Things to Do in Jasper
Carved out of the limestone bedrock by a rushing river, this narrow and steep canyon—which reaches depths of up to 160 feet (50 meters)—is one of the most striking geological features of Jasper National Park. In summer, hikers flock here to follow trails that span the gorge, while in winter, the canyon freezes into an icy wonderland.
Travel up Whistlers Mountain on the Jasper SkyTram, Canada’s longest and highest aerial tramway, to see Jasper National Park from a brand-new perspective. The enclosed gondola takes you from 4,279 feet (1,304 meters) to 7,472 feet (2,277 meters) above sea level. From the top, enjoy stunning views of Jasper, the Rockies, and the Athabasca River.
With its vivid aquamarine waters and impressive backdrop of jagged, glacier-studded peaks, Maligne Lake has visitors to the Canadian Rockies reaching for their cameras. The glacier-fed lake is the largest in Jasper National Park. Tiny tree-topped Spirit Island stands in the middle of the lake and is the subject of countless postcards.
The Athabasca River originates from the Columbia Glacier on the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The Athabasca River is Alberta’s largest undammed river and the second-longest river overall in the province. It travels almost 1,000 miles (1,500 km) northeast across Alberta, and drains into Lake Athabasca in the northeast. The Athabasca runs through the glaciers and snow-covered mountains of Alberta’s Jasper National Park, considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The river is accessible by both road and by rail from all major centers in Alberta and British Columbia. The river offers excellent canoeing, rafting, kayaking, and hiking with all of the usually services and facilities that are usually found in Canada’s national parks. Beautiful waterfalls and trails to explore abound along the river, and it would be an excellent “home base” for a couple of days for any campers wanting to explore more of Jasper National Park.
When is a lake not a lake? When it’s a river. Medicine Lake is a geologic anomaly: though it looks like a long—4.3 mi (7 km)—and relatively shallow lake, it’s actually an area of the Maligne River. During times of glacial melt during the summer, the water backs up and forms the “lake” until it can slowly drain underground again through a series of sinkholes.
Aboriginal people called the lake Medicine Lake because of its incredible disappearing trick, but visitors these days are inspired by the opportunities for wildlife viewing of large mammals like bear, deer, moose and caribou. Fly-fishing is another popular pastime due to the proliferations of trout, but be prepared: Medicine Lake disappears in the fall and winter months, becoming a mudflat.
Situated in Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, Spirit Island is—for most of the year, at least—not actually an island at all, but rather a pint-sized peninsula connected to the mainland by a thin strip of land. A long-standing symbol of the Canadian Rockies, the tree-topped islet has featured on countless postcards and images of the park.
Jutting out from the side of a Jasper National Park cliff, the elevated, glass-bottomed Columbia Icefield Skywalk, also known as Glacier Skywalk, is an exhilarating—if somewhat unnerving—way to experience the epic, untouched landscapes of the Canadian Rockies. From this vantage point, the view of the park’s ice-hatted peaks and glacial valleys is nothing short of spectacular.
Sunwapta Falls are a set of Class 6 waterfalls that originate from the Athabasca Glacier and the Sunwapta River in Jasper National Park, Alberta. The falls are easily accessible by car during the summer months, located a short drive off the Icefields Parkway that connects Banff and Jasper National parks.
Sunwapta is a Stoney (Assiniboine) word meaning “turbulent water.” Over time as the Sunwapta River changed its course, a deep gorge was caused in the limestone rocks. Today, the two sets of falls that make up Sunwapta Falls are over 75 feet tall. They have a total drop of 60 feet (18 meters) and a width of 30 feet (9 meters). The upper waterfall flows through a narrow canyon and drops into three lower falls. The waterfalls are at their peak in late spring and early summer when glacial melt is at its highest, and in the winter, you can ice climb, snowshoe, and admire the ice formations created by the falls.
At 75 feet (23 meters) tall, Athabasca Falls may not be the highest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies, but it is one of the most powerful. Originating in the Columbia Icefield, the Athabasca River narrows dramatically before it thunders over the falls and creates a natural wonder.
