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Jasper National Park, AB

Recreation in Jasper National ParkBiking, swimming, backpacking, fishing, hiking—whatever your interest, make sure you experience these recreational highlights and adventurous things to do, as chosen by AAA editors.

Setting out in expansive Jasper National Park, nature and civilization soon part ways. In many areas, there are few highways and even fewer people. Exploring the terrain here is a true adventure—in the early 1800s when pioneers and fur traders arrived, a complex of First Nations trails already snaked through the woods. Today, hikers use the same network to explore sweeping valleys, craggy crevasses and deep forests. Many seasoned adventurers come to Jasper's wilderness already outfitted for the backcountry, but novice hikers and bikers will have no trouble finding equipment and activities.

Where to Find Permits and Guides

Most recreation is based out of Jasper townsite, set in the bull's-eye center of the park. To start any adventure, head downtown to Jasper Adventure Centre , a clearinghouse for equipment providers and guides. Obtain permits for camping, fishing and backcountry hiking though the Jasper Townsite Information Centre, also downtown.

Best Time to Visit Jasper National Park

Wondering about the best time to plan your trip to Jasper National Park? It depends on the activity you have in mind. Jasper's climate naturally divides seasonal activities into two categories: summer and winter. The most popular summer activity is hiking, and the trails here do not disappoint. Many are steep, so it's important to research a route ahead of time. The best months for hiking are July and August, but prepare for weather extremes even in summer. If hiking is not on your agenda, try biking, climbing or water sports. During colder months, there's also plenty of fun things to do, including downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding and sleigh rides.

Keep Safety in Mind

An important note: be alert for bears. Encounters are rare, but they do occur. When hiking, biking or camping in the backcountry, take proper precautions. Never feed wild animals, and always store food properly. Remain at least 100 metres (330 feet or 10 bus lengths) away from bears, cougars and wolves; 30 metres (100 feet or 3 bus lengths) from elk, deer, sheep, mountain goats and moose. At park entrances, wardens provide bear awareness brochures.

Old Fort Point Trail Hike (2 Hours)

Many of Jasper's trails are ideal for short hikes, ranging from leisurely strolls to tough uphill treks, and quite a few leave from Jasper townsite. For a simple day hike only minutes from town, hike the Old Fort Point Trail. About 1.6 kilometres (1 mi.) east of Jasper on Hwy. 93, Old Fort Point is a bedrock bulge shaped by glaciers, towering above the Athabasca River Valley. No one is certain if a fort ever existed here, but Henry House, a fur-trapping outpost, was nearby. For the moderate route, ascend the stairs through the rocky, steep terrain. For the easy route, take the longer, gentler climb on the wide path. Along the way, you may see mountain goats balancing on breccia, pointed lumps of rose-colored limestone. The scramble to the summit pays off with a 360-degree view including snow-streaked Mount Edith Cavell, Whistlers Mountain, the red-hued Victoria Cross Range and the gray limestone Colin Range. It should take about 2 hours to complete this 3.5 kilometre (2.2 mi.) trek.

Pyramid Lake Loop Hike (2 Hours)

In spring, enjoy budding trees and newly opened flowers after the snow melts. While many paths at higher elevations are still frozen and slippery, take a hike on Pyramid Lake Loop. The trailhead starts in town at the Jasper Activity Centre and travels through Cottonwood Slough, a marshy area thick with birds and beavers. You'll walk for 3.8 kilometres (2.5 mi.) on paths carpeted with pine needles, weaving through groves of old-growth Douglas fir. You may even see bighorn sheep grazing on the grassy slopes. Follow signs closely as this route splits at various junctures. The journey lasts about 2 hours.

Patricia Lake Circle Hike (3 Hours)

Birdwatchers will relish the tranquility of the easy trail around Patricia Lake Circle, whose trailhead is located off the riding stables parking area on Pyramid Lake Road. The walk loops around the lake for 4.6 kilometres (3 mi.) and takes 3 hours at a leisurely pace. Go in the morning when the lake is hushed and still, and the slanting sunlight lends the water a deep emerald cast. A prime photo location, the lake is home to a variety of waterfowl, including loons and harlequin ducks. Dense trees provide cover for warbling songbirds. Moose do make appearances here, rambling through the trees and grazing on marsh grass and foliage.

Cavell Meadows and Path of the Glacier Hikes (3-6 Hours)

Venture farther from Jasper townsite to experience some great day rambles. Many hikers list Cavell Meadows and Path of the Glacier as their favorite. For families, the fascinating, varied terrain is kid-friendly and educational. To reach the trailhead, drive south on narrow Highway 93A through sub-alpine woods to Mount Edith Cavell. The impressive 3,300-metre (10,827-ft.) peak was named for a British nurse executed by the Germans in World War I. Wings of snow and ice spreading across the mountain's sheer north face give Angel Glacier its name.

