Jasper National Park: A Canadian Gem

Glacier walks and mountain hikes, scenic cruises and epic road trips, Jasper is the largest park in the Canadian Rockies and it’s got the diversity of wildlife, wild views, and adventures to prove it

Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park stands as a testament to the breathtaking beauty of nature. This expansive wilderness designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts a plethora of wonders from rich biodiversity to awe-inspiring landscapes. Let’s embark on a journey to explore the magic that makes Jasper a must-visit destination.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring the wild: Flora and fauna

Jasper is a haven for nature enthusiasts housing a diverse range of plant and animal life. From elusive wildlife like bears and wolves to rare alpine flowers, the park offers a glimpse into thriving ecosystems.

Flora

Subalpine wildflowers: In the subalpine meadows, vibrant wildflowers bloom during the summer months. Look for species like Indian paintbrush, alpine aster, and yellow columbine creating a colorful tapestry against the backdrop of the Rockies.

Coniferous forests: Dense coniferous forests dominate certain areas of Jasper. Engage with towering spruce, fir, and pine trees providing habitat for various wildlife and contributing to the park’s lush greenery.

Lichens and mosses: Jasper’s ecosystems are adorned with lichens and mosses adding an enchanting touch to rocks and trees. These small but crucial organisms play a role in the park’s overall biodiversity.

Aquatic plants: Lakes and rivers within Jasper host a variety of aquatic plants. Submerged species contribute to the health of freshwater ecosystems and provide habitat for fish and other aquatic life.

Elk in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fauna

Elk: One of the iconic species in Jasper, elk are often spotted in Jasper Townsite and throughout the park. During the mating season known as the rut, the bugling calls of male elk echo through the valleys.

Bighorn sheep: Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep especially in the rugged mountainous terrain. These majestic creatures navigate steep cliffs with ease, showcasing their adaptability to the park’s challenging landscapes.

Mountain goats: Adapted to the rocky terrain, mountain goats find suitable habitats in the park’s higher elevations. Their presence adds to the alpine character of certain areas within the park.

Rocky Mountain goat in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grizzly bears: Jasper is home to grizzly bears, a powerful symbol of the untamed wilderness. These apex predators play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance of the park.

Mountain caribou: The elusive mountain caribou inhabit the alpine regions of Jasper. Adapted to harsh environments these caribou are uniquely adapted to life in the high-altitude wilderness.

Mule deer: Mule deer are a common sight especially in the lower elevations of Jasper. Their distinctive large ears and graceful movements make them a delight to observe.

Wolves: Wolves, though elusive, are part of Jasper’s predator-prey dynamics. Their presence is essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem by controlling populations of herbivores.

Coyotes: Coyotes are adaptable canines that thrive in various habitats within Jasper. Their nocturnal calls add to the park’s soundscape creating an atmospheric experience for visitors.

Birds of prey: Jasper hosts a variety of birds of prey including bald eagles, golden eagles, and owls. These majestic birds contribute to the park’s avian diversity and are a delight for birdwatchers.

Big horn sheep in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique habitats

Delve deeper into the park’s ecology discovering unique habitats like subalpine meadows and dense coniferous forests. Each ecosystem plays a crucial role in maintaining the delicate balance of Jasper’s natural environment.

Peaks and glaciers

The park’s skyline is dominated by towering mountain ranges and impressive glaciers creating a mesmerizing panorama. Explore the rugged beauty of the Athabasca Glacier and the sublime elegance of Mount Edith Cavell.

Peaks

Mount Edith Cavell: Standing tall at 11,033 feet, Mount Edith Cavell is an iconic peak named after a heroic World War I nurse. The Angel Glacier graces its northeastern face adding to its breathtaking splendor. The glacier’s name is a reference to its white wings of ice.

Mount Athabasca: Dominating the skyline, Mount Athabasca is a prominent peak in Jasper. Its challenging North Face attracts alpinists seeking a formidable ascent while the Athabasca Glacier lies at its base.

Whistlers Mountain: Accessible by the Jasper SkyTram, Whistlers Mountain offers panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. It stands as a sentinel overlooking the town of Jasper.

Pyramid Mountain: With a distinctive pyramidal shape, Pyramid Mountain is a recognizable landmark in Jasper National Park. The Pyramid Lake at its base reflects its grandeur making it a favorite subject for photographers.

Mount Robson: While not within Jasper National Park, Mount Robson, located just outside the park boundary is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972 feet.

Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glaciers

Athabasca Glacier: The Athabasca Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers in North America. Flowing from the Columbia Icefield, visitors can take guided tours to walk on the glacier and witness its crevasses and seracs.

Angel Glacier: Adorning the northern face of Mount Edith Cavell, the Angel Glacier is a striking feature that captivates onlookers with its sweeping wingspan. It’s a testament to the dynamic forces shaping the landscape. The hike from the parking lot itself is quite fascinating as the paved trail takes you through a lunar, rocky moraine. 

Dome Glacier: Nestled in the Tonquin Valley, the Dome Glacier is surrounded by rugged peaks and pristine alpine scenery. This remote glacier offers a tranquil and awe-inspiring escape for those willing to explore off the beaten path.

