Natural Pleasures of the Maligne Lake Area

Medicine and Pyramid Lakes-4

My last afternoon in Jasper National Park was spent at Maligne Lake. It is a huge lake in the park, though you don’t really get an appreciation for the size of it just standing on the shore. I imagine one of the many, many boat tours would help you get a feel for the scale of it all. I had considered going out on a boat tour when I visited, but the clouds were so thick and the sky so gray (with occasional bursts of rain) that I wouldn’t get a proper feel for the lake. Instead I decided to do a couple short hikes near the lake. 

Medicine and Pyramid Lakes-7

Medicine and Pyramid Lakes-5

Maligne Lake is probably one of the key tourist stops in Jasper National Park. It is the end point of the Maligne Lake Road (so it’s impossible to get lost), and the 13.7 mile drive along the winding road is filled with so many beautiful, nature viewpoints, that it makes for a pleasant and full day trip from Jasper. 

Medicine and Pyramid Lakes-6

This is the same road you access the Maligne Canyon hike (detailed in an earlier blog post), and the Beaver Lake/Summit Lakes hike (also in an earlier post). So you could make a VERY full day if you wanted to do all the sights in one day, though I would recommend taking a couple days so you can take your time and enjoy yourself. 

Medicine and Pyramid Lakes-3

Aside from the stops I listed before, another great stop is Medicine Lake. You can’t miss it, because it is a huge lake, and a good chunk of the road wends its way alongside the lake. Medicine Lake looks like a normal lake, but apparently, looks can be very deceiving. I’ve read it described as a plugless bathtub, because the lake bottom has holes in it, with water filling the lake during the spring and summer runoff, but nearly emptying in the winter time with the reduced water flow. Even though it is not obvious, apparently the water from Medicine Lake flows from the lake bottom into underground rivers and caves, many of which will empty into the Maligne River, of which I saw some on my Maligne Canyon hike. 

Medicine and Pyramid Lakes-1

I stopped many times along my drive, because there are numerous pullouts that provide colorful photo opportunities, with the contrasting bright blue of the lake and the bright yellow fall foliage. Eventually the road pulls away from Medicine Lake and follows along the Maligne River that flows into Medicine Lake. Eventually, I found myself at Maligne Lake, which is where the road ends, and the Maligne River begins. 

Maligne Lake-2

It is hard to convey the size of Maligne Lake, because only part of it can be seen from the dock at the lake. The most popular thing to do at the lake is to take a boat cruise. I considered it as well, but the weather was so crappy, with gray skies, low clouds and intermittent rain, I figured it wouldn’t be worth the time and expense.

Maligne Lake-1

However I did avail myself of a couple short hikes near the lake. Even though both are near the lake, they provide different scenery to enjoy, so it didn’t feel repetitive. The first hike I did was the Moose Lake Loop, which is less than two miles. The trail starts on the opposite side of the parking lot after crossing the Maligne River which feeds from the lake. 

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The beginning of the trail parallels the lake, but soon veers off into the woods. The trail is flat and level, but when I visited, it was super, super muddy. I considered turning back, but I arrived at Moose Lake before I made that decision. Moose Lake is so named, because it is a popular place for moose to feed. I hoped to see some moose, and my patience was soon rewarded when a moose wandered near the lake shore on the other side of the lake. It wasn’t a close view, but still good enough to enjoy. 

Maligne Lake-5

My second short hike was part of the Mary Schaffer Loop. I say part, since I only did the hike along the lakeside, and then walked back the way I came, rather than finishing the loop through the forest. The walk out was a pleasant  half mile out to a nice viewpoint. It was raining a bit, so the views weren’t as pretty as I would like, but what can you do?

