“The mountains are calling and I must go…” – John Muir
Whenever I think of Jasper, this quote comes to mind. Jasper is my happy place. Just driving west of Hinton into the park makes my soul sing. Sure, Banff is beautiful, but Jasper is something truly special. There are so many incredible things to do in Jasper that it’s worth being the centre of an itinerary instead of just a day trip.
Jasper is smaller and quieter than it’s neighbour to the south, which makes it SO MUCH better! It’s less pretentious, more local, and you can still frequently find elk roaming around town (which hasn’t happened in Banff for years). Surrounding the charming town centre is an incredible, untouched wilderness just waiting to be explored.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Jasper!!
Jasper is a short 4 hour drive from our home town, so it’s a place we visit regularly!! During covid we bought a business there, so I have the perfect excuse to keep going back again and again. Even with our ridiculously frequent visits, I never get tired of Jasper. There are so many things to do, Jasper could keep a person busy for a lifetime (if you love the great outdoors).
Things To Know Before You Go To Jasper
I respectfully acknowledge that Jasper National Park is located on Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 territory; a traditional meeting grounds, gathering place, and travelling route to the Beaver, Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Ojibway, Métis, Dene, Secwépemc and Nakota Sioux. I acknowledge all the many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit whose footsteps have marked these lands for centuries.
National Park Pass
Jasper is a national park, so if you’re driving into the park (either in your own vehicle or a rented vehicle) you have to pay for a park pass. They cost $10.00/day per adult, $20/day for a group (up to 7 people in a vehicle) and kids 17 & under are free.
The day pass expires at 4pm the day after you purchase it…regardless of what time it’s purchased at.
If you’re staying for a few days it’s much more cost effective to purchase a Discovery pass. This is an annual pass that costs $139.40/year and is valid for up to 7 people in a vehicle.
If you see an animal on the side of the road, for goodness sakes STAY IN YOUR CAR!! These are wild animals, not pets. Don’t be one of those people I roll my eyes and silently curse at because they’ve pulled their kids out of the vehicle to get a selfie beside a grizzly bear/elk/moose. Your life is worth more than that. Please RESPECT THE WILDLIFE and enjoy it from a safe distance (not like this guy!).
Speaking of animals, there are a lot of animals around Jasper, especially in the spring. If you’re going hiking be sure to pack bear spray. If you don’t own any, don’t worry, you can buy it just about everywhere in town!
Getting To Jasper
Jasper is quite literally in the middle of nowhere! It’s located 365km west of Edmonton, 410 km NW of Calgary and 800km NE of Vancouver.
There are no direct flights to Jasper, with the closest commercial airport being Edmonton. There is a small landing strip in Hinton, but it’s only for private planes, so it really doesn’t count!
The easiest way to get to Jasper is to drive from Edmonton. The Yellowhead Highway is a 4-lane divided highway for all but the last 80km. It’s a flat, straight drive and because it’s a major route it’s plowed quickly and kept in pretty good shape even when the weather’s awful. The best place to stop on your drive from Edmonton to Jasper is in Edson. There’s a Tim Hortons and McDonalds just off the highway so you can fuel up (or pee) along the way!
If you don’t want to drive yourself, I recommend taking the shuttle bus from Edmonton (or Calgary/Banff) with Sun Dog Tours. The buses are large and comfortable and they run 7 days a week. The journey takes about 5.5hrs from Jasper to the Edmonton Airport. It’s a bit quicker if you get off at the West Edmonton mall or in downtown Edmonton.
Via Rail links Jasper with both Edmonton and Vancouver on a daily basis. If you love train travel as much as me, this is a relaxing way to get to Jasper. The trip from Edmonton takes about 6.5hrs, and unfortunately the scenery is pretty lacklustre (until you get to Hinton, then you’re in the mountains and it’s beautiful!). The journey from Vancouver takes a gruelling 19hrs (I recommend getting a sleeper), but the scenery on this route is spectacular!
If you want to make the journey the destination, consider booking the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Jasper. There are two routes to choose from, but I’d opt for the “Rainforest to Goldrush” that travels through Whistler and Quesnel. This 3-day journey truly touches all the highlights of Western Canada!
