Jasper – The Best of The Canadian Rockies National Parks!

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By: Bob Kenyon

Angel GlacierAngel Glacier (Mount Edith Cavell, Jasper AB)
Photo: Bob Kenyon © 2006

Celebrating its centennial year in 2007, Jasper is located in the watershed of the Athabasca, Miette and Maligne rivers. The Jasper area of the Canadian Rocky Mountains is by far my favorite National Park for adventure tourism. Jasper has great camping, hiking, backpacking, cycling, horse trail riding, climbing opportunities, nature observing as well as spectacular scenery!

Jasper is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, which is a United Nations designation that includes Banff, Kootenay and Yoho, Glacier & Mount Revelstoke national parks, plus adjacent B.C. provincial parks: Hamber, Mount Robson and Mount Assiniboine. This area helps protect over 20,000 sq. km (7,700 sq. miles) of the Rocky Mountains.

The biggest benefit of adventure travel to Jasper, especially in respect to the town of Jasper, is that there are not as many tourists traffic jams, as its southern neighbour, Banff.

The town of Jasper has excellent accommodations, dining, shopping and tourist transportation. If you’re wanting to purchase well worthwhile trip souvenirs, or outdoors guidebooks, go to the store operated by the Friends of Jasper National Park, in the Park Administration Office. There you can support their work and find out about their conservation program, historical walking trips and courses that they offer through the Jasper Institute.

For campers, the area around the town of Jasper offers two excellent full serviced (and large) National Park campgrounds called Whistlers and Wapiti, south of town on the Icefields Parkway. For those seeking a more relaxed campground atmosphere, try Wabasso, on the 93A Highway south of the Mount Edith Cavell turn-off and before the road rejoins the Parkway at Athabasca Falls.

Other choices further east of the town could be the small, secluded Pocahontas Campground, on the road to Miette Hot Springs, or the larger Snaring Creek Campground, which also has an overflow area for peak season.

During the summer months sites in campgrounds in Jasper are at a premium and it’s suggested that campers should use Parks Canada’s online Campground Reservation Service.

For those seeking less rustic accommodations, there are many hotels, motels, cabins, bed and breakfast inns and hostels in Jasper National Park. Reservations during peak seasons are recommended.

Top of Whistler Jasper Top of Whistler, Jasper. AB.
Photo: Bob Kenyon ©2006

If you want to get a bird’s eye view of the town and valley with Pyramid Mountain, the landmark peak of Jasper, then you should take a trip up Whistler’s Mountain on the Jasper Skytram, which is operates from spring to fall.

By road, the best ways to get to Jasper is the Yellowhead Trans-Canada highway. It goes east from Vancouver and Kamloops, BC, or west from Edmonton, AB. A park entrance fee is paid at the gate and day and annual passes are available.

If you’re coming from the south, via Banff, Kootenay, or Yoho National Park then you would travel north on the Icefields Parkway. This road is a no-miss for anyone going to the Canadian Rockies and can be traveled by doing a tour loop, depending on what direction you’re traveling through both Jasper and Banff.

Another excellent and scenic route, from the east, is via Alberta’s David Thompson Highway, which begins west of Red Deer, on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, about halfway between Calgary and Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton. It enters the Icefields Parkway in the north of Banff National Park, at Saskatchewan River Crossing.

The David Thompson highway route is also a great route for backpackers wishing to access Howse, Nigel or Sunset Passes and Glacier Lake. During the winter ice climbers can access the Weeping Wall, which is also a site not to miss for summer tourists! Driving north on the Icefields Parkway will take you up to the spectacular Columbia Icefields and on to Jasper.

Jasper is well serviced by Trans-Canada train service (from west and east), as well as commercial bus service. Many tour bus packages also include Jasper on their itinerary. Their are many bus tours that travel throughout the park, to specific attractions. The roads are good for bicycle travel, but can be steep and weather can change swiftly and dramatically.

Jasper National Park is also a backpacker’s and hiker’s dream come true! Near the town of Jasper many tourist take the summertime road up the Angel Glacier lookout. The glacier is on the side of Jasper’s signature peak, Mount Edith Cavell,  

The Mount Edith Cavell is good hiking area, with a much better view of the glacier, if hike up over a moraine and up the Cavell Meadows.

The Cavell lookout area is also one of the trail heads that leads to the spectacular backpack trip into the Tonquin Valley* (my favorite), which has been voted by Canada’s Explore Magazine, as one of the 10 best treks in Canada.

