Alberta, Canada

Medicine Lake, Alberta: Disappearing Lake

Indians believed the disappearance of the lake was caused by “the big medicine”. The mystery and way to explore the Medicine Lake, Alberta

Medicine Lake has a unique and remarkable story and probably one of its kind in the entire world! Since it’s on the way to Maligne Lake, one of the top destinations in the Jasper National Park, Medicine Lake in Alberta or “Disappearing Lake” is definitely worth a quick stop.

Time to explore: a quick glance to an hour.
Activities: picnic lunch, hike around the lake.

How to explore Medicine Lake, Alberta, “disappearing lake” with a family

At the pullover area (parking) you get the best views of the lake and surrounding mountains right from the car. We could enjoy the lake while our youngest one was sleeping in the car without taking him out. The place isn’t stroller friendly: very short but steep stairs lead to the grassy area, where kids can run and play.

Medicine Lake during summer months, Jasper National Park
photo credit: Pixabay

The Mystery of Medicine Lake

The most fascinating feature of the lake is not its color, nor the surrounding mountains (don’t get me wrong, they are very scenic). It’s the mystery surrounding the lake.

In summer, Medicine looks like any other lake in Jasper National Park. By October, however, the lake vanishes and a shallow stream winds sluggishly across mudflats to a few small pools until spring:

Medicine Lake, Alberta, "disappearing lake"
Medicine Lake, Alberta, “disappearing lake” in November. Photo credit: Mariko Ishikawa

Water depth varies as much as 20 meters throughout the year. Most of the time the lake has no visible outlet.
Indians believed the disappearance of the lake was caused by “the big medicine”, or “magic” in their language, and they feared it.

The Mystery Solved

The bedrock in this part of the Maligne Valley had been fractured severely during uplift. The rainwater and snowmelt entered cracks and slowly dissolved creating a network of the underground passage. The upper Maligne river sinks into these passages through many openings in the valley floor.

In summer, meltwater from snow and glaciers swells the river, exceeding what the underground system can carry. The surplus water, dammed by a massive rock slide to the north, floods the basin and forms Medicine Lake.

Artem running on logs at the huge grassy area right below parking. All around Medicine Lake, as far as you can see are devastating forest fire after-effects from 2014

What’s the Deal with the Mattresses?

In the 1950s, fluctuating water levels hampered ferry service on the lake. A dam was proposed but never built, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to block the sink points using sandbags, mattresses, and bundles of magazines.

Recently, the outflow of the underground system has been traced to a large group of springs in the Athabasca Valley, 17 km down the valley from Medicine Lake. Although this may be the world’s most significant underground stream, the entrances are small and debris-choked, and the passages remain frustratingly inaccessible. Locals say that in fall when the lake vanishes till the very bottom, you may spot all that have left from the mattresses.

Medicine Lake, Alberta, the disappearing lake on a cloudy summer day.
Medicine Lake, Alberta, the disappearing lake on a cloudy summer day.

A cool stop on the way from Medicine Lake is Maligne Canyon, our most favorite destination in the Jasper National Park.

Have fun and don’t miss this local gem!

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By Mrs. Grazy Goat

I am Ira, the author behind Grazy Goat. My husband and I run this blog and share our experiences about thrilling places and cultures. Our son Artem recently joined us and helps with editing.

We are very happy to have YOU here 😻

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