To many visitors, Jasper National Park in southwestern Alberta, Canada may live in the shadow of the more accessible Banff — but it’s precisely the remoteness that makes Jasper a special place to visit. Whether you’re a casual walker or an avid hiker, Jasper will impress with 11,000 square kilometers (4,250 square miles) of pristine wilderness and abundant wildlife. Here are five adventures for beginners and experts.
1. Cruise or kayak on Maligne Lake.
Forty-five minutes southeast of Jasper is Maligne Lake, the largest in the Canadian Rockies. Surrounded by three glaciers, its turquoise water stretches on for 14 miles. Scenic cruises depart hourly, while the more adventurous can rent a kayak to explore. Hiking is also popular in the area; we highly recommend the Bald Hills Trail. Other lakes to visit in Jasper are Medicine, Annette, Geraldine, Jacques, and the more challenging Summit Lakes. The Valley of the Five Lakes hike, a short two-hour circuit, takes you past five no-name (but beautiful) lakes and is one of the most accessible water-happy trails in Jasper.
2. Drive to Mt. Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies.
The great thing about being in a national park is that transportation becomes part of the adventure. The roads to both Maligne Lake and Miette Hot Springs yield fantastic views, and you might arrive wishing there was still a little bit farther to go. If you’d like to dedicate a few hours to a scenic drive, consider heading west into Mt. Robson Provincial Park, which borders Jasper National Park. It’s home to Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972 feet, and the drive allows you to explore the western portion of Jasper on your way through. Once there, check out the Kinney Lake Trail for a nice half-day hike, or, if you’d like to make it a multi-day adventure, consider camping along the Berg Lake Trail. The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93), which connects Jasper and Banff, is also considered one of Canada’s most scenic drives.
3. Hike Jasper’s beloved Skyline Trail.
The Skyline Trail is Jasper’s flagship backpacking route. It walks ridges and crosses saddles for 27 miles, about two-thirds of which is above treeline — making it an ideal trek for foliage in the fall. For those who want to immerse themselves in the experience, six backcountry campsites dot the trail (reservations required). Note, though, that because of the exposed ridges, fast-changing weather, tendency for cold conditions, and the fact that it’s a multi-day endeavor, backpacking the entire trail is an adventure for experienced hikers (or beginners traveling with experienced hikers). Newbies looking to get a small taste can hike the first section — starting at the Maligne Lake Skyline trailhead and gently climbing through the forest to glacier-fed Lake Loraine and Lake Mona — as a day hike.
4. Stargaze in ultimate darkness.
Jasper is a dark sky preserve, with strict limits on the use of artificial light at night. Take advantage by visiting the Jasper Planetarium to learn more in its domed theater and then hopping on an astronomer-led stargazing tour at night. In town in the second half of October? See if your trip coincides with the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival — which includes a handful of free events, from more classic stargazing to daytime solar viewing (in which you can look directly at the sun through a telescope), in addition to some ticketed ones, like a night photography workshop or a guided Northern Lights-viewing session. Unfortunately, this year’s keynote, featuring Colonel Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space, is already sold out.
5. Hit the slopes.
Most people visit Jasper during the summer months when the weather is best. But winter and the shoulder seasons offer fewer crowds and the chance to hit the slopes. Marmot Basin Ski Area has 3,000 feet of vertical terrain, 86 runs, and very little tourism (compared to its southern neighbor, Banff). Share the slopes with locals and enjoy the affordability. Not sold on winter just yet? Check out the ice walks, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and ice climbing possibilities.
Getting There: Jasper National Park is accessible from the airports in Calgary and Edmonton, each about four hours out.