Maligne Lake is one of those places that I don’t go to often and then when I do I wonder why I don’t go more often.
Until now, I’ve never been up in the winter. It seems the golden combination of an available weekend, good weather, good company and good roads just doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.
Family Day 2017 was the day it all came together and Allison (My Slice of Paradise) and I made our plans to head up, all the while expecting to call it off if the roads are too bad further in to the valley, or if the weather changed along the way.
Maligne Lake is about 120km from Hinton, head west on Highway 16, turn south on the Maligne Lake Rd. approximately 2km east of the Jasper townsite turnoff. Half of it is on windy mountain road with a speed limit of 60km an hour and views that beg you to stop and pull over at least a dozen times each way.
The trip tends to take a couple of photographers a long time. In the summer, with tour busses and heavy traffic, it can take even longer.
Our plan was to snowshoe on Maligne Lake. We didn’t have a trail or distance in mind. We haven’t been as active as we’d like lately so we figured a flat snowshoe on the lake was perfect.
There are a couple of parking lots up at the lake, one on the east side (the first you come to on your left) is the main tourist lot in the summer with easier access to the main buildings (closed for winter). The other is on the west side of the lake (also the end of the road) and is more commonly used for access the popular hiking trails in the area.
We parked in the west side lot, it has full outhouse facilities which is always a bonus when starting and ending a hike … especially in snowpants.
Until February 28 several trails in the area are closed due to caribou habitat protection, make sure to research which trails you are interested in and know that dogs are forbidden in the alpine and subalpine area.
They are allowed on the lake, so we had plans to stick to the lake exclusively.
Taking the two Labrador retrievers on our adventures more often is our goal for 2017. Hiking without them was the best way to find our hiking style … hiking with them is a whole new learning curve.
In the parking lot we suited up. Cameras, packs, snowshoes were all adjusted, keys were stashed in zippered pockets, first aid kits were identified and the InReach personal location device was activated.
We made our way through the trees to the lake and were rewarded instantaneously as we stepped onto the ice.
The Maligne range stretches down the east side of the lake and the snowpack on the lake was a brilliant white as far as the eye could see. I was glad I had anticipated snow-blindness and remembered my wrap around sunglasses.
We had no goal for distance. Snowshoeing takes longer and requires more effort than regular hiking. The dogs, on leash, also slow us down.
Our intention was to make our way south on the lake, stop at some point to make ourselves a tea and eat lunch, then head back.
We stopped for a rest at the 2.5km mark to water the dogs, check their feet and make sure everyone was feeling good. Despite the snowpack on the lake being fairly firm … it’s still surprisingly harder to snowshoe.
We continued down the lake and at the 4km mark we came up to a giant rock in the middle of the lake … in the summer it’s sheer sides knife out of the blue-green water with no shores at all. However, in the winter, it is a perfect rock reflector in the bright sun and gave us a picturesque location to have tea.
We made our way back, trudging the whole 4km without rest – and it did become a trudge. We are out of shape, in case you missed it, snowshoeing takes more effort and my legs were twitchy-weak by the time we got back to the parking lot. I loved it so much.
Maligne Lake will stay frozen solid much longer than our surrounding lakes and I highly recommend you take the opportunity to make a day of heading up if the roads allow for it. Always check with the road reports as the road around Medicine Lake can be closed for avalanche danger. And along the way you’ll see caribou protection warnings and trail bans … heed them … the fines for violating the caribou bans are steep and they do not hesitate to issue them.