At almost 11,000 feet (3,300 meters) above sea level, Mt. Edith Cavell is one of Canada’s most impressive mountains — and the province of Alberta’s most notable peak. The mountain was named after a British nurse who was executed in WWI for helping Allied prisoners escape from occupied Brussels. The bright turquoise glacial meltwater of Cavell Pond below the rugged summit of Mt. Edith Cavell is one of the most beautiful vistas in Jasper National Park. It is one of the few places in the world where a short walk can bring you up close and personal with a glacier. Vegetation grows slowly at such high elevation, and Mt. Edith Cavell experiences heavy visitor use. It is considered a fragile ecological area (where even a footprint can last for decades), so please do stay on the marked trails. In the spring, you may see and/or hear avalanches thundering down Mt. Edith Cavell’s stark north face.
From the parking lot, a well-groomed trail leads uphill to an excellent view of the mountain and Angel Glacier. The Path of the Glacier Loop meanders through the geological debris left behind by the retreat of the local glaciers. The trail ends at a small meltwater pond full of icebergs, and offers a fantastic view of both the Angel and Cavell Glaciers. Flower lovers may be especially interested in the Cavell Meadows Trail, which leads above the glacial debris to a subalpine meadow that explodes with wildflower life during the month of July.
More Things to Do in Jasper
The longest river in British Columbia and the 10th longest river in Canada, the Fraser River rises at Fraser Pass near Mount Robson in the Rocky Mountains and flows for 854 miles (1,375 km) into the Strait of Georgia at the city of Vancouver. Known for white sturgeon and the most productive salmon fishery in the world, Fraser River has supported agricultural and community life for hundreds of years.
More recently, Fraser River has become a host to a wide variety of recreational activities as well. Fishing, boating, whitewater rafting and other activities are common throughout the course of the river. In the basin as a whole, visitors can enjoy other backcountry activities such as hiking, camping, backpacking, cycling, birdwatching, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. As a scenic attraction, the Fraser River commands attention along many public byways including the Trans Canada and Yellowhead highways.
Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park are a gorgeous spot to soak your bones after a hike in the Rocky Mountains. Known as the hottest springs in the Canadian Rockies, the mineral-rich water gushes out of the mountainside at a steamy 129°F (54°C) before being cooled to 104°F (40°C) for a comfortable dip in the pool.
Easily accessible from nearly anywhere in Jasper, the Jasper Discovery Trail is a 5-mile (8-kilometer) loop trail that rises above the mountain town, offering views of the town and the Rocky Mountains. The route is a convenient way to get out into the mountains and can be used to travel from one part of town to another.
At 12,972 ft (3,954 m), Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies and the second highest peak in British Columbia; its south face is visible from the Yellowhead Highway and is a popular photographic subject along this route. Mount Robson is also known as Cloud Cap Mountain and The Mountain of the Spiral Road because of its distinctive, horizontal layers of rock which angle upwards to the east, giving the appearance of a track running around the mountain to form a spiral. The 4,921 ft (1,500 m) Emperor Face on the northwest side is the most difficult route for climbers, though the most popular routes are the Kain route and the southeast face. Although the mountain is less than 13,200 ft (4,000 m), there is no easy way to summit and Mount Robson has small success rate: about 10% of summit attempts are successful.
Mount Robson Provincial Park and Protected Area, where Mount Robson is located, is the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system, celebrating its 100th birthday in 2013. Set to the west of Jasper National Park, Mount Robson Provincial Park is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park consists of more than 536 acres undisturbed wilderness, home to 182 species of birds and many Rocky Mountain mammals such as deer, moose, caribou, mountain goats and sheep, bears and elk.
Yellowhead Pass is a mountain pass across the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies, rising 3,711 ft (1,131 m) above sea level—the second lowest highway pass over the Canadian Continental Divide. Located within Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park, Yellowhead Pass has been an important transportation route through the Rocky Mountains since the mid-1820s and was named a national historic site in 1971.
Yellowhead Pass is believed to be named for a fair-haired Métis-Iroquois trapper named Pierre Bostonais (his nickname was ‘yellow head’--‘Tête Jaune,’ in French), who led one of the first expeditions through the pass in 1825. Yellowhead Pass continues to be a major national transportation corridor for both goods and people and is one of the most scenic routes in the Cariboo and Canadian Rockies, providing spectacular views of Mount Robson, Mount Fitzwilliam and the Fraser River Valley.