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Jasper National Park, AB

From Blue-Green Lakes to Breathtaking Ice Fields The largest national park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Jasper preserves a spectacular wilderness of forested glacial valleys, dazzling snow-capped peaks, roaring waterfalls and sparkling blue-green lakes. Jasper is less developed and less crowded than Banff National Park to the south, so it tends to attract those seeking the solitude and tranquility that are among the park's greatest assets. Nearly a thousand kilometres (600 mi.) of maintained trails help visitors escape into the virtually pristine countryside.

The park's wildlife is as diverse as its peaks and valleys. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep inhabit the crags and highlands, although the sheep frequently wander down from the heights and into the camera viewfinders of tourists. The lower slopes and meadows are home to deer, elk and moose. Bears, coyotes, wolves, lynx and other predators usually avoid humans.

Whistlers Mountain, whose peak looms above the town of Jasper, is named for the whistling call of the hoary marmot, which looks like something between a squirrel and a beaver. You might encounter marmots along Jasper National Park's trails, along with Columbian ground squirrels and tiny pikas, which look like mice but are actually related to rabbits, as you might guess from their other name: rock rabbits.

Jasper National Park was named for Jasper Hawes who operated Jasper's House, an early 19th-century fur-trading post in the area. The town, originally called Fitzhugh, adopted the name of the surrounding park in 1913. It's a laid-back place with a surprisingly small-town feel despite catering to the millions who visit the park annually. You will find one of the park's two tourist information centers in a rustic cobblestone building on the town's main street. Completed in 1914, it once housed the park's headquarters; its design established the style now common for national park buildings.

Looked at from above, the town's curved layout appropriately enough resembles the letter J. Take a look for yourself by making the 7.5-minute journey via the Jasper SkyTram to the upper station on Whistlers Mountain, 2,263 metres (7,425 ft.) above sea level. The view of the town, the Athabasca River Valley and surrounding mountains is unforgettable, and you'll see why the Jasper SkyTram is one of the most popular things to do in Jasper National Park.

Strolling the streets of Jasper, you can't help but notice the distinctive profile of Mount Edith Cavell, a prominent local peak with contrasting parallel bands of rock and snow. A half-hour drive will take you to the mountain, called “the White Ghost” by the Indigenous Stoney people. Trails there lead to the wildflower-strewn Cavell Meadows and offer fantastic views of Angel Glacier, named for its outstretched “wings.” Below the glacier, little icebergs bob in Cavell Pond, even in summer. Note: In 2012, the left wing of the Angel Glacier broke off and caused a major flood which damaged the trails and parking lot on Cavell Road. During construction of the trails and parking lot, a vehicle permit is required to access the road. First-come-first-served permits can be picked up at the Jasper National Park Information Centre, 500 Connaught Dr., daily 8 a.m.-10 a.m.

Other places that would make the Jasper National Park Top 10: the scenic Maligne Lake Road connecting Maligne Canyon and lovely Medicine and Maligne lakes; thundering Athabasca and Sunwapta falls; Pyramid and Patricia lakes; Marmot Basin ski resort; and the breathtaking Icefields Parkway running south to the Columbia Icefield and the Athabasca Glacier, where a short trail leads from the parkway right up to the glacier.

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Jasper National Park, AB

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