Taking a cruise across Maligne Lake to visit Spirit Island is one of the main activities to do around Jasper. As we rented an RV, we could easily drive towards the lake, without having to book a tour or to arrange public transport.
The cruise is not the cheapest activity, as it will cost you 70 CAD (around €50) per person for an experience that lasts 1,5 hours. However, it is the easiest way to reach Spirit Island and that experience was recommended by many. We are always into saving money and not doing too many ‘tours’, so this explains us being hesitant. However, I guess this article will show you why it is definitely worth the trip and money.
Be sure to book your tickets beforehand online (here), as this guarantees you with a spot on the cruise. We were there in shoulder/low season and didn’t do this and this meant we had to wait a bit for the next tour where tickets were available.
It is not just the Maligne Lake cruise that is worth doing, the Maligne Lake itself is also one pretty area. Take pictures of the Maligne Lake boat house, stroll around the lake (the Mary Schaffer Trail) or take for example the Moose Lake Loop (2.7 km) to see a little bit more of the area. The area around Maligne Lake is famous for moose. The picture below shows one walking around the parking lot (I was at the toilet at the parking lot at that time and didn’t even realize the moose was passing by!).
The cruise costs you 70 USD and the experience will take approximately 1,5 hours. The cruise towards Spirit Island takes around 35 minutes, after which you get to spend 20 minutes on the island before you spend the other 35 minutes on the way back. The cruise is done on a little boat, where you have a small back area where you can stand outside to enjoy the views. The lake is quiet, so luckily, the ride wasn’t bumpy at all.
There you are, after 35 minutes you’ll arrive at Spirit Island. You can’t access the island itself to preserve its state, but the views on the island are probably even better. There is a little loop that brings you a bit higher up for a different view.
I hate to say it, but yes, of course you are there at the same time with the rest of the boat and most of the time a second boat is arriving at the same time. However, the amount of the people on the cruise still leave enough personal space to shoot some good pictures. Would I say the 20 minutes you have on Spirit Island are enough? Well, I had seen the place as there are not many ways to go. However, the area of course is wonderful so just being able to relax, sit down and enjoy the view would have been great.
In case you want to stick around a little bit longer or if you want to avoid the crowds, it is possible to rent a canoe at the Maligne Lake Boat House and paddle Maligne Lake – all the way down to Spirit Island – yourself. Renting a canoe will cost you 200 CAD for a day. Boats are limited, so get there early in the morning. You can also consider renting a canoe somewhere around Jasper instead of Maligne Lake and take it there yourself. Paddling from the boat house towards Spirit Islands covers a distance around 16 kms.
There are some camping spots on the sides of the lakes that only can be reach by canoe. When I would have the change to visit Canada and the Canadian Rockies, I would love to visit Maligne Lake again but take that camping and canoeing experience for a more off the beaten track adventure. (Book the camping spot well in advance though!) With a canoe, you also have the opportunity to paddle past Spirit Lake, so I’ve read, where the motorized boats aren’t allowed. Fisherman’s Bay seems a good place to spend the night, after some online research.
From Maligne Lake there are a couple of hikes you can take. Take the Marry Schaffer Loop around the lake (3.2 km) or the Moose Lake Loop (1.4 km). Next to that, the two more difficult hikes into the mountains called Opal Hills and Bald Hills are starting from Maligne Lake. Opal Hills is a hike that is 8.2 kilometers and the hike towards the Bald Hills is 10.4 kilometers. Both will take you 4 to 6 hours and can be combines with your Maligne Lake Cruise in the morning.
Long story short: the Maligne Lake Cruise to Spirit Island is an experience you won’t easily forget. Looking for more things to do in Jasper National Park? Check out this article with the 10 top hikes to take in the park.