The Glacial Rivers and Lakes of Jasper


Jasper NP  165Some of the most spectacular places in Jasper National Park are its glacial rivers and its brilliant hued glacial lakes. And we’re always drawn to water.

Jasper NP  149Jasper NP  150The amazing colors of the lakes are caused by reflections from sediment that originates in rocks under glaciers called rock flour. These colors were like nothing we’d ever seen before.

Maligne Lake is the largest lake in the park and the second largest glacial-fed lake in the world.  We considered kayaking there, but the lake is 14 miles long so we figured we’d see a lot more of it on a boat tour, which we purchased as a package with the Jasper Sky Tram.

The weather was a bit cloudy as we started out on the road to the lake. But the road is known for its beauty and for its abundance of wildlife.

Jasper NP  152Jasper NP  151Jasper NP  172Along the way, we checked out Medicine Lake, which is flooded in the summer and disappears in the winter. There is no visible channel for the lake to drain through, it drains from the bottom through sinkholes, then follows an underground cave network and surfaces in Maligne Canyon (more on the canyon later). Early Indians believed spirits were responsible for the lake’s disappearance, thus its name.Jasper NP  178

Bighorn sheep are commonly spotted in this area, and further along the way a couple of females with babies were wandering in the middle of the road. The adults apparently have no fear of humans (or have been fed by humans) and walked right up to various cars’ windows to peer inside.

It’s impressive to see how nimble these animals are, even the babies hop up and down the cliffs. And, as with all babies, they were adorable.

Jasper NP  168Jasper NP  156The weather was still a bit cloudy during our 1½-hour interpretive boat cruise to Spirit Island, nine miles away. But the lake is framed by magnificent mountain peaks and glaciers and is probably beautiful in all types of weather.Jasper NP  159Jasper NP  154

Jasper NP  158Spirit Island, our destination, has a very short trail with several overlooks of the lake and its surroundings. Unfortunately, people are not allowed to explore the island outside of the trail.  But the views were awesome.Jasper NP  164Jasper NP  161

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Jasper NP  157The boat cruise is a wonderful way to take in this stunning lake.Jasper NP  160Jasper NP  167Jasper NP  170Jasper NP  171Jasper NP  169Jasper NP  163

Jasper NP  217Jasper NP  215The Athabasca River became a familiar sight as we traveled to and from our campground.   It flows through the valley and you can pretty much see it all the time.   Seeing the river always felt like coming home.Jasper NP  218

We went on several sunset drives north on the Yellowhead Highway, also known for an abundance of wildlife. One evening, we spotted a coyote running across the road. And on the other side, three pups ran up to her. The pups were not tiny babies, but they were very playful and very cute.Jasper NP  147

Jasper NP  133Jasper NP  135Jasper NP  137One foggy morning we got up before dawn hoping to see some wildlife but we had little luck on that front.  But the moody scenes along the river made up for it.Jasper NP  142Jasper NP  136Jasper NP  138Jasper NP  141Jasper NP  140Jasper NP  129Jasper NP  139Jasper NP  130Jasper NP  131Jasper NP  132Jasper NP  123

Jasper NP  121Back on the Icefields Parkway, water from the Athabasca River is compressed into a narrow canyon cut in very hard, quartz-rich rock, producing the Athabasca Falls.Jasper NP  122

These powerful waterfalls are very accessible through short interpretive trails.   Various bridges and platforms provide different viewpoints of the waterfalls.Jasper NP  126Jasper NP  124

These trails were extremely crowded, almost uncomfortably so, since we had Angel with us. But we reached a couple of the viewpoints. We also walked between two canyon walls that the waterfalls flowed through before the water eroded another channel and changed directions.  Very cool.Jasper NP  125

On another sunset drive we spotted  a bull elk with seven point antlers. Munching away at the flowers and grass.  This area was a good spot for elk.  We saw several handsome young bulls.

