Spirit Island is one of the most iconic locations in Alberta despite its small size. Emerald waters, pristine conifers and rugged snow-capped peaks surround the island. The box canyon where Maligne Lake resides was named the “Hall of the Gods” by Mary Schaffer, the first European to discover the lake in 1908. However, the island itself has been a site of spiritual significance to the native Nakoda people long before European settlers arrived.
Reaching the island is no small endeavor, requiring a 30-mile drive from Jasper on Maligne Lake Road to the dock, and then traveling by boat for 8.7 miles to the final destination. Shuttles and boat tours are available, but you’ll need to paddle out yourself if you want more time for a special photograph.
Weather At Spirit Island
Winters in Jasper National Park are long and brutally cold at times. Snowfall is common from October through April, and sometimes it snows as late as June. Spirit Island is nearly inaccessible during the winter months due to snow and ice on the lake.
Summers are pleasant and mild, with temperatures averaging around 71 degrees Fahrenheit for highs and 47 degrees for lows. Though the weather is more amicable in summer, storms can develop with little warning. At times, winds funnel through the mountains and generate waves that are dangerous for small watercraft. I recommend paddling the shorelines when possible, though a channel crossing is required. Allot extra time for unexpected weather and surface conditions.
Kayaking to Spirit Island was an adventure I’ll never forget. I had little paddling experience but decided to buy a small 8-foot kayak for the voyage. Little did I know that the lake is actually quite large, and most people on the lake had either canoes or sea kayaks that were over 16 feet long. My journey was such a spectacle that locals frequently stopped to see if I was OK and joked about how crazy I was for going through with the trip. Everyone cheered me on as I pulled into the Fisherman’s Bay Campground.
The next morning was foggy, but I braved the paddle to the island at dawn. Initially, the visibility was poor, but the fog cleared perfectly at sunrise and shrouded the forest on both sides. The upper-level clouds were separated into lines, all pointing directly at the subject.
I shot this photograph using a Nikon D810 and AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED lens. Ideal conditions usually require more patience, but sometimes you find yourself in the right place at the right time. I only had one morning to take photographs, so this shoot involved more luck than planning.
Best Times To Visit Spirit Island
Summer provides the best conditions for this trip, as Maligne Lake is very chilly and the warmer temperatures are welcomed. Typically, I prefer autumn photography, but most trees in the area are conifers, and the later months are quite cold in the Canadian Rockies.
Most people will say that the evening is the best time to photograph Spirit Island, but I must say that the morning fog contributed to an excellent photography session. Regardless of the time of day or year that you visit, the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.
Contact: Jasper National Park, www.jaspernationalpark.com.
See more of Christopher Hawkins’ work at facebook.com/christopherhawkinsimages.