The best things to do in Jasper National Park
Growing up in Alberta, the Rockies were only a couple hours drive away from my home and my family would head west every chance we got. This mentality is still with me to this day; towering mountains that plunge into deep blue, Gatorade coloured waters is a hard sight to get out of your mind once you’ve experienced it. Jasper National Park is the origin of many of my favourite memories and continues to blow me away with its natural beauty every time I enter through the park gates.
The Jasper National Park boarders encompass everything needed to be an outdoor adventure seeker’s paradise; endless trails, lakes that are too blue to be true, the Canadian Rockies, and of course, a quaint little mountain town (with true Canadian craft beer). The best part is that once you purchase your park pass the rest of the natural beauty only costs some footsteps to experience. Here are some of the best things to see and do.
Enjoy the views
I don’t think anyone knowingly travels to Jasper without the expectation of epic mountain views, myself included. It goes without saying that the towering Rocky Mountains, formed by millions of years of erosion and geological activity, are a large part of what keeps bringing me back to the area. It is a completely euphoric feeling to stare up at those giants. Any activity you do in Jasper is made even more special by simply taking a moment to appreciate the majesty of your surroundings. I mean you won’t have to go far to see incredible views; even if you’re happy just sipping a latte in town, you can enjoy the mountains (minus the burning legs) from the cafe patio.
Old Fort Point is a short hike that is easily accessible from town. This trail will first take you up a few tiers of wooden stairs starting at the edge of the Athabasca river, then upwards to two grassy knobs. The second knob is well elevated and offers 360 views of the surrounding landscape. For such a simple hike I couldn’t believe the views of the Town of Jasper, Athabasca river, and The Rockies. I recommend this as an excellent way for you to get a good overview of what the area looks like, it might even help you figure out where you want to head next.
Old Fort Point
The stretch of road from the Jasper townsite to Maligne Lake is another exceptionally beautiful way to get some amazing views. This narrow highway starts 2.0 km North of town and winds its way East into the backcountry for 43 km until you reach the lake. I love this drive for the variety of scenery you get. Dense trees, open valleys, burnt trees – remnants of past a forest fire (although tragic, it is a beautiful and eerie sight signifying the resilience of the forest), and the end goal: Maligne Lake. My favourite vantage point along here is at the west tip of Medicine Lake where you can pull off the road and explore the shoreline. You can’t miss it on your way to Maligne lake.
No matter where you end up there will be no shortage of views, don’t be afraid to grab a map and just get out there and explore for yourself. The bounty is always so much sweeter when you find your own special place to enjoy it.
Alpine lakes are a special part of the landscape in Jasper. No visit is complete without taking a dip (or a plunge) into some freezing glacier water, it’s my favourite way to wake up after a night under the stars or refresh after a long hike.
There is no way to compare the unique allure of any of these lakes, so in no specific order, here are some of my favourite places to chill out (literally):
If you’re holding out to canoe at one of the mountain lakes in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake has got to be it. The rustic Maligne Lake Boathouse is a special historic building that brings life to this serene location and makes it a place I love to stop by every time I’m in Jasper. If you get lucky with calm weather, you might also get to experience the ethereal reflections this lake is famous for. Keep an eye on the forecast so you can experience a paddle on Maligne Lake while the water is still. Take the Maligne Lake Road north of town to get here or rent a bike and make a day trip out of this stunning stretch of road. If you’re looking for a more structured excursion the staff at the Jasper Visitor Information Centre can help set up a tour with a company that will fulfil your wildest Jasper dreams.
Maligne Lake at sunset with the boathouse in the background
This is an especially accessible lake that lies above the townsite. It is 7 km by road or very similar by trail. Pyramid mountain (where the lake got its name) is a masterpiece of coloured granite stone that is viewable from kilometres around. The vibrant peak standing above the blue rocky mountain water gives me the butterfly’s every time. A neat spot on the lake is Pyramid Lake Island, where a small wooden bridge connects the shore to a small standalone island. There are benches and lots of room to hangout and watch the sunset.
Paddleboarding at sunset
Pyramid Mountain standing over Pyramid Lake Island
Whether you’re looking for an adrenaline rush or you just want an unreal spot to hang, Horseshoe Lake is the place to be. It is one of my favourites because it’s slightly less easy to access, which makes it less busy, but the little extra effort leads to a sweet reward. Horseshoe Lake is a crater-like lake formed out of large rock ledges and filled with deep glacier fed water. It’s a great place for an afternoon picnic; sit, dangle your toes over the edge, smile because you’re in jasper, and maybe try out the cliff jumping that this spot is known for. In that Order!
Swimming in Horseshoe Lake
I’ve always found the Jasper townsite very friendly and welcoming, from running around the streets as a young boy to enjoying a beverage on one of the many patios these days, I have been able to find something throughout all the different stages of my life I’ve spent in Jasper.
We all do so much online research as we travel that less people seem to be using the Visitor Information Centre; but personally, I think its important to make a visit, get a good map, some local insight that you won’t find online, and maybe even find out some other sights that are suited to you and your adventure goals. At the very least, do yourself the favour of strolling through town and talking to some locals, checking out the art scene, enjoying some food, visiting the CN rail station, and having a hot coffee or crisp beer.
Jasper Visitor Information Centre
Snowdome Coffee Bar
On my travels, coffee is one of the things I like to splurge on; finding some good espresso is always a score. Snowdome Coffee Bar is a unique Jasper cafe because it’s built right into a functioning laundromat. You can do your laundry and even catch a quick shower here while getting your caffeine fix. I wish I had run across more spots like this one while I was backpacking, it has everything you need to get yourself together and ready for the next adventure. This place has got the ultimate mountain town vibes.
Snowdome Coffee Bar
Jasper Brewing Co.
Jasper Brewing Co. was the first to open in a Canadian National Park, and they haven’t moved anywhere since (how could they!?). I’ve have had nothing but good, authentic experiences here. It has a localised menu and taps filled with delicious beer that is brewed in house, it honestly doesn’t get any better than that! The Blackeye Blueberry Vanilla Ale is one of my favourites. If you’re looking to grab some proper Canadian pints, they’re on sale for $4 from 10 pm to 2 am nightly all summer.
Respecting the Park
Jasper National Park is a place where people make memories that last a lifetime, I can attest to that. The natural landscape, wildlife, and crisp Alberta air is something you can’t experience in many places. So, we must work together as a collective group of travellers and outdoor enthusiast to protect these wild places. Make sure you are taking all your garbage with you, don’t be the person who leaves a mess that ruins the views for others. Also, if you happen to come across someone else’s garbage, throw it in your bag and dispose of it properly. It’s also important to make sure you are respecting any wildlife you come across and are conscious that they are, in fact, wild. Give them plenty of space and do not feed them as it can make them sick, cause them to become food conditioned and aggressive, and attract them to townsites and roadsides where they risk coming into contact with cars and larger numbers of people. Remember the golden rule: leave no trace.
These are just a few of my favorite experiences in the park. Everyone’s trip is a little different, remember that you never know what wonder is hiding around the next bend on the trail!
It’s easier to get here than you think too! Book your flight to either Calgary or Edmonton, Alberta. Here you can choose between getting your own rental car or taking the bus. Remember once you’re here you can access almost everything by foot or bicycle so don’t be too concerned if you’re looking to save a little by taking the bus.
About the Author:
Dustin is inspired by the outdoors, adventure, and the wild places in our world. He’s passionate about using photography to share his perspective on life. Check out more of his work on Instagram and Youtube.