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The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk

The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper

The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper National Park can be experienced from December until early April. We did it one year over an Easter weekend when it fell in April and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this fascinating and very fun half day tour.

Kids love the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk as much as the adults do! Don’t leave them behind.

Maligne Canyon Icewalk
Maligne Canyon Icewalk

Book a tour to fully experience the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk

We booked a tour, though I’m not normally a tour person. This one was incredibly worthwhile; without a tour guide we would likely have missed the caves (a highlight) and an understanding of what makes the Maligne Canyon Icewalk so special – in fact unique in North America. 

The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper
Spend a few hours in the awe-inspiring Maligne Canyon

Here’s how our half day Maligne Canyon Ice Walk adventure unfolded.

Our group of eight started in Jasper by donning knee high waterproof boots in the tour office downtown. We were all given a pair of ice cleats which we put on once we arrived at Maligne Canyon, only a 10 minute drive away.

The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper
It’s hard to believe the ice walk starts where the water is running

We started the ice walk by crossing a new bridge, put in place after high waters 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 on the roof of a cave
Vibrant colours on the roof of a cave

Why doesn’t part of the Maligne Canyon ever freeze?

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 ā€“ 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 4Ā°C (39Ā°F).

Beautiful icefalls as you head up Maligne Canyon
Beautiful icefalls as you head up Maligne Canyon

The summer level of the Maligne River

In summer, the Maligne River level is much higher as evidenced by the line of moss showing the high water mark ā€“ 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 in Maligne Canyon
Standing on a thick slab of ice

The Maligne Canyon Icewalk is 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 see is feet as you wiggle head first into the cave
All you see is feet as you wiggle head first into the cave
It's actually quite a thrill to slither into the cave on the ice walk
It’s actually quite a thrill to slither into the cave

From there we continue walking up the canyon at a relaxed pace so there’s plenty of time for photography.

It's hard to imagine the Maligne River roaring through here in summer
It’s hard to imagine the Maligne River roaring through here in summer
Our guide, Chris gets our full attention on the ice walk
Our guide, Chris gets our full attention
The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper
Looking up at a wall of ice

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

Read: Winter in Jasper for Adventurous Travelers

The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper
It’s a lot of fun watching the iceclimbers
The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper
You might want to give ice-climbing a try after you watch these guys in action

Get behind a frozen waterfall

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 Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper
It’s a surreal feeling getting in behind a frozen waterfall
The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper
Looking up from behind at the frozen waterfall
The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper
Ethereal beauty behind a frozen waterfall

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

More reading on Jasper 

Visit the Tourism Jasper website for lots of ideas no matter what the season.

Check out the Jasper National Park website for up to date information.

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

           Elk sightings on the way in and out of the canyon

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you very much.

Book the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk Tour

Reserve well in advance if you plan to do the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk (they do sell out on weekends especially) by clicking here.. The company we went with offered three tours a day – including an evening tour. The price is around $70 for adults and $35 for children. It was worth every penny. 

Where to stay in Jasper

I’ve stayed in a couple of dodgy hotels in Jasper, mostly because of bad luck – and no reservation. Plan ahead so you don’t get caught.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk in Jasper

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 57 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

    1. @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.

  3. 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.

    1. @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.

  4. 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.

    1. @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.

  5. 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!

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

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

    1. @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.

  8. 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 šŸ™‚ Yet another reason to visit your part of Canada soon.

  9. Hi Leigh šŸ™‚ I found your blog through your comment on Jan’s interview of me this week. šŸ™‚ 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. šŸ™‚

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

  11. 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!

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. The Maligne Canyon Ice walk pictures are awesome. I was there in summer, and I believe your pictures are much better than mine. Iā€™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

  20. 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

  21. 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

      1. 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.

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