Getting Around Jasper
WALK – Jasper itself is small, and the whole town is easily walkable. However, if you’re planning to visit anything other than the townsite I highly recommend having a vehicle.
DRIVE – You can either rent a car once you arrive in Jasper, or pick one up at the airport in Edmonton or Calgary if you’re flying in. To get beyond the townsite you’ll want a vehicle as the distances between things in Jasper National Park is quite far.
BIKE – Another great way to get around is to rent a bicycle. These are available at The Bench Bike Shop. They also rent e-bikes as well as fat tires for winter if you’re so inclined! You can also find bike rentals at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (they have kids bikes). Alternatively, if you’re brought your own bike and need a tune up or gear, this is the place to come. Just make sure you check which trails are open before you head out of town on your bike.
SHUTTLE – If you aren’t comfortable driving, and don’t have the energy to bike everywhere (I don’t blame you), you can opt for day trips and tours run by a local company. The Jasper Adventure Centre (at 611 Patricia St from May to October, and 414 Connaught at Sun Dog Tour Co in the winter) is the best place to inquire and book.
Best Time To Visit Jasper National Park
Jasper is truly a year-round destination, but it does have high seasons and low seasons. Summer (June – September) is the highest season with hotels booking up well in advance and the downtown core pulsing with people. Winter (December – March) is the second high season, with many people coming to ski and explore the winter wonderland. Visiting in off-season; October, November, April and May is less expensive and less crowded. However, it’s off-season for a reason!
Jasper in the fall is cold, but the winter activities aren’t yet available because it isn’t cold enough! There is still some decent hiking this time of year, but many of the summer attractions are closed.
Jasper in the spring is wet, with weather that can vary from summer to winter all in one day! The ski hill is closed, and it’s typically too muddy to get out and enjoy the hiking trails. Many of the activities open some time in May, so if you’re going to visit in the spring, aim for late May!
It gets COLD in Jasper, even in the summer, so pack layers. If you’re visiting in July or August the temperature at night is usually warm(ish), but the rest of the year it cools off quickly.
- Toque – something small and easy to pack, like this Ice Breaker Toque.
- Gloves – small gloves like these Ice Breaker glove liners.
- Stuff-able jacket. (I’ve worn this in June and September, so imho it’s always worth packing)
- Rain Jacket – absolutely essential if you’re planning on camping or hiking. The weather can change quickly in the mountains, don’t go anywhere without a packable rain jacket tucked in your pack.
- The mosquitos here are HUGE. This is the biggest reason why I prefer the park in the fall instead of the spring/summer. I love my ExOfficio Bugs Away hoody for both the layers and anti-bug effect (however any clothing with permethrin isn’t available in Canada, so you’ll have to buy it in the US).
- Bug spray and lots of it!
- After bite, because you know that whatever you do, you’re bound to get bitten.
Things To Do In Jasper National Park
In and Around Jasper Townsite
If you’re wondering what to do in Jasper, start with the skies! Take a 40min tour of the night sky around Jasper National Park at the Jasper Planetarium. It’s located at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, and offers multiple tours a day depending on the season. If you’re visiting in the summer, this is the best way to appreciate the night sky as it doesn’t get dark until VERY late!
- Location: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
- Cost: $29 adult (18+), $15 youth (agers 4-17)
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Stables offers guided horseback riding tours. This is something Kacela’s been asking to do for ages but we never manage to make it happen! One of these trips we’ll fit it in for sure, especially now that we’ve checked of a lot of the other things to do see in Jasper.
Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives
The Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives is really three galleries in one. There’s something for everyone here! Get a little taste of the history in this area going back 10,000 years.
- Where: 400 Bonhomme St
- Hours: 10am-5pm every day in the summer (June – September), and Thursday to Sunday in the winter (October – May)
- Cost: $7 adults, $6 students & seniors, $15 family (5 & under free)
Go Shopping on Connaught & Patricia Street
One of the reasons I love Jasper is the relative absence of large chain stores. Banff is packed full of international name-brand shops, but in Jasper most of the shops are locally owned with a great selection of high quality merchandise. Shopping is definitely one of the best things to do in Jasper National Park! There’s a LOT of knickknack and souvenir shops, but between these all there are a few other hidden gems.
