7 Awesome Things to do in Jasper National Park, Canada

Jasper National Park has extensive trails, active wildlife, and unbelievable mountain scenery. And, while the park itself is larger than neighboring Banff, the city is smaller and has a more local feel that a lot of visitors find preferable. Between the cute town and spectacular setting, you have the perfect backdrop for these 7 activities and a fantastic vacation!

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1.      Visit the Jasper Planetarium

The draw of the great outdoors in Jasper doesn’t stop at mountains and glacial lakes in the park; it extends to the sky above as well. At the Jasper Planetarium, explore the skies with the knowledgeable guides that will give some hands-on demos and then operate telescopes from the 2nd largest dark sky preserve in the world to show everyone various “objects” in space. Depending on the sky conditions and time of year, you could see planets, constellations, or even the northern lights! Dress warmly; the temperatures at night are chilly even in the height of summer. And obviously, what you’re able to observe will depend on the night, but tickets come with a generous 2-year rain check policy if your experience doesn’t go as planned because of cloudy conditions or other inclement weather.

2.      Hike Through Maligne Canyon

Maligne Canyon is breathtaking and only 15-minute drive from downtown Jasper. Plus, you can customize your hike to fit into the time you have available!

There are 6 bridges that cross the canyon in various distances from the parking lot and get progressively more spaced out. Going just to the second bridge and back to the parking lot only takes about 15-30 minutes, and you get the chance to see some fossils between the first and second bridge. That part of the hike is easy and relatively flat, but it’s followed by about a 100-meter elevation change. Partially because of that, the time it takes to get to the third bridge and back is double (1-hour round trip), and going to the fourth bridge doubles it again to an hour each way. The 4.4 km round-trip to the fourth bridge is probably the most popular hiking option.

After that, the canyon turns into more of a river that you can stroll along for another hour to get to the fifth bridge or another 2 hours to get all the way to the sixth bridge and a popular wildflower viewing area (in the warmer months). Of course, plan extra time on each route for all the photos you’re going to want to take.

In the winter you have the added option of doing an Ice Walk tour where a guide will take you down into the ice caves, frozen waterfalls, and otherworldly rock formations in the bottom of the canyon.  

3.      Sample the Local Beer and Cuisine at Jasper Brewing Company

A couple of Jasper locals banded together to found Jasper Brewing Co. in 2005, with the intent of creating beers inspired by the surrounding Rocky Mountains. Their 6 signature beers can be paired with Canadian culinary specialties such as poutine and elk meatloaf. This brewery draws locals and tourists alike, so settle in at one of the community tables and enjoy a bite and a cold beverage with fellow patrons.

4.      Learn Something New on the Warrior Women Plant Walk

Jasper is home to an indigenous mother-daughter “Warrior Women” team that are part of the Cree Nation and are sharing their tribal knowledge through plant walks,beading classes, fireside chats, and medicine walks. They have special rights granted to them by Jasper National Park to harvest plants for use as food and medicine, so their plant walk is an experience that is illegal to engage in anywhere in the park outside of this tour. On your walk, your guide will take you along a walking path and explain the indigenous uses of whatever plants you come across. She will also point out wildlife, gladly provide details on other areas of modern Cree life and culture, or answer any questions you may have. Then, she’ll help you to use the collected plants to create a small salve or lotion to take home. It’s a unique experience that you won’t want to miss!

5.      Take the Jasper SkyTram and Hike to Whistlers Summit

For an unforgettable 360-degree view of the town of Jasper and the surrounding mountains on a clear day, you’ll want to make the hike up to the summit of Whistlers Mountain. There is a difficult trail starting near the SkyTram that runs from the base of the mountain all the way up to the summit. However, it takes around 4 hours each way, so the SkyTram is most peoples’ preferred means of covering most of that distance (it takes you 2,263 meters up the mountain). The views from the top station are already incredible, and there’s a boardwalk and cafĂ© that you can enjoy them from, but the 1.4km Summit Trail to the peak only takes about 30-minutes to traverse for the full panorama.

The SkyTram is a popular attraction, so it’s highly recommended that you book tickets for your desired trip times in advance. If the weather and/or visibility isn’t going to be to your liking for your trip, you can exchange your tickets for a different day or opt for a refund in advance of your booked ticket times.

During the trip up, the operators will tell you about the geology, history, flora, and fauna of the area, and you’ll get a preview of the great views you’ll have at the top. For your hike from there to the summit, expect it to be pretty cold year-round; on average the temperature at the upper SkyTram station is 14C colder than the town of Jasper. It was also incredibly windy when I was there, which I doubt was an anomaly.  

6.      Enjoy a Backcountry Meal with Peak Nic

Hands down, my favorite food tour or activity that I’ve done on a vacation to-date is Peak Nic. You’ll start your journey at the base of the Old Fort Point trail, where your guide will distribute backpacks pre-packed with your ingredients and cooking gear – don’t worry, they don’t really weigh much at all! Then you’ll all start up the ~2.5-mile trail loop that goes up to the lookout point.

