Jasper is a town in Jasper National Park that lies in a broad valley at the convergence point of the Yellowhead Highway and Icefields Parkway. While its setting is less spectacular and its town much smaller than Banff, Jasper is also quieter and less congested during the peak summer season. Connaught Drive remains the main street of the town as it has always been since the Canadian National Railroad station was placed along it. Train service links the town with Vancouver in the west and Edmonton in the east. Like Banff, Jasper is the starting point for many outdoor excursions and would-be encounters with park wildlife. Hiking trails, horseback riding treks, whitewater rafting tours, and other journeys into the pristine wilderness of Jasper National Park all begin in Jasper.
Much like Banff, Jasper’s tourist attractions are almost all outdoor-related, so it is a great place to vacation if you are looking for a breath of fresh air.
Jasper National Park
The main attraction of Jasper is, of course, the Jasper National Park. The best way to experience the park in the shortest amount of time is to take the popular gondola, the Jasper Tramway. It is located about 4 miles (7 kilometers) south of the town and takes travelers up Whistlers Mountain for incredible views of Mount Robson and the icefield. Mount Robson, incidentally, is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. At the top of the terminal, you’ll find the interpretive center along with a restaurant and a café. From the terminal, you can take hiking trails that climb to the peak where you’ll begin to understand the reason Whistlers Mountain is so named. Little animals called hoary marmots make these whistling noises that can be heard quite audibly. The tramway operates only from April to October.
Several lakes in the park are within a short drive from town and are great places to relax and enjoy some outdoor sports. The Patricia and Pyramid Lakes, for example, are popular for picnicking, canoeing, and boating and are located at Pyramid Lake Road just four miles northwest of town. Lake Edith and Lake Annette, meanwhile, both have nice beaches and hiking trails and are located at Lodge Road about 2 miles east of Jasper. Lake Beauvert is another lake close by and features the Jasper Park Lodge stretched out along its shores. The lodge provides some of the best accommodations and catering in the area.
Maligne Valley lies east of Jasper and can be reached by taking the Yellowhead Highway and then exiting off Maligne Valley Road. The main attraction in the valley is the Maligne Canyon about 6 miles outside of the town. The deep slash across the landscape was created by the water gradually wearing away the limestone over thousands of years. The canyon can be explored by using the many bridges and paths.
Another attraction of Maligne valley is Medicine Lake, which is about 9 miles (14 kilometers) along Maligne Road. This lake is noted for its mysteriousness. Its water level, after all, fluctuates during the year, causing it to disappear in the fall despite water constantly streaming into the lake bed. This occurs because of the holes in the bedrock continually absorbing the incoming water. However, the water level in the summer increases substantially, as the melting snow provides enough inflow to maintain the lake.
The crown jewel of the Maligne Valley, and some say the entire Jasper National Park, is Maligne Lake, which is about 13 miles further out along Maligne Road from Medicine Lake. Maligne Lake stretches for 14 miles and is of such picturesque beauty that it has probably been photographed by millions of people. It is a picture of snowcapped mountains ascending out of deep blue glacial waters, the center of which lies a tiny magical island of trees known as “Spirit Island”. There is a boat trip that ferries visitors to this island during the summer, from May to September. At the lake, there are rental facilities and people can fish, canoe, row boats, horseback ride, and hike the trails all around. In the winter, you can also cross-country ski these same trails.
Miette Hot Springs
The Miette Hot Springs is the perfect place to relax after a long day of hiking or sightseeing. It is located about 37 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Jasper. Just take Highway 16. The springs at Miette are the hottest in the mountains in the area. Their rejuvenating properties are laid out in outdoor pools that are set against the backdrop of stunning alpines. The pools are open everyday to the public from May until September.
Mount Edith Cavell
Mount Edith Cavell looms magnificently and majestically south of Jasper, about 18 miles (30 kilometers) along Highway 93A. The foot of the mountain can be reached by turning onto an access road off the highway. Mount Edith Cavell was named in honor of a British nurse who was shot in 1915 while heroically attempting to help Allied soldiers. The highlight of the mountain is the Angel Glacier. This wing-shaped tongue of ice hangs onto the mountain in the northeastern slopes and can be reached by a trail. Another path takes visitors to the alpine meadows. There is also a trail further along the access road that makes its way to Cavell Lake.
Jasper Park has many hiking, cycling, and horseback riding trails and the many lakes and rivers are perfect settings for fishing, whitewater rafting, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Golf enthusiasts can visit the Jasper Park Lodge which has an excellent 18-hole course which is open to the public.
In the winter, there is excellent skiing at Jasper Park’s Marmot Basin near the town of Jasper. Marmot Basin has various slopes to suit beginners and experts, and cross-country trails that sweep through the stunning scenery surrounding Maligne Lake. Look for good skiing packages at Jasper Park Lodge.
Jasper doesn’t exactly have a vibrant nightlife. What drinking and dancing goes on there tends to take place in the hotel lounges, sometimes to the accompaniment of live music.
Jasper National Park is larger than Banff National Park, but the latter is more developed. In the early 19th century the Athabasca River and Pass were part of the overland fur trading route, and at one time a trading post existed not far away from the present town of Jasper. Apart from these traders and some gold prospectors on their way to the Cariboo, the area was unvisited until the national park was created in preparation for the transcontinental railway that was to cross the Rockies at Yellowhead Pass. The railway brought with it visitors, and the opening of the Icefields Parkway in 1940 made Jasper Park even more accessible. Although Jasper is today a major tourist attraction, it remains quieter and wilder than its older neighbor, although equally well served by road and rail.
How to Get There
Jasper is 292 kilometers (181 miles) north of Banff along the Icefields Parkway, making Calgary Airport about 405 kilometers (255 miles) away from Jasper. Edmonton International Airport is 411 kilometers (225 miles) away from Jasper along the Yellowhead Highway. This highway runs through Jasper from Edmonton in the east and to Prince George in the west, also linking with Vancouver via Kamloops. If you plan on driving to Jasper in the winter, it is safer to take the Calgary route, as weather conditions on the Icefields Parkway can get a bit treacherous.
The VIA Rail station in Jasper is located at 314 Connaught Drive, and trains run west to Vancouver, eastwards to Edmonton, Winnipeg and beyond.
Brewster Transportation runs a once-daily service to Jasper and also operates tours of the area. In Jasper, the Greyhound station is at the same location as the VIA Rail station, 314 Connaught Drive, and regular buses run to Edmonton, Banff, and to Vancouver via Kamloops.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Canada. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc, 1996. ISBN: 1556507100.
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