After parking at the Cavell Road trailhead, follow the paved path paralleling a lateral moraine—a small, dome-shaped hill composed of gravel glacier debris. Here the route divides into two parts. The lower half is the 1.8-kilometre (1.1-mi.) Path of the Glacier, a lovely, short circuit that takes about an hour. The upper half of the trail travels to Cavell Meadows, a more difficult walk. It climbs past moraines and through sub-alpine forests of spruce and fir, emerging for tree-line views of Angel Glacier. The trail also reaches lush meadows blanketed in wildflowers. At the summit, take a rest and then return by the same route, rejoining Path of the Glacier Trail and passing Cavell Pond, an electric blue lake fed by melting glaciers—sometimes, icebergs bob in its depths. Head back on the gravel path past Cavell Creek. The entire Cavell Meadows loop including the Path of the Glacier is about 8.5 kilometres (5 mi.) long and takes 3 to 6 hours to complete.

Wilcox Pass Hike (4-6 Hours)

Try Wilcox Pass for a challenging, uncrowded 8-kilometre (5-mi.) hike through the ice fields area. The 4- to 6-hour hike begins off the Icefields Parkway, 103 kilometres (64 mi.) south of Jasper at the Wilcox Creek Campground and 3 kilometres (2 mi.) south of the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre . A sheer ascent through the forest levels out onto an immense plain dotted with alpine meadows. Along the route, there are clear ponds and streams and resident sheep herds. Mount Athabasca looms in the distance with its glacial carved hollow. Enjoy the view: the ice fields are breathtaking from here.

Bicycling in Jasper National Park

The snow doesn't melt until June on many of Jasper's bike trails, but two-wheeling in the summertime is a great way to see the park. Bicycling is permitted throughout the townsite; mountain biking is only allowed on a limited number of park trails. Less experienced riders will enjoy the scenic, flat Trail 7 from Old Fort Point to Maligne Canyon . This leisurely 5-kilometre (3-mi.) excursion leads to the Summit Lakes. Pedalers who like adrenaline rushes should take the Overlander Trail—a 14-kilometre (9-mi.) route winding by the Athabasca River between Maligne Canyon's Sixth Bridge and Yellowhead Parkway. The scenery is spectacular and worth some side-hill riding and tricky loam spots. The Jasper Townsite Information Centre has a handout outlining bicycling rules and trails in the park.

Camping in Jasper National Park

With the stars twinkling above, a flashlight glowing in your tent and owls hooting in the trees, camping is an ideal way to enjoy Jasper's natural charms. Campers will find a variety of options, ranging from large RV facilities to primitive backwoods sites. All campsites require permits, available at campground kiosks or registration booths.

Fishing and Water Activities

The main fishing season runs from April to October in Jasper, where several mountain lakes are warm enough to support fish, including Beaver, Talbot, Medicine and Maligne. Catches in these waters range from pike and Rocky Mountain whitefish to rainbow trout, bull trout and Eastern brook trout. Spring and fall are the best times for river fishing, when silt levels are low. Obtain angling permits at the Jasper Townsite Information Centre or at campgrounds, sport-fishing shops and the boathouse on Maligne Lake. For good fly-fishing advice, hire a guide or rent gear through the Jasper Adventure Centre.

With so many glacier-fed bodies of water, Jasper National Park is a popular destination for kayaking, canoeing and rafting. Easily accessible lakes include Lac Beauvert, Pyramid and Maligne. One of the best canoe routes in the Canadian Rockies runs along the Athabasca River, where rapids rush from Old Fort Point to Jasper Lake. This was the same route taken by trapper David Thompson, who mapped much of Canada for the Hudson's Bay Co. in the early 1800s. The water is fast, with few obstructions, though you may have to jump out and push your boat over the occasional sandbar toward the end.

Rafting trips range from whitewater roller-coasters to slow drifts. The Athabasca, Maligne and Kakwa rivers offer different levels of rapids. Jasper Raft Tours, Ltd. drops off and picks up rafters from local hotels.

Travel the Park on Horseback

To explore the park the old-fashioned way—on horseback—head over to Jasper Park Stables or Jasper Riding Stables and saddle up for a short day trip. Or try a long-distance ride and camp in the backcountry with an expert guide.

What to Do in Winter

In the winter, hike to Maligne Canyon and see it sparkle in ephemeral frost. As the mercury dips, the Maligne River freezes inside its limestone gorge, transforming waterfalls into gorgeous draperies of ice. On guided tours, you can strap on a pair of crampons and tramp across the canyon's solid ice floor.

With short lift lines, calm winds and more than 80 trails, Marmot Basin is a downhill skier's paradise. For cross-country skiers, there are plenty of groomed trails around Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and Maligne Lake. Newbies can learn on the Maligne Lakeside Loop or on the trails to Moose Lake. Serious trekkers will like the challenge of the Lorraine Lake and Evelyn Creek trails.

Sweeping mountain backdrops make ice-skating in Jasper National Park a special treat and one of the fun things to do with kids. A Zamboni machine smooths the ice on Lac Beauvert, and rental skates and hockey sticks are available at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. The rinks here and at Pyramid Lake are lighted for moonlit spins, followed by the perfect nightcap—a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

With snow painting a scene straight out of Currier and Ives, a sleigh ride completes the winter wonderland. Arrange a horse team through the Jasper Adventure Centre and ride over the hills and through the woods, bells jingling all the way.

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Jasper National Park, AB

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