Maligne Lake-6

I had one final treat for my day as I was driving back to Jasper. As I was driving back, I saw a line of cars pulled off to the side, which around these parts, often means wildlife sighting. More than once I saw cars pulled off to see sheep, moose, and elk (sadly no bears). In fact, on my drive out of Jasper, traffic stopped completely to see two large male elk, locking horns in the middle of the road before moving off to the side of the road. This time, it wasn’t something so fascinating, but there were a few moose calmly feeding. There is substantial guidance about staying at least 100 meters away from moose, since they can be dangerous, but these moose were calm and enjoying an afternoon snack. It made a pleasant ending to the day. 

Maligne Lake-7

Maligne Canyon Hike- A Verdant Canyon of Waterfalls

Maligne Canyon hike-9

One of the frustrating things when on a hiking vacation is being subject to the vagaries of the weather. Sure I can game it as best as possible by scheduling a vacation during the best weather window, but that also tends to correspond with the window of high tourist season (for obvious reasons). When going off season or even in shoulder seasons, the weather is much more variable. So all I can do is hope that the weather will be good ENOUGH on the day I plan my activities.

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For a good chunk of my Banff vacation, the weather was on the cloudy and occasionally rainy side. For the most part, that didn’t really throw off my vacation plans, since I just rolled with it, and was glad the weather wasn’t worse. But as much as I love rain in my normal life, I do like my vacations to be rain free as much as possible. 

Maligne Canyon hike-13

The weather the day of my Maligne Canyon hike was decent enough. It was on the chillier side and cloudy, but the rain wasn’t really a factor. When planning this hike, it was a matter of where I wanted to start, since there are many possibilities, depending on how far I wanted to hike, and what I wanted to see. 

Maligne Canyon hike-3

I decided to start at the Sixth Bridge, which was the farthest trailhead out, and then hike up the canyon to the First Bridge. That would make my trail start flat and level along the Maligne River, and then gradually ascend through the canyon, passing the different bridges, and a series of waterfalls. It also meant that when I was hiking downhill on the return hike, which is always preferable for me than hiking uphill. 

Maligne Canyon hike-2

Like usual, even though I started my hike early, I wasn’t the only car in the parking lot, though there were less than a handful at that hour. I crossed the Sixth Bridge immediately and started the hike. It’s a pleasant, flat hike along the river, with the trail sometimes paralleling the rushing river, and sometimes veering more into the forest. But always the path would lead along the river. 

Maligne Canyon hike-1

Parts of the trail were soaked in water from the underground springs bubbling into the river, but there were always blocks, logs or stones to carefully make my way and keep my feet dry. The trail is signed when it needed to be, though I made a bit of a mistake once I hit the sign for the Fifth Bridge, which is another trailhead. I assumed that we would have to hike over every bridge on the trail, but quickly realized that it was just another trailhead and turned around. I should have not followed the sign for the Fifth Bridge, which lead to the trailhead, but rather the signs to the Third Bridge. 

Maligne Canyon hike-4

Maligne Canyon hike-10

The trail starts climbing immediately after the sign, and follows the top of the canyon. The ascent widened my view and gave a good photo op of the Fifth Bridge. The initial part of the hike from the Fifth Bridge has a pretty, but not astounding view, as it is a high view of the canyon and the river. For some reason, the trail is not flat and level at this point, but rather heavily slanted by the rock, which made it a bit of a challenge to walk. Soon enough the trail drops down much closer to the river, and there are even some side trails that go right to the river’s edge, though I needed to be cautious, because the rocks can be slippery, and the river is full of churning rapids. Maligne Canyon hike-5

Maligne Canyon hike-11

The stretch of trail from this point to the Third Bridge is probably the most scenic of the trail. The trail follows the contours of the canyon, so sometimes it rises a bit above, but then drops down to be closer to the river. I loved the close views of the river and the verdant green, narrow canyon. The rapids are scenic, and the waterfalls plentiful, though you are much more likely to get wet from the water spray. 