- If you’re in the market for outdoor gear, I recommend Totem Ski Shop and Gravity Gear (for a great selection of Ice Breaker’s clothing).
- For clothing, Bombshell has a good selection for ladies and Ransom is a great place to stop for men.
- Jade Refillery (hiding downstairs by North Face Pizza) has a fabulous selection of zero waste products to encourage a more eco-friendly lifestyle. (It’s also women owned and operated, and all Canadian-made).
Once you’re done exploring the places to visit in Jasper (which admittedly there’s not a ton in the townsite), head out to the area just around town. The Jasper attractions are NOT limited just to the town!
There are plenty of rivers around Jasper providing multiple options for whitewater rafting. If you love the great outdoors, this is an exhilarating way to spend an afternoon or a day.
Pyramid Lake has activities available all year around, and it’s only 7.5km from town. In the summer you can rent a canoe, stand up paddle board or kayak, go on one of the many nearby hikes or just enjoy walking along the lake shore. In the winter there’s a skating rink, or you can snow shoe around the frozen lake. It’s also quite close to Jasper, you can hike there if you’re feeling active and full of energy!
There’s a hotel and onsite restaurant (The Pines) at Pyramid Lake Resort.
Dark Sky Preserve
Jasper National Park is home to the world’s second largest dark sky preserve. The community is committed to reducing light pollution offering an incredible view of the night sky (or northern lights if you’re lucky!). Jasper Park Lodge and Pyramid Lake both have telescopes and you can book one of the evening telescope shows if you’d like to get up close and personal with the stars.
If you’re visiting in the summer, remember it gets dark quite late so viewings happen late into the evening. Be sure to book ahead and dress appropriately. It can get quite cool in the mountains at night!
Maligne (Mal-EE-n) Lake is 48 km from Jasper and is definitely worth a half-day trip. The best way to experience the lake is from the water (duh!). You can book a Maligne Lake Cruise or rent a kayak or paddle boat from the Boat House. Both of these are open late May to early October.
Spirit Island is the “thing” to see on the lake, but it’s quite a distance from the parking lot. The easiest way to see it is via a Maligne Lake Cruise, although you’ll also be sharing it with your fellow passengers.
There are a few dining options at the lake, only open during the summer season. For a proper meal, the patio at “The View” offers great food, albeit a bit pricey as would be expected up here, and a spectacular view of the lake. If you’re looking for a quick bite, head to the Waffle hut. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous (and want to save some $$), pack yourself a lunch and find a spot on the lakeshore to have a picnic.
- Maligne Lake Cruise – approx $75/adult, half price for kids, free for ages 5 and under.
- Kayak/Rowboat/Canoe rental – approx $75/hr and $200/day. If you want to get all the way to Spirit Island, you’ll need a full day rental (it’s a long ways!)
Maligne (Mal-EE-n) Canyon is near the entrance to the road up to Maligne Lake, and much closer to Jasper townsite. There are a series of six bridges and you can choose to go on as short or as long of a hike as you’d like. The most spectacular area is around bridge 1-3, where the canyon depth is more than 50meters in some places. However, if you’d like to get away from the crowds I’d highly recommend walking the larger loop all the way around the sixth bridge.
There’s a guided interpretive walk with signs posted along the hike. You’ll learn about how the canyon formed, info about some of the flora and fauna, and get a glimpse into the wildlife in the area.
Geocaching is a great excuse to get outdoors and active. There are a number of Geocaches throughout the park, some of which are easy to find, and some that are more difficult! All must follow Park’s Canada Geocaching Guidelines, and please do remember you’re in a National Park when you’re out exploring.
For a “birds-eye” view of the park, head up Whistler mountain on the Jasper SkyTram. You can buy tickets in town, online or at the Skytram itself. This 7 minute ride brings you up to the mountaintop where you can hike, look for Marmots (they’re super cute!) or enjoy a snack or drink at the Summit Restaurant.
- Where: Head down the Icefields Parkway 500m past the Miette River bridge. Turn right onto Whistler’s Road (follow the Jasper Skytram sign) and follow the road 4km to the end. Parking is free in the lower lot.
- Hours: 9am to 8pm (May 21-June 24), 8am to 9pm (June 25 – Sept 6), 10am to 5 pm (Sept 7 to Oct 31 & March 26 – May 20). CLOSED Nov 1 to March 25.