Fryatt ValleyFryatt Valley, Jasper (From Top of the Headwall Trail)
Photo: Bob Kenyon © 2005

For those wanting more challenging treks, try the arduous Fryatt Valley* or the Skyline Trail*, which travels a series of passes and the strenuous trek over the “Notch” in Amber Mountain. The Skyline runs between Maligne Lake and Maligne Canyon. There are also many short day hikes and some very long backpack trips, notably the North and South Boundary Trails.

Trekkers on the North Boundary Trail can travel a distance of 173.4 km. to the Berg Lake Trail, in British Columbia’s Mt. Robson Provincial Park. Those with well developed map reading compass and back country skills, can go out of the park and travel into via Rock Creek (west of Snake Indian Falls) into the Rock Lake area of Willmore Wilderness Park. For an even more extensive trek this route can lead you to just outside the town of Grande Cache

The south boundary trail, can take you to the Nigel Pass trail head, south of the Columbia Icefields, a total distance of 165.7 km. You can, however, cut out to the old Coal Branch Road, at approximately the 57 km. point, via Rocky Pass.

For backcountry treks, permits are required, from the park office and can be difficult to acquire do to the quota system. Dogs are not allowed in the backcountry, of the National Parks, nor are open fires. Always check with the park office for bear warnings, trail closures and other regulations prior to departure.

Trails in Canadian National Parks are generally well marked and maintained. These are not the conditions, trekkers will experience when they travel on trails outside of the Park (e.g. North and South Boundary Trails).

Please take note of the following information! Travelers into Jasper’s back country should be trained in maps and compass use, proper gear, clothing, food storage/disposal and bear avoidance skills are mandatory! When in the back country, in regards to bears and any of the wildlife, trekkers must be aware that they are the intruders and must have respect for all wildlife.

For hikes, near to town of Jasper there are a range of trails, in the Maligne Lake and Maligne Canyon, including the canyon itself.

Many travelers go to beautiful Maligne Lake, with its wonderful lodge. If you’re wanting to see the famous Spirit Island (with it’s lonely spruce trees) that you see in every photo of the lake, you’ll need to take the cruise to the end of the lake from the lodge.

Another area, for both hiking and backpacking begins at at Miette Hot Springs. Hikers can take the short, steep trail, behind the pool facility, to the Sulfur Skyline for a great view of the Fiddle River valley and surrounding front mountain range. This same trail also gives backpackers access to the Fiddle River and Mystery Lake.

To get to the Miette area, take the approximately 1/2 hour drive on the winding road, from the Pocahontas turn-off. that goes east from the Yellowhead Highway, but make sure to stop along the way at roadside viewpoints, especially at Punch Bowl Falls!

Mount RobsonMt. Robson, evening without clouds
Photo: John Hayes ©2009

If you’re not planning to travel further west than Jasper, one side trip, in that direction (30 km) would be Mt. Robson Provincial Park, in British Columbia, on the Yellowhead Highway. The park is named for massive Mt. Robson, that dominates the area. Being the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies (3,954 m.), its height, doesn’t allow that many opportunities to see it without cloud cover!

Mt. Robson is the location of one of the well known back country treks in the Canadian Rockies. The Berg lake trail, that takes backpackers up to the bottom of the lower glaciers, where you may see an ice “berg” or more floating on the lake.

The trip up to Berg Lake, like most overnight treks in the Canadian Rockies, is strenuous and not recommended for novice hikers, nor those that are not properly equipped. Rain gear is often required on this trek, because of the mountain’s height, clouds of moist pacific air are caught as they come east, through the Yellowhead Pass. You must also be aware of bear avoidance skills. There is also a stunning day hike (18.8 km – return) that hikers take from the Berg Lake campground up to Snowbird Pass. With an elevation gain of 780 m. hikers can achieve a total altitude of 2,425 m. and have a stunning view of the Reef Icefield (25 square km.), the head of the Coalman Glacier and the entire Robson Valley.

Anglers and and fly fishing enthusiasts will really enjoy Jasper but you need to have National Park fishing permit and motor boats are not allowed. You also have to be aware of catch limits and many anglers practice catch and release, but it’s also great to keep one for the pan.

Like most mountain resorts, winter means a totally new season of activities, with downhill skiing being very good in Jasper at Marmot Basin, which also provides x-country ski and summer backpacking access to the northern part of the Tonquin Valley. Winter time in Jasper also provides excellent opportunities for x-country skiing, snowshoeing and, for the experienced, ice climbing. For a real winter experience, try a professionally guided hike, in the bottom of frozen Maligne Canyon!

Here’s an amazing list of tours and things to see in the Jasper area. For information about travelling to and accommodations in Whitehorse, Yukon or other destination in western Canada, click here.

* Trail description links are compliments of TailPeak, Their articles and images are protected by copy rite.

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