Kayak to Spirit Island in the Canadian Rockies

Maligne Lake Lodge, Improvement District No. 12, Alberta, Canada

  • Activities:

    Photography, Kayaking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

Family Friendly
Picnic Area

This 17-mile kayak trip is the most rewarding way to see Spirit Island, the gem of the Canadian Rockies.

You'll find Spirit Island in the heart of Canada's Jasper National Park. It is located in the middle of Maligne Lake, a narrow body of water that features sweeping views of the Rockies and lush forest all around. Many visitors take the short ferry ride to Spirit Island, but that only allows for barely 15 minutes at the island itself to photograph it, take it all in, then get out. 

But if you've got a day (and lots of energy) to spare, head to the Maligne Lake Boathouse and rent a kayak. Your shoulders might complain, but your soul will thank you.

It's hard to miss the Maligne Lake Boathouse, as it's got the name printed large on the roof. Take your pick of canoes, kayaks, or rowboats. Us two adults (above-average fitness, in our 20s) opted for a kayak, but you'll see lots of families take a canoe just to paddle around, not going very far. See more rental info here.

We pushed off at 11 am, which is pretty late, but summer days are long in the Rockies and the weather was perfectly clear. Just be aware that you have a realllly long day ahead of you, and there are several reasons to push off as early as possible. First, you'll likely have calmer waters and you'll definitely have nicer light. Plus, there won't be as many other boaters around.

The farther we got from the boathouse, the more the other boats dropped off. Eventually we had the lake practically to ourselves—except for the ferries. Remember those? They pass back and forth about every 20 minutes or so, and their wake will definitely rock your little kayak. Just keep your distance, try to stay to the East shore, and angle your kayak perpendicular to the waves to keep from tipping over.

You're going to need plenty of breaks; luckily there are some sweet pull-up spots to catch your breath and eat a snack. Right before the 4-Mile Point (where the land juts into the water, marking 4 miles from the boathouse) is a picnic table on your left. There are more along the shore, so keep an eye out as you go along. 

After a few hours you'll get to the Samson Narrows where it can be a little tricky to maneuver. The current can get a bit strong depending on the wind, and you might have to share the stretch with a ferry. I recommend you get through there as quickly as possible, but if you need a break, there's a campsite at Fisherman's Bay on your left. Check it out and see if there are any tents from overnighters. 

Once you're through the Narrows, keep an eye out for Spirit Island. It will come up on you on your left, and from that angle you might not recognize it. Note the narrow strip of land that connects it to the beach. The ferries coming in and out might also give you a hint that that's it. That's Spirit Island!

Kayak around the island and pull up to shore on the other side. Some photographers may enjoy getting your bright yellow kayak in their shot for scale, but some may not, so walk a few steps up the path to really see a stunning view of Spirit Island with the mountains and lake in the background. 

Your trip back to the boathouse will probably be a lot tougher now that your arms are beginning to hurt, your clothes are a little wet, and those ferries are really starting to get on your nerves. But afterwards, you can take a pleasant walk along the lake and watch as the last of the boaters return to dock. Unless the last is you, of course. Don't worry about coming back before the boathouse closes. You can return your gear after hours. 

So that's it! Here are a few last pieces of advice before taking this amazing trip.

1. Don't do this trip on your first day in Jasper/Banff. We did, and unfortunately our arms were so sore for the rest of the trip that we could barely get our shirts over our heads to change.

2. Bring proper sun protection. You're going to be out there for a long time (for us it was 7 hours total). 

3. Seriously take your time. It was a few bouts of furious paddling and not getting anywhere before we realized that if you're against the current, it's just going to take a little more sweat to move. We were fit but definitely not regular kayakers, so it's not really skill level that you need but endurance and plenty of time. 

4. The rental company will provide you with a boat, paddles, and life jackets, but see below for what else you need to bring. 

Pack List

  • Dry bag
  • Snacks, lunch, water
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Long sleeves
  • Quick-dry pants
  • Camera equipment
  • Watch
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We decided to canoe, instead of kayaking - definitely not the move. The 17-mile journey will leave you exhausted, but it's definitely worth it. Super rewarding seeing Spirit Island, and the backdrop at that final push. Would highly recommend over taking the ferry.

7 months ago
7 months ago

Joanne Howard

Leave only footprints, take only photos. I left my heart in Yosemite.

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