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One of the coolest things I‘ve done in Canada is an overnight kayaking trip on Maligne Lake in Alberta’s Jasper National Park.
This turquoise-colored lake is about 14 miles long and is surrounded by glaciers and the soaring Rocky Mountains.
There are only three backcountry campgrounds on the lake, the furthest only accessible by non-motorized boat. That means that those willing to kayak to the end of the lake can find solitude away from the tourist boats visiting the famed Spirit Island.
In this blog post, I share everything you need to know to plan a day or overnight kayaking trip on Maligne Lake, including the cheapest place to rent a kayak, how to get a coveted camping reservation, and how to be bear aware during your kayaking trip.
Where is Maligne Lake and How to Get There
Maligne Lake is located about 30 miles from the town of Jasper, Alberta in Jasper National Park and a few hours north of Banff. If you plan ahead, a visit can easily be worked into your Canadian Rockies road trip.
The closest international airport is Edmonton, about a 5-hour drive away. Calgary is slightly further away, but flying in and out of Calgary allows you to drive the stunning Icefields Parkway.
To get to Maligne Lake from Jasper, head north from Jasper on Highway 16 for 3.5 miles, then take a right on Maligne Lake Road. Follow this (and enjoy the spectacular views) for 26 miles. We spotted deer and black bears from the car, so keep an eye out for wildlife while you are driving.
Maligne Lake Basics
Maligne Lake, located in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies, is the second-largest glacial-fed lake in the world after the Great Lakes.
The lake stretches over 22 kilometers (14 miles) and is famous for its vibrant turquoise waters. This unique hue comes from rock flour (fine particles of rock) that is carried into the lake by melt-water from surrounding glaciers.
One of the standout features of Maligne Lake is Spirit Island, a small islet that is home to a tiny clutch of trees and rocks seemingly floating in the brilliant blue-green water, framed by towering, snow-capped peaks.
This iconic spot is one of the most photographed locations in the world. But you don’t have to take a boat tour out to Spirit Island to enjoy its beauty. The lake is surrounded by multiple mountain peaks, including Mount Brazeau, Mount Unwin, and Mount Charlton, offering awe-inspiring views from every direction, especially from a kayak!
What’s in a name?
The name ‘Maligne’ was given by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, a Jesuit missionary, who called the river “Maligne” due to its treacherous current.
Kayaking Guide for Maligne Lake
One of the best ways to experience the nature beauty of Maligne Lake is in a kayak away from the boat tours and crowds.
You can rent a kayak for a day or plan an overnight trip, which is what I did.
Here’s everything you need to know about kayaking on Maligne Lake. If you want more details, keep reading below for my trip report.
Where to put in
There is only one place to put in your kayak or canoe at Maligne Lake and that’s at the main parking area. There are no roads around the lake, so you must start here.
Maligne Lake Kayak Rentals
There is a company located right on the shore of Maligne Lake where you can rent kayaks. Their rentals are a bit expensive and they don’t open until 9 am, which means you can’t get an early start to beat the tour boats and wind.
Instead, I recommend renting your kayaks for Maligne Lake from a company located in the town of Jasper called Pure Outdoors. We reserved our kayaks 2 days before our trip in person at their shop and were stoked that it was quite a bit cheaper than the other option.
The owner met us at the launch point with the kayaks at 7:00 am, which meant we were able to get on the lake much earlier than everyone else. He gave us a map and some dry bags and told us about the major points of interest.
When we returned to the launch point the next afternoon, all we had to do was empty the kayaks out and put them to the side of the ramp, and the owner would come by that evening and pick them up.
Single vs double kayak vs canoe
The owner of Pure Outdoors highly encouraged us to rent a double kayak vs a single since we were going out overnight.
While it takes a bit of coordination, two people pushing a boat and gear is more efficient than each person having to paddle their own boat.
With Maligne Lake being so long with frequent strong winds, we were happy we took his advice. Plus, we got to enjoy each other’s company more than had we been in single kayaks.
If you’re only going out for a day, a single kayak or a canoe is fine.
Planning Your Overnight Trip
Many people take kayaks and canoes out on Lake Maligne for a day, but if you really want to experience the incredible scenery and remote inlets, I highly recommend planning an overnight
Maligne Lake backcountry campgrounds
You’ll need to reserve a backcountry campsite in advance. When making your reservation, you’ll need to indicate which Maligne Lake backcountry campsite you want to stay at.
The campsites are considered semi-primitive. There are picnic tables, bear-proof bins, and pit toilets.
The options for camping are:
Hidden Cove Campground
- Distance from boat launch: 4 km / 2.5 miles
I’d only recommend staying at the 4-site Hidden Cove campground if you can’t get a reservation at the other campsites or you’re new to kayaking.
It’s only a short paddle in and the best scenery is far past this campground. You could get an early start and paddle here, set up camp, and then go explore as far as you like. It is possible to make it to Spirit Island and back in a day from Hidden Cove.
This campground is aimed at families & beginner paddlers.
Fisherman’s Bay Campground
- Distance from boat launch: 13 km / 8 miles
Fisherman’s Bay is the closest campsite to Spirit Island. If you want to paddle to Spirit Island at night when no one else is around, this is your best option.
There are 8 tent pads available at Fisherman’s Bay.