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Unlike the Fifth and Sixth Bridge, the Fourth Bridge doesn’t lead to a trailhead, but rather just a bridge over the river that provides nice views, but ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. The Third Bridge brought me from one side of the canyon to the other, as the trail continued up to the main parking lot. The waterfall at the Third Bridge is the most towering and beautiful, though any photos taken are better from a nearby viewpoint than from the bridge itself, because the view from the bridge is a bit blocked by the canyon walls.

Maligne Canyon hike-7Maligne Canyon hike-8

If you are feeling rather tired at this point, turning around at the Third Bridge would be perfectly fine, though you can proceed upward. I am often a completest when it comes to my hikes, so I forged on ahead. The trail ascends sharp and steep from the Third Bridge to the Second Bridge. My body was definitely feeling the elevation gain and needed to make use of the benches by the Second Bridge. At this point, I was at the top of the canyon, but because the elevation gain is so great, I was looking WAY down into the canyon and not more intimately closer to the river. At that vantage point, I could see the river way down below, but only in glimpses, because the canyon rock is much drier and curvier. It’s a pretty view of the mysterious ways water can twist and shape rock, but it’s not as beautiful as the waterfalls and the rushing river, and a bit of a letdown after coming from the crashing waterfall at the Third Bridge. 

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After resting, I descended the trail and returned to the Sixth Bridge trailhead, pausing again to take in the gorgeous views from Third to Fifth Bridges (the best parts of the trail in terms of beautiful nature). The trail is fairly easy overall, though there are some moderate stretches of elevation gain, and the trail can be wet and muddy in parts. But if you love beautiful canyons, river rapids and an abundance of waterfalls, this is a great trail to start your day. 

Maligne Canyon hike-15

Jasper National Park- Beaver and Summit Lakes Hike

 

Beave and Summit Lakes hike-1

There are plenty of places to hike and enjoy nature in Jasper National Park, but a lot of places are wilderness. As much as I love nature, I didn’t come for a backcountry wilderness experience, so I stuck to day hikes that are more popular, so I was rarely completely alone. This hike out was one of the rare times I had almost near solitude. I saw literally no one on my hike out to Summit Lakes, and only saw about three couples on my hike back to my car. It was quiet and peaceful and a good way to engage with nature, though unfortunately I had no wildlife sightings out there. 

There are a wide variety of day hikes to do out in Jasper National Park, but I was looking for some hikes that maximized natural beauty, but weren’t THAT strenuous. That’s the challenge of finding hikes in a mountainous national park- so many of them involve more elevation gain than I was looking for. So I thought it was lovely when I saw the Beaver Lake hike. Truthfully, the trail goes out to Beaver Lake, Summit Lakes (there are two of them), and ends in Jacques Lake. Back when I first started researching this hike, I thought maybe I could hike all the way to Jacques Lake and back, which you can do, but it is one long slog of a day of about eight hours of hiking. I knew the trail was fairly flat all the way out, but when I researched the trail a bit deeper, it was obvious that the trail out to Summit Lakes is pretty good and easy to follow, but the trail gets much rougher out to Jacques Lake, where it is much muddier, rootier, and rockier. Plus the time factor. As much as I love hiking, I didn’t want to spend the entire day doing one hike, when I wanted to maximize my time at Jasper National Park.

Beave and Summit Lakes hike-9

I started my day early the morning of my hike, as I typically do when I am on vacation. Not as early as my days when I visited Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, but still early enough. I was the only car in the parking lot when I got to the trailhead, which surprised me a bit, only because I had never been completely alone out on any of the trails on my vacation up to this point. I saw the sign that cautioned that part of the trail had washed out, but it had been rerouted, and set off. 

The trail out to Beaver Lake especially is pretty flat (a couple very minor elevation gains), and the trail reroute was pretty easy to follow with trail blazes. Since there was still ample water on that part of the trail, I had to cross a cut log bridge, and another temporary bridge set up. But once I got past that, the trail was pretty level and wide. It is more of a pleasant nature walk than anything. 

