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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.