- Cost: $54.60 (adult 16+), $28.90 (youth 6-15years), Free 5 & under.
Marmot Basin Skiing
Marmot Basin is one of my favourite ski hills. It’s small enough that I feel comfortable letting my kiddos “free” to ski on their own, but large enough that you won’t get bored! Plus, the terrain is varied, with a good mix of everything from green to double blacks to keep the whole crew entertained. The biggest downside is that there’s no accommodation on the hill, but I love that the parking lot is “uphill” so you can ski in and out of the parking lot (saving the long end of day walk carrying your skies).
The hill offers both private and group ski lessons, well worth it if you haven’t spent much time skiing in the mountains. I love being able to drop off my kids for a lesson then head to the mid-mountain lodge for a mid-day “apres ski”!!
Go For A Hike
Jasper is blessed with an enormous number of hiking trails. You can choose from short hikes leaving right from the townsite, to multi-day hikes taking you deep into the wilderness. Whichever trail you choose, make sure to dress in layers (the weather can change quickly in the Rockies) and carry bear spray.
Day Trips in Jasper National Park
The Athabasca River flows out of the mighty glaciers of the Columbia Ice Fields, and puts on quite a spectacle as it tumbles 23m over the narrow gorge at Athabasca Falls. There’s a ~1km interpretive trail from the parking lot that guides you along the falls and into the gorge below.
- Where: 33km south of Jasper along the Icefields Parkway, along Highway 93A.
The Athabasca Glacier is part of the massive Columbia Icefield Area, the largest Icefield in the Canadian Rockies. This massive expanse of living ice can be seen tumbling down the mountain across the highway from the Glacier Discovery Centre. You can go for a walk on the glacier with Athabasca Glacier Ice Walks, or take the Ice Explorer and drive out to a safe spot on the glacier where you’re able to get out and walk around for a few minutes.
It’s important to remember that the glacier is dangerous, and you should only attempt to walk on it with an expert guide. If you don’t want to walk on the glacier it’s still worth the short hike to the toe of the glacier. The Athabasca Glacier has receded by 1.5km in the past 125 years, and the moraines that have been left in it’s wake make for an interesting hike.
Jasper Sky Walk
When the Jasper Sky Walk first opened, I pictured myself walking on a large clear platform above the glacier. This is definitely not reality, but the views over the valley still make this one of the worthy Jasper attractions.
You have to visit the Jasper Skywalk as part of a tour. Tours depart from the Glacier Discovery Center across from the Athabasca Glacier. No parking is available at the actual sky walk. The tour is really about the transportation to and from the SkyWalk site due to the lack of parking. It’s not guided, but there is a worthwhile audioguide that I highly recommend picking up on your way in.
- Where: 108km south of Jasper along the Icefields Parkway
- Hours: 10:30am to 6pm June 1 to October 3. Closed October to May.
- Cost: ~$31 (adult) for skywalk alone, or $97 for the Columbia Icefield Adventure which includes the skywalk and the Ice Explorer on the Athabasca Glacier. Kids age 6-17 are 50%. You can book online via Pursuit Banff/Jasper Collection.
Miette Hot Springs
If you’ve worn out your muscles hiking, an afternoon soaking in the hot springs is the perfect antidote! The springs are 100% mineral water fed, and you can take an easy stroll along the “Source of the Springs Trail” to see where all the amazing water comes from. There’s a restaurant on site (the Fiddle Valley Cafe) with a pool side patio so you don’t have to dress up to eat!
The hot springs are located 61km east of Jasper townsite, almost halfway between Jasper and Hinton. It’s a bit of a drive, but definitely worth it. Soaking up the mountain views while soaking in the warm water is an incredible experience!
- Check the website for opening times and price. The road to the hot springs is closed in the winter.
Zipline at Alternative Adventures
If you like flying high, check out the biplane at Alternative Adventures. It’s located 63 km (45min) east of Jasper along Highway 16, on the way to Hinton. This is a relatively unique zipline because you fly in the superhero pose rather than sitting in the harness. Flights are available solo or tandem, and if you’re traveling as a family, they’re able to accommodate kiddos. As an added bonus, camping is available for FREE for all flyers!
