PhotoJBartlett/The Adventure Freelancer
The sky above Jasper National Park comes alive at night. Celebrated as a Dark Sky Preserve, the national park is one of the best places in the world to stargaze. Light pollution is that orange hue often seen above cities, which is caused by the large amount of iridescent light omnipresent in populated areas. Jasper, home to only 5,000 people in a 10,000-square-kilometer area, is essentially light-pollution free. Because of this, the skies are darker—the area around Columbia Icefield is one of the darkest places in North America—so it’s possible to clearly see more stars than nearly anywhere else. Although the dark skies are best viewed in autumn and winter, from September to March, the best time to learn about the stars is during Jasper’s annual Dark Sky Festival that takes place at the end of October. The best part? It’s absolutely free.
Wildlife Watch in Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is Canada’s wildest national park, so it should be no surprise that wildlife abounds. Elk are often seen right in town, chawing down the lawn of the visitor information center. Daily wildlife safaris, operated by Sundog Tours, make it easy to see all the wildlife the Canadian Rockies have to offer. Guides are in the know about animal behaviors and recent sightings, so they’ll lead groups right to the action. And there is plenty to see—Jasper National Park is home to creatures such as grizzly and black bears, wolves, coyotes, mountain goats, mountain sheep, and moose.
Get Close to Nature with a Winter Safari
The coyote turned and stared right at me. I looked into its eyes, luckily from the safety of our vehicle. We had our moment of acknowledging each other and then he turned and kept walking along his path as I tried my best to take photographs with my zoom lens. But honestly I didn’t really need my zoom lens to capture a nice close up of the coyote - or the herd of elk that the coyote led us to. In fact, it was possible to get rather close to the wildlife and nature of Jasper National Park. During my short time in Jasper for the 25th Jasper in January Festival I was able to get up close to nature in many ways. The coyote and elk sightings came when I took a winter wildlife safari as a way to really get out and see the park since I didn’t have a car to get around myself. The winter safari wasn’t simply about the wildlife, but also the park landscapes and diversity. The winter wildlife safari is conducted in a van and a great way for you to see all around Jasper National Park if you arrived on train or don’t have a car.
Diverse Landscapes of Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park in Alberta Canada has some fascinating eco systems – sand dunes and a large flood plain are in the eastern edge of the park. We stopped at that edge of the park to get out and track some sheep and the wind howled across floodplain and road. The air carried a faint smell of sulfur from the hot springs in the area. We made numerous stops and were able to take pictures of the landscapes and Big Horn Sheep, in addition to the coyote and the elk.
Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is the largest of the seven parks that form UNESCO’s Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site (there are three other national parks and three British Columbia provincial parks). Jasper as well as neighboring Banff National Park are among the country’s most visited parks in every season, though both are at their busiest in the summer. In the winter off-season some attractions are closed and some famous residents, like the black bears, are hibernating, but it is still possible to see much of the park’s other wildlife—caribou, moose, foxes, wolves, mountain sheep and mountain goats among them—with far fewer people competing to get a photograph of them. John Newton traveled on Collette’s Canada’s Winter Wonderland tour as part of AFAR’s partnership with the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), whose members provide travelers with unparalleled access, insider knowledge, and peace-of-mind to destinations across the globe. For more on John’s journey, visit the USTOA blog.