Best Attractions in Jasper National ParkIn a national park with dozens of points of interest and things to see, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the top things to do in Jasper National Park and the surrounding area, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
If you only have one day to see the park, take a drive along the Icefields Parkway (Hwy. 93) , one of the world's most stunning roads. Towering peaks bookend massive glaciers in this surreal, moonlike landscape. The 230-kilometre (143-mi.) parkway, a AAA GEM attraction, connects Jasper from the north to its southern neighbor, Banff National Park . Lookouts along the way offer spectacular views of craggy, snow-capped mountains, icy waterfalls and blue glaciers that seem to glow from within. Don't forget to top off the gas tank before you leave Jasper townsite—there aren't any service stations along the route.
Bordering the parkway, about 103 kilometres (64 mi.) south of Jasper, the Columbia Icefield spreads out in a broad, high plateau. This is the most accessible of the parkway's 17 glacial areas, a remnant of the planet's last great ice age. Icefields are bodies of ice from which glaciers flow, and the huge Columbia flows in three directions, a rare occurrence. It moves north to the Arctic Ocean, east to the Atlantic and west to the Pacific. Exhibits at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre describe the ice's antediluvian beginnings. Here you can enjoy spectacular views of the Athabasca Glacier and surrounding peaks and also learn about Canada's most extensive cave system, the Castleguard Cave, which perforates the ice below.
For a full glacial experience, take a tour aboard the Columbia Icefield Adventure , which departs from the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre. The snowcoach's giant tires navigate steep and slippery grades, allowing passengers to traverse the glacier while staying high and dry. Once the bus stops, you can take a somber walk on the wind-swept ice. Moviemakers used this desolate and otherworldly destination as the set for Superman's arctic home.
Boasting separate summer and winter headquarters, Jasper Adventure Centre provides entrée to a wide range of sightseeing tours and park activities—from adventurous things to do like icefield walks, snowshoe tours and dog sledding to white-water rafting, fly-fishing and airplane flyovers. The center offers equipment rental, maps and tours led by expert guides.
See the park as early visitors saw it—by train. VIA Rail Canada train excursions travel over the Yellowhead Pass to Mount Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. After disembarking, sightseers climb into a van and drive through the wilds back to Jasper. Stops include the Mount Robson Interpretive Centre and the old-fashioned Dunster General Store. The train ride lasts about 2 hours and 30 minutes; the return trip by van is about 2 hours. Hotel pick-up is available from Jasper hotels; purchase tickets through the Jasper Adventure Centre.
Tour the Canadian Rockies' largest glacier-fed lake on a Maligne Lake Cruise . As the glass-enclosed boat maneuvers through turquoise-colored Maligne Lake, a guide entertains passengers with local stories. Passengers land near Spirit Island, a tiny peninsula punctuated with dart-shaped evergreens. The views of the surrounding peaks, the occasional crash of an avalanche and glimpses of wildlife along the shore—eagles, elk, bears—might make it hard to pay attention to your guide's talking points.
At Maligne Lake, take a pleasant and easy walk on the paved Mary Schäffer Loop. The trailhead begins in the first parking lot. Mary Schäffer braved these backwoods in 1908, the first person of European descent to explore the area. Curly Phillips' historic boathouse was a well-known pioneer outpost. The 1- to 2-hour hike through a forest of spruce and pine culminates at an interpretive lookout where visitors can learn more about Schäffer's life. On the way back, stop at Maligne Lake Lodge for a spot of tea.
Maligne Canyon , one of the most impressive ravines in the Canadian Rockies, is northeast of Jasper. An interpretive trail traverses a succession of six footbridges spanning sheer limestone gorges. Peering into the Maligne River's frothy green depths, you'll catch the spray from the rushing rapids. The path also passes a variety of bird habitats and lush plant life.
Take a short hike in the Athabasca River Valley on the interpretive Pocahontas Coal Mine Trail. Off Highway 16 in the Miette Hot Springs area, this easy trail rambles through the ghost town of Pocahontas. Built in 1908, the mining town thrived until the coal market collapse of the early 1920s. The surrounding wilderness soon reclaimed the town, though some old structures remain. Self-guiding signs mark the trail. The upper loop is 1.8 kilometres (1.1 mi.) and steep in places; the paved lower loop covers .8 kilometres (.5 mi.) and is wheelchair-accessible. Along the way, you'll enjoy some outstanding views of the valley. Plan your vacation for autumn to see the aspens turn bright gold.
For a visit to Jasper's alpine terrain without the hike, ride the Jasper SkyTram . In seven-and-one-half minutes, this aerial tram glides up the 2,263-metre (7,425-ft.) face of Whistlers Mountain. At the summit, you can see the jagged pyramids of six mountain ranges cutting into the clouds, and the Jasper townsite looks tiny. Before your descent, take a walk through the stony tundra gardens where rare alpine flowers bloom.
August is the time to don your cowboy hat and gallop over to the Jasper Heritage Pro Rodeo at the Jasper Activity Centre. Since 1922, this rodeo has welcomed some of the continent's top cowboys. Spectators enjoy a variety of competitions, including bull riding and steer wrestling. Tickets are available at the historic Athabasca Hotel in downtown Jasper.
Once a railroad outpost, the drowsing village of Jasper boasts two main drags, Connaught Drive and Patricia Street. Here, you can browse the shops for books or Canadian crafts, sip a cup of coffee or check your e-mail—all with the majestic Rockies as a backdrop. A striking stone cabin built in 1913 is home to the Jasper Townsite Information Centre, which stocks brochures, maps and park publications. An entertaining tour through town, “Jasper: A Walk in the Past,” departs in the evenings from the cabin at 500 Connaught Drive.
With three distinctive galleries and an extensive photographic collection, the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives is a great place to learn about the region's pioneer history. You'll find fascinating exhibits depicting Jasper's early days, including displays about fur trappers, the railways and the first mountaineering ascent of Mount Alberta in 1925. For the more artistically inclined, the Showcase Gallery features local and regional art.
At The Den Wildlife Museum , you can stare down a grizzly or get up-close-and-personal with an aggressive elk—without risking life or limb. At this wildlife museum in the lower level of Whistler's Inn, more than 150 mounted birds and mammals wander through panoramic scenes representing Alberta's four natural regions: prairie, aspen parkland, mountain and northern forest.
After a day of exploring (or shopping), soak away your aches at Miette Hot Springs Pool , one of the fun things to do with friends in Jasper National Park. The hottest springs in the Rockies bubble up from the steep valley of Sulphur Creek. As the scalding mineral water enters the pool, it's cooled to a constant 40 C (104 F). This was the park's biggest attraction in the early 1900s, and it's still a great way to relax, surrounded by a wall of quiet mountains. Deer and elk may even sidle up through the trees.
See all the AAA recommended fun things to do and attractions for this destination.
Jasper National Park, AB
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200 Connaught Dr. Jasper, AB T0E 1E0