Beave and Summit Lakes hike-8

Sometimes it’s hard to gauge distance out on a trail, because I think I should have covered more distance in the time available. But even so, I was pretty surprised when I hit the edge of Beaver Lake, because it felt like I hadn’t been hiking out that long. Turns out that Beaver Lake is only a mile out, so that made sense time wise. The edge of Beaver Lake is a nice place to stop and rest and take in the view. It was very pretty lake, surrounded by mountains and casting some lovely tree reflections. You can tell this is a more family friendly stop, just because there are a number of picnic tables near the lake. 

Beave and Summit Lakes hike-2

After taking it all in, I continued on to Summit Lakes. The path remains level and wide. There are occasional spots with mud and puddles I had to skirt, but not that extreme. At this point in my vacation, I had seen my share of mud, so I was used to it by this point. The trail continued along Beaver Lake for a time, though the trail doesn’t really skirt the lake, but I could see the lake through the trees. Once I got past the lake, the scenery was pretty typical woodland with mountains. I kept my eyes out for wildlife such as elk, moose, or even bears, but I didn’t spot any. 

Beave and Summit Lakes hike-3

As I approached Summit Lake, I could see the end of the lake, and I encountered my first sign on the trail. There was a sign that indicated the trail took a right turn toward Jacques Lake, but I kept approaching the shore of Summit Lake. This is another pretty lake surrounded by a meadow, trees blooming in fall foliage, and mountains. 

I knew that there were two Summit Lakes, and the other one lay just beyond the first one. I saw what amounted to a goat trail hugging the right side of the lake, and started to follow it, but was deterred when I ran into some water, as the lake water level had risen. Thinking I must be on the wrong track, I turned back and returned to the trail sign for Jacques Lake. The trail didn’t say specifically it went to the next Summit Lake, but I had looked on a map previously, and knew that the trail would pass by it, so I figured I would take it. It was a mistake, though not a great one.

Beave and Summit Lakes hike-5

Once I took the turn for Jacques Lake, the trail instantly turned narrow, rutted with rocks, roots, and the like. Plus it looked like it MIGHT have been rerouted a bit, because of trees blowing down. In any case, the trail can be followed, but it is eminently more difficult. I knew that eventually it would pass by Summit Lake, so even though my hiking enjoyment diminished instantly, I plowed onward to the next lake.

I had only hiked about 10-15 minutes when I saw the other Summit Lake on my left, and made my way down to it. It wasn’t a clearly marked trail, and I took note of where I came out so I could return to it. The second Summit Lake is nice, though not as big or picturesque as the first one. I knew I wasn’t going any farther, so I took the opportunity to just relax and enjoy the sounds and views of the surrounding nature.

Beave and Summit Lakes hike-6

Behind my resting place, I saw a small goat trail leading not back to the way I came, but it looked like it was a direct route back to the first Summit Lake. I figured I couldn’t go wrong, and if it proved to be nothing, I could just return to the second lake. But lo and behold, it turned out that this was a genuine (if narrow) trail connecting the two lakes. It was the other end of the trail I had started, but then abandoned, because I didn’t think it was an actual trail. 

Beave and Summit Lakes hike-7

It was here when I encountered my first sign of human life as I ran into a hiking group heading to the second Summit Lake. And a few minutes later, I was at the edge of Summit Lake. The trail was very narrow, but visible, and I could see that the lake water level had risen, because at times the trail was now in the water, and I had to skirt it. But this trail was much easier and less frustrating to follow than the trail that headed toward Jacques Lake, and I realized I should have plowed on when I first found this trail. 

Beave and Summit Lakes hike-4

The walk back to my car was as easy as the walk out, though I ran into a few more people, and wasn’t completely alone anymore. But it was still a nice and peaceful walk. It is definitely good if you like beautiful nature, and hope to get some solitude out on the trail, because I was never more alone in my hiking, than I was when I hiked out to Beaver and Summit Lakes.