- Open July & August for walk in appointments. The rest of the year requires a reservation.
- Cost varies from $59-$99 per person for a solo flight.
Mount Edith Cavell
This is one of those experiences where the journey is half the adventure! The road to the mountain (Cavell Road) is a 14km narrow path that winds it’s way through a beautiful sub-alpine forest before arriving at the north face of the mountain. Once at the top you can go for a hike in the alpine meadows and marvel at Angel glacier. Please be respectful and tread lightly as the ecosystem is very sensitive.
- The road is typically open from mid-June 21 to mid-October (the first big snow fall). It’s always closed from Nov 1 – Feb 15 as it’s the wintering location of the Tonquin caribou herd.
- One of the best hikes is the 1.6k return Path of the Glacier Trail. It takes you from the parking lot to Cavell pond and Cavell glacier where if you’re lucky, you may witness a piece of the glacier break off into the pond.
Where To Eat In Jasper
Jasper has a surprising variety of delicious food for a town of it’s size. I’m pretty sure we’ve eaten at every restaurant in town, but we always go back to the our favourites.
Bear’s Paw Bakery & Cafe (and The Other Paw Bakery & Cafe)
This is our typical morning stop when we’re in town. The coffee is good, and there’s a decent selection of pastries and baked goods. I always get a vegan peanut butter cup as a treat, it’s definitely worth the calorie splurge!
Syrahs Of Jasper
If you’re looking for the classic “Canadian specialties” like elk or bison, this is the place to come. It’s definitely heavy on the meat, but there’s often a decent veggie dish available. It’s quite small so I suggest making a reservation during high season.
The feature menu chalkboard changes frequently, and the food is consistently good. Fiddle River is located upstairs on Connaught (across from the train station), with their sister restaurant “Downstream” downstairs. Both are equally good, have a kid’s menu, and options for all diets.
Harvest Food & Drink
This place has the BEST coffee in town, incredible food and some great vegan & vegetarian options. My favourite are the brunch bowls, but they also make a fantastic avocado toast!
The Raven Bistro
This is my favourite restaurant in town, so I’m not sure why it ended up part way down the list! It has a middle eastern flair, and every single thing is delicious!! The feta-stuffed falafels are next level, and are likely the reason I keep coming back. I’m a sucker for a good falafel!
This Jasper institution is sadly no longer open, it’s now a sushi restaurant!! We haven’t eaten at the replacement restaurant so I can’t comment. It’s on our list but it hasn’t been open when we’ve been in town.
Where To Stay In Jasper
Jasper has limited accommodation options and it tends to be quite expensive. Prices are at their peak in the summer, and it fills up quickly. Definitely book well in advance for July and August, and if you’re visiting on the weekend most of the rest of the year.
If you go searching on AirBnB or VRBO you’ll be hard pressed to find anything available in Jasper. This is because the town has come together to create their own vacation rental website, Jasper Home Accommodations.
Best Downtown Hotel – Park Place Inn
This hidden gem is right on Patricia street, but you won’t find it on any booking sites. You’ll have to book direct, which for some reason seems like more effort, but it’s worth it! The rooms are comfortable, and the location is ideal.
Call: 1-866-852-9770 to book
Best Family Hotel – Bear Hill Lodge
This is a great option if you’re travelling with a family. The rooms are more like self-catering apartments, and most of the accommodation is in cabins and cottages, giving it a good woodsy vibe. Some of the rooms are a bit old and dated, and the heaters make an awful lot of noise (warning if you visit in the winter!). If you’re booking, be sure to ask for one of the newer rooms if possible.
Click here to find the most up to date availability and pricing.
Best Luxury Accommodation – Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
This is about as iconic as a Jasper accommodation gets. The hotel is spread out over a large property beside Lac Beauvert. It’s not really walking distance into town, but there’s lots to do in and around the property.
Most of the rooms have been renovated (they were starting to get a bit dated), and offer everything from a small double bed to large 2-bedroom cabins with a BBQ and fire pit. In the summer you’ll find hiking and biking trails around the property, as well as horseback riding. In the winter there are cross-country ski trails, snowshoe trails and a large cleared skating rink.
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