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Everything You Need To Know About A Maligne Canyon Ice Walk

What Is The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk?

In the heart of Alberta, Canada, is Jasper National Park, one of the country’s best known and most beloved destinations. Among Jasper’s most popular destinations is Maligne Canyon, a 164 foot deep slot canyon divided by a rushing river, lined with steep limestone walls, and dotted with waterfalls. During the summer and fall Maligne Canyon trail is a busy hiking destination, but in the winter, when everything freezes, it presents an opportunity to walk on water (frozen water that is).

Once the waters freeze visitors have the opportunity to put on helmets, boots, and crampons and descend into an icy, winter wonderland. The remains of the river serve as a floor while the surrounding walls are covered in frozen falls. 

The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk is a two and a half hour guided experience that leads guests safely into this icy, and sometimes slushy environment. Your guide will find the safest and easiest ways to explore the canyon and point out the best photo opportunities. Along the way you’ll learn some of the history of the area. 

Wendy dressed very warmly for Maligne Canyon Ice Walk
Wendy dressed very warmly for Maligne Canyon Ice Walk

What To Wear For The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk

It may sound obvious that it will be very cold during your ice walk, but this can’t be overstated when it comes to dressing properly. During our walk temperatures were around 10 degrees fahrenheit. And at times you will be walking in portions of the canyon that never get sunlight. So only do this walk if you have the proper clothing.

Here’s what I recommend;

  • Merino wool long underwear–I wore two pairs of long underwear and still felt cold at times
  • Ski jacket
  • Snow pants
  • Ski gloves
  • Knit cap that can be worn under your helmet
  • Scarf
  • Wool socks (again, I wore two pairs)

If, like me, your hands and feet get especially cold, consider purchasing hand and foot warmers. For my trip I brought electric hand warmers and was so grateful to have them.

Your guide will help you select a properly sized helmet and boots and will also give you a pair of crampons that will provide some grip while walking on ice. 

Fuel Up With A Hot Lunch At Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen

The walks are offered twice a day at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and include lunch either before or after your tour. We joined the afternoon tour so we were fortunate to warm up with a delicious lunch at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen. I definitely recommend their foothills chili with ground bison, smoked beef, tomatoes, cheese, and soft pretzel bites on the side. I washed it down with a cup of hot tea because I knew we would be cold for the next couple of hours.

Start of the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk
Maligne Canyon

Walking Into The Canyon

We put on all our layers of clothing along with the provided boots, helmet, and crampons and met our guide, Jordan, outside, next to a map of the canyon. If you’re not participating in the ice walk, you can still enjoy the Maligne Canyon hike which provides a view from above. This is also a great option during the summer when the canyon is filled with water and unsafe to navigate.

We began on a paved trail (covered in snow and ice), crossed over a couple of bridges, and then passed through a gate that led to the icy canyon. With a very large step down we were now in the canyon, covered with snow and ice. It looked like a scene from the movie Frozen and I wondered when Elsa would arrive.

Over the next two hours we explored multiple frozen waterfalls, thick sheets of ice, an ice cave, and towering slot canyons. Eventually we climbed back out of the canyon, walked along the Maligne River, and boarded a shuttle bus that took us back to the restaurant. This was one of the most memorable outdoor experiences of my life.

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Navigating The Ice

While the ice walk is possible without a guide, we quickly appreciated the expertise and assistance provided by Jordan. Navigating the canyon involves crossing small streams, climbing icy slopes, and avoiding slick spots that could result in injury. Jordan frequently went ahead of us to provide a hand with crossing tricky spots and on occasion used her ice ax to carve out footholds.

Between the crampons on our boots and the expert guidance from Jordan, navigating the ice was pretty easy. However, there were a few times we opted to slide down the ice on our butts rather than risk slipping and falling. And since I was wearing snow pants, I stayed dry. 

I saw people of all ages on this walk, but it would not be a wise activity for anyone with limited mobility.  And while I know injuries are rare on this walk, travel insurance is certainly recommended.

At the base of a frozen waterfall in Maligne Canyon
At the base of a frozen waterfall in Maligne Canyon

Tips For Planning Your Maligne Canyon Ice Walk

If you’re planning to visit Jasper National Park in the winter and want to experience the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk, be sure to check the website for available dates. The exact start and end dates of the season will vary according to the freezing of the canyon.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again, bring proper clothing. This was the coldest activity I’ve ever experienced. Not only are the outdoor temperatures seriously cold, but you are surrounded by ice the entire time. If, like me, you don’t own all the right clothing, consider borrowing or renting it instead of purchasing.

Allow plenty of time to travel to the canyon. Winter weather in Alberta may include snow, rain, and ice which may impact your drive time.

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