In a region chocked with superlatives, Spirit Island stands out. A cruise to Spirit Island takes you to one of the most photographed places in Canada. Nestled on the shores of beautiful Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, it’s an image recognized around the world. What makes it so special?
Here are 8 amazing things about Spirit Island:
Kodak moment: Peter Gales’ image of Spirit Island hung in Kodak’s Colorama showcase in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in August and September of 1960.
Apple follows: Apple used an image of Spirit Island when they launched 2014 iPad model to showcase it's heightened photography capabilities.
It's not actually an island - most of the time: In spring, with melting snow and heavy rains, it’s possible for the water levels to be high enough to cut the island off from the shore. The rest of the year, it’s connected to shore. Spirit Island sits in the heart of what's called a "box canyon"—a narrow canyon with a flat bottom and vertical walls.
Whether the Spirits: The island is a spiritual place for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, who believe mountains are physical representations of their ancestors. The fact that Spirit Island is surrounded on three sides by the same mountain range is very rare and makes it particularly significant to the Stoney.
Boats only: Access to the island is extremely limited due to its geography. It's in on a remote shore in a cold lake surrounded by high peaks and glacier, 14 km from the docks at Home Bay. It's hard to get to—paddling on your own can take four hours each way! To get the most time around the island, join our Premium Cruise which has an extended stay on the island.
Where blue becomes emerald: The colour of the water is different at Spirit Island than where cruises depart at the Maligne Lake docks. The further south on the lake you travel, the closer you get to glaciers, and the more emerald-coloured the water becomes due to the presence of rock flour from the glaciers.
Photo op: Late afternoon at Spirit Island is the best time for photography. As the sun moves west across the sky, it can seem to sign straight on the island like a spotlight by around 4pm (depending on the time of the summer). Our Through the Lens Cruises run three times a week at 4:30pm to take advantage of this magical hour. Guided by a professional photographer, it includes a unique 60-minute stop at the iconic island.
Pearl vision: Artist and explorer Mary Schäffer was the first European to see Maligne Lake in 1908. Although she never mentioned the island, but she called the box canyon where it sits “the Hall of Gods”. In comparing it to another place she knew well, she said “If Lake Louise is a pearl, Maligne is the entire pearl necklace.”
Thanks to Brittany Andrews, Boat Driver at Maligne Lake Cruise, for her help putting this list together! Britt's been driving boats at Maligne for five summers. She knows the lake and the island really well. "I get to live and work in the national park, and I get to go to Spirit Island every day—it's one of the most beautiful places in the world," she says.
Why does she think Spirit Island has become such an iconic place?
I think it's an image that just captures the spirit of the Canadian Rockies.