At the summit, you’ll break out your cooking gear to make an impressive, environmentally friendly, backcountry meal. My group made a flavorful curry, dahl, rice, our own paneer cheese, and naan from scratch! I don’t even make cheese and homemade bread at my house, so I never expected to be making it on top of a mountain. I’m also not much of a camper to be honest, but that made the experience all the more enjoyable, because it opened my eyes to cooking options that I never would have thought possible on a backcountry trip.

The Peak Nic tours do only run from May 1st to mid-October. But, if you’re vacationing outside of that window, the same company offers ice walk tours in Maligne Canyon followed by a downtown Jasper food tour instead!

7.      Hike the Valley of the 5 Lakes Trail

A hike that is often synonymous with Jasper National Park is the ~2.8-mile, Valley of the 5 Lakes Trail. The 5 lakes are all awesome shades of blue-green due to the glacial waters that feed them, and the third and fourth lakes considered the most beautiful.

The trail starts at a parking lot south of Jasper town, and goes through the forest for a little over a half mile before arriving at a bridge. On the other side of the bridge, you can choose to go to the left and double the length of your hike to go allllll the way around lake #1 before joining the loop, or you can continue directly onto the short loop that stays closer to the lakes. The tip we got from a local is that if you go clockwise around the small loop, the beginning will take you through a more thickly wooded area that has a lot of mosquitos in the summertime; instead, go counterclockwise from lake 5 to 1, and then turn around like it’s an out-and-back trail instead of a loop

 

That hike is a little bit longer and will take closer to 2 hours than 1, but is more enjoyable because you avoid most of the mosquitos and get to see all the lakes twice! And of course, that time estimate doesn’t account for if you choose to stop and take a dip in any of the lakes, something plenty of people stop to do on a warm sunny day.

How to get to Jasper

The closest airport to the town of Jasper is Edmonton’s international airport, about a 4-hour drive away. The drive from Calgary is only a little bit longer, at about 4.5 hours. However, the benefit of coming from Calgary is that you can stop in Banff or along the Icefields Parkway on your way to/from Jasper.

Either way, you should get a rental car from the airport when you arrive. That’s not something I would ever recommend if there were sufficient public transport, but Jasper is a huge park where Uber and Lyft don’t operate. So, without a rental car, you would be limited to wherever you could walk or need to call for a taxi to get around.

Canadian National Park Pass

You must purchase a Canadian Park Pass to get into Jasper (or Banff, or any other National Park in Canada). When you go to buy your pass before your trip, you can enter the details of your visit into the park pass website, and they will suggest either day passes, or a “discovery pass” that’s good for a year, to get you the best value. For a trip 7 days or longer, the discovery pass will be the better choice.

Where to Stay in Jasper

Since Jasper is such a large national park, there are plenty of lodging options to choose from! I’ve narrowed down the selection to a few top picks here.

Mount Robson Inn – This hotel is on the main drag that goes through downtown Jasper, so it’s a great central location for exploring the town and the park. It also has a ton of different room size options, 2 hot tubs, and a large breakfast spread! A trip to Jasper can be kind of pricey, so a full breakfast is a huge perk.

Pyramid Lake Resort – Another great option with a hot tub is the Pyramid Lake Resort. It’s only about 4 miles from downtown, but (as the name indicates) is on Pyramid Lake, for a backdrop that is more memorable and unique to Jasper National Park. With so many things to see during your trip to Jasper, it’s nice to have instant access from your hotel to the canoeing, fishing, and hiking at the lake.

Pine Bungalows – If you’ve come to the Canadian Rockies to unplug and enjoy the outdoors but aren’t a camper, the Pine Bungalows are the place for you. They are right along the Athabasca River and don’t include TVs or WiFi, but instead the stand-alone cabins have full bathrooms, heated floors, gas fireplaces, and sometimes a full kitchen.  

When is the Best Time to Visit Jasper?

The most popular time to visit Jasper is from June through August when the pleasant temperatures make for excellent hiking and outdoor activities. But really, any time of year is a good time for a trip to Jasper! In the shoulder seasons from March to May and September to November, the weather might be a little more winter-y, but you’ll avoid most of the crowds. Then in the winter, the park provides a completely different (but equally amazing) experience. So, the best time to visit will just depend on your preferences.

How Long Should You Spend in Jasper?

You need 2-4 days in Jasper to see all the highlights listed above. If you have more time available, you wouldn’t get bored staying for a week or two, though. The ideal option would be to combine a few days in Jasper with 3-4 days in Banff, 1-2 days on the Icefields Parkway, and at least a half day in Yoho National Park. This itinerary shows exactly how to see the best sites in each of these places during a weeklong trip!

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