Located along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in western Alberta, Jasper National Park is known for its majestic peaks, glacier-fed lakes and vast wilderness. Established in 1907, it is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies encompassing more than 2,700,000 acres! Although Banff National Park (just to the south) is the more popular tourist destination of the two, Jasper National Park offers its own stunning mountain landscapes and is not to be missed!
Jasper National Park is the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurous families looking for a more laid-back Canadian Rockies experience. If you find crowds of tourists overwhelming (like we do!), then Jasper may be just right for you! With fewer crowds, there’s less need to be up at the crack of dawn to get a parking spot for Jasper’s main attractions. However, you may decide to get up early anyway to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
Whether you are a beginner or avid hiker, there are more than 615 miles of hiking trails from which to choose in Jasper National Park. Many famous sights can be reached via a short walk from the parking lot. However, some of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies can be found in Jasper National Park, so be sure to pack your hiking shoes! If you prefer to be on the water, try canoeing or kayaking in one of Jasper National Park’s stunning lakes.
There are so many things to see and do in Jasper National Park (and the surrounding area) in the summertime. An adventurous family could easily spend a week or two here and still have things left on their list! Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that kind of time. Plan to spend at least two days to see all the famous sights. Based on our experience, we’d recommend adding at least another day or two to check out some of the longer hikes.
We put together a list of what to see and do in Jasper National Park as well as some tips on how to plan a great trip. If you’re traveling to Alberta, Canada, make sure Jasper National Park is on your list!
THINGS TO DO IN JASPER NATIONAL PARK
IN AND AROUND THE TOWN OF JASPER
Located in western Alberta, Canada, Jasper is the commercial center of Jasper National Park. Jasper town site is about 180 miles north of Banff at the intersection of the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) and Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16). It sits in the Athabasca River Valley surrounded by mountain ranges, including Pyramid Mountain to the north.
This quaint town has a very different feel compared to the town of Banff. It’s far less crowded and lacks the fancy shops, upscale restaurants and bars you’ll find in Banff. On-street parking is generally easy to find, and the town is very walkable. Patricia Street and Connaught Drive are where most of the stores, restaurants, cafes and rental shops reside. Grab a bite to-go and enjoy a picnic lunch or dinner at one of the nearby lakes. Try the delicious sandwiches from Patricia Street Deli (they are outstanding and quick!).
We also recommend grabbing a coffee while you do your laundry at Snow Dome coffee bar! Yes, it sounds funny to have a laundromat mixed with a coffee bar, but we can assure you that this is the best place to get coffee in town. Their service is great, and their hand-crafted coffee drinks are incredible. Stop in at the Jasper Visitor Information Centre while in town.
Just outside of Jasper town site, there are a variety of lakes and easy to moderate multi-use trails to explore. Plan to spend at least a half day visiting this area.
While visiting the town of Jasper and the surrounding area, our recommendations include:
- Drive up to Pyramid Lake and visit Pyramid Island. Driving up Pyramid Lake Road from town takes about 15 minutes. The windy road passes Cottonwood Slough and Patricia Lake along the way. There are many interconnected hiking trails in the area and the lakes are popular for boating and fishing. Pyramid Island is a must-do if you head up to Pyramid Lake. Pyramid Island is a popular destination for its panoramic views; and, the short loop around the island is stroller and wheel-chair friendly.
We enjoyed watching a loon swim right beneath our feet as we crossed the wooden foot-bridge to the island! An opening in the trees on the opposite end of the island provides stunning views of Pyramid Mountain that everyone will want to see! The island also has picnic tables and a sheltered picnic area.
- Picnic at Lake Annette and enjoy a stroll around the lake. Situated on the east side of the Athabasca River, the Lake Annette day-use area is a favorite for both visitors and locals. It offers a large sand beach, numerous picnic tables and fire pits, a playground and a large field. After your picnic, walk the paved loop along the shores of Lake Annette. The 1.5-mile loop took us just a little over a half hour.
