The Disappearing Lake

First Nation’s people originally called it Magic Lake, because of its seemingly magical powers as it mysteriously drains naturally like a giant bathtub with a missing plug. Now called Medicine Lake, it is located along the highway to Maligne Lake 27 km southeast of the town of Jasper, Alberta and within Jasper National Park. Hopefully the lake will be there and that will depend on what time of year you visit.

Photo by J.Borno

The Maligne River pours into the lake from the south and drains out through sinkholes in the bottom. The water then streams through a cave system formed in the slightly soluble limestone rock, surfacing again in the area of Maligne Canyon 16 kilometers downstream. This is one of the largest known sinking rivers in the Western Hemisphere and may be the largest inaccessible cave system anywhere in the world!

Photo by J.Borno

In fall and winter the lake disappears, becoming a mudflat with scattered pools of water connected by a stream. Wolves in the region have figured out how to make it work for them and have been known to chase caribou into the muck so they’ll get stuck.

Photo by J.Borno

Medicine Lake is a geologic anomaly in the sense that it is not actually a lake but rather an area in which the Maligne River backs up and suddenly disappears underground. The underground system is extensive and during the 1970s researchers used a biodegradable dye to determine the underground river’s extent. The dye showed up in many of the lakes and rivers in the area to the point where it became clear that the underground system was one of the most extensive in the world.

Medicine Lake also boasts a healthy population of rainbow trout and brook trout and is a fly fisherman’s paradise.

Another Rocky Mountain moment and one of those sacred lakes to visit.

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