Because of the duration of time we’re actually spending in Jasper, only three full days, it was important to both of us to do and see as much as we can. Dani had mentioned the long drive up to Maligne Lake, and we used the limited Internet I was able to squeeze out of the iPad and coffee shop Wi-Fi to figure out the route. Piling into the Jeep around 11h00 we turned east, back the way we came the night before, and made a quick turn-off for the Maligne Lake road. A brief stop a few miles up gave us a stunning view of Jasper from a rocky overlook, but the crowded parking lots and lack of phenomenal weather pushed us back towards the car and further up the road. After a half hour of winding switchbacks through tall pine tree forests we arrived at the famous “disappearing” Medicine Lake. A shallow 3.5 mile long body of water, it’s known for disappearing in the autumn and winter seasons due to its inability to retain water as it flows at a weaker rate from the glacial lakes upstream. When we arrived the small parking lot was half-full, and a light rain was falling outside. We took a few photos of the large body of water, but the true color it’s known for was lacking due to the clouds overhead. As the rain got heavier I packed up my camera gear and we continued further up the mountain towards Maligne Lake. It was at one point along the next section of road that Dani commented on the fact that her ears were popping, and after querying the iPad’s GPS we noted it was the first time she had ever been over 5,000’ elevation outside of an airplane. I thought to myself that the new and unique experiences of our trip seemed to be endless.
Arriving at Maligne shortly after 13h00 I was shocked to see that, accurate to the GPS prediction, it had actually taken us nearly two hours to make the 50km drive. Located at the top of a dead-end road was the Maligne Lake visitor center, historic canoe boathouse, and the Maligne Lake cruise to the world famous Spirit Island. We explored the visitor center and got an idea of the cost for the boat ride, but were initially turned away by the $100/per person rate. Instead of dishing the money out we followed a trail for a few miles that meandered around the lake, soaking in the beauty and serenity of the mountains. As we walked the clouds began lifting, causing us to debate our decision to skip the boat ride, and ultimately turning us back to try and get tickets for the last cruise of the day. We were able to secure “cheaper” tickets for $76 each for the 15h00 boat, giving us about half an hour to eat a quick lunch before our trip.
The cruise across Maligne Lake would take us nearly twenty miles southeast across the second largest glacially fed lake in the world. We climbed onto the motor-powered boat with about 30 other visitors and took our seats while the tour guide introduced herself and got us acquainted with the itinerary of the tour. We’d cross the lake as she narrated our surroundings, then dock near the notable Spirit Island where we’d have fifteen or so minutes to explore and take pictures. I spent most of the ride across the lake on the back deck of the boat taking photos, listening in to the stories of the mountain ranges and glaciers towering over both sides of Maligne’s shores. As we neared the opposite side of the lake the sun began shining through dispersing clouds, and by the time we arrived at the quiet dock near Spirit Island it was almost a beautiful day outside. I must have taken five hundred photos in the short time we were there, doing my best to capture the island from any angle I could, but still standing in silence with Dani truly appreciating the beauty of this tiny peninsula-like island in the middle of the turquoise water backed up against gigantic mountain ranges. We took the half-hour boat ride back to the visitor center, both of us on the back deck of the boat this time, watching the world go by and endlessly appreciating where we were.
The drive back to Jasper passed quickly, and we spent the late afternoon walking around town popping in and out of stores and picking up a few groceries from two stores that were gluten-free friendly. At the latter of the grocery stores I asked the checkout clerk where his favorite spot to watch sunset from was and he pointed us towards Old Fort Point, an elevated vista on the other side of the Athabasca River. We drove to the Old Fort Point parking lot and cooked a small salad and pasta dinner, then hiked for twenty or so minutes up to the top of a barren and windy hill to watch the sun set over Jasper. While the sunset itself was nothing spectacular, the elevated view really gave me a greater appreciation for the town and just how nestled into the mountains it really is. We returned to the campground and climbed into bed around 22h00 under skies that were still as bright as day, but after a long day of exploring the Park it was easier than I ever would have guessed to fall soundly asleep for the night.