While you’re here, take a short walk from Lake Annette to Lake Edith to take in views of Roche Bonhomme. Lake Edith is the quieter of the two lakes but also has a beach, picnic tables and a boat launch.
- Hike the Old Fort Point Loop. If you’re looking for a quick hike close to town and don’t mind climbing for your views, check out the Old Fort Point Loop. This 2.3-mile hike starts out with a steep uphill climb, a combination of stairs and dirt trail, and leads to a rocky outcrop overlooking the town of Jasper and the Athabasca River valley. Take in views of the surrounding mountain ranges. And, if you’re lucky, you may spot big horned sheep which are known to frequent the area!
- If you have more time, here are some other things to do near the town of Jasper:
- Visit the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and walk the Lac Beauvert Loop.
- Ride the Jasper SkyTram to Whistlers Summit.
- Bike the Bighorn Trail from town to Lake Annette and Lake Edith.
- Visit the Jasper Yellowhead Museum on a rainy day.
- Rent a canoe and paddle on Pyramid Lake.
- Book a whitewater rafting trip from one of the outfitters in town.
- Hike the Valley of the Five Lakes.
For more information on hiking trails near the Jasper townsite (and other areas of the park), see the Jasper National Park Day Hiking Guide.
A scenic drive through Maligne Valley leads to some of the most stunning areas in Jasper National Park. From Jasper town site, head east on Highway 16 and then south on Maligne Road. This winding drive is built along an everchanging glacier valley between the Maligne and Elizabeth mountain ranges. This valley is home to an extensive underground drainage system of caves known as the Maligne Valley Karst. It is thought to be one of the largest underground limestone cave systems in the world!
A drive along Maligne Road offers mountain, river and lake views, plus the opportunity to spot wildlife. There are several picnic spots and scenic overlooks along the road, in addition to a variety of hiking trails in both the Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake areas. Pick up a trail map at the Maligne Canyon Restaurant & Gift Shop or at the Maligne Lake Ticket Office. An early morning or evening drive increases the chances that you’ll spot wildlife along the edge of the road. We saw a large group of bighorn sheep fighting over the minerals found on the side of the road and a black bear as well! Plan to spend at least a half day (or more!) visiting this area.
While visiting the Maligne Valley, our recommendations include:
- Hike Maligne Canyon. Maligne Canyon is a natural wonder minutes from the town of Jasper and not to be missed! The stunning limestone canyon was formed after years of erosion by the rushing waters of the Maligne River. Follow an interpretive trail to hike the canyon, where some areas are as deep as 160 feet! There are several options for hiking Maligne Canyon, allowing you to vary the length depending upon time available and your hiking ability. First and second bridges provide quick access to some great views of the canyon. However, if you have more time walk the section of trail between bridges #1 and #4 to see the most dramatic parts of the narrow and deep gorge. (2.7 miles round trip, moderate, allow 2+ hours)
Hike in the morning (by 8:30) before the first tour buses or in the evening to avoid the crowds.
Extend your hike: Continue to fifth and/or sixth bridges.
- Visit Medicine Lake. Though some bypass this stop on the way to Maligne Lake, we highly recommend pulling over and exploring Medicine Lake if you are visiting in the summer. Medicine Lake, which is technically not a lake at all, is best known for its fall vanishing act. The cave drainage system beneath Medicine Lake is a geological marvel and is one of the longest in the country. When glacial water runs off the surrounding mountains it typically leaves the valley through the hidden drainage network of underground caves. However, in the summertime, melting snow causes the water to back up and the lakebed fills. By fall, with the lack of run-off from the surrounding mountains, the water drains from the lake and retreats to its underground caves. Hence, Medicine Lake has been nicknamed the “disappearing lake”.
Medicine Lake is especially stunning in the evening light and makes a great quiet place to stop on the way back to town after a day at Maligne Lake.
