Though our boat cruise was sponsored by Pursuit Banff Jasper for us to share on the ‘Gram, this post is not and is written of my own volition. All opinions are my own.
Maligne Lake is the longest lake in all of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, situated in the heart of Jasper National Park, Alberta just 50 minutes’ drive from the town of Jasper. It’s also the second largest lake fed by glaciers in the world! Its colour will absolutely astonish you when it shines a vibrant turquoise in the sun and it is entirely surrounded by gorgeous mountains, with the Queen Elizabeth mountain range on one side and the Maligne range on the other. Maligne Lake is also home to one of the most picture-perfect islands, Spirit Island. This island is featured in calendars all over the world so you may have seen photos of it before without knowing where it was!
Looking for additional things to do and sites to see in Jasper? Check out my 24-hour itinerary most ideal for exploring Jasper, Alberta in spring, summer and fall!
There’s truly only one time-efficient way to see Spirit Island in all its glory with your own eyes, and that’s by taking the Maligne Lake Boat Cruise. In about 90 minutes to 2 hours, you’ll be able to ride the boat there and back and enjoy the views of Spirit Island from the adjacent shoreline of Maligne Lake.
There are other much more tiring and time-consuming ways to visit, which include kayaking or canoeing your way there, but it will take the better part of a day to paddle the 14 km length from the west end of Maligne all the way to Spirit Island. If you were to row though, there are campsites nearby that could host you overnight if you split up your roundtrip excursion over two days. This way you could take in views of Spirit Island throughout the day, sunset and sunrise. Kayak and canoe rentals are available at the Maligne Tours Boat House near the dock for the boat cruises.
But with limited time and energy, the Maligne Lake boat cruise will be your best bet! The tour operates from May/June to early October (weather dependent) and runs every 15 minutes to every hour, depending on the time of day and peak of the season. The pricing varies as well as it’s based on the day of the week, how far in the season and how far ahead you book. We recommend booking your tickets online at least 1-2 weeks in advance (even further ahead during the heat of the summer months), which will allow you to pick your time slot and gauge for the lower prices.
The cost is steep, even for the Classic Cruise at $60-80 CAD per adult, which is the most basic and popular choice for the boat cruise. Pursuit Banff Jasper has recently added a Premium Cruise option for about $30 CAD more for adults ($20 CAD more for children), which is an extended version of the Classic Cruise, providing an additional half an hour at Spirit Island. It could be worth it as most visitors tend to feel that the 15 minutes you get to enjoy at Spirit Island on the classic tour is short-lived before you’re called back to the boat.
The boat tour takes about 45 minutes each way and the entire duration is filled with magnificent views of the surrounding area. You’ll never get bored of staring out the window, and I have to say that the information your tour guide provides is nothing short of compelling either. Throughout the tour, they’ll be recounting myths and legends, personal anecdotes and stories they’ve been told, seismic activity from eons ago as well as human history of the Indigenous tribes. I loved that our tour guide would point out various mountains and glaciers, and paint us a picture of the landslides that occurred there.
One of my favourite parts of the cruise has got to be when they announce when we’re going to ride over incoming boats’ wake waves. It definitely gets the entire group a little excited, especially when kids are on board!
Learning of the history and traditions surrounding Spirit Island will stick with you. For the Stoney-Nakoda First Nations, it’s a sacred place that goes back millennia in their story. This is the reason why Spirit Island is in fact off limits to tourists is because of its spiritual ties to the First Nations. The tiny island is tied to the shore by shallow land beneath the water but you won’t be able to cross over to step foot on it while visiting. You won’t want to unglue your eyes off the gorgeous frame of Spirit Island in the sea of aquamarine amidst towering snow-peaked mountains anyway!
Once you arrive at the shoreline closest to Spirit Island, the boat will dock and you’ll be able to explore the short loop trail that takes you up to the highest view point, down the steps to the shoreline and back to the boat. You typically have 15 minutes from the time you leave the boat to the time you’ll hear the horn honk for your return. It’s a short time frame but we managed to get some photos and videos in! As I mentioned before, if this seems too rushed, it might be best to book the Premium Cruise if that’s within your budget.
The experience of being present in such a place was humbling to say the least. I honestly am glad that it’s such a protected area and that Spirit Island isn’t bombarded with massive motor vehicles. These 50-person maximum cruise boats can only come one at a time as to not disrupt the habitat. Though it’s not easy to visit one of the most treasured gems of Canada, it’s a good thing it’s well protected.