There are two fantastic glacial lakes within an hour’s drive of Jasper. Medicine Lake is about 12 miles south of Jasper and Maligne Lake is about 27 miles south of Jasper on the same highway. The drive to both of these lakes is spectacular and there are outstanding views along the way. Also, on this route is where you can spot a lot of wildlife, such as bears, moose, caribou, wolves, etc. We did see a black bear along the side of the road. We stopped and observed the bear for a while. It was busy eating grasses and our presence did not seem to faze it at all.
Medicine Lake is unique because it fills up with glacial melt water in the spring. By autumn, the entire lake has disappeared. The indigenous peoples gave the lake its name because of these unexplained and mystical occurrences. Scientists have yet to completely understand why the lake water vanishes and they have surmised that the water is seeping into an extensive cave system under the lake since the lake has many sinkholes. These sinkholes act as a drain in a bathtub. Many experts call it a sinking river and not a lake. Whether a lake or a river, this location is very scenic.
Maligne Lake is just a bit further up the road from Medicine Lake. It is the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies.
This lake received its unusual name from Father Pierre-Jean de Smet, a French priest. He used the French adjective for “malignant” or “wicked” to describe the waters as they exit the lake in spring. When Mary Schaffer and her friends, the first tourists, came to the lake in 1907, she called it Maligne Lake after the name given to the river. The name remains to this day. There is also a Maligne Glacier, a Maligne Canyon, and the Maligne mountain range.
The name of this lake does not jibe with its natural beauty. It is surrounded by high snow-capped mountain peaks. Also visible are the Charlton-Unwin, Maligne, and Coronet glaciers. The color of the clear azure-blue water adds to the allure of this location.
Maligne Lake is a very popular tourist destination. In season, they offer boat tours, boat rentals, and have a restaurant on site. Around the lake there are miles and miles of hiking trails to explore.
In the middle of the lake is the famed land-tied island called Spirit Island. You can only access it via boat. Spirit Island is a favorite of among many photographers. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit the island because they were not offering boat tours. We arrived early in the season and the lake was still frozen due to its higher elevation. Even so, we found Maligne Lake to be gorgeous.
Medicine and Maligne Lakes are both fabulous and we would highly recommend visiting them.