Explore Maligne Lake. Situated 32 miles from Jasper townsite, Maligne Lake is the largest Lake in Jasper National Park AND the second largest glacier-fed lake in the world! It is well-known for its vibrant blue-green waters and views of glaciers and surrounding jagged mountain peaks. Maligne Lake is also home to one of the most famous and photographed locations in Jasper, Spirit Island. This tiny island, located on the south end of Maligne Lake, is only accessible by boat. There are a variety of activities from which to choose at Maligne Lake:
- Book a scenic boat cruise on Maligne Lake—options from 1 ½ to 2 hours.
- Rent a canoe or kayak from the Curly Philips Boathouse to tour the lake at your leisure or bring your own and paddle to a backcountry campsite.
- Take a hike at Maligne Lake--with trails ranging from easy to strenuous, multi-day hikes. Popular hikes include the Mary Schäffer Loop (easy), Moose Lake Loop (easy) and Bald Hills (moderate/strenuous). See the Maligne Lake hiking brochure for more information.
- Enjoy a gourmet buffet lunch at the historic Maligne Lake Chalet.
- Better yet, have a picnic dinner on the dock!
The Icefields Parkway is known as one of the world’s most spectacular scenic drives. The 144-mile drive along Highway 93 winds its way from Jasper National Park to Banff National Park. The jaw-dropping scenery of the Canadian Rockies will leave you speechless. Photos don’t do the Icefields Parkway justice. You truly must drive it and see it to understand the beauty of this scenic drive!
If your travels include continuing on to Banff National Park, plan to spend a full day driving the entire length of the parkway. You’ll want plenty of time to take photos, explore roadside attractions and take a hike or two. Otherwise, plan for at least a half day to see what the Jasper portion of Icefields Parkway has to offer.
While visiting Jasper, our recommendations include these nearby stops on Icefields Parkway:
- Athabasca Falls (30 minutes south of Jasper): Athabasca Falls is one of the most impressive and powerful falls in the Canadian Rockies. Feel the spray as you stand near the falls and witness the sheer force as the Athabasca River thunders into the canyon below. There are several areas from which to view the falls. If you have time to explore more, cross the bridge and follow the trail to walk down the stairs into the gorge below.
- Sunwapta Falls (50 minutes south of Jasper): A short walk from the parking lot takes visitors to a footbridge to view Upper Sunwapta Falls. However, we highly recommend hiking further and hiking down to less-crowded Lower Sunwapta Falls. (1.7 miles, easy/moderate, 262 feet elev. gain)
- Tangle Falls (1+ hours south of Jasper): This dramatic, multi-tiered cascade of water drops about 114 feet right by the edge of Icefields Parkway! Just watch for traffic when crossing the road to get a closer view!
For both waterfalls, plan your visit in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds during the summer months.
If you have more time, consider:
- Hiking Wilcox Pass for panoramic views of the Columbia Icefields (5-miles, moderate/strenuous hike with 1706 feet elev. gain)
- Hiking the Parker Ridge Trail for views of the Saskatchewan Glacier (3.4-miles, moderate hike with 820 feet elev. gain)
- Visiting the Columbia Icefield (one of the largest masses of glacial ice outside the Arctic Circle) and walking to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. (1 ½ hours south of Jasper)
- Take a tour on an Ice Explore which travels onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier.
See the Parks Canada website for more information on hiking trails on the Icefields Parkway.
The narrow, windy Cavell Road leads to parking area at the base of Mt. Edith Cavell. Mt. Edith Cavell is the most prominent peak in the vicinity of Jasper townsite. It is best known for the Cavell Meadows, views of the hanging Angel Glacier and the alpine flowers which grace the area in the summer. Sadly, during our visit in the summer of 2018, Cavell Road was closed due to construction on the Edith Cavell day use area and parking lot, so we miss out on the spectacular views and hikes in this area. The road is anticipated to open again mid-June 2019.
Hikes available in the Edith Cavell area:
- Path of the Glacier Trail: Travel up the short but steep paved trail to the lookout at Cavell Pond for spectacular views of the north face of Mt. Edith Cavell and Angel Glacier. (0.7 miles)
- Cavell Meadows Trail: The Cavell Meadows hike is one of the most famous (and popular) in all of Jasper National Park. From the Path of the Glacier Trail, continue up the steep trail that leads through forests and meadows. Upon reaching the summit, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Angel Glacier and the surrounding peaks. (5.3 miles, moderate/strenuous, 1,640 feet elev. gain, 3-5 hours roundtrip)
Cavell Road is typically closed from October to June, depending on snow levels. Plan to arrive early in the morning to get parking and avoid crowds on these popular trails.