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Fifth Lake

Fifth Lake

One of our favorite hikes was the Valley of the Five Lakes. And, yes, this trail goes by five lakes, each of which is a slightly different color due to their different depths.

The lakes are striking, each a sparkling shade of blue-green, some bluer and some greener, some softer and some deeper.  Jasper NP  200

Jasper NP  201Jasper NP  204On this hike we found the red chairs, part of a Parks Canada program that placed two red chairs in various scenic spots in the national parks.

We first discovered these on Cape Breton Island in the Maritimes last summer and were very excited to see more.  What a cute idea.Jasper NP  203

Jasper NP  198And this time we thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the chairs overlooking the beautiful if not imaginatively named Third Lake.

Which of course was followed by Second Lake.  You get the picture 🙂

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Jasper NP  206This trail was a great preview of the incredible glacial lakes all along the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

On our last sunset drive, we spotted more bighorn sheep. There were a couple of females, a baby and one young male, judging by the fact that his horns weren’t fully developed.Jasper NP  229

Jasper NP  233It was a really steep and rocky cliff, but the top was flatter and grassy with lots of trees.   The sheep started to climb up and I was terrified watching them all negotiating their way up to the top. They even slipped a few times sending small rocks and dirt down the cliff. But they always recovered and all made it to the top, where they munched happily.Jasper NP  237

Jasper NP  230Jasper NP  242One of our last hikes was along the top of the Maligne Canyon, formed by the fast flowing Maligne River. Touted as “one of the most spectacular gorges in the Canadian Rockies”, it is a 165-foot deep limestone gorge. Dogs are not allowed on the trail.

The trail switches from side to side, crossing six bridges.   There are three trail lengths; the short trail crosses bridges one through three, the intermediate trail continues to bridge four, and the long trail continues to bridges five and six.

We hiked to bridge four and back. There were lots of springs and cascades along the way and it really was a spectacular gorge.Jasper NP  209

Jasper National Park is enormous and we literally only touched the toe of the glacier there, but it was spectacular!

~ BrendaJasper NP  202


29 thoughts on “The Glacial Rivers and Lakes of Jasper

  1. Stunning, Stunning and Spectacular…Brenda, the lakes and rivers down here are nothing compared to what you are seeing and experiencing now 🙂 The sceneries and wildlife out there brought lots of wonderful memories, there is nothing like what you experience there, down here.
    Enjoy and thank you for sharing.

    • It has been awesome. Next summer, on our way to travel to Alaska, we plan to return briefly to a couple of our favorites. It’ll be either spring or fall, so should be interesting.

  2. A spectacular set of shots from a spectacular place. Love the lakes, the elk, the big horn! And you can take doggie on the trails whoooo hooooo. This fact alone may just have moved Canada up on our list.


  3. Some of your best photos yet! The colors are tremendous but the perspective is flawless. Some really great photos.
    Thanks as always!

    • Yes, they were too cute. And the parks in this area (we left Banff, posts to come, and are in Waterton) are just awesome.

  4. How awesome!!! Can you believe how gorgeous the water is?!!! I was in Crested Butte not long ago, and the intense blue/green of the alpine lakes was just amazing. Thanks again for sharing, and can hardly wait to see you next time you come through Denver. Love you!

    • The colors of the lakes seem unreal. We’ll be in Denver from September 17th through October 1st, all but the first two nights at Cherry Creek State Park. Hope we can connect.

  5. WOW – what a beautiful place. Looks like wherever you turned it was just amazing. Thanks for the pictures Hector and wonderful write-up Brenda. See ya both soon. K

  6. What outstanding photos to get us all excited for our visit. I sure hope the crowds are gone by September 7!! I had read about both of the hikes you did and now I am even more anxious to get on the path. We are in Waterton right now for four nights and then move to Calgary and then Edmonton before we hit Jasper.

    • Thanks, I think the crowds will be a bit lighter when you’re there. And it’s beautiful even with crowds.

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