When you visit someplace new that’s renowned for its natural beauty, sometimes the best thing you can do is rely on a guide’s knowledge of the area to help you see it in all its true glory. While on our trip to Alberta, we had plenty of access to Banff, but were unfamiliar with Jasper National Park (a few hours up the road but also exquisite). So, we booked a lake cruise on Jasper’s Maligne Lake through Brewster.ca.
And boy, did we cut this close — by which I mean CLOSE. The drive from Banff to Maligne Lake is stunningly beautiful, and you can easily kill two birds with one stone by driving one of the most scenic highways in North America on your way to one of the prettiest lakes in Alberta. However, it’s also a total and complete bitch of a drive, as you’re competing with traffic, fellow visitors, weather, and loads and loads of achingly slow construction. For, y’know, 4 hours.
So, while we left with plenty of time to spare, we also weren’t quite counting on huge delays along the route (thanks, Google Maps, for not mentioning that…).
Boyfriend Perspective: You have no power here, Google Maps. Seriously, no phone service on the parkway.
The lake cruise experience
Our cruise was scheduled for 1:45pm, and we roared up to the ticket desk to check in at 1:37. They started boarding literally two minutes later, and then it was time to go.
The boarding process started with two groups quibbling about someone cutting in line, which the guide – who was also taking tickets at the boat – quickly and kindly defused. But it was kind of an omen for the outing.
Boyfriend Perspective: I’m not a fan of people cutting in line for some things, but it’s a boat for 20 people….who f’ing cares about cutting in line. Anyone with a ticket is getting on the boat no matter where they are queued up.
If you’re someone like us, who HATES seeing people touch untouchable things in museums, disobey direct asks, and generally be dicks, you might spend the cruise being irritated. Particularly raucous and annoying tourist behavior dogged this whole outing, and I’m not sure how May, our guide, and Andi, our captain, stayed so extremely calm and nice. Major kudos to them both!!
May gave us a thorough and very funny rundown of the history and significance of the lake – how the lake formed, the geological history of the mountains and hills that make up the skyline, the people who settled in the area, and the deeply special relationship the local First Nations have with the lake and with Spirit Island.
Boyfriend Perspective: Our guide and captain were were well informed and entertaining the entire trip. Aussies are fantastic guides 🙂
And with that, we arrived at Spirit Island, itself. While you aren’t allowed to step foot on the island due to its sacred and protected nature, there’s a walking path that leads you to a lovely overlook where you can mimic the photo that made Spirit Island famous in the 1960s. It also brings you down closer to the shore and you can really enjoy the deep turquoise lake close up.
After about 20 minutes on the island, it was back into the boat for the trip back to the dock.
After the cruise
We went up to the lodge for food, since we hadn’t eaten for most of the day. It’s pretty generic buffet food. That said, their soups are probably the best thing they offer (unlike their egg salad sandwich, which was more mayo than egg, heh), so you might want to grab more than one of their tiny cups if you’re hungry.
Probably the most entertaining thing about our lunch was the squirrel. Staff had propped the doors of the lunchroom open, since it was a pretty balmy, breezy day. And, of course, being ballsy in a way that only a squirrel can be, we ended up with a fluffy-tailed guest waiting under our table. He was actually pretty photogenic – until some kids saw him and decided to give chase. Eyeroll.
We enjoyed the lake very much, and probably would have had even more fun, had we had time to get out and hike around, as well. As it was, spending so much time having people lean over us, run into us, and talk over our guide just left us both kind of exhausted.
Would we do it again? NOPE.
TL;DR and things to know
- Brewster’s website can be screwy on mobile. If you’re getting error messages, call the company directly and they can help.
- Tours sell out insanely fast, so book early!
- Tours are also seasonal, so don’t try to book at the wrong time of year. Maligne Lake freezes solid in the winter – no cruising is possible.
- The drive will be longer than you think, so allow AT LEAST an extra 30-40 minutes or more to deal with construction, slow trucks, “animal jams”, and more.
- The drive is also stunning. If possible, rent a car and road trip the Icefields Parkway. You won’t regret it.
- The cruise is uber touristy. If you don’t like looking at your fellow tour group attendees through their camera and iPhone lenses, maybe walk a trail instead.