Jasper Town & Around
Arriving in Jasper Town, the first thing you may notice is how low-key it all feels. Yes, Jasper is the most important town for kilometers around, and sees nearly two million visitors each year. Yet it feels far removed from the traffic jams of Lake Louise and retains an agreeable humility that seems more reflective of its workaday railway town roots than of its modern status as a national park hub.
With only two main thoroughfares, Patricia St and Connaught Dr, holding the lion's share of businesses, you can easily explore Jasper on foot in half an hour. Sit on the lawn outside the early 20th-century log cabin at the heart of town, meditate on the murmur of the freight trains running by, and soak up the unhurried vibe. You really couldn't ask for a friendlier, more relaxing base for exploring the awe-inspiring wilderness that surrounds you.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Jasper Town & Around.
Jasper is a rugged beauty; it's more raw and less tourist-pampering than its southern cousin Banff, and hence host to a more ambitious, adventurous visitor. Its tour de force is its extensive multipurpose trail network, much of it instantly accessible from the park’s compact townsite. Backing it up is abundant wildlife, colossal icefields and–for the brave–the kind of desolate backcountry that makes you feel as though you’re a good few miles (and centuries) from anything resembling civilization. Unlike Banff, most of Jasper’s trails are multiuse, open to hikers, horseback riders and cyclists. Thanks to this liberal sharing policy, the park is able to offer the best network of off-road cycling trails in Canada–and they’re not just for daredevils. Rated green (easy), blue (moderate) or black (difficult), they cater to pretty much everyone, including kids or parents with trailers in tow. An added bonus is that many of Jasper’s trails start directly from the townsite, meaning you don’t need to lug your bike around by car or bus. Using a special cycling trail map (free from the info office), numerous loops can be plotted from your hotel or campground, with time to incorporate hiking, swimming, canoeing or grabbing a cup of coffee along the way. Some of the most popular natural wonders, like Miette Hot Springs and Maligne Canyon, are easily accessible, and many more attractions are just a short hike away. Keep a little spare time in your itinerary to take advantage of the many diversions you stumble upon–a sparkling lake to admire, a snowshoe tour to explore or a moose to watch ambling by. As the largest of Canada's Rocky Mountain parks, Jasper will quickly captivate you with its beauty and serenity. Admission fees and other practicalities Jasper National Park and Banff National Park are connected by the Icefields Parkway –one of Canada’s most famous road trips. There are three main road entrances to Jasper National Park. The East Park Entrance is on Hwy 16 between Jasper and Hinton, just east of Pocahontas. The West Park Entrance is on the same highway, 24km (15 miles) west of Jasper Town, near Yellowhead Pass and the border with British Columbia and Mt Robson Provincial Park. The Icefields Parkway Entrance is 6km south of Jasper Town on Hwy 93, on the way to Lake Louise. You must either buy or show a park pass at all entry gates. Park admission is C$10 for adults, C$8.70 for seniors, C$20 for families and free for kids under 17. There are additional fees for campground use, backcountry camping and fire permits. See the latest fees on the Jasper National Park website. Camping in Jasper National Park Three of Jasper's 10 campgrounds currently accept advance reservations: Wapiti, Wabasso and Pocahontas. Jasper's largest campground, Whistlers, is currently closed for renovation but will resume accepting reservations when it reopens in summer 2021. All other campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are also recommended for backcountry camping, as Parks Canada limits the number of hikers on each trail. Both frontcountry and backcountry sites can be reserved via the Parks Canada website starting in late January each year. Jasper offers a handful of huts and lodges modeled on the European alpine tradition. All situated a good day’s hike from the nearest road, these venerable backcountry retreats offer a unique wilderness experience without the hassle of setting up your tent or listening to things that go bump in the night. Hotels in Jasper National Park Aside from its venerable historic lodge, Jasper has a varied stash of hotels, motels, hostels, cabins, B&Bs and bungalows. Notwithstanding, in July and August you’d be wise to make reservations way in advance. Jasper gets seriously busy in July and August, and finding a room on the spur of the moment can be extremely difficult. Fortunately, aside from the standard clutch of hotels, motels and campgrounds, Jasper Town–which has a permanent population of 4500–has more than 100 B&Bs in private houses. The Jasper Home Accommodations Association maintains an excellent website of inspected B&Bs inside the park, complete with descriptions, contact details and web links. Prices range from C$75 to C$275 in high season and facilities often include kitchenettes, private entrances and cable TV. HI Jasper Patricia Lake Bungalows Mt Edith Cavell Wilderness Hostel Alpine Village Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Tonquin Valley Backcountry Lodge
More remote than Banff's historic springs, Miette Hot Springs ('discovered' in 1909) are 61km northeast of Jasper off Hwy 16, near the park's eastern boundary. The soothing waters, kept at a pleasant 37°C (98°F) to 40°C (104°F), are surrounded by peaks and are especially enjoyable when the fall snow is drifting down and steam envelops the crowd. Raining summer evenings also make for stunning, misty conditions.
Almost 50km from Jasper at the end of a stunning road that bears its name, 22km-long Maligne Lake is the recipient of a lot of hype. It's the largest lake in the national park and there's no denying its appeal: the baby-blue water and a craning circle of rocky, photogenic peaks are a feast for the eyes.
If the average, boring views from Jasper just aren't blowing your hair back, go for a ride on this sightseeing gondola. The seven-minute journey (departures every nine minutes) zips up through various mountain life zones to the high barren slopes of the Whistlers. From the gondola's upper station a steep 1.25km hike leads to the mountain's true summit, where views stretch for 75km. Arrive early or late to avoid midday lines. There's a small restaurant and gift shop up top.
This idyllic, blue-green horseshoe-shaped lake just off the Icefields Pkwy is missed by many visitors, making a stopover here all the more alluring. A choice spot for a bracing summer swim or a short stroll around the perimeter, the lake is surrounded by steep cliffs and is frequented by cliff divers. It's probably safer to watch than join in.
A geological rarity, Medicine Lake is perhaps best described as an intermittent lake with a porous bottom that functions rather like a bathtub without a plug. In summer, when meltwater runoff is high, the lake fills more quickly than it can drain away, and the body of water becomes deep and expansive. In winter, as the runoff slows, the water empties, causing the lake to shrink to the size of a small stream.
East across the main highway from Jasper town, Lake Annette is popular for water activities in the summer, with a small beach and numerous picnic spots. If you're brave and it's very hot, you might even dare a quick summer dip here – just remember that the water was in a glacier not too long ago! The multiuse trail that circumnavigates the lake is accessible to wheelchairs, cyclists and hikers.
Relocated to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge on a year-round basis in 2019, Jasper's planetarium screens multiple shows daily in its 40-seat dome theater, whisking visitors off on a virtual tour of Jasper's Dark Sky Preserve. For an extra fee, you can also stargaze through the planetarium's giant telescope (billed as the largest in the Rockies).
Pyramid Lake is popular with canoers and kayakers in summer and ice-skaters in winter. From its eastern shore, a wooden pedestrian bridge leads out to Pyramid Island, a small nature preserve. At night, stargazers congregate on the bridge for unobstructed views of the heavens. It's roughly 7km northwest of Jasper Town.