What is Jasper National Park?
In the mid-reaches of the Canadian Rockies sits the largest National Park in Alberta. Jasper is a spectacular alpine nature reserve spread over 11,000 km of rugged wilderness. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to some of Canada’s most elusive wildlife.
Jasper National Park is characterised by snow-blown mountains, raging rivers, vast canyons, and the largest glacial field in North America at the Columbia Icefield. Jasper is particularly popular in summer when tourists visit for hiking, backcountry camping, wildlife spotting, and many other outdoor activities.
How do you Get There?
Many tourists choose to visit the National Park by car. This allows for the freedom to drive throughout the nature area, accessing trailheads and scenic locations outside of the Jasper town centre.
The park can be accessed via the Trans-Canada Highway (#16) aka the Yellowhead Highway which runs from west to east. Alternatively, there’s the Icefields Parkway (#93) which links Jasper and Banff National Park via a stunning scenic highway.
Jasper is in the heart of the Rocky Mountains which means major transport hubs are relatively far away. Edmonton is the closest international airport at a 4-hour drive from Jasper. Alternatively, Calgary is a 5-hour drive which includes a stop-over at Banff and Lake Louise. Vancouver offers international flights to many locations around the globe but reaching Jasper from this city will take 9-11 hours.
There are alternative transport routes on Via Rail Canada which offers 6-hour direct train rides from Edmonton to Jasper. You can also hop on a bus with Sundog Tours, Brewster Express, and Cold Shot to get you to the National Park.
Things to See?
Most people visit Jasper to experience the true magic of the Canadian wilderness. The park is brimming with standout nature spots for tourists to explore. Some key locations include Mount Edith Cavell, Pyramid Mountain, Maligne Lake, the Athabasca Glacier, and the Athabasca Falls.
Jasper National Park contains 53 species of mammals. Some of its most famous inhabitants include moose, elk, bears, wolves, elk, caribou, and bighorn sheep. Visit from September-October to hear the bellowing male elk during rutting season. Alternatively, visit in the Spring to see the active bird life and the newborn mammal population!
The Miette Hot Springs offer tired tourists the chance to soak in an outdoor pool surrounded by scenic vistas. A natural spring feeds the pool keeping the temperature at a cosy 104 degrees Fahrenheit. For those with a head for heights, the Jasper SkyTram provides you with an aerial panorama 2,277 metres above the National Park.
Top Hikes in Jasper National Park
Jasper is a hiker’s haven with +1,000 km of trails. It is one of the primary reasons people visit the National Park and there are endless opportunities to explore. A hike around Maligne Lake is one of the must-do trails in Jasper. The lake is undoubtedly one of the best views in the park and the nearby gorge at Maligne Canyon is also sensational.
Closer to the town of Jasper, you have Old Fort Point. This is a common hike that locals enjoy due to its proximity to the city. You get a great view of Jasper and the surrounding mountains without having to travel too far. There are also the magnificent lakes of Pyramid and Patricia which both have hiking trails.
Keeping with the theme of lakes, the Valley of the Five Lakes offers hikers the chance to stroll through a magical woodland alongside a multitude of sapphire and emerald water features. The Sulphur Skyline Trail and Edith Cavell Meadows Trail are two more challenging routes at a higher altitude in Jasper National Park.
Where to Stay?
Jasper is a hip alpine town in the National Park. It contains the visitor centre for the park and numerous tour/activity agencies. Tourists enjoy the town for its cool bars, good selection of craft beers, and mountaineering stores to equip you for your adventures.
In the winter, people stay in Jasper to ski and snowboard in the nearby resort of Marmot Basin. During the warmer months, Jasper can be a good place to base yourself for daily excursions. The town has a range of hotels, rustic cabins, and hiker’s hostels.
The Wapiti Campground and Whistlers Campground are great options for van campers. Boondocking or van camping outside designated campgrounds is illegal in Jasper National Park with some pretty hefty fines levied against lawbreakers.
Fortunately, wild camping is legal in Jasper and greatly encouraged in the backcountry. Heading out on a trail and pitching a tent in Jasper’s wild landscapes is highly recommended! Alternatively, you can book to stay in one of the many regulated campsites dotted around Jasper National Park.
What to Pack?
Jasper is a very seasonal place with wild fluctuations in weather from month to month. In the summer, you need to pack insect repellent, sunscreen, and hats. During the winter, you will need warm clothing specialised for sub-zero temperatures.
In general, it’s always good to bring a first aid kit with you when embarking on outdoor adventures. You should also consider purchasing a bear container to safely store food when camping so as not to attract these hungry carnivores!
Bonus Tips for Jasper National Park
Book camping spots well in advance. It’s not uncommon for campsites to fill up during the summer months and if you leave it until the last minute, you may be left wanting! Don’t approach wildlife and don’t offer any food to the animals. You may see elk and caribou on the roadside, but this doesn’t mean you should approach them. Leave them to the wild!
You should also be aware that the wildlife in Jasper National Park can be dangerous. Watch out for signs of bears such as fresh claw marks or carcasses. Keep bear spray close to hand and stay vigilant when on the trail. Try to start your hikes early and don’t be afraid to explore some of the lesser-known trails to get the most out of this wondrous nature area.