MIETTE HOT SPRINGS
The Miette Hot Springs area is east of Jasper. The Miette Hot Springs are the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies with water flowing from the mountain at 129 °F. The area is also home to another one of the most famous Jasper National Park hikes.
- Walk to the Source of the Springs. The short trail begins with a walk through the ruins of the old pool building and continues up the creek to the hot springs.
- Soak in the Miette Hot Springs. This is the perfect place to relax after a strenuous hike like the Sulphur Skyline!
- Hike the Sulphur Skyline Trail. This challenging hike with a steep grade rewards the hiker with stunning views of Utopia Mountain, the Fiddle Valley and Ashlar Ridge. This high-country hike is usually the first in the area to melt and is often snow-free by late May. (5 miles, strenuous, 2,417 feet elev. gain, 3-5 hours roundtrip)
The drive between Jasper townsite and the east entrance to the park is beautiful on its own, even if you decide not to visit Miette Hot Springs or are staying outside the park in Hinton. We spotted lots of wildlife during our late evening drive.
Plus, the viewpoints and pull-offs on the east side of the park offer stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges, lakes and rivers.
JASPER HIKING RESOURCES
See the Parks Canada website for information on day hikes in Jasper National Park. Hike Jasper is another helpful resource if you are looking for more details on day hikes, multi-day hikes and guided hiking tours in Jasper National Park.
HOW TO GET TO JASPER NATIONAL PARK AND OTHER TRAVEL INFORMATION
The closest airport to Jasper National Park is Edmonton Airport, which is about 4 hours east of Jasper. Calgary International Airport is 5-6 hours southeast of Jasper (traveling through Banff National Park via Highways 1 and 93).
The easiest way to get to Jasper is to rent a car since you’ll want one to freely explore areas of the park where public transportation may not go. However, rail travel is available through VIA Rail and the Rocky Mountaineer.
You will have to buy a day pass or Discovery Pass (annual pass to Canada’s national parks) upon entering Jasper National Park. Passes can be purchased at park entrance booths, Jasper visitor centers and online.
Basic directions on how to get to Jasper can be found here:
- Map of Edmonton to Jasper: distance from Edmonton to Jasper townsite is about 240 miles
- Map of Calgary to Jasper: distance from Calgary to Jasper townsite is about 270 miles
- Other helpful travel information:
- Distance from Calgary to Jasper National Park (just south of the Columbia Icefields): ~200 miles (~3 ½ hours without stops)
- Distance from Lake Louise to Jasper National Park: 145 miles (~3 hours without stops)
- Distance from Banff to Jasper townsite: 180 miles (~4 hours without stops)
- Jasper National Park maps and brochures
Once in the town of Jasper, there is a combination of street parking and some larger parking lots, all which are free.
WHERE TO STAY IN AND AROUND JASPER NATIONAL PARK
Jasper National Park Lodging: There are numerous accommodation options inside of Jasper National Park including luxury hotels, inns, cabins and a backpacker’s hostel. Bed and breakfasts are also another option in the town of Jasper. We recommend booking a year in advance, when possible. Reservations fill quickly for the busy summer season! Most lodging options in Jasper have higher than average prices. Consider staying in nearby Hinton for cheaper accommodations.
JASPER NATIONAL PARK CAMPING
Camping in Jasper: There are several campgrounds from which to choose inside Jasper National Park. Most are open from May through October, with demand the heaviest in July and August . Wapiti offers camping year-round!
*NOTE: Whistlers Campground (the largest campground in the park) is closed for the 2019 season due to renovations.
See the Parks Canada website for more information on camping in Jasper. Make sure you have your Discovery Pass for national park entry and campground reservations are highly recommended (although some campgrounds are first-come, first-served basis).
