Things to Do in Jasper
A natural geological feature measuring more than 160 feet high (50 meters), Maligne Canyon is one of the deepest river canyons in the Canadian Rockies and a popular destination in Jasper National Park for both sightseeing and exploration. A striking geologic formation, Maligne Canyon is a classic example of karst topography, which occurs when water carves out bedrock, creating a deep canyon with smooth walls.
The parks service has created a self-guided trail, which describes the geological history of the area; several bridges span the gorge, allowing for spectacular views of the canyon. For a more interactive view of crystal pools, waterfalls, bubbles from underground lakes and more, take the short loop that tours the upper reaches of the canyon or the longer loop that follow the gorge and exits at a fifth and sixth bridge at a lower point. In the winter, join a tour company for a guided walk down into the canyon or try ice climbing.
The Athabasca River originates from the Columbia Glacier on the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The Athabasca River is Alberta’s largest undammed river and the second-longest river overall in the province. It travels almost 1,000 miles (1,500 km) northeast across Alberta, and drains into Lake Athabasca in the northeast. The Athabasca runs through the glaciers and snow-covered mountains of Alberta’s Jasper National Park, considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The river is accessible by both road and by rail from all major centers in Alberta and British Columbia. The river offers excellent canoeing, rafting, kayaking, and hiking with all of the usually services and facilities that are usually found in Canada’s national parks. Beautiful waterfalls and trails to explore abound along the river, and it would be an excellent “home base” for a couple of days for any campers wanting to explore more of the park.
One of the most photographed locations in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is famous for the gorgeous emerald color of its water, the dramatic peaks and glaciers that are visible on its banks and for its views from Spirit Island. French traders coined the name ‘Maligne’ for the lake as well as a canyon, mountain and pass, meaning malignant or wicked—perhaps as a result of the turbulent rivers that flow into the lake.
The largest lake in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is no longer considered ‘wicked’ but instead is one of the most popular spots in the park for hiking, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. The 27.3 mile (44 km) Skyline Trail, Jasper's most popular multi-day hike, begins at Maligne Lake and finishes near the town of Jasper. Other popular day hikes include the Opal Hills and Bald Hills loops; winter activities include cross-country skiing.
The Jasper SkyTram (formerly Jasper Tramway) is the longest—and highest—aerial tramway in Canada. Built in 1964, the Tram begins at 4,279 ft (1,304 m) above sea level and transports guests to 7,472 ft (2,277 m) above sea level in an enclosed tram compartment in seven minutes. The SkyTram rises above Whistlers Mountain and provides expansive views of lakes, six mountain ranges, the town of Jasper and Alberta’s longest river, the Athabasca.
A guide answers questions and points out areas of interest, animal life and history of the area during the Jasper SkyTram tour. After reaching the top, guests can stroll boardwalks to view wildlife. Alpine inhabitants include the whistling hoary marmot, white-tailed ptarmigan, ground squirrels, pikas and the occasional bighorn sheep. There are also hiking trails to the summit of Whistlers Mountain for those wanting more of a challenge.
When is a lake not a lake? When it’s a river. Medicine Lake is a geologic anomaly: though it looks like a long—4.3 mi (7 km)—and relatively shallow lake, it’s actually an area of the Maligne River. During times of glacial melt during the summer, the water backs up and forms the “lake” until it can slowly drain underground again through a series of sinkholes.
Aboriginal people called the lake Medicine Lake because of its incredible disappearing trick, but visitors these days are inspired by the opportunities for wildlife viewing of large mammals like bear, deer, moose and caribou. Fly-fishing is another popular pastime due to the proliferations of trout, but be prepared: Medicine Lake disappears in the fall and winter months, becoming a mudflat.
Proving that it’s force and not size that matters, Athabasca Falls is a mere 75.5 foot (23 m) tall waterfall in Jasper National Park on the upper Athabasca River just west of the Icefields Parkway. The largest waterfall by volume in Jasper National Park, water cascades over the falls almost constantly, even on cold mornings when river levels are at their lowest.
Thundering through a narrow gorge, Athabasca Falls has both smoothed the rock walls it travels past and potholed them with the sand and rock it carries. It’s easy to admire Athabasca Falls from various viewing platforms and walking trails around the falls. Considered a Class 5 waterfall, Athabasca has a drop of 80 ft (24 m) and a width of 60 ft (18m).
The longest river in British Columbia and the 10th longest river in Canada, the Fraser River rises at Fraser Pass near Mount Robson in the Rocky Mountains and flows for 854 miles (1,375 km) into the Strait of Georgia at the city of Vancouver. Known for white sturgeon and the most productive salmon fishery in the world, Fraser River has supported agricultural and community life for hundreds of years.
More recently, Fraser River has become a host to a wide variety of recreational activities as well. Fishing, boating, whitewater rafting and other activities are common throughout the course of the river. In the basin as a whole, visitors can enjoy other backcountry activities such as hiking, camping, backpacking, cycling, birdwatching, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. As a scenic attraction, the Fraser River commands attention along many public byways including the Trans Canada and Yellowhead highways.
More Things to Do in Jasper
Opened in May 2014 just north of the boundary between Banff and Jasper national parks, the Glacier Skywalk is a giant glass-floored archway that curves above breathtaking views of waterfalls, wildlife and glacier valleys.
Although transport between the Columbia Icefield Centre and the Glacier Skywalk viewpoint is free, there is a fee to enter the Glacier Skywalk and its interpretive tour. It’s worth the expense. The experience starts with a cliff-edge walkway with endless views of one of the most spectacular landscapes in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks. Nature-themed exhibits add a touch of story-telling, describing everything from how the rugged mountain setting was formed over thousands of years to what species of wildlife now call it home. It ends on the glass-floored platform, a stomach-churning 918 feet (280 meters) above the Sunwapta River.
Jasper National Park is home to stunning scenery, incredible wildlife and of course, breathtaking skies. Travelers can get a unique perspective on the heavens during a visit to the Jasper Planetarium, where constellations and evening stars are on display above comfortable seats. An informative guide leads travelers on a tour of the Milky Way and solar system, while describing the wonder of the Northern Lights. After taking in stunning projections on the planetarium ceiling, travelers can peek into the largest telescope in the Rockies for a real-life look at the stars. Staff are happy to provide photography tips to insure the best possible photos of evening skies are captured.