Jasper National Park is known for its abundant views, wildlife, and natural wonders. Here is our essential guide to this region of the Canadian Rockies.
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Jhe first thing to know about Canada’s Jasper National Park is that it’s a place where the journey and the destination are equally important. There are many wonders to discover in the park, and they are reserved for those who wish to do the trek.
For most people, that means a scenic trip from Calgary (about a five-hour drive) or Edmonton (about four hours). The road south from Calgary leads through Banff National Park and up to the captivating Icefields Walk between peaks and glaciers.
The long drive makes sense when you realize that at 4,200 square miles, Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. Its high mountain passes are often mentioned in accounts of exploration for the past two centuries. This area is of even greater cultural significance to Treaty 6 and 8 First Nations and the Beaver, Cree, Ojibway, Secwepemc, Stoney and MÃ©tis peoples.
The community of Jasper is at the heart of the park and is a convenient base camp with accommodations and services, plus plenty of friendly advice from the Jasper Park Information Center National Historic Site. Winding mountain roads lead from town to trailheads, glacial lakes and countless peaks in the park.
For first-time visitors, this guide will help you plan your trip to Jasper National Park.
What to do in Jasper National Park in the summer
The summer season announces the last snowfall in June and continues until September. During these months, the landscape is constantly changing, from springtime meltwaters to wildflowers and autumn leaves.
Explore the wide open spaces of the Maligne Valley
Just east of town is Malignant Canyon, where the mighty force of the elements is on full display. The canyon has been etched into the limestone walls by torrents of water, visible on canyon rim trails and bridges crossing chasms more than 160 feet deep.
What is most fascinating is that the water that fills the canyon has traveled all the way from medicine lake (10 miles up Maligne Lake Road) through underground channels that remain a mystery. This “disappearing lake” and Maligne Lake themselves are significant places in the local Aboriginal culture. Explore the shores of Maligne Lake on the lakeside hiking trails or cruise through crisp emerald waters to Spirit Island, one of the most photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies.
Walk on (frozen) water at Columbia Icefield
At the southern end of the park is the Columbia Icefield, a mass of glacial snow and ice over 10,000 years old. The Athabasca Glacier, flowing out of the icefield in rolling frozen blue waves, almost reaches the roadside of the Icefields Parkway. The trail that follows the foot of the glacier is worth the detour, as is the Columbia Icefield Adventure Tour which allows you to put your foot directly on the old ice.
Drive on the old Highway 93A and Whistlers Road
A lesser known trail runs along the Icefields Parkway south of the town of Jasper. 93A is a section of the original route that connected Jasper to Banff. It splits off from the main highway at thunder Athabasca Falls and rises steeply to the treeline and winding access road to the interpretive trail below Mount Edith Cavell.
Plan your trip to return to town in the late afternoon and you can visit the Jasper SkyTram on Whistlers Road after day visitors leave. The endless views from the top of the SkyTram, nearly 7,500 feet above sea level on Whistlers Mountain, are even more captivating on a calm day.
What to do in Jasper National Park in Winter
Some of Jasper’s best kept secrets come to life in winter. This is the best time of year for stargazing, which is very important here – Jasper National Park is the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world and the largest that has a city within its boundaries.
Enjoy winter sports at Lake Annette, Lake Mildred and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
The lodge also houses the Jasper Planetarium, created by a passionate group of local astronomers. The planetarium offers an in-depth look at the bustling night sky above Jasper National Park with a theatrical show and telescopic guided tour.
Skiing Marmottes Basin
There’s nothing quite like skiing smooth, groomed slopes in the sun or effortlessly hurtling down fields of powder. Marmot pond, loved by Jasper locals and visitors alike, has all of this and more. The resort offers 3,000 feet of vertical drop and a varied mix of terrain.
Bundle up and get out at Pyramid Lake
At the foot of towering Mount Pyramid, just north of town, winter turns a popular lakeshore into a natural playground. Pyramid Lake has its own island with well traveled walking trails in the winter. On the lake itself there are options for Ice skating or group together for a comfortable horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Tips for planning your visit to Jasper National Park
Jasper is a remote community, and finding a last minute place to stay during peak summer season (even a campsite) can be a real challenge. Consider visiting during the quieter seasons of spring, fall, or winter, and keep these other tips in mind when planning your trip.
Disconnect from the real world
Many mountain roads around the park (and the majority of the Icefields Parkway) are outside of cell coverage, so be prepared to navigate the old fashioned way.
Don’t forget a park pass
Park passes are required at all Canadian national parks, providing access for a fee of $10/person/day or $140 for a family or group for one year. Save time at the park entrance by purchasing your pass in line before you leave.
Eat well and support local
Where to sleep in Jasper
Book now: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Mountain charm meets classic elegance in this historic main pavilion and comfortable cabins.
Book now: Pyramid Lake Complex
Nestled on the shores of Pyramid Lake, the appeal is wonderfully peaceful when night falls over the Rockies.
Book now: The Crimson
Exploration is easy when your home away from home is only a short walk to downtown Jasper.
Book now: Alpine Village Cabin Resort
Immaculate log cabins come with amenities like fire pits and patio space to enjoy mountain views in the summer.
>> Next: Banff National Park Guide for Beginners
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