When it comes to the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park has it all. From the soaring limestone walls of Maligne Canyon to the breathtaking views of Athabasca Falls and crystal clear Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park is filled with sensational activities for the hiker, kayaker, and all-around outdoors enjoyer could ever want. But with over 745 miles of natural hiking trails to explore, it can be hard to know where to start.
That’s why I put together this list of must-experience spots, the kinds of places you have to visit to say you’ve truly seen Jasper. So tour the world’s most accessible glacier, get front-row seats to a diverse range of wildlife including elk, bears, bighorn sheep, and rocky mountain goats, and dive into massive mountain peaks, vast valleys, and forests filled with extraordinary evergreens.
1. Maligne Canyon
Just a 10-minute drive from the town of Jasper, Maligne Canyon has one of the most impressive ravines in the Canadian Rockies. Sheer limestone walls drop to depths of over 150 feet making it the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park and one that’s magnificent to visit any time of year.
Maligne Canyon is a beautiful place to hike in the summer months. This popular Jasper attraction has six bridges built throughout different points of the canyon. If you’re looking for a simple walk, venture over to the First and Second bridges. If you want an extended hike, continue to the Sixth Bridge for more great views of the waterfalls and rapids. You’ll also be able to grab a bite at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen before or after your hike.
Tip: Get there early to grab a parking spot as it fills quickly in the summer. In the winter, Maligne Canyon is nothing short of magical. Wander through the canyon to marvel at the frozen waterfalls, ice caves, and surreal ice formations. You can explore the area on your own or take a guided tour to learn more about the canyon. Want even more thrill? Try ice climbing with a certified mountain guide!
2. Athabasca Falls
While the falls are only around 75 feet high, it’s their power that makes Athabasca Falls rather astonishing. Located about 20 miles south of Jasper, Athabasca Falls offers exquisite views and water that changes color every season.
Parking is close to the falls and the hike itself is quite easy. Once there, walk along the interpretive trail to admire the falls from various vantage points. Make sure to cross the bridge and head down the stairs to the bottom of the falls for close-ups of the canyon. Caused by earlier erosion, it continues to be whittled away a bit each year from the flowing water.
Do yourself a favor and stay on the right side of the viewing fence. The mist makes the stones slippery and people have drowned trying to get the perfect photo.
Tip: If you’d like to see Athabasca Falls from a different perspective, consider a rafting tour along the Athabasca River. Beginner tours offer just enough rapids to give you a bit of a thrill, all while your guides share information about the surrounding area.
3. Maligne Lake
Spanning over 13 miles in length, Maligne Lake is the largest natural lake in the Rockies and the second-largest glacially-fed lake in the world. Walk along the Mary Schaffer loop to enjoy views of vivid turquoise waters and gorgeous horizons.
This area is also great for getting on the water and offers canoe, kayak, and rowboat rentals as well as guided fishing tours. For a truly incredible experience, take a Maligne Lake boat cruise to Spirit Island, an amazing spot from which to see the stars, as Jasper is the world’s second-largest dark sky reserve. On the cruise, you’ll learn about the history of the lake and get some stunning views of the peaks, glaciers, and wildlife around the lake. I enjoyed the boat tour one summer and left convinced it might be the most beautiful spot on the planet.
Tip: Maligne Lake is about 30 miles from downtown Jasper, so make sure to schedule in driving time when planning your day.
4. Jasper Skytram
As Canada’s longest and highest guided aerial tramway, the Jasper SkyTram is a ride unlike any other. This seven-minute ride takes you nearly 7,500 feet up Whistler Mountain giving you 360-degree views of Jasper, its mountain ranges, and the many waterways that make up the park.
Once you’ve arrived at the top, you can hike up to the summit for more stellar sights of Jasper or enjoy the vistas while grabbing a bite at the full-service Summit Restaurant. Either way, you’re in for a real treat.
5. Pyramid Lake
Located at the foot of Pyramid Mountain, Pyramid Lake is one of the most picturesque places to see in Jasper. This kidney-shaped lake is the perfect spot to relax on the beach or picnic at the log frame pavilion.
Walk along the lakeshore trail to a wooden bridge to get to a tiny island in the middle of the lake. Once there, the peaceful mountains set behind the beauty of the lake will likely take your breath away and make for some lovely photos.
7. Mount Edith Cavell
Mount Edith Cavell is one of Jasper’s most famous mountains. And with its signature diagonal rock patterns, renowned alpine wildflower trails, and fascinating history, it’s no wonder why.
A long, winding drive off Highway 93A leads visitors to a newly expanded parking area where a short, paved path leads to jaw-dropping views of the Angel Glacier, the mint-green lake below, and the iconic, sparkling peak above. For extra adventure, hikers can opt for a longer, non-paved walk up into an alpine meadow with even more panoramic views (note that dogs aren’t permitted on the upper trail).
Edith Cavell saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers during World War I before she was executed by a German firing squad. Before the mountain got its current name, it was called White Ghost by Native Americans, la Montagne de la Grande Traverse by French mountaineers, and Mount Fitzhugh until the war.
8. Sunwapta Falls
Meaning turbulent river in Nakoda, Sunwapta Falls is located on the Icefields Parkway. This pair of waterfalls were created by hanging valleys that divide them into the Upper and Lower Falls.
The upper falls are close to the road making them readily accessible. Hike along the trail until you reach the lower falls and make sure to take the footbridge so you can observe the river in an uproar before calming down as it streams into the wider part of the gorge.
The Sunwapta white water rafting river tour is sure to get your blood pumping. Unlike the Athabasca tours, this expedition includes Class 3 rapids and is the most challenging white water in Jasper National Park. During the ride, you’ll hit large waves while taking in the spectacular scenery.
9. Miette Hot Springs
Miette Hot Springs features the hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies. The natural hot springs water flows from the mountain at 129 degrees Fahrenheit, the water is then cooled to a comfortable temperature of 104 degrees as it enters the hot springs pool.
After taking a soak, head on over to one of the two colder pools to cool down as you watch the sunset over the mountains. If you feel like walking a bit more, there are a few easy hiking trails near the springs including the site of the old Aqua court. Just make sure to keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep near the parking lot—it’s a favorite hangout spot for them and a great photo op for you.
Note: At time of writing Miette Hot Springs was closed due to a road washout resulting in the closure of Miette Road. Check with Parks Canada for an update on the reopening of Miette Road.
10. Icefields Parkway
Stretching from Jasper to Banff, this 140-mile highway packs the best of the Rockies into one epic road trip. Seriously, driving the parkway might be the most sublime experience you can have. Lake Louise (you know, that photo) is on the itinerary. So are more than 100 ancient glaciers, surreal hikes with unobscured mountain views, and wildlife like deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. Be sure to give yourself at least a full day to travel the parkway one way.
Those afraid of heights should probably skip this one. For the rest of us, the Glacier Skywalk is a horizontal ark that juts out over the edge of the Sunwapta Valley, 918 feet in the air. Built in 2014, the thing has glass floors so if you can handle looking down you’ll get unreal views of the valley below. Get here by stopping along the Icefields Parkway 60 miles south of Jasper. As a heads up, this one closes for winter and most of the spring due to weather.
The mountains are calling and I must go.