JASPER NATIONAL PARK WEATHER AND SEASONS
When is the best time to visit Jasper National Park? Although our blog focuses on visits during the summer season, Jasper National park is a popular year-round travel destination. The best time to visit really depends upon what types of activities you like to do!
Jasper is a winter-enthusiast’s paradise with outdoor activities including skiing, ice-skating, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. However, if cold weather and snow isn’t your thing, then we recommend a visit to Jasper National Park between mid-June and September. Summer in the Canadian Rockies brings warm days, extended daylight hours and wildflowers. The summer and early fall months are also best for hiking since some of the hikes at higher elevations are not accessible until then. If you are hoping to photograph the glacial lakes in all their colorful glory, they don’t typically thaw until June.
If you are planning a summer trip, visit Jasper midweek and in either June or September to avoid the worst of the crowds. If you visit during one of the shoulder months, be prepared for all types of weather since cold weather and snow are much more likely.
See the Parks Canada website for more information on weather in Jasper National Park.
TIPS FOR VISITING JASPER NATIONAL PARK
- Stop in at the Jasper Visitor Information Centre while in town to pick up maps, travel and hiking guides, permits and park passes. This site is also a good source for offer up-to-date information on trail conditions and closures.
- If you are planning to hike, be prepared for a possible wildlife encounter. Keep your distance and do not approach or feed any wildlife. Carry bear spray while hiking and know how to use it. Some trails recommend hiking in groups in areas frequented by bear.
- If traveling with a pet, keep your dog on a leash for its safety and for the comfort of wildlife.
- Remember to bring snacks and plenty of water on hikes to keep hydrated! It can get hot in the summer! For longer hikes, we love our Platypus Big Zip hydration reservoirs which fit perfectly in our Osprey Talon and Osprey Tempest packs. Otherwise, we use our Nalgene water bottles.
- Be sure to wear sunscreen and lip balm with SPF if headed out for any hiking or outdoor activities. We have to use sunscreen that is good for sensitive skin, and one we like that doesn’t break the bank is No-Ad SPF 45. Our new favorite sunscreen is Sun Bum SPF 30 Lotion which is hypoallergenic and made with reef friendly and vegan ingredients.
- Bring/wear layers of clothing. Temperatures in the Canadian Rockies vary throughout the day and weather can change quickly. So, it is helpful to be prepared with a variety of clothing for cool mornings and evenings plus warmer mid-day temperatures.
- Wear sturdy hiking shoes boots if headed out for a hike.
- Pack insect repellant for summer hikes, especially ones near lakes and other bodies of water.
RELATED INFORMATION FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- If you plan to visit Banff National Park (just to the south), read our blog Banff National Park-What to See and Do.
- Just to the southwest of Jasper is Yoho National Park. When you are visiting this area, make sure you check out our blog on What to See and Do in Yoho National Park to see if it’s a place you are interested in. You should also consider reading our blog on What to See and Do in Kootenay National Park. We highly recommend both parks!
- We’d love to work with you to take one of your photos and turn them into one of our unique, custom, vintage-style travel posters. If you haven’t tried this yet, we guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
OTHER INFORMATION ON JASPER AND THE SURROUNDING AREA
- Jasper is great in the summer and also amazing in the winter. Larisa Dening (from “Larisa Dening Photography”) has a terrific blog on Seven Fun Things to do in Jasper in Winter, and this can be a great kickoff to your planning! Her photography is also amazing and is worth a look.
- Melanie (from “Little Miss Turtle”) covers how to travel in Jasper National Park in a wheelchair. This resource is fantastic if you or someone you are traveling with has restricted mobility.
You could easily spend a week in Jasper National Park and still not see it all, especially if you love to hit the trails like we do! However, if you are considering a trip to the Canadian Rockies and visiting other nearby parks, plan for 2-4 days in Jasper National Park.
If you have been to Jasper National Park and have favorite spots that we didn’t include in this post, please leave a comment or email us directly. We’re also happy to answer any questions that you might have!