Tonquin Valley Glaciers: The Tonquin Valley is home to several glaciers including the Eremite, Maccarib, and Vulture Glaciers. These glaciers contribute to the dramatic beauty of the surrounding peaks and valleys.

Columbia Icefield: While not exclusively within Jasper, the Columbia Icefield spanning the border of Jasper and Banff National Parks is a vast expanse of ice feeding multiple glaciers including the Athabasca Glacier.

Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lakes and waterfalls

Jasper’s iconic lakes such as Maligne Lake and Pyramid Lake mirror the surrounding peaks offering postcard-worthy views. Discover the thundering Athabasca Falls, a testament to the park’s raw, natural power.

Lakes

Maligne Lake: Renowned for its vivid blue waters, Maligne Lake is the largest natural lake in Jasper. Boasting a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, it offers boat cruises to Spirit Island providing a quintessential Jasper experience.

Pyramid Lake: Nestled at the base of Pyramid Mountain, Pyramid Lake is known for its tranquil setting and scenic views. A causeway provides access to the island in the middle of the lake offering panoramic vistas.

Medicine Lake: This unique lake seems to disappear in the winter earning it the nickname disappearing lake. A geological phenomenon, Medicine Lake is a captivating sight surrounded by forests and mountains.

Beauvert Lake: Adjacent to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Beauvert Lake is a serene and picturesque lake surrounded by lush forest. Its calm waters reflect the surrounding mountain scenery creating a peaceful ambiance.

Annette Lake: Annette Lake is a smaller yet charming lake located near Jasper town. It’s a popular spot for picnics, fishing, and leisurely walks along its shores.

Beauvert Lake in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Waterfalls

Athabasca Falls: A powerful and breathtaking waterfall, Athabasca Falls is a must-see attraction in Jasper. Carving through a narrow canyon, the falls create a dramatic spectacle as the Athabasca River rushes through the rocky terrain.

Sunwapta Falls: Divided into two distinct drops, Upper and Lower Sunwapta Falls showcase the force of the Sunwapta River as it descends through rugged mountain landscapes. The viewpoints provide excellent vantage points for photography.

Tangle Falls: Located along the Icefields Parkway, Tangle Falls is a roadside attraction known for its picturesque setting. Surrounded by lush vegetation, it’s an easily accessible waterfall for those exploring the park by car.

Stanley Falls: Found near the town of Jasper, Stanley Falls offers a more secluded waterfall experience. A short hike through the forest leads to this hidden gem where the pristine waters cascade over rock formations.

Horseshoe Lake Falls: Accessible by a hike around Horseshoe Lake, this waterfall provides a serene and secluded escape. The journey to the falls offers glimpses of the surrounding landscapes and the pristine beauty of Horseshoe Lake.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor activities and adventure

Jasper is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts with an extensive network of hiking trails catering to all skill levels. Dive into the backcountry for a more intimate encounter with the park’s untamed wilderness.

Wildlife viewing opportunities

Wildlife abounds in Jasper, providing ample opportunities for spotting elk, bighorn sheep, and the elusive mountain caribou. A camera and a keen eye are your best companions on these thrilling wildlife excursions.

Seasons in Jasper

While summer invites hiking, camping, and wildlife adventures, winter transforms Jasper into a snowy wonderland. Explore the seasonal delights that make Jasper a year-round destination.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking and nature trails

Valley of the Five Lakes: Embark on a picturesque hike through the Valley of the Five Lakes where vibrant turquoise lakes await. The loop trail is family-friendly and showcases the beauty of Jasper’s alpine scenery.

Cavell Meadows: Enjoy a moderate hike to Cavell Meadows offering stunning views of Angel Glacier and the surrounding mountains. Wildflowers carpet the meadows during the summer, creating a vibrant tapestry.

Opal Hills: For more seasoned hikers, the Opal Hills trail provides challenging terrain and rewarding panoramic views of Jasper’s landscapes including Maligne Lake and the surrounding peaks.

Wildlife viewing

Maligne Valley Wildlife Excursion: Join guided wildlife excursions in Maligne Valley to spot iconic species like bears, elk, and bighorn sheep. Experienced guides share insights into the park’s diverse fauna and their natural habitats.

Miette Hot Springs: Relax in the Miette Hot Springs, the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies. Surrounded by mountain scenery the pools offer a soothing experience after a day of exploration.

Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Drives

Icefields Parkway: Take a scenic drive along the Icefields Parkway, one of the most stunning roadways in the world. Marvel at glaciers, turquoise lakes, and towering peaks as you traverse this picturesque route.

Pyramid Lake Road: Explore the Pyramid Lake Road, offering stunning views of Pyramid Mountain and access to Pyramid Lake. The drive provides opportunities for wildlife sightings and serene moments by the water.

Outdoor adventure

White-water rafting: Experience the thrill of white-water rafting on the Athabasca River. Guided tours cater to various skill levels providing an exhilarating adventure against the backdrop of Jasper’s landscapes.

Mountain biking: Traverse mountain trails on a mountain biking adventure. Jasper offers a variety of trails suitable for different skill levels providing an active way to explore the park.

