If you’ve ever seen pictures from Jasper National Park, chances are you’ve seen Spirit Island. One of the most iconic sites in the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island is one of those places you just have to visit for yourself. Located on the stunning glacier fed Maligne Lake (the second largest of its kind in the world!), it’s one of the most photographed sites in Jasper National Park. Maligne Lake is also famous for its beautiful clear, blue/green color that is seen in many lakes and rivers throughout the Rockies.
Though you can’t drive directly to Spirit Island, there are 2 options for getting there. Both methods involve traveling down Maligne Lake, which measures 22.5 km in length (making it the longest lake in the Canadian Rockies!). Here is all you need to know about how to visit Spirit Island.
How To Get To Maligne Lake
As mentioned above, Spirit Island is located on Maligne Lake, about a 1 hr drive from the town of Jasper. Beginning in Jasper, drive north on the Yellowhead Highway (HWY 16) for about 2 kilometers. Turn right onto Maligne Lake Rd, crossing over the Athabasca River, and continue 46 km to the end of the road where you’ll find Maligne Lake.
If you have the time it’s worth stopping at Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake, the only other 2 sites along the way. It takes a bit of time to get to Spirit Island so you might as well take in a few other sites along the way. Both Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake are free of charge and all 4 sites (Maligne Canyon, Medicine Lake, Maligne Lake & Spirit Island) can be done easily in a day trip from Jasper.
If you don’t have your own vehicle you can still visit Spirit Island! There are a few tour companies in Jasper who offer day trips out to Maligne Lake, including a boat tour to Spirit Island. There is also a shuttle service, though they mostly serve those embarking or returning from multi-day hikes beginning or ending at Maligne Lake.
How To Get To Spirit Island
Option 1 – Boat Tour
Once you get to Maligne Lake, you have 2 options for reaching Spirit Island. The first option (and most popular) is to take a Maligne Lake Boat Tour. There are 3 different boat tours you can sign up for, differing in price and length of visit.
Cruise 1: The Classic Cruise
This tour takes 90 min round trip as you travel 14 km down the lake to Spirit Island. Each boat accommodates approx 50 people and you’ll have a guide commentating the entire tour, giving you fun facts and information about the area. Once on Spirit Island you’re given 15 min to enjoy the site and take pictures before returning to the boat.
Cruise 2: The Premium Cruise
This tour is a 2 hr endeavor that includes all that is offered with the Classic Cruise plus a few extras. For one, you’ll have more time at Spirit Island along with a guided interpretative nature walk.
Cruise 3: Through The Lens
As you might have guessed, this one is geared towards budding photographers. It’s also 2 hrs in length, includes all activities of the Premium Cruise and offers the services of a professional photographer. The photographer will accompany the group and give tips and advice on how to capture that perfect shot. These tours are limited and only run once a day on Tuesdays and Sundays.
What To Expect On The Classic Cruise
Once on the boat you don’t have to remain in your seats the whole time. Those who want to get nice pictures of the beautiful mountains can head outside to a small deck at the back of the boat. Alternatively, make sure you get a window seat and shoot through the open windows.
The tour down Maligne Lake is absolutely stunning with mountains lining the shore. The Queen Elizabeth Mountain Range (a sub-range of the larger Rocky Mountains) boarder the lake to the east, south and south-west and almost completely surround Spirit Island. The Maligne Mountain Range makes up the remaining snow capped peaks lining the lake.
Once you arrive at Spirit Island you’ll disembark onto a dock and follow a short trail through the forest. The trail will take you to a few lookouts with amazing views of Spirit Island. I should mention here that Spirit Island isn’t actually an island but rather a peninsula jutting out from the main land into Maligne Lake.
The walk along the trail doesn’t take very long but you’ll likely have to wait to take pictures without crowds of people. Unfortunately, you only get 15 min on land which isn’t a lot of time to explore and take pictures. It feels like you just got there when you’re being called back to the boat!
How To Book A Boat Tour
To make a booking with Maligne Lake Boat Tours you can simply show up and buy a ticket on site. However, if you’re visiting during the peak summer months I highly advise you to make a reservation ahead of time. The tours are quite popular and book up fast. You can make reservation online or call 1-866-606-6700. The cost for the tour starts at $71 per adult for the Classic Cruise.
Option 2 – Canoe/Kayak
The second option is to rent a canoe or kayak and paddle yourself out to Spirit Island. The trip is 14 kms from the lodge, one-way, so budget your time accordingly. The up side to paddling there yourself is that you aren’t limited on how much time you can spend at Spirit Island.
You can rent canoes and kayaks from the Maligne Lake Boat House or bring your own. The rental rates are quite expensive as far as canoe rentals go and are based on a first-come, first-serve basis.
I should mention here that strong winds can come up the lake creating white caps and choppy conditions. This can make paddling slow and, at times, dangerous. If you decide to venture out on the water be sure you have all your safety equipment and knowledge on how to steer and paddle a canoe.
If you plan on paddling give yourself a full day to make the return trip. Alternatively, you can camp at one of the 3 campsites along the lake. These must be booked in advance.
When To Go
The boat tours only operate during the late spring and summer months. Generally speaking, the start up at the end of May and run until the beginning of October.
The Maligne Lake Boat House has an even shorter operating season. It’s open seasonally with 2019 dates set at opening on June 1st and closing on September 16th.
Given that Spirit Island and Maligne Lake are so popular, there really isn’t a “low” season and you’ll likely be on a packed boat tour. That being said, going first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon may increase your chances of snagging a less crowded tour.
Other Useful Tips
- There is a cafeteria at Maligne Lake Lodge along with a gift shop and restrooms.
- Plan to spend some time walking along the shores of Maligne Lake as there are many short trails with great views (similar to Lake Louise).
- Maligne Lake has a few day hikes as well as overnight backpacking treks.
- You’ll likely see wildlife on your drive to Maligne Lake so keep you eyes peeled! Big horn sheep, elk, wapiti, bears, and moose are common sights to see in this area. NOTE: Be respectful of the wildlife! Give them their space and don’t chase them with your camera. Staying in your vehicle is a good rule of thumb.
Spirit Island is one of the most gorgeous sites to see in the Canadian Rockies. It’s not terribly hard to get to but does take some time and planning ahead. With 3 different boat tours to choose from and the option of paddling out to Spirit Island yourself, there’s no excuse to miss this iconic site.