Monday, December 2, 2013

The Drive to Maligne Lake – Jasper National Park

In our efforts to explore part of Jasper National Park, we planned a day trip to Maligne Lake, which is a major tourist attraction in the Canadian Rockies.  Maligne Lake is famed for the color of its water, the surrounding peaks, the three glaciers visible from the lake and for Spirit Island, one of the most photographed locations in the world.

We looked at the very busy parking lot for Maligne Canyon, as well as the time before our scheduled cruise on the lake…and we came to the decision that we were more interested in looking for wildlife on our drive to the lake.
FYI… As the postcard above demonstrates, Maligne Canyon is quite dramatic.  It is over 160 feet deep and very narrow in places. (At one point, the canyon is only 6 feet, 6 inches wide!) The river drops down the canyon and intersects the bedrock layers where an underground river flows.  Also at this point, numerous large underground streams join and greatly amplify the flow which accelerates the water’s impact on the canyon walls.  The area around the Canyon is popular for sightseeing and exploration and the area contains waterfalls, stream outlets, birds and interesting plant life.

Flowing out of Medicine Lake, a bit north of Maligne Lake, the Maligne River flows for about 5 miles as a full size river, but very quickly disappears into the ground.  It completely vanishes from the surface not far from the lake for most of the year.  The smaller streams that feed the valley below that point rebuild the river by the time it reaches the top of Maligne Canyon.

Although Maligne Lake is only about 27 miles south of Jasper Alberta, visitors  who plan on taking a scheduled cruise on the lake, are advised to allow an extra hour en route to allow for wildlife viewing and photography… The sign above gives one a clue as to the most popular critter that tourists want to spot!

The views along Maligne Lake Road are quite dramatic…and vast!  Mountains on either side of the road reach up to over 9,000 feet high.  We would like to of had a completely sunny day...but we can’t control Mother Nature!  Fortunately, as you will see, when we arrived at the lake, the sun did come out in all its glory!

This is what everyone driving Maligne Lake Road was looking for.  The American black bear is a medium-sized bear native to North America.  It is the continent's smallest and most widely distributed bear species. Black bears are omnivores with their diets varying greatly depending on season and location.  

This is one of the dozen or so streams along our route to the lake that flow down into the Maligne River from the surrounding mountains.  

The Black Bear is one of only two of the eight modern bear species not considered globally threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  Black Bears are often found in areas with relatively inaccessible terrain, thick low lying vegetation and large quantities of edible materials called ‘masts’. 
Ancient Saxons coined the word “mast” to define foods that are produced in natural habitats from trees, shrubs and other plants.   These wild foods include “hard mast” and “soft mast”.  Hard mast includes acorns from the various oaks, hickory nuts, walnuts, beechnuts and even the small nutlike fruits of ironwood.   Examples of soft mast include blackberries, blueberries, crabapples, black gum fruits, wild cherries, dogwood berries, greenbrier berries and grapes.   The common apple, since its spread and establishment into the wild over many years, is also considered an important soft mast species. 

It was that time of the year… The bears only cared about eating.  Every bear we saw was feasting on something or looking for something to eat in preparation for the upcoming winter in the Canadian Rockies.  FYI, It is estimated that the total Canadian black bear population is between 396,000 and 476,000.
There will be more and improved bear photos in an upcoming blog which will include our cruise on Maligne Lake as well as other photos in this area…

This is the shore line of Medicine Lake, which is just a bit downstream from Maligne Lake.  Medicine Lake is a geologic ‘freak’, in the sense that it is not actually a lake.  Instead it is an area where the Maligne River, (flowing from Maligne Lake into the Athabasca River), backs up and suddenly disappears underground. During the summer months when intensified meltwater flows from the snow pack and nearby glaciers, the Medicine ‘Lake’ fills up.  It fluctuates over time depending on the amount of runoff.  In the winter, the lake is reduced to just a meandering frozen river flowing through the valley.
Medicine Lake is much like a bathtub that is filled too fast for it to drain.  It continues to fill until the runoff is reduced and the water flows down the Maligne River.  The underground river system is extensive.  During the 1970s researchers used a biodegradable dye to determine just how big the underground river was.  The dye showed up in many of the lakes and rivers in the area and it became clear that this underground system was one of the most extensive in the world.

These Bighorn Sheep were grazing along the shores of Medicine Lake.  These sheep are named for the large, curved horns borne by the rams.  These Ewes also have horns, but they are shorter and less prominent.
Did I mention that almost everywhere that we spotted animals we also encountered a minor traffic jam?  Fortunately, Maligne Lake Road is wide enough for tour buses and cars to park on either side of the road and vehicles can still get past them…

Maligne Lake is fed and drained by the Maligne River, which enters the lake on its south side, and also drains the lake to the north.  Maligne Lake, as well as Maligne River, Maligne Mountain, and Maligne Pass, all take their name from the French word for ‘malignant’ or ‘wicked’.  The name was used by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet (1801–1873) to describe the turbulent river that flows from the lake, (especially in the spring), and the name soon spread to the lake, canyon, pass, mountain and range.  

This mule deer doe was just resting in a little glen alongside the road.  Even she attracted a crowd!  I’m guessing that she’s a mule deer based on those big ears…

This was our immediate destination…the Maligne Lake Ticket Office.  We had tickets reserved for an afternoon cruise on the lake...and the sun came out!  
Right next door to the Ticket Office is The View Restaurant where one can get a bite to eat, (cafeteria style), and relax a bit before the lake tour.  There is an ongoing debate regarding the re-establishment of overnight accommodations at Maligne Lake.  In the early part of the 20th century, there was an operating lodge overlooking the lake.  It’s a matter of maintaining nature as is vs. commercial demand.

I thought that I should end this posting with an overview of beautiful Maligne Lake.  There is no way that we could capture this view ourselves… The lake is about 14 miles long and its 318 feet deep at its deepest point.  Its average depth is 115 feet, and it has 28 miles of shoreline. As you can see, it is long and narrow, with a surface area of only 7.6 square miles.  Maligne Lake sits at an altitude of roughly 5,480 feet.
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for another drive through the Canadian Rockies!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave  


  1. Dear Dave, The views are breathtaking. What a wonderful day this must have been to cruise on such a lovely and majestic looking lake.
    I am very happy for you and Laurie that you have such beautiful memories.
    Blessings, Catherine

  2. What a gorgeous place. Those pictures are fabulous. We don't have such scenery here in Sicily, it's a very dry land.