Full of towering glaciers, tumbling waterfalls, scenic canyons, cool blue lakes and the world’s largest non-polar icefield, Jasper National Park is the largest protected area in the Rocky Mountains, teeming with wildlife and a fantastic destination for outdoor adventure lovers.
The laidback town of Jasper is smaller than Banff in terms of both size and population, although the park it gives its name to, is larger and quieter than its more famous neighbour. For those with a car, we would recommend driving the Icefields Parkway that connects Jasper to Banff, which we think is one of the most scenic roads on the planet. Along the way stop at one of Jasper’s main attractions, the Columbia Icefield, the world’s largest non-polar icefield and take a trip on the custom-built Ice Explorer Bus to the Athabasca Glacier. The glacier is taller than the Eiffel Tower and a guided tour allows you to fully appreciate this incredible natural phenomenon. Visitors can also experience the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored observation platform 280-metres over the Sunwapta Valley, offering a bird’s eye view of the mountains and glaciers below.
Jasper was first settled along the Athabasca River as a fur trading post and was originally named Jasper House. This mighty river runs from its source at the Columbia Icefield through to northern Alberta and we would recommend a visit to Athabasca Falls where the water is forced through a narrow canyon creating a spectacular and powerful waterfall. The park is also home to Lake Maligne, one of the Rockies’ iconic lakes, where you can take a boat cruise, paddle a canoe, ride a mountain bike, hike the trails and look for wildlife. The park is especially rich in black and grizzly bear, cougar, lynx, coyote, wolf, wolverine and elk. Maligne Canyon is great for hiking during the summer, but in the winter months when the canyon floor and waterfalls freeze over, you will feel like you’re walking through nature’s very own winter wonderland.
For amazing mountain views, we’d also suggest a ride on the Jasper SkyTram which takes visitors up Whistlers Mountain for 360-degree views of the Rockies to the hiking trails and restaurants at the top.
Unlike Banff, Jasper is on the railway line and can be reached by train from Vancouver on the overnight VIA train (Canada’s national rail carrier) or as part of a journey on the luxury Rocky Mountaineer. Alternatively, it is an eight-hour 30-minute drive from Vancouver, a five-hour drive from Calgary or a four-hour drive from Edmonton. Rustic, wild and wonderful, we think the glacial landscape of Jasper makes this an important part of any Canadian Rockies holiday.