Boat tours and kayaking

Maligne Lake Boat Tour: Cruise on Maligne Lake and admire the stunning scenery including the iconic Spirit Island. Boat tours offer a relaxing way to soak in the beauty of the glacial lake.

Pyramid Lake kayaking:

Rent a kayak and paddle on Pyramid Lake surrounded by mountain vistas. It’s a tranquil way to explore the lake at your own pace.

Glacial Skywalk in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cultural experiences

Jasper Heritage Rodeo: Immerse yourself in the cowboy culture at the Jasper Heritage Rodeo. Experience rodeo events, live music, and a lively atmosphere celebrating the region’s western heritage.

Jasper Planetarium: Explore the cosmos at the Jasper Planetarium where stargazing sessions and educational programs provide insights into the wonders of the night sky.

Camping options

Whistlers Campground: Whistlers Campground is the largest campground in Jasper National Park with close to 800 sites. It is closest to town and has all services including water, sewage, electricity, playgrounds, running water and flush toilets, shower facilities, and interpretive programs. You can also access the bike trails to get to and from Jasper townsite without having to bike/walk on the roads.The Municipality of Jasper operates a municipal public transit bus that makes stops at Whistlers Campground making it easy to get into town and not need to worry about parking when you arrive in town. Currently, Whistlers is the only campground in Jasper with full hook-up sites. Whistlers also have a number of pull-through spots for large units.

Wapiti Campground: Also close to town, Wapiti is the second largest campground with just over 350 sites. Wapiti is about a 6 minute drive from Jasper townsite down the Icefields Parkway and is also accessible by gravel and dirt walking/bike trail. Wapiti campground is also included in the new Jasper Public Transit route meaning you can catch a ride into town on the bus and avoid the hassle of paying for and finding parking in Jasper town.

Wabasso Campground: Wabasso Campground is further from town (about a 25 minute drive from the town of Jasper) and can be less busy at times. They have some electric hook ups, water taps, new bathroom buildings with hot water and flush toilets, and there’s a playground.  Wabasso is situated along the Athabasca River and has a lovely trail along the water as well as large sandy beach areas along the river when the water levels are lower.

Miette Campground: Formally named Pocahontas, Miette Campground is close to Jasper National Park’s eastern gate (about a 40 minute drive to the town of Jasper). There are no services here but they do have flush toilets. There is no cell reception but you are close to the Miette Lodge, hotel, and restaurant which may have a phone for use if needed.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitor services and amenities

Plan your visit with ease by understanding the various services and amenities available. From visitor centers to recreational facilities, Jasper caters to the needs of every traveler.

Jasper Information Centre: The Information Centre provides valuable resources for visitors, including maps, brochures, and information on park activities. Knowledgeable staff can assist with trip planning and offer insights into park attractions.

Shuttle services: Shuttle services operate within the park providing convenient transportation to popular attractions and trailheads. These services enhance accessibility for visitors without personal vehicles.

Jasper National Park visitor app: Stay informed with the Jasper National Park visitor app offering real-time information on trail conditions, weather updates, and park activities. It’s a handy tool for planning your day and staying connected.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving to Jasper National Park

Whether arriving by car or RV, Jasper is accessible from various points. Navigate the routes and modes of transportation to plan a seamless journey to this natural wonder.

From Edmonton: Take the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) west towards Jasper. The scenic drive offers picturesque views and takes approximately 4-5 hours to reach Jasper from Edmonton.

From Calgary: Travel west on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) to Banff and then take the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) north to Jasper. The drive from Calgary to Jasper takes around 5-6 hours.

From Vancouver: Drive east on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) and then take the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) east towards Jasper. The drive from Vancouver to Jasper typically takes around 8-9 hours.

Tips for planning a visit

  • Park entry fees
  • Park daily entry fee: $11; seniors, $9.50
  • Parks Canada Discovery Pass: $75.25; seniors, $64.50
Jasper Townsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun facts and trivia

  • Dark Sky Preserve: Jasper National Park is the largest accessible Dark Sky Preserve in the world. This designation ensures minimal light pollution providing unparalleled opportunities for stargazing and observing the northern lights.
  • Parks Canada’s Centennial: Jasper National Park was established in 1907 making it one of the oldest national parks in Canada.
  • Maligne Lake’s depth: Maligne Lake, the second-largest glacier-fed lake in the world is also one of the deepest lakes in the Canadian Rockies reaching depths of approximately 318 feet.
  • Athabasca Glacier movement: The Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield is constantly moving. Its rate of flow is about an inch per day making it a dynamic and ever-changing natural phenomenon.
  • Tonquin Valley’s remote beauty: Tonquin Valley located north of Jasper is a stunning and remote wilderness area accessible only by hiking or horseback riding. It offers pristine landscapes and is a haven for those seeking solitude.
  • The Jasper Tramway: The Jasper SkyTram, one of the highest and longest aerial tramways in Canada takes visitors to an elevation 7,472 feet for panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
  • UNESCO designation: Jasper National Park along with other Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognizing its outstanding natural beauty, geological features, and ecological significance.

Worth Pondering…

The mountains are calling and I must go.

—John Muir