I had the privilege of visiting Jasper & Banff National Parks with my mom recently. Travelling together is something we have both been wanting to do for a long time and but had never been able to coordinate. So when she came out to Alberta to visit after Christmas it was the perfect time to do a little exploring together.
Jasper has been one of my favourite places in Canada ever since I first visited nearly ten years ago. Every time I go, I find something new and amazing that I love about the place.
I have been to Jasper more times than I can count now but not in the winter. Only once or twice to go skiing when I was living in Edmonton, but I can’t really count it because we only went straight to the hill and left. So I was pretty intrigued on what the town and park had to offer in the snowy season.
An activity that was high on my to-do list was visit Maligne (pronounce Mal-leen) Canyon during the winter. I had hiked around it many times in the summer, and it’s one of the best hikes if you’re looking for something leisurely, close to town and great scenery. But the canyon changes drastically in the winter because the powerful river that flows through the canyon comes to a complete halt when it freezes. The benefit of this is it makes it accessible to walk into the canyon and look up at the deep limestone walls that thousands of years of flowing water have created. So I was pretty keen to check this out.
How to visit the ice canyon
First off let me say that there is an inherent risk with walking on ice and frozen water. There are several companies in Jasper that offer guided tours, with well trained and equipped guides. I would suggest this if you are going by yourself, going early or late in the winter season or if you’d like to get more insight and sense of security. They provide boots and ice cleats for you.
However, if you’re more like myself and enjoying exploring freely, it is very simple to do so by yourself. I would recommend having these things before you go though.
- At least ONE other person
- Snow cleats or over the shoe crampons.
- Good winter boots or rubber boots.
- A walking stick for security and checking for thin ice.
- A headlamp if going at night.
Here are Parks Canada’s full safety recommendations for walking in the canyon during winter.
Getting to the Canyon
It’s easy to access the canyon from either the 5th bridge or the Maligne Canyon teahouse. There is parking at both these location. Walk in from either parking lot roughly 2km. Follow trail #7, and you’ll reach a low point in the river. There is still a railing here and likely signs that advise you not to go in without a guide.
This is where you make your own mind up.
Choosing to go in you can follow the Canyon for about 500m until just about the 4th bridge. Depending on the season the ice could get a bit iffy at this point.
Why Visit the Canyon
One of the reasons this is such a great thing to do is in winter is because you can drive quite close to it, the trails are maintained, and there is plenty to see. If conditions are good you will see ice climbers scaling the largest ice hangs which is exciting to watch. Make sure to allow 2- 3 hours to explore the canyon and ice caves. Have fun!