Jasper Town Sights

At the top end of the Icefields Parkway, 280 kilometers (174 miles) north of Banff and a 3.5-hour drive west of the provincial capital, Edmonton, the town of Jasper is the service center of the park.

With all the things to do and see in the surrounding wilderness, it’s amazing how many people hang out in town. July and August are especially busy; much-needed improvements to the parking situation have had little impact on the traffic–try for a parking spot in the lot along the railway line. The best way to avoid the problem is to avoid town during the middle of the day. The park information center, on Connaught Drive, is the only real reason to be in town. The shaded park in front of the center is a good place for people-watching, but you may get clobbered by a wayward Hacky Sack. Connaught Drive, the town’s main street, parallels the rail line as it curves through town. Also along this road you’ll find the bus depot, rail terminal, restaurants, motels, and a parking lot. Behind Connaught Drive is Patricia Street (one-way eastbound), which has more restaurants and services and leads to a string of hotels on Geikie Street. Behind this main core are rows of neat houses–much less pretentious than those in Banff–and all the facilities of a regular town, including a library, school, civic center, post office, museum, swimming pool, and hospital.

Downtown Sights

At the back of town is the excellent Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives (400 Bonhomme St., 780/852-3013, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily mid-June to Sept., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thurs. to Sun. the rest of the year, adult $6, senior and child $5), as unstuffy as any museum could possibly be and well worth a visit even for nonmuseum types. The main gallery features colorful, modern picture boards with exhibits that take visitors along a timeline of Jasper’s human history through the fur trade, the coming of the railway, and the creation of the park. Documentaries are shown on demand in a small television room. The museum also features extensive archives, including hundreds of historical photos, manuscripts, documents, maps, and videos.

The Den (corner of Connaught Dr. and Miette Ave., 780/852-3361, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily), in the darkened bowels of the Whistlers Inn, is a throwback to a bygone era, when displays of stuffed animals were considered the best way to extol the wonders of nature. “See animals in their natural setting” cries museum advertising, but the shrubbery looks suspiciously like fake Christmas trees, and the bull elk seems to be screaming, “Get me out of here!” Yep, they even charge you for it–exchange $4 for a token at the Whistlers’s reception desk.

Patricia and Pyramid Lakes

A winding road heads through the hills at the back of town to these two picturesque lakes, formed when glacial moraines dammed shallow valleys. The first, to the left, is Patricia; the second, farther along the road, is Pyramid, backed by Pyramid Mountain (2,765 meters/9,072 feet). Both lakes are popular spots for picnicking, fishing, and boating. Boat rentals are available at Pyramid Lake Boat Rentals (780/852-4900), across the road from the lake in the Coast Pyramid Lake Resort. Canoes, rowboats, paddleboats, and kayaks are $35 for the first hour and $25 for each additional hour. The resort also rents motorboats for $60 per hour. From the resort, the road continues around the lake to a bridge, which leads to an island popular with picnickers. The road ends at the quieter end of the lake.

Jasper Tramway

This tramway (780/852-3093, adult $31, child 6 to 15 $16) climbs more than 1,000 vertical meters (3,280 feet) up the steep north face of The Whistlers, named for the hoary marmots that live on the summit. The tramway operates two 30-passenger cars that take seven minutes to reach the upper terminal, during which time the conductor gives a lecture about the mountain and its environment. From the upper terminal, a 1.4-kilometer (0.9-mile) trail leads to the 2,470-meter (8,104-foot) true summit. The view is breathtaking; to the south is the Columbia Icefield, and on a clear day you can see Mount Robson (3,954 meters/12,970 feet)–the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies–to the northwest. Free two-hour guided hikes leave the upper terminal for the true summit at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. daily. You should allow two hours on top and, on a clear summer’s day, two more hours in line at the bottom. The tramway is three kilometers (1.9 miles) south of town on Highway 93 (Icefields Parkway), and then a similar distance up Whistlers Road. It operates 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily in summer, shorter hours late April to June and September to mid-October, and is closed the rest of the year.

Edith and Annette Lakes

These two lakes along the road to The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge–across the Athabasca River from town–are perfect for a picnic, swim, or pleasant walk. They are remnants of a much larger lake that once covered the entire valley floor. The lakes are relatively shallow; therefore, the sun warms the water to a bearable temperature for swimming. In fact, they have the warmest waters of any lakes in the park. The 2.5-kilometer (1.6-mile) Lee Foundation Trail encircles Lake Annette and is wheelchair accessible. Between the two lakes is a large picnic area with a playground.

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Accommodations are not usually considered sights, but then this is the Rockies, where grand railway hotels attract as many visitors as the more legitimate natural attractions. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge has been the premier accommodation in the park since it opened in 1921. Back then it was a single-story structure, reputed to be the largest log building in the world. It burned to the ground in 1952 but was rebuilt. Additional bungalows were erected along Lac Beauvert (“beautiful green lake” in French), forming a basis for today’s lodge. Rows of cabins radiate from the main lodge, which contains restaurants, lounges, and the town’s only covered shopping arcade. Today up to 900 guests can be accommodated in 446 rooms. A large parking area for nonguests is located on Lodge Road, behind the golf clubhouse; you’re welcome to walk around the resort, play golf, dine in the restaurants, and, of course, browse through the shopping promenade–even if you’re not a registered guest. On the lakeshore in front of the lodge is a boat rental concession; canoes and kayaks can be rented for $25 per 30 minutes. From the main lodge, a walking trail follows the shoreline of Lac Beauvert through the golf course, linking up with other trails at Old Fort Point. To walk from town will take one hour.