Nestled in a beautiful setting at the convergence of three valleys, the town of Jasper is surrounded by mountains in the middle of the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. It is a beautiful place to visit.
Although the population is only about 5,000, Jasper annually welcomes over 2 million visitors. This small town offers many of the amenities of larger cities, including hotels, restaurants, shops, museums, fitness and aquatic centers, a movie theater, hospital and even a brewing company. The downtown is astride two streets, with nearly everything within easy walking distance.
The Jasper Information Centre, across the street from the town’s train depot, is an attractive rustic timber and cobblestone building constructed in 1914 for park administration offices and as living quarters for the park’s superintendent. A nearby grassy area has the official mascot of Jasper National Park, Jasper the Bear, a large and friendly looking carved bear based on a cartoon character.
The town’s bear theme is encountered frequently at shops with names such as Bearfoot in the Park, Bearberry Photo, Bear’s Paw Bakery and Café, and its sister operation, The Other Paw Bakery & Café. Another landmark, the Raven Totem Pole, stood beside the train depot for 94 years until weather damage caused it to be taken down in 2009 and replaced by a carving known as the Two Brothers Totem Pole.
As you might expect in such a scenic location, outdoor activities are the reason most people come to the area. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, golfing, fishing, canoeing and kayaking are popular with residents and tourists. Several firms offer float trips and whitewater rafting. Canada’s highest and longest aerial tramway, located on the edge of town, offers a seven-minute narrated ride that climbs to 7,472 feet on Whistlers Mountain, where there is a restaurant, boardwalks and hiking trails. This serves as an excellent location for viewing the surrounding area and watching for wildlife, including bighorn sheep.
The Jasper area offers many camping opportunities. The largest is Jasper National Park’s Whistlers Campground two miles south of town. Whistlers, open from early May to early October, has 781 campsites, 120 of which have electric (15 to 30 amps), water and sewer hookups. Many are pull-through sites. Another 126 sites have electric hookups only. Two other large campgrounds with electric hookups only are a short distance south of Whistlers on the Icefields Parkway. There are other campgrounds without hookups. Reservations are available online at pccamping.ca.
Numerous natural attractions surround the Jasper area. Majestic Maligne Canyon, with sheer limestone walls, leads to 14-mile-long Maligne Lake, the world’s second largest glacier-fed lake. Miette Hot Springs in the Fiddle Valley offers two hot pools, a cool pool, café and many hiking trails. Icefields Parkway joins Jasper with Lake Louise and is considered one of North America’s most beautiful drives. The road parallels the Continental Divide and passes beside glaciers, mountain lakes, rivers and broad valleys.
Athabasca Falls, an easy walk from the parking lot just off Icefields Parkway, surges through a narrow gorge, creating a fury of white water. Columbia Icefield, the parkway’s best-known feature, is composed of six glaciers from 328 to 1,197 feet deep. The ice field sits atop a triple Continental Divide, with water from the melting glaciers flowing to the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Visitors can travel in an Ice Explorers bus onto the Athabasca Glacier and spend time walking on the ice. Grizzly bears, black bears, moose, caribou, elk, bighorn sheep and mountain goats are sometimes seen along the parkway. Mount Kerkeslin Goat Lick viewpoint is a great place for spotting mountain goats.
There is so much to see and learn about in the Jasper area that one or two commercial tours may be in order. Guided hikes and whitewater rafting adventures are offered most days during the summer. Commercial bus tours are available with pickups from most area hotels. During our most recent three days in Jasper, we chose guided tours that offered a good overview of the area. The first full day we took the six-hour Discover Jasper and Maligne Lake Cruise Tour that followed Maligne Canyon to Maligne Lake, where we added a 1 1/2-hour boat cruise to Spirit Island. The next day we enjoyed the 5 1/2-hour Rockies Discovery Tour that follows the scenic Icefields Parkway. This tour included a stop at Athabasca Falls and a ride in an Ice Explorer onto the Athabasca Glacier. Both tours made several stops for photos. Information on tours is available at explorerockies.com.
Jasper combines spectacular scenery with a rich history. The North West Company first settled this area of Canada in 1813 with construction of a trading post on nearby Brule Lake. Jasper Hawes, the appointed clerk, was so well known that the post became referred to as “Jasper House.” In 1907, the area was designated as Jasper Forest Park.
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1911 made its way from Edmonton to the town of Jasper, which for a time was called Fitzhugh, named for a vice president of the railway. The rail line made it much easier to travel to Jasper, and the community began to grow. Seventeen years later, a road connecting the town with Edmonton was completed. With the passage of Canada’s National Parks Act in 1930, Jasper Forest Park became Jasper National Park encompassing 4,200 square miles.
You have probably gathered that we consider Jasper an excellent destination. The town is small, the area is scenic, the people are friendly, and numerous outdoor activities are just waiting for someone to take advantage of them. Regardless of whether it is a stop during a trip on VIA Rail, or the more luxurious Rocky Mountaineer, or in your own motorhome on a drive through the Canadian Rockies, Jasper is well worth a visit. Additional information about Jasper’s activities, attractions, lodging and dining is available online at jasper.travel.
David and Kay Scott are authors of Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges (Globe Pequot). They live in Valdosta, Georgia.