For the most of our trip into the Canadian Rockies, we were extremely lucky in regards to the weather. A sudden shift of strong winds and hail while we were scouting out the area for our next backpacking trip reminded us that we shouldn’t leave those extra layers behind.
This is the seventh entry of our Canadian Rockies trip series covering our seventh hike. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
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Maligne Lake area is part of Jasper National Park and is known for its azure colored lake. The lake itself is 14.0 miles (22.5 km) long and 318 feet (97 m) at its deepest (wikipedia).
The area is accessible via Maligne Lake Road off of Hwy 16, just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) east of the town of Jasper. The road itself is about 27 miles (44 km) long and has no services, so make sure you had enough gasoline for the roundtrip. The drive itself is quite scenic with jagged mountain chains and Medicine Lake.
There is a private shuttle service available from Jasper to reach Maligne Lake (Maligne Adventures). It is also known for shuttling hikers on the point to point Skyline Trail hike, which can take 2 to 3 days. The Skyline was the next backcountry backpacking trip we had planned. However, we wanted to avoid shelling out the CAD$35 per person so our motive for checking out Maligne Lake area included seeing the feasibility of hitch-hiking Maligne Lake Road.
Speaking of hiking options in the Maligne Lake Area, there are several options with varying difficulties listed by Parks Canada.
The easier options included Moose Lake Loop (alltrails), Mary Schäffer Loop (alltrails), & Lorraine Lake and Mona Lake (which is the beginning of the Skyline Trail from Maligne Lake; Skyline Trail report coming soon).
As mentioned above, the Skyline Trail is a point to point multi day backpacking option with one point at Maligne Lake (trip report coming soon; Parks Canada). However, there are two lesser know and more technical options here. The first is the Maligne Pass North section of the Great Divide Trail (GDT; Parks Canada Reservations – Maligne Pass Trail; hiking project – GDT section E) ending at the Poboktan trailhead on the Icefield Parkway in the south. The GDT hikers we met in 2019 on our trip said that the section wasn’t well maintained, overgrown, and they had plenty of downed trees to climb over. Secondly, they said due to the area being a Moose or Caribou preserve, the campgrounds are limited to 1 site per night. This makes the reservations slightly difficult.
This is why there is the off trail Six Passes Alternate for the GDT (GDT, Nancy Hikes; hiking project). Backcountry Reservation is still needed from Jasper National Park and can be obtained by calling 7980-852-6236 (Two Guys in the Woods; I’m seeing this can’t be book online). Taking this alternate was the one thing our GDT friends said they’d would have changed about their hike. The northern portion of this alternate is the same as the Bald Hills Trail, which gave us another reason to do Bald Hills as our day hike while exploring the area.
Lastly, you can even make both the Maligne Pass GDT section and the Six passes Alternate into a loop (Backpacks & Bike Racks). Something I’m hoping to check out in the future.
Other than hiking, being on Maligne Lake itself is the main draw for visitors. Jasper National Park has three semi-primitive campsites along the cost of Maligne Lake and you can reach them by canoe or kayak (Parks Canada). There are rentals at the lake (Banff Jasper Collection) or cheaper options are said to be available in town (Bearfoot Theory)
For our hike, we ended up explore a little bit further along the Bald Hill Ridge. Part of this was because of my curiosity about the Six Pass Alternate Route would have continued further south. The actual looped hike for Bald Hills is about 8.5 miles.
Our hike began at the busy Maligne Lake parking are for hikers, not the Maligne Lake Lodge. It was overflowing during peak tourist season despite iffy weather. We had to circle the parking lot twice before squeezing into a spot. The busy parking lot is understandable since this is the trailhead for several different hikes in the area.
The directions to each specific trail is well signed and we crossed Maligne Lake Road toward the trailhead for Bald Hills. There is a informational kiosk.
The initial portion of the trail was on a wide dirt road and we would be staying on it for the first 1.7 miles of the hike. The elevation gain was minor at the beginning around 5.6% grade and slowed increased to 14.3% by the time we were turning off it.
The trail passes a cottage of sorts on the right and a junction for the Moose Lake Loop on the left just before the quarter mile mark. The rest of the time on the dirt road was spend winding through the forest. The dirt road is a multi-use use trail which means bikers and horses are to be expected. Apparently, that included ATVs as well since i guess this portion is considered a gravel road (maybe?, Parks Canada), so do watch out.
At the 1.7 mile mark, we came to the junction that makes the hike loopish. The junction is for the shorter but steeper trail toward Bald Hills in comparison to the dirt road, but both will converge further up on the mountain. Since we like taking the steeper portions on the uphills and were looking to get away from the dirt road, we turned left onto the trail. This section was about 0.8 miles with an average grade of 20.0%. The trail was plenty well worn with tree roots showing.
