I admit, I'm getting spoiled by all the beautiful canyons I've had the opportunity to explore. So when it came time to hike up Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park, all I could think of was getting down into the canyon rather than walking along the top. We hiked the trail backwards, starting low at Fifth Bridge and walking uphill to Second Bridge. This little rock outcropping we scrambled down to along the Maligne River, just past Fourth Bridge, may have been my favorite part of the entire 4.2 kilometers.
The draw of Maligne Canyon comes from a few different unique features. First, in some spots at the top of the canyon it's so narrow that squirrels jump across the 50 meter drop. Second, the way the canyon was carved is just fascinating. Beginning at Maligne Lake, the river flows to Medicine Lake where the water drains (almost completely by the winter time) into underground passages which make their way to Maligne Canyon. In the winter, it's possible to take a guided tour through the canyon when the water has all drained out (totally on my list to do now).
From Fifth to Fourth Bridge, the walk is a pleasant stroll through a forest with a number of natural springs pouring out from the surrounding hillsides. Just before Fourth Bridge, the trail meets up with the river and there are plenty of spots to scramble down to the water to explore or would make a great spot for a picnic. From here the trail begins to climb along with the canyon.
Eventually, you'll end up on top of the canyon with dramatic views towards the bottom and through the layers of carved out rock. While the beginning of the hike isn't very crowded, by Third Bridge, I found the tour bus population a bit too overwhelming and we ended up turning back around Second Bridge, content with the views we had already seen.
While there isn't anything too thrillingly different on the way back down the main trail, I would highly recommend a short detour on to the 7F trail. This narrow trail takes you higher above the river and gives you some fab views of the mountains and river above most of the trees.