll have about 15 minutes to walk to the lookout point and snap some photos. While we did wish we had a little longer to soak up the beautiful views of Spirit Island, it’s still a really cool experience and we certainly scored those incredible pics!

If you want more detailed info, check out our review of the Maligne Lake Cruise before you go!

Cruise tickets cost $89 CAD. After you’ve reserved your ticket, you can use it for any time slot on your chosen date. You should book your ticket online in advance here.

6. Can you visit Spirit Island all year round?

Tall mountain and a canoe on Maligne Lake near Spirit Island
In winter, the lake freezes over!

No, the cruises to Spirit Island are only open from June to September (weather dependent) as Maligne Lake freezes over in the winter. In fact, the entire Maligne Lake shuts down in winter and although you can still visit, it is often a ghost town.

Not to worry, though. There are plenty of other cool things to do in Jasper in winter!

7. How much does it cost to visit Spirit Island?

Bailey looks over at Spirit Island on the boardwalk at Maligne Lake, Canada
The trip was worth every penny!

The total cost of visiting Spirit Island depends on a few different factors, so let us break it down for you.

The Maligne Lake Cruise costs $89 CAD. This includes all taxes, dock, and boat fees, but not food and drink or hotel pick-up and drop-off. Meanwhile, kayak rental will cost you $190 CAD for a single or $205 CAD for a double.

However, you’ll also need the Canada Parks Pass to enter Jasper National Park in the first place, and since this is where you’ll find Spirit Island, there’s no way around this. A Parks Pass is valid from the day you buy it until 4 pm the next day, so if you’re clever about it, you can get two days of exploring out of it.

It costs $11 CAD per person per day, and is free for under 17s. You can also buy a group pass for $22 CAD, and this covers up to 7 people in a single car, so this could really save you some money if you’re traveling with several other people – cha ching!

Side bar: If you’re spending over a week traveling through the Canadian Rockies, the Annual Pass might be a better bet. It’s $75.25 CAD per person, or $151.25 CAD for a group pass. But for the sake of our calculations here, we’re going to assume you’ll be purchasing the daily pass.

Related Read: While in town, be sure to check out some of the best cafes in Jasper.

8. What are the best tours from Jasper that visit Spirit Island?

Bailey sits on the dock looking out over Maligne Lake on the tour to Spirit Island, Jasper National Park
Sitting in paradise!

Jasper National Park Tour: Maligne Valley, Medicine Lake and Spirit Island

This 6-hour tour will show you all of the highlights of Jasper National Park, including Maligne Gorge (the park’s deepest and most dramatic canyon), Medicine Lake (which disappears every year!) and of course, Spirit Island. 

There are plenty of short walks throughout the tour during which you’ll have a chance to spot some of the park’s best wildlife, including the indisputably iconic moose! It’s easily one of the best wildlife tours offered in Jasper.

Hotel pickup and drop-off is included, which is super convenient, and your guide will share lots of interesting information with you, so if you’re keen to learn as much as you can, then we really recommend this tour. There are two options available, so be sure to choose the one that includes the boat tour to Spirit Island, rather than the guided hike. You can book online here.

Jasper Wildlife and Waterfalls Tour with Maligne Lake Cruise from Jasper

If there are two things we love, it’s wildlife and waterfalls, so this tour definitely ticks all the boxes. Not only will you get to explore Jasper’s most stunning waterfall at Maligne Canyon, but you’ll also get to explore Maligne Lake on foot before hopping on the cruise out to Spirit Island. Hotel pickup and drop-off is included, and your guide will help you to spot some of the local wildlife while you’re out and about.

9. Is there parking at Maligne Lake?

Two people canoe on Maligne Lake on their way to Spirit Island
Just breathtaking!

Yes, there is parking at Maligne Lake. It’s well signposted and it’s free – yay!

The downside, however, is that the parking lots fill up pretty quickly during the summer, so if you’re driving yourself we highly recommend getting there early. Cruises depart from 10 am onwards, but to be safe, arrive before then and spend 30 minutes or so exploring the area around the lake. This is especially true on weekends.

10. Why is Spirit Island famous?

View of the dock on Maligne Lake at Spirit Island
Jasper National Park is one of my favorites!

There are multiple factors contributing to Spirit Island’s fame. For one thing, it’s of huge spiritual significance to the indigenous people of Alberta, so it has long held a place of veneration in their culture.

Meanwhile, the Island’s natural beauty has attracted countless photographers over the years, and it’s been featured in just about every guidebook or article you can find on Jasper National Park. Not to mention, in the 1960s, it was featured in the Kodak Colorama, a massive mural that was displayed in New York City’s Grand Central Station.

Unsurprisingly, the image of the island became iconic. So much so, in fact, that if you’ve ever owned a computer or tablet, chances are you’ve seen a wallpaper of Spirit Island!

11. Is visiting Spirit Island worth it?

Scenic shot of Spirit Island on Maligne Lake Canada
I mean duh!

Yes!

We loved visiting Spirit Island and it was every bit as beautiful in real life as it is in photos. Although it feels super remote and removed, driving to Maligne Lake and taking the cruise was a very smooth experience, with no stress involved.

Plus, Spirit Island is in one of the most stunning National Parks in Canada and there are lots of amazing things to do nearby, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to visit. 

Related Read: After check out Jasper, consider driving the Icefields Parkway and read our guide about where to stay on the Icefields Parkway.

Other Activities to do while you’re in Jasper

Bailey smiles while white water rafting in Jasper National Park, Canada
Rafting in Jasper is so much fun!
the ice explorer athabasca glacier bus drives on the glacier with a mountain backdrop
This bus actually drives you onto the glacier!

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:

  • Explore Maligne Canyon – Located on the edge of Jasper town is the beautiful Maligne Canyon, where you can hike alongside and peer down into the deep canyon. There are also a few bridges you can walk on to really take in the views. In the winter, we highly recommend doing an icewalk in the canyon where you put on ice cleats and explore frozen waterfalls, ice caves, and walk in the middle of the frozen canyon!
  • Visit Pyramid LakePyramid 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, Canada

The spa at the Whistler Inn in jasper
What a view! This photo is taken from the gorgeous Whistlers Inn.

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.

You can book Jasper Downtown Hostel on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

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!

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is mesmerizing!

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. Read our honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

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 you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable! Check out my review of Motorhome Republic here for tips before you book.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie in Port Alberni, BC
Thanks for reading!

It doesn’t matter if you’re visiting Jasper on a honeymoon or with your family or friends, a visit to Spirit Island is a must! This gorgeous island, and the journey to get there, is a ton of fun – I’m certain you’ll be impressed!

If you found this blog helpful, check out all of our other blogs about Jasper National Park include a few related reads below:

4 BEST Whitewater Rafting Tours in Jasper

The BEST Stops on the Drive from Edmonton to Jasper

The BEST Restaurants in Jasper

Guide to Driving the Icefields Parkway