This Canadian National Park Has a Magical Canyon Lined With Stunning Frozen Waterfalls

by Tuan

Tucked below the Canadian Rockies in Jasper National Park is a deep canyon carved by dramatic waterfalls and fast-flowing water. Maligne Canyon, which translates to smart or clever canyon in English, is a wonder in the summer, when water swirls and churns its way through the deep canyon and bridges overhead provide a peek into the canyon’s depths. 

But in the winter, the rushing water slowly drains out and the flowing waterfalls come to a standstill, literally freezing in place. It is then that the true adventure begins — one that allows everyday visitors to go into Maligne Canyon and walk along the narrow river floor. Between December and March, frozen waterfalls line the narrow route set 160 feet below the canyon rim. 

The setting draws ice climbers, who come to scale frozen waterfalls, as well as everyday travelers looking to immerse themselves in an experience that would be impossible in another season. An ice walk tour with SunDog Tours provides the chance to walk along the drained canyon floor below frozen waterfalls and includes visits to hidden ice caves and lessons on karst topography. Ice cleats for traction are provided. 

Courtesy of Rockaboo Mountain Adventures

SunDog Tours also operates an after-dark ice walk that is less focused on the ice and rock formations and more focused on the skies above the canyon, which are part of the second largest dark sky preserve in the world.

Entrance to Maligne Canyon is free, but a Jasper National Park entry pass is required (just over $10 CAD or $8 USD). You can also do the Maligne Canyon ice walk on your own, without a guide, but because of winter hazards and the importance of ice cleats or spikes, booking a guide is recommended. 

Courtesy of Jasper

Meanwhile, ice climbers visiting Maligne Canyon will find routes rated WI 2-6 on the Canadian Water Ice scale, meaning climbers should be ready for anything from 60-degree ice with good protection to near 90-degree ice with no rests and technical requirements. That said, climbing the frozen waterfalls in Maligne Canyon is beginner friendly — if you book a guide. Rockaboo Mountain Adventures out of Jasper offers group and private ice climbing tours in Maligne Canyon between December and March.

For a sight so extraordinary, Maligne Canyon is surprisingly accessible. In fact, it is the deepest easily accessible canyon in Jasper National Park and is just 10 minutes north of the town of Jasper by car. The national park itself is recognized as the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and is part of UNESCO’s Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.

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