Jasper National Park Travel Guide
Snowcapped peaks, vast ice fields, beautiful glacial lakes, soothing hot springs, thundering rivers, and the most extensive backcountry trail system of any Canadian national park make Jasper a stunning counterpart to its sister park, Banff. Lying on the Albertan side of the Canadian Rockies, Jasper protects the entire upper watershed of the Athabasca River, extending to the Columbia Icefield (and Banff National Park) in the south. To the east are the foothills, to the west the Continental Divide (which marks the Alberta to British Columbia border) and Mount Robson Provincial Park. Encompassing 10,900 square kilometers (4,208 square miles), Jasper is a haven for wildlife; much of its wilderness is traveled only by wolves and grizzlies.
The park’s most spectacular natural landmarks can be admired from two major roads. The Yellowhead Highway runs east to west from Edmonton through the park to Mount Robson Provincial Park. The Icefields Parkway, regarded as one of the world’s great mountain drives, runs north to south, connecting Jasper to Banff. At the junction of these two highways is the park’s main service center—the town of Jasper. With half the population of Banff, its setting—at the confluence of the Athabasca and Miette Rivers, surrounded by rugged, snowcapped peaks—is a little less dramatic, though still beautiful. But the town is also less commercialized than Banff and its streets a little quieter–a major plus for those looking to get away from it all.
Many of the park’s campgrounds are accessible by road, while others dot the backcountry. Hiking is the number one attraction, but fishing, boating, downhill skiing and snowboarding, golfing, horseback riding, and white-water rafting are also popular. The park is open year-round, although road closures do occur on the Icefields Parkway during winter months due to avalanche-control work and snowstorms.
Planning Your Time
It’s a cliche, but backcountry enthusiasts could spend a full summer exploring Jasper and still not see everything. If you’re planning to visit Jasper, we’re assuming you do enjoy the outdoors—hiking, fishing, watching wildlife, and the like–but maybe not with a backpack full of provisions strapped to your back. Keeping this in mind, I’d recommend spending four days in the park. The best choices for accommodations are the summer-only cabin complexes, so book for three nights and spend your days exploring natural attractions such as Mount Edith Cavell, Maligne Canyon, Maligne Lake, and adjacent Mount Robson Provincial Park. If you’re traveling up from Lake Louise, plan on spending the first day along the Icefields Parkway, arriving at Columbia Icefield before the crowds. If your time in Jasper is limited to two days and one night, you should have enough time to visit each of the natural attractions I mark as must-see sights, walk a couple of the shorter trails, and even squeeze in a rafting trip or golf game.
Columbia Icefield: Don’t miss this glacial area along the Icefields Parkway at the southern end of Jasper National Park. Take the Ice Explorer tour to get a close-up view of this natural wonder.
Wilcox Pass: Escape the crowds lingering around the Icefield Centre on this hike, where the panorama of the Columbia Icefield is laid out in all its glory.
Maligne Canyon: Easy access makes this attraction along Maligne Lake Road extremely popular. Visit before 9 a.m. to miss the tour-bus crowd.
Maligne Lake: The most famous body of water in Jasper National Park. And for good reason—it’s simply stunning. Take a Maligne Lake boat tour to Spirit Island or hike the Lake Trail (Mary Schaffer Loop) along the lake’s eastern shore.
Mount Edith Cavell: Although this peak is visible from various points within the park, no vantage point is as memorable as that from its base, reachable by road from Highway 93A. For a neck-straining view, take the Cavell Meadows Trail.
Bald Hills Hiking Trail: The vast majority of visitors to Maligne Lake don’t travel past the lake’s shoreline. Go beyond the ordinary on this hiking trail, which provides stunning views of the whole Maligne Valley from alpine meadows.
Mount Robson Provincial Park: Mount Robson rises high above lush forests and rushing waterfalls in this beautiful park to the east of Jasper. Access is via the scenic drive along Highway 16 west from Jasper.
SIGHTS AND RECREATION