Jasper National Park Vacation Facts: Geology
It’s hard not to notice that Jasper National Park has particularly tall, sharply cut peaks and deep valleys. The peaks are so distinctive here that it’ll only take you a few days to start remembering their names. It’s one of the things that makes Jasper great for sightseeing and a great vacation place for photographers.
Many of the mountains rise to elevations above 3000 meters in Jasper National Park. Mt. Columbia, the highest peak in Alberta, is 3782 metres. The lowest point in the park, 985 metres above sea level, lies near the park’s east gate.
Jasper National Park mountain ranges run parallel to one another in a northwest to southeast alignment. The range to the west is the highest. It also forms the continental divide. Down one side streams flow east and north to the Arctic Ocean or Hudson Bay from those which drain westward to the Pacific Ocean.
The highest and most famous ranges in Jasper include Mt. Robson and the of enormous peaks that surround Columbia Icefield. In Jasper National Park, the main ranges are largely shale, coarse sandstone, limestone and a somewhat metamorphic rock called quartzite, in particular, ‘Gog’ quartzite.
To the east, joining with the expanse of Alberta’s prairies, are the front ranges of the Rockies. The front ranges are pale grey from lime, and distinct from the reddish/brownish color of Jasper’s main ranges. Roche Miette is a typical front-range peak in Jasper.
The Athabasca River and its tributaries are the water drain for more than four-fifths of the park. From the foot of the Columbia Glacier the Athabasca river flows north and east through the park for about 150 kilometres. Ten other moderately-sized rivers and countless smaller creeks add to its volume over this distance. The Athabasca is one of the main rivers which flow from the mountain barrier toward the Arctic Ocean.
The north end of Jasper National Park sits in a different drainage basin and doesn’t drain into the Athabasca. The Smoky River, which starts in the northwest corner of the park, runs northward to the Peace River in northern Alberta.
Water from the most southeast corner of the park is discharged via the Southesk and Brazeau rivers, which exit from the mountains and join the North Saskatchewan River.
These watercourses collect the runoff from an area of over 10,000 square kilometres. Peak water flow begins in late June, when snowmelt and rainfall combine to fill the river channels to capacity. Melting glaciers keep the water levels high through July. By midsummer, these rivers contribute huge amounts of water municipal and agricultural needs farther downstream.