Town of Jasper
At the top end of the Icefields Parkway, 280 kilometres (174 miles) north of Banff and a 3.5-hour drive west of the provincial capital, Edmonton, the town of Jasper is the service centre of Jasper National Park.
Jasper Town Sights
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 Jasper Visitor Centre, on Connaught Drive, is the only real reason to be in town. The shaded park in front of the centre 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 centre, post office, museum, swimming pool, and hospital.
At the back of town is the excellent JASPER-YELLOWHEAD MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES (400 Bonhomme St., 780/852-3013), as unstuffy as any museum could possibly be and well worth a visit even for nonmuseum types. The main gallery features colourful, 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 Jasper National 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.
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 metres/9,072 feet). Both lakes are popular spots for picnicking, fishing, and boating. Boat rentals are available at PYRAMID LAKE BOAT RENTALS, across the road from the lake in the Pyramid Lake Resort. Canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and rowboats are rented by the hour. From the resort, the road continues around the lake to a bridge, which leads to PYRAMID ISLAND, popular with picnickers. The road ends at the quieter end of the lake.
JASPER SKYTRAM (780/852-3093, late Apr. to mid-Oct.) climbs more than 1,000 vertical metres (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-kilometre (0.9-mile) trail leads to the 2,470-metre (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 metres/12,970 feet)—the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies—to the northwest. The SkyTram is three kilometres (1.9 miles) south of town on Highway 93 (Icefields Parkway), and then a similar distance up Whistlers Road.
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, paddle, 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 lake in Jasper National Park. The 2.5-kilometre (1.6-mile) Lee Foundation Trail encircles Lake Annette and is wheelchair accessible. Between the two lakes are picnic tables, change rooms, and a playground.
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Accommodations are not usually considered sights, but then this is the Canadian 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 Jasper National 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. 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.