Coronet Creek Campground
- Distance from boat launch: 21 km / 13 miles
Motorized boats are not allowed past Spirit Island which is 14 km (8.5 miles) from the launch point.
That means for the entire stretch past Spirit Island, it is very quiet and you’ll only see a few other kayakers and maybe a couple of small electric fishing boats.
This is where we stayed and we paddled all the way there in one day and all the way out the next.
It’s worth traveling this far for the peacefulness and tranquillity, but you’ll need to be ready to work hard to get there.
There are 8 tent pad sites available here.
Whichever campsite you choose please remember to Leave No Trace by packing out all your trash and only camping on the designed tent pads.
HOW TO MAKE A MALIGNE LAKE CAMPING RESERVATION
Reservations for Maligne Lake campsites typically open in March or earlier. I highly recommend booking a site as soon as you can since they are likely to book out for the summer.
- Visit the Parks Canada Reservation website
- Select the “Backcountry” tab
- Choose “Backcountry Zone”
- Under “Park” Select “Jasper” in the drop-down menu
- Under “Select Access Point” select “Maligne Lake Trailhead”
- Enter date, party size, and tent pads then hit “Search”
- On the map, click on “Maligne Lake”
- Available campsites will populate in the “Available Zones” dropdown menu above
What Gear to Pack
For a complete list of gear to pack, check out our post on Kayak Camping. Here are some tips specific to kayaking on Maligne Lake:
Kayak Camping Packing List
Here is a basic list of what to pack for your Maligne Lake overnight kayaking trip:
Here are a few additional tips for your overnight kayaking trip on Maligne Lake:
My Maligne Lake Kayak Trip Photos & Recap
Day 1: Paddling out to Coronet Creek
We wanted to get an early start so we could have some quiet time on the water before the boat tours started.
Maligne Lake is a very popular tourist destination with non-stop cruises starting at 9am that take people to Spirit Island.
By starting at 7:30, we had a little time to ourselves and make some ground before the lake got busy.
The lake is also known to get windy in the afternoons, so the further we could get before lunch the better. The calm water made for some incredible reflections that we only saw the first hour of the day, so it was worth the early wake-up call.
The owner of Pure Outdoors gave us a map of the lake, which showed all of the picnic areas and points of interest.
The map was helpful because Maligne Lake turns a bit and you can strategically cross in certain places to shave off some distance vs hugging one shoreline the entire time.
We got a few miles under our belt before our first snack break.
Soon after our first snack break, the cruise boats started passing by us. I was worried that they would make the lake really choppy, but the boat drivers are pretty good about keeping their distance and slowing down as they go by to minimize their wake.
Our next stop was Spirit Island, the destination for all of the tour boats and most canoe-ing day trippers.
Spirit Island was beautiful, but the viewpoint where most of the famous photos of Spirit Island are taken was packed with people (which most of the photos don’t show).
The cruise boats are not allowed past Spirit Island, so beyond that point, Maligne Lake just became more spectacular.
This is where you get to see glaciers up close and cascading falls and you are surrounded by dramatic Rocky Mountains on all sides.
Plus, the only people who get to experience that part of Maligne Lake are people willing to work for it.
We only encountered a few other kayakers who were also headed to Coronet Creek to camp.
The last 2 miles of our 13-mile paddle were pretty challenging. We encountered a small headwind and my arms were feeling a little wrecked.
We thought we still had quite a ways to go until I pulled out my Garmin InReach GPS and saw that the end of the lake was right around the corner.
A few more strokes and we spotted Coronet Creek Campground on the backside of a small peninsula on the right side of the lake.
We paddled over, unloaded the boats, and took a load off.
After a nap, we decided to explore Coronet Creek and some of the nearby beaches.
If you decide to head out of camp, make sure to bring your bear spray as the areas are prime grizzly habitat, according to the ranger we talked to.
The Coronet Creek campground has a main kitchen area with a bunch of bear bins, picnic tables, and fire pits.
Make sure you store your food and any scented items and toiletries in the bear bins whenever you aren’t at camp. Don’t leave food in your tent.
That night, we hung out on the beach with some Australian travelers who were also staying at Coronet Creek. It was a great way to end the night before our long paddle out the next day.
The next morning, we woke up and were on our way by 10am. We stopped at Spirit Island and had lunch and a quick swim at the same picnic spot we stopped at on Day 1.
With a moderate pace, we made it back to the launch point by 4pm.
What’s the Best Maligne Lake Itinerary?
If I were to do it again, I’d stay for 2 nights. I’d aim for a reservation at the Fisherman’s Bay campground on the first night. On day two, I’d pack up and head further down the lake to Coronet Creek. Then on the third day when you’ve eaten all of your food and your boat is a little lighter, I’d get up super early and kayak all the way back to the launch point. The lake tends to be calmest in the morning, so the more miles you can pack in when there’s no wind the better.
If you’re looking for even more adventure there is an 8 km (5 miles) unmaintained trail route that follows Coronet Creek to the base of the Coronet Glacier.
If you’re looking to spend more days in the area, this is a great day hike from the Coronet Creek campground and will have you walking vs. paddling for a few hours.
Planning a Canadian road trip? Check out these nearby adventures to add to your trip:
Have you visited Maligne Lake? What was your experience like? Is this a trip you’d like to do? Leave a comment below!