Jasper National Park Hiking
The 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) of hiking trails in Jasper National Park are significantly different from those in the other mountain parks. The park has an extensive system of interconnecting backcountry trails that, for experienced hikers, can provide a wilderness adventure rivaled by few areas on the face of the earth. For casual day hikers, on the other hand, opportunities are more limited.
Most trails in the immediate vicinity of the town have little elevation gain and lead through montane forest to lakes. The trails around Maligne Lake, at the base of Mount Edith Cavell, and along the Icefields Parkway have more rewarding objectives and are more challenging. These are covered in detail throughout the chapter. The most popular trails for extended backcountry trips are the Skyline Trail, between Maligne Lake Road and Maligne Lake (44.5 km/27.6 miles, three days each way); the trails to Amethyst Lakes in the Tonquin Valley (19 km/11.8 miles, one day each way) and Athabasca Pass (50 km/31 miles, three days each way), which was used by fur traders for 40 years as the main route across the Canadian Rockies; and the South Boundary Trail, which traverses a remote section of the front ranges into Banff National Park (160 km/100 miles, 10 days each way).
Before setting off on any hikes, whatever the length, go to the park information center in downtown Jasper or the Parks Canada desk in the Icefield Centre along the Icefields Parkway for trail maps, trail conditions, and trail closures, or to purchase a copy of the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, by Brian Patton and Bart Robsinson.
Hiking around the Town of Jasper
Pyramid Benchland Hiking TrailLength: 7 kilometers/4.3 miles (2 hours) round-trip Elevation gain: 120 meters/400 feet Rating: easy Trailhead: Jasper-Yellowhead Museum, Pyramid Lake Road
Numerous official and unofficial hiking trails weave across the benchland immediately west of the town of Jasper. From the far corner of the parking lot beside the museum, a well-marked trail climbs onto the benchland. Keep right, crossing Pyramid Lake Road, and you’ll emerge on a bluff overlooking the Athabasca River Valley. Bighorn sheep can often be seen grazing here. If you return to the trailhead from here, you will have hiked seven kilometers (4.3 miles). The trail continues north, disappearing into the montane forest until arriving at Pyramid Lake. Various trails can be taken to return to town; get a map at the park information center before setting out.
Mina Lakes Hiking TrailLength: 2.5 kilometers/1.5 miles (50 minutes) one-way Elevation gain: 70 meters/230 feet Rating: easy Trailhead: Jasper-Yellowhead Museum, Pyramid Lake Road
Lower and Upper Mina Lakes lie on the benchland immediately west of the town of Jasper. The trailhead is the same as the Pyramid Lake Loop, except instead of keeping right, you’ll need to take the first left fork (signposted as Route 8 to Cabin Creek West), which climbs up onto the bench, then crosses a treeless 100-meter-wide (328-foot-wide) corridor, cleared to act as a firebreak for the town. Cabin Lake Road passes along the firebreak, leading west (left) to man-made Cabin Lake and east (right) to Pyramid Lake Road. Continuing straight ahead, the trail climbs gradually through a typical montane forest of lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, and poplar before emerging at Lower Mina Lake. After a further 500 meters (0.3 mile) and just beyond the end of Lower Mina Lake, the upper lake and a pebbly stretch of beach are reached. The distance given above is to this point, but with a map in hand, it’s possible to continue along the shore of the upper lake; two kilometers (1.2 miles) beyond the end of the lake the trail forks–looping back along Cabin Lake Road via Cabin Lake to the left and to Riley Lake to the right.
Patricia Lake Hiking TrailLength: 5-kilometer/3.1-mile loop (90 minutes round-trip) Elevation gain: minimal Rating: easy Trailhead: 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) along Pyramid Lake Road
This trail begins across the road from the riding stables on Pyramid Lake Road. It traverses a mixed forest of aspen and lodgepole pine–prime habitat for larger mammals such as elk, deer, and moose. The second half of the trail skirts Cottonwood Slough, where you’ll see several beaver ponds. Unlike the name suggests, this trail doesn’t encircle Patricia Lake, but instead just passes along a portion of its southern shoreline.
The Palisade Hiking TrailLength: 11 kilometers/6.8 miles (4 hours) one-way Elevation gain: 850 meters/2,790 feet Rating: difficult Trailhead: the end of Pyramid Lake Road, 8 kilometers (5 miles) from town
The destination of this strenuous hike is the site of an old fire lookout tower atop a high ridge between the Athabasca River Valley and Pyramid Mountain. From the locked gate at the end of Pyramid Lake Road, the trail crosses Pyramid Creek after one kilometer (0.6 mile), then climbs steadily for the entire distance along a forest-enclosed fire road (take the right fork at the 7.5-km/4.7-mile mark). Once at the end of the trail, it’s easy to see why this site was chosen for the lookout; the panorama extends down the valley and across Jasper Lake to Roche Miette (2,316 meters/7,600 feet).
