Even after spending time in Banff National Park and driving the Icefields Parkway, pulling into the sleepy town of Jasper in Jasper National Park feels like you’re finally entering a truly wild place.
Jasper is reminiscent of a wild west frontier town, with men in cowboy boots and hats looking as if they’d just left the saloon. While Banff is chic and quaint, Jasper is rugged and easygoing. There’s a tiny town center with a few boutique-style shops, some restaurants, and a train station, where the famed Rocky Mountaineer stops. Mostly, though, the station is an outpost for mile-long freight trains pulling thousands of shipping containers to and from the Pacific. The weather-worn cargo holders magnify Jasper’s rustic spirit as they chug through town.
Just (and I mean just) beyond the town center is unrestrained wilderness as far as the eye can see, overflowing with wildlife and adventure. Mountains tower over the small buildings in town. Herds of female elk with their young graze and are regularly on the move. Numerous other types of animals like bears, coyotes, and mountain goats wander in close proximity and are frequently spotted. The only job you have on a visit to Jasper National Park is to take in as much of the natural beauty as possible and rest up in the evenings for another day of adventure.
After exploring Banff and hiking along the Icefields Parkway here’s how you can unwind in Jasper National Park.
Take a Wildlife Tour
With seemingly limitless opportunities to see wildlife in Jasper, you may be wondering why you’d need to take a wildlife tour. Certainly, the many hundreds of elk wandering through the town and National Park need no introduction. However, many of Jasper’s other animals are experts at camouflaging themselves and even better at bypassing any possible route that could lead to human interaction. With 4,200 square miles of wilderness and only a few blocks of town, you can imagine how easy it would be for an animal to move about undetected.
Seeing wildlife in its natural habitat is such a thrill and we wanted a virtual guarantee to see as many animals as possible. We decided to take a wildlife tour with Jasper Tour Company. Our guide, Joe, was extremely knowledgeable about Jasper and all of its animals. Best of all, though, a good guide knows exactly where the animals are, so all you have to do is have your camera ready.
Plan an Outdoor Activity
Jasper National Park offers an outdoor activity for everyone’s interests. Hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, rafting, and horseback riding to name a few. In general, tours and activities are a bit cheaper up in Jasper, so if you’re on a budget save guided tours and activities like horseback riding for this part of your Canadian Rockies trip.
Wanting to horseback ride since our time at Lake Louise, we chose Jasper Stables, just 5 miles outside of town. The 2-hour ride takes you past Patricia Lake and up onto a ridge overlooking the Athabasca River. For a quick second, we even glimpsed a cinnamon-colored black bear moving through the woods up on the ridge.
Horseback riding not your thing? Maligne Lake’s boat ride and hiking trails allow you to experience the farthest points of the lake, including Spirit Island. Or hike the easy to moderate Glacier Trail alongside Mount Edith Cavell to reach alpine meadows, scenic overlooks, and a summit over 1,500 feet up that reveals lakes, glaciers, and the formidable Mount Edith Cavell.
Looking for an even easier way to explore? Take a ride on the Jasper SkyTram up to Whistlers Mountain for sweeping views of Jasper National Park. Once at the top, you can snap photos from the boardwalks or venture off onto hiking trails headed toward Whistlers summit.
Jasper National Park has been designated a Dark Sky Reserve. This means it’s really dark at night because of the park’s efforts to reduce or totally get rid of unnecessary light coming from street lights or buildings. The result is an incredible sky, lit up by the sparkling universe.
Here’s what you need to know to book your trip to Jasper National Park.
Where to Stay:
We stayed at Alpine Village Cabin Resort. Located about a mile from the town of Jasper, I couldn’t resist staying at the charming, wooden cabins along the Athabasca River. We stayed comfortably in a Heritage Sleeping Cabin, the most budget-friendly option, but still a bit of a splurge. Along the main road in town, there are several inns, motels, and guesthouses in a variety of price ranges.
If you are hoping to use points for an award stay, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge along the shores of Lac Beauvert can be booked with Fairmont points. The resort is set upon 700 acres, with individual chalets and cabins nestled within the surrounding wilderness.
Of course, Jasper National Park is also a prime camping destination. Year-round camping is available, with the highest demand in the summer months of July and August. Reservations strongly suggested.
Where to Eat:
The Other Paw Bakery and Cafe on the main street, Connaught Avenue, was a good place to stop for some coffee and muffins or a quick bite for lunch. The Jasper Brewing Company offers standard Canadian/American food and drink at reasonable prices in a pub-like atmosphere.
No matter where you’re headed, be sure to gas up before leaving Jasper.
The drive from Jasper back to Calgary International Airport is roughly 5 hours. You can leave Jasper in the morning, drive back down the Icefields Parkway (take even more pictures!), stop for lunch in Banff, and continue on to Calgary for an early evening flight with plenty of time.
From Jasper, you can make it to Edmonton in just under 4 hours. Vancouver is a bit further of a drive at 8 and a half hours.
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