30/05/2024

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Maligne Canyon Hike, Jasper National Park

7 min read
Maligne Canyon Hike, Jasper National Park

The Maligne Canyon hike is one of the premier hikes to do in Jasper National Park. It’s an easy one with multiple ways to shorten or lengthen it, so you can get a taster in as little as 15 minutes or the full experience over roughly three hours. 

The trailhead for the Maligne Canyon hike is a short drive from Jasper and combines well with other half day activities like taking a boat tour to Spirit Island in Maligne Lake. It’s a great one for all ages, though there is some uphill required if you hike one of the longer loops. With a little luck you may see wildlife like bighorn sheep or elk – which is always a thrill.

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Rushing water through the canyon
Rushing water through Maligne Canyon

Distance: 3.7 km one way to the Sixth Bridge 

Elevation gain: Approximately 185 m.

Difficulty: Easy.

Time needed: 15 minutes to 3 hours, depending on how far you hike.

Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash but go early in the day when the trail is less busy.

Bears: Not usually a concern as the trail is busy but you will never go wrong

Map needed: There are good maps along the Maligne Canyon hike. The paper map that covers the hike is Gem Trek Jasper and Maligne Lake.

Don’t forget: Always take the hiking essentials, let someone know where you are going and please practice Leave No Trace principles.

In winter: The Maligne Canyon hike becomes a fantastic ice walk in winter. If the opportunity arises, do it. 

Quite a pile of wood caught in Maligne Canyon
Quite a pile of wood caught in Maligne Canyon

Getting to Maligne Canyon

It’s a short 11-minute drive from Jasper to get to the Maligne Canyon trailhead. 

From the Jasper townsite, drive northeast on Connaught Drive. Turn left or east onto Highway 16 – also called the Yellowhead Highway. Turn right at the first light to cross the Athabasca River. Go left at the fork and stay on Maligne Road until you reach one of the parking lots. 

There are parking lots at the Sixth Bridge (for a longer hike), the Fifth Bridge (a medium length hike) or drive to the parking lot by Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen. From there you can do short hikes and still experience the best Maligne Canyon has to offer.

Map of the Maligne Canyon hike from the restaurant to the Fifth Bridge
Map of the Maligne Canyon hike from the restaurant to the Fifth Bridge

Book the Maligne Canyon hike with a guide

If you want to do a guided hike of Maligne Canyon – perhaps because you don’t have a car to get to Maligne Canyon, you’d like to learn something about the canyon, you’re traveling solo and are more comfortable, for whatever reason it is  be sure to check out this hiking tour that is offered by Viator. It includes a pickup at your hotel in Jasper.

Look at how narrow the Maligne Canyon gets!
Look at how narrow the Maligne Canyon gets!

Maligne Canyon hike options

Most people start the Maligne Canyon hike at either the Fifth Bridge or at the Interpretive Plaza by the restaurant, but you can also start by the Sixth Bridge and do and out and back hike from there.

Variations on how you can do the Maligne Canyon hike.

  • For those short on time hike to the 1st or 2nd Bridges to get a sense of Maligne Canyon. You can knock that off in as little as 15 minutes.
  • If you have an hour or more hike from the 1st Bridge to either the 4th or 5th Bridge and back. You’ll see some of the prettiest sections of Maligne Canyon. To do that it’s 2.2 km one way with an elevation gain and loss of about 100 metres.
  • If you have two to three hours, then hike all the way down to the 6th bridge and back.
Looking at the water in Maligne Canyon drop into a chasm
Looking at the water in Maligne Canyon drop into a chasm

Maligne Canyon hike description

From the interpretive displays near the parking lot walk towards the first bridge, stopping to look for fossils by the water close to the restaurant.

Cross the first bridge and follow the trail to the second bridge on the south and more scenic side of the canyon. Along the hike look for interpretive panels – with some explaining how Maligne Canyon might have been formed and others about the black swifts, that nest in the cliffs, the lack of fish, chockstones and other natural phenomena you see along the walk.

One of the most dramatic spots on the Maligne Canyon hike is at the second bridge. Look down 55 metres (180 feet) to the bottom of the canyon. Admire the drama of the water rushing through the canyon walls that are a mere two metres wide here. 

Continue to the third bridge. For those who want to return to the parking lot from here, cross the bridge and walk up the other side of Maligne Canyon towards the parking lot. That’s a 1.6 km loop that will take most people between 30 – 40 minutes. 

The other option is to continue walking on the north side of the canyon towards the fourth bridge. The grade is downhill, so remember that the return will mostly be uphill. By the time you reach the fourth bridge, Maligne Canyon will have widened and there’ll be more trees around. Many people turn around here – as it’s about a one-hour hike in total.

If you continue past the fourth bridge, you’ll notice that you start to lose the crowds. Maligne Canyon isn’t as dramatic after the fourth bridge, but it’s still a lovely walk to the fifth bridge through the forest and alongside the canyon where you can see some springs that join the Maligne River. The return loop hike from the parking lot to the fifth bridge is about 2 hours long, less if you’re a regular hiker.

The trail to the sixth bridge beside the river is clearly marked. The hiking has a bit of up and down but nothing dramatic. Allow up to 3 hours to do the return hike to the sixth bridge.

It's a beautiful colour of water in Maligne Canyon
It’s a beautiful colour of water in Maligne Canyon
One of the small waterfalls emptying into the Maligne River
One of the small waterfalls emptying into the Maligne River
A stop to admire the scenery
A stop to admire the scenery on the Maligne Canyon hike

How many bridges do you cross?

There are six bridges to cross if you do the full Maligne Canyon hike. The best and most dramatic parts of the hike in my opinion are between the 1st and 5th bridges.

But, if you want to leave the crowds behind and experience the full hike up and down Maligne Canyon, then it’s most definitely worth your while to continue for an additional 1.6 km past the 5th Bridge to reach the 6th bridge.

The view down in to Maligne Canyon from one of the bridges
The view down in to Maligne Canyon from one of the bridges

A few cool Maligne Canyon facts

  • The water that courses through the canyon flows from May to December only. In winter, most water in Maligne Canyon either drains away like a bathtub or freezes.
  • The water in Maligne Canyon travels underground from Medicine Lake, 14 km away. With the use of dye scientists learned that the water takes 12 – 14 hours to travel to the canyon in summer and 5 – 9 days in winter.
  • There are three bird species that nest in Maligne Canyon – the endangered black swift (it also nests in a cave in Johnston Canyon), the black-coloured American dipper and the common raven.
The endangered black swift nests in Maligne Canyon
The endangered black swift nests in Maligne Canyon

Where to eat after the hike

If you’re in need of refreshments after the hike enjoy a drink or a meal with a view at Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen. You can reserve tables beforehand – a good idea especially on a weekend.

Enjoying a drink with a view at Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen
Enjoying a drink with a view at Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen

Where to stay in Jasper

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is in a beautiful location but it comes at a price. However, you can count on loads of amenities and lots of activities either on their grounds or close by. Rooms are fine but not as luxurious as you might expect for the price-point.

Another excellent choice is Bear Hill Lodge. And for easy access to a beautiful lake and all the activities around Pyramid Lake, head for Pyramid Lake Resort.

On the strip in Jasper, check out The Crimson Jasper, adjacent to Terra, a restaurant offering delicious food.

Enjoy a sunset over Beauvert Lake if you stay at Jasper Park Lodge
Enjoy a sunset over Beauvert Lake if you stay at Jasper Park Lodge

Looking for more hikes in Jasper?

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The easy Maligne Canyon hike in Jasper National Park, Alberta

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