Old Fort Point Hiking TrailLength: 6.5-kilometer/4-mile loop (2 hours round-trip) Elevation gain: 60 meters/200 feet Rating: easy Trailhead: Take Highway 93A south from downtown, follow the first left after crossing Highway 16, and park across the Athabasca River.
Old Fort Point is a distinctive knoll above the Athabasca River, to the east of town. Although it is not likely that a fort was ever located here, the first fur-trading post in the Rockies, Henry House, was just downstream. It’s easy to imagine fur traders and early explorers climbing to this summit for 360-degree views of the Athabasca and Miette Rivers. From the parking lot beyond the single-lane vehicle bridge over the Athabasca River, climb the wooden stairs, take the trail to the top of the knoll, and then continue back to the parking lot along the north flank of the hill.
The Whistlers Hiking TrailLength: 8 kilometers/5 miles (3 hours) one-way Elevation gain: 1,220 meters/4,000 feet Rating: difficult Trailhead: 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) along Whistlers Road from Highway 93
This steep ascent, the park’s most arduous day hike, is unique in that it passes through three distinct vegetation zones in a relatively short distance. (For the less adventurous, Jasper Tramway (780/852-3093) traverses the same route described here.) From the trailhead on Whistlers Road, immediately below the hostel, the trail begins climbing and doesn’t let up until you merge with the crowds getting off the tramway at the top. The trail begins in a montane forest of aspen and white birch, climbs through a subalpine forest of Engelmann spruce and alpine fir, then emerges onto the open, treeless tundra, which is inhabited by pikas, hoary marmots, and a few hardy plants. Carry water with you, because none is available before the upper tramway terminal. If you’ve taken the tramway, free guided hikes are offered around the summit area.
Hiking in the Maligne Lake Area
Maligne Lake, 48 kilometers (30 miles) from the town of Jasper, provides more easy hiking with many opportunities to view the lake and explore its environs. To get there, take Highway 16 east for four kilometers (2.5 miles) from town and turn south on Maligne Lake Road. The first three hikes detailed are along the access road to the lake; the others leave from various parking lots at the northwest end of the lake.
For detailed descriptions of local trails, visit our Maligne Lake hiking page.
Hiking near Mount Edith Cavell
Cavell Road begins from Highway 93A, 13 kilometers (eight miles) south from the town of Jasper, and winds through a subalpine forest, ascending 300 meters (980 feet) in 14.5 kilometers (nine miles). Trailheads are located at the end of the road (Cavell Meadows Trail and a short interpretive trail) and across from the hostel two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the end (Astoria River/Tonquin Valley Trail). A third trailhead is on Marmot Basin Road where it crosses Portal Creek (Maccarib Pass Trail).
Cavell Meadows Hiking TrailLength: 4 kilometers/2.5 miles (1.5 hours) one-way Elevation gain: 380 meters/1,250 feet Rating: moderate Trailhead: parking lot at the end of Cavell Road, 27.5 kilometers (17 miles) south of town
This trail, beginning from the parking lot beneath Mount Edith Cavell, provides access to an alpine meadow and panoramic views of Angel Glacier. The trail begins by following the paved Path of the Glacier Trail, then branches left, climbing steadily along a rocky ridge and then through a subalpine forest of Engelmann spruce and then stunted subalpine fir to emerge facing the northeast face of Mount Edith Cavell and Angel Glacier. The view of the glacier from this point is nothing less than awesome, as the ice spills out of a cirque, clinging to a 300-meter-high (984-foot-high) cliff face. The trail continues to higher viewpoints and an alpine meadow that, by mid-July, is filled with wildflowers.
Astoria River/Tonquin Valley Hiking TrailLength: 19 kilometers/11.8 miles (6 to 7 hours) one-way Elevation gain: 450 meters/1,480 feet Rating: moderate Trailhead: opposite the hostel on Cavell Road
From Cavell Road, this trail descends through a forest on the north side of Mount Edith Cavell for five kilometers (3.1 miles), then crosses the Astoria River and begins a long ascent into spectacular Tonquin Valley. Amethyst Lakes and the 1,000-meter (3,280-foot) cliffs of the Ramparts first come into view after 13 kilometers (eight miles). At the 17-kilometer (10.5-mile) mark the trail divides. To the left it climbs into Eremite Valley, where there is a campground. The right fork continues, following Astoria River to Tonquin Valley, Amethyst Lakes, and a choice of four campgrounds.
