A Beginner’s Guide to Canada’s Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park is known for its abundant views, wildlife, and natural marvels. Here’s our essential guide to this Canadian Rocky Mountain region.

A Beginner’s Guide to Canada’s Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park is the largest in Canada.

Photo by Michael Brandt/Unsplash

The first thing to know about Canada’s Jasper National Park is that this is a place where the journey and the destination are equally important. There are plenty of wonders to be found in the park, and they’re reserved for those willing to make the trek.

For most people this means a scenic road trip from Calgary (about five hours of driving time) or Edmonton (about four hours). The southern route from Calgary leads through Banff National Park and up the captivating Icefields Parkway between summits and glaciers.

The long drive makes sense when you realize that at 4,200 square miles, Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. Its high mountain passes are mentioned often in stories of exploration from the past two centuries. This area holds even greater cultural significance for the First Nations of Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 and the Beaver, Cree, Ojibway, Secwépemc, Stoney, and Métis peoples.

The community of Jasper is at the heart of the park and makes for a convenient base camp with accommodation and services—and plenty of friendly advice from the Jasper Park Information Centre National Historic Site. Winding mountain roads lead away from town to the trailheads, glacial lakes, and countless peaks of the park.

For first-time visitors, this guide will help you plan your trip to Jasper National Park.

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Rushing water carved out Maligne Canyon, creating thrilling trails with striking views.

Photo by Josefina Di Battista/Unsplash

Things to do in Jasper National Park in summer

The summer season ushers out the last of the snow in June and carries through to September. During these months, the landscape is always evolving, from rushing spring meltwaters to wildflowers and autumn leaves.

Explore the great outdoors in the Maligne Valley

Just east of town is Maligne Canyon, where the powerful force of the elements is on full display. The canyon has been etched into limestone walls by torrents of water, viewable on canyon-edge trails and bridges crossing chasms more than 160 feet deep.

What’s most fascinating is that the water filling the canyon has traveled all the way from Medicine Lake (10 miles up the Maligne Lake Road) through underground channels that remain a mystery. This “vanishing lake” and Maligne Lake itself are meaningful places in local Indigenous culture. Explore the shores of Maligne Lake on lakeside hiking trails or cruise across the vivid emerald waters to Spirit Island, one of the most photographed places in the Canadian Rockies.

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The glass-floored Columbia Icefield Skywalk overlooks glacier-formed valleys.

Photo by Andy Holmes/Unsplash

Walk on (frozen) water at the Columbia Icefield

At the southern edge of the park lies the Columbia Icefield, a mass of glacial snow and ice more than 10,000 years old. The Athabasca Glacier, flowing from the icefield in rippling frozen blue waves, reaches nearly to the roadside of the Icefields Parkway. The trail following the toe of the glacier is well worth a visit and so is the Columbia Icefield Adventure tour that allows you to set foot directly on the ancient ice.

Drive the old 93A Highway & Whistlers Road

A lesser-known path parallels the Icefield Parkway south of the town of Jasper. The 93A is a section of the original route that first connected Jasper with Banff. It splits off from the main highway at the thundering Athabasca Falls and rapidly elevates toward the treeline and the twisting access road to the interpretive trail below Mount Edith Cavell.

Time your travels to return to town late in the afternoon and you’ll be able to visit the Jasper SkyTram on Whistlers Road after the daytime visitors have departed. The endless views from the top of the SkyTram—nearly 7,500 feet above sea level on Whistlers Mountain—are even more captivating when it’s quiet.

Things to do in Jasper National Park in winter

Some of Jasper’s best kept secrets come to life in wintertime. This is the prime time of year for stargazing, which is a big deal here—Jasper National Park is the second-largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world and the largest that has a town within its boundaries.

Enjoy winter sports at Lake Annette, Mildred Lake, and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

The arrival of winter turns the lakes and golf course around the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge into a network of well-groomed trails suitable for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or even fat biking.

The lodge is also home to the Jasper Planetarium, created by a passionate group of local astronomers. The planetarium offers an in-depth look at the vibrant night sky above Jasper National Park through a theater show and a guided telescopic tour.

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Marmot Basin’s ski slopes offer a mix of terrain and 3,000 feet of vertical drop.

Photo by Dominic Ziegler/Shutterstock

Ski Marmot Basin

There’s no feeling like skiing smooth, groomed runs in the sunshine or carving effortlessly down fields of powder. Marmot Basin, beloved by Jasper locals and visitors alike, has all of this and then some. The resort offers 3,000 feet of vertical drop and a diverse mix of terrain.

Bundle up and head outside at Pyramid Lake

At the foot of towering Pyramid Mountain just north of town, winter transforms a popular lakeshore into a natural playground. Pyramid Lake has its own island with walking trails that are well-trodden in winter. On the lake itself, there are options for ice skating or bundling up for a cozy horse-drawn sleigh ride.

Tips for planning your visit to Jasper National Park

Jasper is a remote community, and finding a last-minute place to stay in peak summer season (even a campsite) can be a real challenge. Consider visiting in the quieter spring, autumn, or winter seasons, and keep these other tips in mind when planning your trip.

Disconnect from the real world

Many of the mountain roads around the park (and the majority of the Icefields Parkway) are outside of cell coverage, so be prepared to navigate the old-fashioned way.

Don’t forget a park pass

Parks passes are required at all Canadian national parks, providing access for a fee of $10/person/day or $140 for a family or group for one year. Save time at the park entry gate by purchasing your pass online before you go.

Eat well and support local

Fuel up for your adventures at one of the many cafés and restaurants run by a colorful cast of Jasperites (try Bear’s Paw Bakery and Patricia Street Deli).

Where to stay in Jasper

Some of the best hotels and resorts in and around Jasper National Park include:

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Book Now: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Mountain charm meets classic elegance in this historic main lodge and comfortable cabins.

Pyramid Lake Resort

Book Now: Pyramid Lake Resort

Nestled on the shores of Pyramid Lake, the resort is blissfully peaceful when night falls over the Rockies.

The Crimson

Book Now: The Crimson

Exploring is easy when your home away from home is only steps to downtown Jasper.

Alpine Village Cabin Resort

Book Now: Alpine Village Cabin Resort

The immaculate log cabins at Alpine Village Cabin Resort come with amenities like outdoor firepits and patio space to soak in the summertime mountain views.

>> Next: A First-Timer’s Guide to Banff National Park

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