Friday, 6 April 2018

Seven Things to Do in Jasper National Park, Canada

Hey Canada, why you so pretty? Following on from my post recommending the best places to visit in Banff, it's time to talk Jasper! From what I can gather after speaking to travellers who have visited this region, you're either Team Banff or Team Jasper National Park. Both are beautiful (and must-see destinations in the Canadian Rockies) and both have their own USPs. I'd describe Jasper as a little more rough around the edges, it's not quite as commercial and is teeming with wildlife. I spent the entire time looking for animals, we were too late to see the bears (we visited mid-September) but we spotted Elk and some other critters!

The route from Banff to Jasper only takes about 4 1/2 hours via car, but that doesn't include stopping time and trust me, you're going to want to stop every 15 minutes. We hired a Jeep Compass, which was pretty affordable and a really great size.

Planning yourself a little trip to the Canadian Rockies? Here are my top seven things to do in Jasper:

1. Drive along the Icefields Parkway

So this is a bit of a sneaky one because you use this long road to drive between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, but when you Google where to visit, this name always pops up. The road essentially links all the popular sights and attractions but the drive itself is glorious. 

We visited during changeable weather so experienced snow, rain and sunshine therefore got to see the different sides of Jasper. If you have the time, I do recommend driving up and down a few times because once is certainly not enough! 

Icefields Parkway Canada


Icefields Parkway Jasper


2. Athabasca Glacier

Sam is a big fan of glaciers, so it made sense we'd head on a little tour of the Athabasca Glacier in an all-terrain Ice Explorer. However, when we visited there was a lot of snow so viability wasn't great. We felt slightly cheated because we couldn't even tell we were on a glacier, but our tour guide was awesome and as we're not used to snow, it was still fun. 

There are several 'ice limos' on the glacier at once, so it can get a little crowded but we found this was the case everywhere we went in the national parks. The glacier had roped off sections to stop tourists from wandering off and ending up in a crevasse. In case you've ever wondered what that would it would be like to fall into a crevasse, watch this video of a man who survived a trip into one. We were shocked at how many people were going behind the rope to get the perfect shot... Now that would be an awful way to go.

As we were in Jasper for a few days, we popped back when it was less snowy. Spoiler pic below...

Athabasca-Glacier
Athabasca Glacier Walk
Athabasca Glacier Tongue


3. Glacier Skywalk

We'd been told this place is a must-see and as it came with our Glacier Adventure ticket, visiting was a no-brainer! Five years in the design phase and two years to construct, the Glacier Skywalk is said to offer stunning views of the spectacular Sunwapta Valley. 

We were coached there after our glacier tour (it was just a short five minute drive). Some people decided against it as they were scared of heights and visibility was poor, but we wanted to give it a go. I can confirm it wasn't *that* scary but that's probably because we couldn't see much. I get a little wobbly at the knees when it comes to heights, but I'd never let it stop me. As it was just so snowy, someone was constantly cleaning the glass and it wasn't crystal clear... I was very much aware there was a platform between me and the canyon below, which I think helped. Or maybe I'm just hella brave.

We were laughing and joking a lot about the beautiful views *a-hem* but afterwards we watched a video at the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre about the park in summer - oh my gosh it looks incredible. We're planning to go back in eight years time, in July (precise, I know).

Glacier Skywalk in Snow


4. Valley of the Five Lakes hike

We wanted to do a little bit of hiking while we were in Jasper, so after a bit of research, we found a nice easy trail - the Valley of the Five Lakes. Easy smeasy, we thought. I will admit I think we took *a bit* of a detour and the whole thing took us a lot longer than expected, but we weren't alone because we saw a few other lost travellers on the way. Oops! Thank goodness for Google Maps and those extra snacks I packed.

It was a fine day but as there had been snow previously, it was a little wet. During our off trail detour, we ended up in some boggy areas so decent walking shoes (or a sense of direction) are a must. I imagine this trail would be even more beautiful in the sunshine. There are five lakes but you can choose to walk around the main, smaller ones. During our visit, we saw lots of local dog walkers - it's also really popular with mountain bikers! I can't imagine what it would be like to have this on your doorstep. Living. The. Dream.

Valley of the Five Lakes hike
Valley of the Five Lakes


5. Athabasca Falls

Right next to Jasper town lies Athabasca Falls! We visited these falls at the crack of dawn, thinking that would be enough to beat the crowds... WRONG. I can't even fathom how busy it would be in the height of summer! My advice to everyone is to get up early or be prepared to wait in line / have strangers in your photos. I'm just skilled at cropping out randos.

The falls are really cute, I wasn't blown away (sorry) but it's definitely worth a visit. It would probably be a more serene experience if there were fewer tourists.

Athabasca Falls in September
Athabasca Falls Jasper


6. Medicine Lake

I think this was probably my favourite place in Jasper! It isn't an obvious choice but we pulled over the car several times in awe of this beauty when we were on our way to Maligne Lake! It was quite unexpected because we hadn't heard about it before but it's fascinating. 

It was originally thought to have magical powers because although the Maligne River pours into the lake, the water just disappears sometimes! Say, whaaaat? Turns out it isn't magical and the spirits aren't really responsible for its unusual water fluctuations (shocker), it just has a unique underground cave system which drains the lake... This water then resurfaces in Maligne Canyon, which is 16km downstream. Cool, right? 

Some people on TripAdvisor claim it's uninteresting and nothing to look at. PAH. On a day with snow and clear sky, it looks pretty magical. These pictures don't do it justice either but it's a great place to go for a short, safe walk in the snow and play spot the wildlife.

Where is Medicine Lake
Medicine Lake

7. Maligne Canyon

Of course we also had to swing by Maligne Canyon on our way to Maligne Lake! There are a lot of canyons in Banff and Jasper but we tried to visit as many as possible because = they are so damn cool. Maligne Canyon is a popular one, but it wasn't too crowded when we visited. There are so many different trails you can take so visitors of all walking abilities can have a wander. We stuck to the simple route but even on this one, the further we went the quieter it got, which was nice. It was a little slippery in parts so again, good walking shoes are necessary. As I'm sure you an tell, I never care about looking stylish when I travel, it's all about being practical. I did see some women in cute outfits but trying to hike in Dr. Martens isn't the smartest move and also, effort!?

We also saw some ridiculous people taking photos in precarious spots - they were even hopping onto rocks in the middle of the rushing water. The water speed varies along the route but it's just such a dumb thing to do. SIGH. The Instagram culture we live in. Am I right?

Maligne Canyon
Maligne Canyon in Jasper
Maligne Canyon Drive


So there we have it! My top seven things to do in Jasper. It's worth noting I visited in mid-September so if you're going in July, you may have other options.

If you've visited before or you've been researching for a while, you may have noticed Maligne Lake is missing from this list. I wouldn't say we saw A LOT of Maligne Lake (that snow, though) and we probably only spent about 15 minutes there. It was definitely the biggest let down but this was absolutely due to the weather. If it had been a glorious summer's day, it would've looked turquoise instead of dark navy and I would've taken at least one photo. We also would've made a trip around Spirit Island. One for 2026.

I hope you enjoyed the second Canadian post in my series... The next one will all be about Vancouver! Have you been to Jasper? Would you like to visit the Canadian Rockies? - T

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