Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
In my story last week about Alberta, I told you about the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, the annual stargazing event that takes place in one of the world’s largest dark sky preserves. It’s a special event that combines science with entertainment and encourages us to look up and beyond. It’s an exploration of the heavens in a setting where the stars are some of the brightest you will ever see.
But, obviously, most of the events during the festival take place at night when the stars are visible. Which is great because it leaves the daytime to explore Jasper National Park, one of Canada’s most beautiful natural wonders.
It’s a big national park and, if you drive south, merges with another large national park, Banff. It means there’s a lot to see and do. For now, though, I’m not going to focus on those imposing mountains on the skyline, with their bright snow coverings, or the roads taking us further afield that lead to dramatic waterfalls and rough rivers. In my next post, I will tell you a bit more about all of that and the drive between the parks – the incredible Icefields Parkway.
Today I want to tell you about the town of Jasper and the things that are easily accessible from here. It’s quite likely you will end up staying in Jasper when you visit the park and it’s worth having a day just to see the surrounding sights: the lakes, the hikes, the mountains and the adventure.
Let’s start with some adventure and there’s probably no more exhilarating a way to tear down the park’s roads than with a Harley Davidson motorbike. At Jasper Motorcycle Tours, you can head out with an experienced rider who will take you along some of the back trails, through beautiful scenery to stunning views.
I’m normally a bit scared of motorbikes but I feel safe in the sidecar this time – I think those extra wheels help me feel like it’s not going to tip over. And so I relax and we set out along the main highway, the roar of the engine and the whistle of the wind all around me. I look around – at the trees, the rivers, the mountains, the snow.
We never break the speed limit, of course, but the roads aren’t busy so we can fly along without slowing down for traffic most of the time. I feel like I’m floating, like I’m free. I think Jasper has that effect on most people and the motorbike just takes it to another level.
Valley of the Five Lakes
But, as you probably know, I am a big fan of hiking and I can’t spend too long in a vehicle when I know there are so many good tracks in the area.
One of the prettiest ones near to Jasper is called Valley of the Five Lakes and I would recommend this if you’re looking for a decent hike. As the name suggests, there are five lakes close together and this trail takes you around and between them. You may notice as you walk along that each of the lakes has a slightly different colour, which comes from being of varying depths.
The walk is a loop that is about 4.5 kilometres in total and should take a bit over an hour. There are ways to make the walk shorter and cut out some of the lakes, if you are short of time.
Old Fort Point Loop
Right near the centre of Jasper, just across the Athabasca River, is another hiking trail called the Old Fort Point Loop. This is a steep climb up a mountain that is uphill most of the way to the top. Almost immediately, though, you start to get wonderful views across Jasper and the surrounding area. You can see right down the river and over to some of the lakes.
When I did the climb, I came across a bighorn sheep along the side of the track, who watched me carefully as I passed by but didn’t seem too concerned that I stopped to take some photos.
The whole trail will be about 3.8 kilometres return but you can turn around and come back earlier. It will take you about an hour in total.
Lake Edith and Lake Annette
Just to the north of Jasper, you’ll find two adjacent lakes called Edith and Annette. They are both wonderfully peaceful, with views across the water to the mountains rising up behind up them. Although there are facilities here for visitors – like parking, toilets and paths – there is no other development. That makes this a great spot for families to spend some time during the day. When I visit, I notice it’s a popular spot for locals to take their dogs for a walk.
Lake Edith is slightly larger but there is no easy way to walk around it. Lake Annette, on the other hand, has a paved and accessible trail along the water the whole way around. It’s a nice way to explore the scenery here. The walk around Lake Annette is only 2.4 kilometres return and should only take about 30 or 40 minutes.
Another one of the lakes I would recommend near Jasper is Pyramid Lake. It’s a short drive from the centre of town and, in fact, has some hotels and restaurants along one part of the shore. There are some hiking trails that lead up into the hills from here and the lake is also popular for kayaking, boating and fishing.
I actually went to see Pyramid Lake at about 4 o’clock in the morning, when it was pitch black. This is not the time I would recommend you head out there for hiking or kayaking… but it is a perfect time for star photography, which is why I was there. If you’ve been inspired by my story about the Dark Sky Festival and want to try to take some shots of the night sky, this is an excellent place to do it.
In my previous story about the Dark Sky Festival, I also talked about the Jasper Skytram. I went up to the top of the skytram because there was an event being held there to talk about the stars and then use telescopes to look for objects out in space.
Normally, though, you would head up the skytram during the day to get incredible views across the park. You start at an elevation of 1258 metres above sea level and, during the seven minute journey, you rise to 2263 metres above sea level. Once you’re at the top, there are some hiking trails you can do. There’s also a restaurant.
And the final thing I’m going to recommend is actually not that close to Jasper… but it’s not on the way to anywhere else either. About an hour’s drive from town is Maligne Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the region.
It’s particularly well-known because of the bright colour of the water, the three glaciers that you can see and the little islet in the middle called Spirit Island (photographers love it). There are boat rides and hikes here, with restaurants and shops for those who are spending the whole day at the lake.
Unfortunately it was quite cold and grey when I visited so I wasn’t able to appreciate the colours that I’ve heard about on a warm sunny day. Having said that, it was still very pretty in a different way with the snow on the ground.
As you can see, there is no shortage of things to do around Jasper. My number one tip is to give yourself time to explore the area and get out amongst the nature. As I said, I’ll tell you about the famous drive on the Icefields Parkway next – but there’s much more to Jasper National Park than that.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by Travel Alberta but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.