Jasper Visitor’s Complete Vacation Guide
Jasper National Park and the town of Jasper are some of the top vacation spots in the Rockies. The national park is big, with lots of history, terrain, wildlife, trails and unique attractions, such as the Columbia Icefields. The town is small, but has a wide variety of excellent restaurants, bars, hotels, spas and other amenities. Below is our complete guide to Jasper National Park vacations.
Jasper started developing as the railroads started laying track here in the 1870s. Eventually the Canadian federal government took interest in the bustling activity and designated the area as Jasper Forest Park on September 14, 1907. In 1810, the fur trader and surveyor David Thompson came to the Athabasca Valley, where he set up a shelter that ultimately became the hub of trade in the Canadian Rockies for the next 50 years.
With the railroad in place, government officials arrived and the first superintendent set up headquarters near the new train station. The town, originally named Fitzhugh, was officially changed to Jasper, with outfitters and guides settling in as tourists arrived to enjoy the pristine setting. An administration building was created; post office, stores, a hospital, and churches opened and roads were built. The administration building is now a historical site that serves as Jasper’s Information Centre.
Jasper National Park was established in 1930, whereby the town’s management shifted to governance by municipality. After World War II along some road improvements, tourists began pouring into Jasper. Today there are approximately three million visitors to Jasper National Park every year, and it is a World Heritage site.
Jasper enjoys a mountain climate of cool summers and mild winters. Mild Chinook in the winter, bring a warm respite from the cold. Snowfall averages 15 inches (38.1 cm) and summer rainfall averages 1.8 inches (45.8 mm).
Jasper townsite actually sits inside Jasper National Park, the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. With its snow-capped peaks, alpine forests and glacier-fed lakes, Jasper is an outdoors lover’s dream come true. The town itself is bordered by the Athabasca River to the east and the Miette River to the south. The park is about 4,170 square miles (10,800 sq km), with the Icefields Parkway and Banff National Park to the south.
By air: Jasper is located between two major airports, Calgary International Airport (298 miles/480km southeast) and the Edmonton International Airport (224 miles/360 km east). The Jasper Hinton Airport is located approximately 40 miles (64km) east of town, offering charter flights and tour operation. You can choose from a number of coach services that leave from the Calgary or Edmonton airport and go to Jasper.
By car: If you decide to rent a car from the Calgary airport, the drive will take you 4 ½ hours on Hwy #1. If you leave from Edmonton, the drive will take you 3 ½ hours on Hwy #16.
By train: Another travel option is to take a train to Jasper from Edmonton. Trains depart several times a week and no transfers are required. Once you have arrived in Jasper, there is no public transportation, but taxi services are available to take you to tourist attractions in the area.
Jasper Tramway: The Jasper Tramway is terrific for getting a bird’s eye view of all the beauty the town and park offer. It’s one of Canada’s longest aerial trams, the Jasper Tramway and features two terminals. The longest terminal has a cable length of 3,280 feet (1,000 m) and transports visitors to the main lookout point at an elevation of 7,472 feet (2,277 m). There are two tramcars, traveling at approximately six miles per second (10 km/sec), with up to 30 passengers in each car. Riding above the exquisite mountain scenery, you’ll see valleys, green-blue glacial lakes and the town of Jasper in its setting of majestic summits. Once you arrive at the peak of Whistlers Mountain, you can enjoy the local gift shops as well as the Treeline Restaurant where you can sit in a glass-enclosed dining room with 360 degree views of the mountains just outside.
Natural Attractions: It almost goes without saying that, by being right in the middle of Jasper National Park, Jasper the town is the best place to access the park’s natural attractions. Only ten minutes outside town you’ll find spring-fed Kettle Lakes, consisting of Lake Annette, Lac Beauvert and Lake Edith. Here you can have a family picnic or hike an interpretive trail and learn about the flora and fauna. At Lake Annette and Lake Edith you’ll find sandy beaches, great for a summer day in the sun. Lac Beauvert is the largest of the three lakes, with its emerald colored waters and the famed Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge sitting at the shoreline.
Be sure to visit Maligne Lake and Spirit Island, just 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Jasper, where you can take boat tours, rent canoes and kayaks, or spend the day fishing for trout. At Maligne Lake you can enjoy a variety of water activities. Dining and shopping is also available to make your visit complete.
At Jasper National Park’s south entrance, you’ll find the magnificent Athabasca Falls and Mount Edith Cavell. As you drive along Hwy #93 you’ll see several lookout points where you can take the perfect picture of the breathtaking sights around you. Athabasca Falls is a powerful cascade that drops into a narrow quartz and limestone canyon. You can get close to the falls by following the viewing platforms that line the area.
With its sub-alpine hiking and biking trails, the Mount Edith Cavell region provides a stunning immersion in Canadian Rockies scenery. The mountain stands at 11,034 feet (3,363 m) and is an ideal summit for challenging your climbing prowess. Named after a WWI British nurse who helped allied troops, you will also find the well known Angel Glacier and its meltwater lake, Cavell Pond.
Miette Hot Springs is another interesting attraction when visiting Jasper. With its mineral-rich waters, the hot springs have been a temptation since the early 1800s. Springing from Sulpher Creek, the water emerges from cracks in the mountain rocks after it has been heated by radioactive decay from the earth’s core. The water boils and is forced up, flowing from the mountain at 129.2 degrees F (54C). As such, these are the hottest springs in the Canadian Rockies. When the water enters the bathing pools, it is cooled to 104F (40C) so visitors can enjoy a truly revitalizing soak.
At Miette Hot Springs you will also find two cooling pools, a poolside shower and a spa that offers a range of services for guests. Nestled into the Fiddle Valley, a visit to Miette Hot Springs with it surrounding views and abundant wildlife will revive body, mind and soul.
Jasper Museums: Jasper Yellowhead Museum is filled with historic photographs, artifacts and a plethora of memorabilia from the region’s early years. Operated by the Jasper-Yellowhead Historical Society, the museum is a true preservation center for the natural and human history that dates as far back as 10,000 years. Wander the galleries, including the Historic Gallery where you will find railway, trade and tourism artifacts and the Alcove Gallery where you will enjoy viewing antique typewriters, telephones and telegraph equipment.
The Den Wildlife Museum, located in the lower level of Whistlers Inn, houses 130 life-size wildlife specimens including grizzly bears, moose, elk and cougars. Created by Canadian taxidermists, the exhibit has been 45 years in the making and covers the four regions of Alberta’s terrain: the northern forest, the aspen parkland, the mountain area and the prairies.