After a few switchbacks, the trees started to thing out and we caught glimpses of Maligne Lake.
At the 2.5 mile mark, the Bald Hill Trails combine once again and continued on a bench. The 6.1% grade felt flat after our uphill. In quarter mile we came to the junction to head up toward the Bald Hills Summit.
However, there was a large of of hikers and just started to head up, so we opted to take trail around the summit first and hiking to the summit on the backside by turning left at a the next junction. Though there seemed to be a couple of trails here and there was be another option to head up the front side of Bald Hills Summit a few steps after we turned on out trail going around Bald Hills Summit.
Our path was the other loopish aspect of the trail. The trail around the summit continued on the edge of the tree line with plenty of adolescent pines dotting the grassy slopes.
It was about third quarters of a mile with an grade of 9.4% until we reached the junction at the far side of Bald Hills Summit.
At this junction, we saw there was a worn path continuing further south along the ridge. I believe this was part of the Six Pass Alternate Route for the GDT. So we decided to hike along it until the next sumit out of curiosity. Also this allowed us to avoid the large group of hikers coming off of Bald Hills Summit.
So we continued on for another 0.6 miles with the steepest incline of 14.7% grade. It wasn’t the uphills that was difficult here, but the blistering wind. Overall, it was worth the extra effort as we reached the highest point of our hike with a stretched out view of Maligne Lake with the Queen Elizabeth Ranges hiding in the low clouds.
Pretty soon the strong wind brought its friend, Mr Hail. So we put on all our layers and started to head back.
Back at the backside junction for Bald Hills Summit, we decided to we might as well head up there despite to howling wind and hail. When in Rome. We were actually able to find some respite from the wind behind the rocks at the summit. However it seems like tourists have been feeding the squirrels as they were learned to not fear us and were expecting food. They were also aggressive as one jumped on another hiker when they brought their food out. So a reminder to not feed the wildlife.
We did not stay long and continued down the other side of the summit, which were composed of large slabs of rocks.
After the summit, there was a nice viewpoint of the Evelyn Creek drainage to the west. Evelyn Peak was observed in the clouds, however.
Lastly, we headed up to the final viewpoint from Bald Hills to the east, including Maligne Lake, Leah Peak in the clouds, and Opal Peak.
Again, we didn’t stick around for long because of the wind. But we also stopped applenting on our way down from the viewpoint.
It was only 0.15 miles down to the junction with the trail we had taken earlier, with the steepest grade about -19.8%. However footing was a bit more precarious since it was mostly dirt on the trail.
On our way out, we took the longer and less steep option to save our knees and ankles, but also to complete the loop. Retracing our previous steps and passing the junction for the steeper Bald Hills Trail, we came to the end of the dirt road 0.5 miles from where we came down from Bald Hills Summit. There were a few tie-ups for horses and bike locks here.
We continued on the dirt road for 1.7 miles until we reached the junction with the steeper Bald Hill Trail. The grade was a much gentiler -8.5% average, though there were a couple steep steps at -18.8%.
The trees were sparse enough that we were able to get a few views of the Maligne River drainage. It was a pleasant surprise along with the better weather below the peak.
From the junction with the steeper Bald Hills Trail, it was just retracing our steps for the last 1.8 miles to close out the hike.
Before we returned to our car, we stopped by the boat dock on maligne Lake near the parking lot. It was a busy scene without any of the incremental weather we experienced on top of the Bald Hills.
The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.
views/experience: 3. The highlight of the hike took place once we were above treeline. From the Bald Hills Summit, Maligne Lake is stretched out in the valley below with impressive jagged peaks behind it. From different points on around the summit, we also had views of the Maligne River drainage and the Evoline Creek drainage. Working up to the tree line does requires some work as a large portion of the trail is within the forest and a portion of that is on a dirt road.
The Maligne Lake area as a whole would rate as a 4, but not specifically this hike. I would travel back here in the future to either do some kayaking and camping along Maligne Lake or hike the Six Pass GDT Alternate section.
difficulty: 2. With the elevation gain totaling 2410 ft, some work is required to reach the summit. The sudden change in weather once we were in the open past the tree line made the hike more difficult. At least it wasn’t a thunderstorm.
technical: 1. There isn’t any scrambling on the hike, just some rocks you need to step around at the Bald Hills Summit. The elevation profile for the hike isn’t too steep either that you’d need to use your hands. The trails aren’t signed well around the summit, but it’s pretty clear where you need to go since it is in the open. Plus there are a good number of visitors you can follow.