Winter sightseeing in the Rocky Mountains doesn't get much better than Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park. Fantastical ice formations and frozen waterfalls make this a magical place to explore with the help of an experienced guide.
We chose Sundog Tours' Icewalk Tour of the canyon which we booked via their website a few days in advance. There were about twenty of us altogether and each of us was picked up from our hotel by mini-bus, driven by our guide David. Our first stop was an outdoor gear shop in Jasper town where we were given appropriately-sized waterproof boots, if our own were deemed inadequate, and cleated attachments to strap on to our boots.
A ten-minute drive later we set off after our guide along an icy track heading for Maligne Canyon. David was full of good advice about how to walk down steep slopes in our cleats. He also stopped every few minutes to give us useful snippets of information about the geology of the area and local flora and fauna.
To access the canyon itself we had to climb one by one through the metal surround of a viewpoint along the path and carefully negotiate a short icy slope. At the bottom you are standing on a frozen stream which is where the cleats really come into their own. David warned us to follow in his footsteps to avoid standing on areas where thinner ice covered deep voids where the water had receded.
The overhanging ice formations created where water has frozen in mid-flow are truly spectacular. Some have formed ice 'caves', others towering waterfalls of ice hanging over the steep canyon walls. There are plenty of photo opportunities. We were lucky enough to see some ice-climbers making their way up the near vertical face of a frozen cascade.
Ice climber at Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park
The going does get soggy underfoot where the ice has melted on the surface leaving a slushy residue on top. It is also quite rocky and there is a tricky bit where you have to hold on to the rock face while you walk across the stream via some tree trunks.
Once we had had our fill of wondrous sights, we made our way back along the path by the same route.
There are three, three-hour tours a day during the winter season, in the morning, afternoon and after dark. This is not a walk I would recommend for anyone with mobility issues as the terrain is icy, rocky and undulating.