Maccarib Pass Hiking TrailLength: 21 kilometers/13 miles (7 to 8 hours) one-way Elevation gain: 730 meters/2,400 feet Rating: moderate/difficult Trailhead: 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) up Marmot Basin Road
This trail is slightly longer and gains more elevation than the trail along Astoria River but is more spectacular. It strikes out to the southwest, following Portal Creek for a short distance, then passes under Peveril Peak before making a steep approach to Maccarib Pass, 12.5 kilometers (7.8 miles) from the trailhead. The full panorama of the Tonquin Valley can be appreciated as the path gradually descends from the pass. At Amethyst Lakes it links up with the Astoria River Trail, and many options for day hikes head out from campgrounds at the lakes.
Icefields Parkway Hiking Trails
For those who aren’t comfortable hiking in remote areas, the trails branching off the Icefields Parkway can be somewhat intimidating. If that sounds like you, consider one of the shorter walks not detailed below, such as to Horseshoe Lake.
Geraldine Lakes Hiking TrailLength: 5 kilometers/3.1 miles (2 hours) one-way Elevation gain: 410 meters/1,350 feet Rating: moderate Trailhead: Geraldine Fire Road, off Highway 93A, 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) from Athabasca Falls
The first of the four Geraldine Lakes is an easy two-kilometer (1.2-mile) hike from the end of the 5.5-kilometer (3.4-mile) Geraldine Fire Road. The forest-encircled lake reflects the north face of Mount Fryatt (3,361 meters/11,030 feet). The trail continues along the northwest shore, climbs steeply past a scenic 100-meter-high (330-foot-high) waterfall, and traverses some rough terrain where the trail becomes indistinct; follow the cairns. At the end of the valley is another waterfall. The trail climbs east of the waterfall to a ridge above the second of the lakes, five kilometers (3.1 miles) from the trailhead. Although the trail officially ends here, it does continue to a campground at the south end of the lake. Two other lakes, accessible only by bushwhacking, are farther up the valley.
Valley of the Five Lakes Hiking TrailLength: 2.3 kilometers/1.4 miles (40 minutes) one-way Elevation gain: 60 meters/200 feet Rating: easy Trailhead: Icefields Parkway, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) south of the town of Jasper
These lakes, nestled in an open valley, are small but make a worthwhile destination. From the trailhead, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) south of town along the Icefields Parkway, the trail passes through a forest of lodgepole pine, crosses a stream, and climbs a ridge from where you’ll have a panoramic view of surrounding peaks. As the trail descends to the lakes, turn left at the first intersection to a point between two of the lakes. These lakes are linked to Old Fort Point by a tedious 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) trail through montane forest.
Fortress Lake Hiking TrailLength: 24 kilometers/15 miles (7 to 8 hours) one-way Elevation gain: minimal Rating: moderate Trailhead: Sunwapta Falls, 58 kilometers (36 miles) south of the town of Jasper
The trail to this seldom-visited lake straddling the Continental Divide gains little elevation, making it popular with mountain-bike riders experienced in backcountry travel. After crossing the canyon below Sunwapta Falls, the trail meanders along the east bank of the Athabasca River for 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), then crosses it. Beyond the main bridge you’ll need to ford the braided Chaba River, then continue southwest along the river flats for six kilometers (3.7 miles) to the east end of Fortress Lake. The lake lies within British Columbia in Hamber Provincial Park. Its shores are difficult to traverse because they lack established trails. At the end of the trail, Fortress Lake Wilderness Retreat (250/344-2639, www.fortresslake.com) provides cabin accommodations, mostly for anglers who fly in by helicopter from Golden, but hikers are also welcomed.
Wilcox Pass Hiking TrailLength: 4 kilometers/2.5 miles (90 minutes) one-way Elevation gain: 340 meters/1,115 feet Rating: moderate Trailhead: Wilcox Creek Campground, 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) south of the Icefield Centre
Views of the Columbia Icefield from the Icefields Parkway pale in comparison with those achieved along this trail, on the same side of the valley as the Icefield Centre. This trail was once used by northbound outfitters because, 120 years ago, Athabasca Glacier covered the valley floor and had to be bypassed. Beginning from the Wilcox Creek Campground access road, the trail climbs through a stunted forest of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir to a ridge with panoramic views of the valley, Mount Athabasca, and the Athabasca Glacier. Ascending gradually from there, the trail enters a fragile environment of alpine meadows. From these meadows and the pass, most hikers return along the same trail (the distance quoted), although it is possible to continue north, descending to the Icefields Parkway at Tangle Ridge, 11.5 kilometers (7.1 miles) along the road from the trailhead.