Sometimes overlooked for its neighbor to the south (Banff National Park), Jasper National Park is a magnificent place to visit. A bit more rugged than Banff and attracting a younger, more athletic crowd of visitors, Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, encompassing about 11,000 square-kilometers (4,200 square-miles). Outdoor recreation is the name of the game here and Jasper’s popularity with hikers, bikers, and other active adults is evident as soon as you enter town.
Unlike Banff, holidaying in Jasper is more about reveling in the beauty of the outdoors than shopping at upscale stores and staying in luxury hotels. Jasper is more down-to-earth, so to speak, though there are certainly enough restaurants, nightspots, shops, and other amenities there to cater to the needs of tourists once they finish skiing down the mountain, fishing for trout, or tackling white water.
Many visitors to the Canadian Rockies combine trips to both national parks, Banff and Jasper, which are located about 145 miles from each other. The drive from one to the other takes about 5 hours along the stunning Icefields Parkway. When the weather is suitable for the trip, it’s a drive not to be missed.
Each year, about two million visitors head to Jasper National Park, mostly to take advantage of the many recreational opportunities available at the expansive park, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town of Jasper is full of outfitters that are eager to rent equipment for whatever sport or activity you decide to try, so there’s no need to bring your own unless you choose. Here is a partial list of some of the most popular pursuits for visitors who are holidaying in Jasper.
- Skiing – In the wintertime, skiing is king at Jasper. Again, however, Jasper’s ski area – Ski Marmot – is often overlooked in favor of a trip to one of Banff’s mountains. But those who take the time to investigate Marmot will discover that even though it’s small, it’s well-kept and offers plenty of challenges for all levels. There are 52 runs and 7 lifts to get skiers to the top of the mountain. Lines are minimal, even during normally busy months.
- Golf – Though there’s only one course in Jasper, located at the Jasper Park Lodge, many top golf magazines proclaim these 18 holes to be the best in Alberta and among the top courses in western Canada. It’s quite challenging but is worth a try, even if you’re a novice golfer.
- Fishing – Jasper is home to a number of beautiful lakes where anglers can enjoy a day of fishing. Patricia Lake and Pyramid Lake are especially suited to trout fishing and aren’t far from the national park. Maligne Lake, about 40 kilometers southeast of town, is the largest of the Jasper Park lakes and several outfitters offer guided fishing trips here, which include a day full of fishing as well as lunch and snacks.
- Hiking – Avid hikers and hiking guides say that Jasper National Park is home to some of the best backcountry hikes in the Rockies. These are suitable for overnight hikes and put trekkers face to face with some of the most spectacular scenery in western Canada. It’s often best to tackle these difficult trails with an experienced guide and it’s essential to remember to be conscious of potential wildlife encounters. Day hikes are also available and range from pretty easy to quite strenuous. Winter ice walks through places like the Maligne Canyon are amazing, but should always include the assistance of a guide.
- Whitewater Rafting – While Jasper Park’s rivers don’t boast the wildest rapids in the area, they do provide a good run for all levels. The Athabasca River is often used for novice rafters as the rapids are mostly Class II and III. The Maligne River is a bit more energetic, offering mostly Class III whitewater. Outfitters abound, so it’s rarely difficult to book a trip. However, reservations are suggested during peak tourist season.
- Trail Rides – Horseback riding aficionados will love Jasper National Park. The equestrian trails here are just wonderful and the variety allows riders of all levels to feel comfortable. Choose excursions of a few hours or multi-day trail rides into the stunning backcountry.
- Sleigh Rides – In the wintertime, the same stables that offer horseback riding also entice guests with a romantic sleigh ride through the breathtaking winter scenery in Jasper National Park. Don’t miss this opportunity!
Attractions In and Around Jasper
The town of Jasper itself really isn’t a tourist destination, just more a place for visitors to relax after a busy day of activity. That means there aren’t any museums or similar offerings. However, there are two must-visits while holidaying in Jasper;
- Miette Hot Springs – If you’ve never been to a hot springs, this should definitely be on your itinerary. Open year-round, Miette offers a swimming pool and two soaker pools full of wonderfully warm mineral waters, great for therapeutic reasons or just to relax. There’s also a lodge and campgrounds on site. The hot springs is just a short drive from the park along a beautiful scenic route ripe with wildlife.
- Jasper Aerial Tramway – This is the highest and longest aerial tramway in all of Canada. Beginning at the foot of Whistler’s Mountain (easy to find off Highway 93), the tram climbs to 2,200 meters (about 7,300 feet) in a single ascent that is simply breathtaking. The cars hold 30 passengers at a time and a guide offers information about the area and what you’re seeing below. Located at the top are a picnic area and a restaurant. The tramway is open from June 1 to Labor Day and combined tickets can be purchased that include lunch at the mountaintop restaurant. Bring your camera because you won’t want to miss the opportunity to take bird’s-eye-view photos of the Jasper area!