When you’re in a place for only a few days you want to get the most bang for your hiking buck. After poring over several trail maps and books of Jasper National Park, one of the trails we chose to hike was the Maligne (pronounced Mah-leen) Canyon. The trail follows the river bank and upper rim of the canyon. Our guidebook published by Moon recommended that we hike the trail back to front and uphill, avoiding the crowds at the front end and having the benefit of a mostly downhill hike on the way back. It turned out to be great advice. The hike includes six bridges along the trail. Four of the six bridges serve as canyon overlook areas to allow people out and over the canyon to look down, rather than scrambling on rocks several hundred feet up to get a better view. I suppose the idea is to get people to stop climbing where they shouldn’t to view the lower canyon. Dear Canadian Park service: Nice try, but it doesn’t work. We saw people climbing in all manner of inappropriate places wearing bad footwear. On a side note, in all my years of hiking it seems that the people who most go off trail are the ones who are least prepared to do so. I’ve watched people with no drinking water wander off into the desert, people in flip flops attempting to climb up a scree trail and half-naked paddleboarders sail off on a 38 degree glacial lake. Ben calls me his girl scout. I always have some variation of the ten hiking essentials in my backpack when I hike. I’ve rarely used the stuff for myself, but I’ve bandaged up countless others who got banged up on
the trail. Perhaps I’ll become a Legendary Hiker Savior after I’m gone, appearing on the trail to rescue someone in need. I imagine someone telling the tale of my appearance. “My kid did a faceplant, and then a woman appeared out of nowhere with band-aids and Neosporin. It was a miracle! I heard she appears whenever someone gets a boo-boo.” Now that I’m thinking about it, I realize I need to develop more of a “look” if I really expect to become a legend because there’s not much that’s legendary about a senior citizen dressed head to toe in REI gear. I need some kind of witchy-mountain-medicine-woman getup. I’m open to suggestions, so if you have ideas let me know. I figure I at least need to start with patchouli oil. No tie-dye though, that would be a cliche.
Anyhow. The canyon hike. As I mentioned earlier (I hope you remember) there are six bridges along the canyon. They are creatively named First Bridge, Second Bridge, Third Bridge and so on. We joined the trail at Fifth Bridge. Unlike the upper bridges, Fifth and Sixth Bridges serve as a crossing where the river is wide and open. We crosssed over Fifth Bridge and trudged up a steep trail following the rise of the canyon walls. The steepest climb was from Fifth to Fourth, and the trail was rutted and rough. We were starting to think this hike wasn’t going to be so much fun, but then climbs to subsequent bridges were progressively moderate, with rough patches
here and there. People who started their hikes at First Bridge were sauntering gaily downstream as we labored upstream. As each one passed, I knew their comeuppance would come in due time.
The Maligne river plays hide and seek in the canyon. There are times where the river is wild and explodes in dramatic whitewater and then disappears into the depths of the canyon to flow underground. The water has carved the limestone of the canyon into sculptures hung with cliff gardens. An altogether beautiful hike.
At Second Bridge we were joined by significant numbers of downriver hikers. Past First Bridge the canyon walls start to drop away and the river widens. At the edge of the river is the bustling parking lot and a building called the Tea House. From the outside it is styled as such, but it’s really a cafeteria with a really cool deck. We hung our there for a while, eating our PB&J sandwiches and watching the squirrels panhandle from the tourists. Then we headed to First Bridge for the trek back.
Don’t let anyone tell you that an out and back hike is boring, especially if it’s a canyon hike. Hiking back gives you a different perspective on the water, rocks and whatever scenery you missed because it was behind you on the way up. As was promised in our guidebook, the return was made easier by hiking downriver. That being said, the trail is pretty rough in places from Fourth Bridge on down so we were glad to have our trekking poles—or as Ben calls them “senior sticks.” At Fourth Bridge we encountered a few of the people we passed earlier who were decidedly less chipper. A set of grim-faced parents was urging three too-big-to-carry-overly-tired whiny kids over the tree roots on the path. We were supportive of the upstream hikers, saying things one says on the trail like “isn’t it a great hike?”, and “once you get through this section it’s not so bad.” I didn’t have the opportunity to give anyone a band-aid this time, though it occurred to me the parents of the whiny kids would have appreciated an adult beverage. Maybe I’ll start carrying a flask—that just might cement my reputation as a Legendary Hiker Savior, and I won’t need the patchouli oil!
We reached the Fifth Bridge, congratulated ourselves with a celebratory stop in the toilets, and headed back to our campsite. You should go to Jasper and do this hike. Enjoy the slide show of the beautiful Maligne Canyon.