Jasper in a day: tips and tricks for unequipped people in Jasper
The bus left me in a deadly silent Jasper at 5.30 in the morning, while the sun was starting to rise slowly from behind the mountains, shedding turquoise rays of light on the empty street and on the huge totem pole on the side of the road. I stood there for a couple of minutes, staring in awe at the huge mountains in front of me, crispy air biting my face, oblivious of the exhaustion, of the heavy backpack, of the not warm enough pajamas pants I had on. There were only the mountains and the quiet.
Jasper itself is an adorable little mountain town, that reminded me of the picturesque ones we have in Northern Italy. Wooden colorful signs, bear statues, souvenir shops, quaint little restaurants… in 20 minutes, you get a pretty good idea of what Jasper is.
To get a real taste of what the area has to offer, there is no choice but to rent a car. The most incredible places are as close as a 20-minute drive. Depending on the season, you may find a sprinkle of snow, some snow, quite a bit of snow, a lot of snow or an avalanche of snow.
I arrived at the beginning of April expecting to find green and daisies, only to realize that in fact my Vans were not quite enough to handle major hikes in the snow.
I still loved my visit, so here’s a list of attractions that you can enjoy wearing a pair of old city sneakers.
Maligne Canyon and Lookout
Easy hike (perfect for lazy people, even kids can do it), 20 minutes from the city. There is a set of six progressive bridges and you can decide if you prefer to do it from 1 to 6 or viceversa. If you are like me and don’t have appropriate shoes, you won’t be able to do the whole thing (the ice makes things quite dangerous), but it’s worth a peek nevertheless. And there is a cute tea house right beside the parking lot if you need a break. From there, I was dumb enough not to go all the way to Maligne Lake, but if you can, do it. I ate my elbows in regret afterwards (no, I didn’t. It’s a figure of speech that the English speaking world should learn though, so start using it and spread the word).
This is such an easy and beautiful hike that it almost feels like cheating. You’ll also feel incredibly poor and kind of out of place, since Beauvert Lake runs along the Fairmont Hotel Park Lodge. Basically, you are pretty much walking through their huts and cabins and fancy facilities. The trail that wraps the lake is about 4 km long, so it can be completed in an hour or so, stopping frequently to take pictures.
When I was there, half of the lake was still frozen and dozens of ducks were happily sliding around as if at Disneyland. I was brave enough to put a foot on the ice, but after picturing myself freezing to death in the lake by myself I refrained from joining the ducks’ fun.
I’d recommend Lac Beauvert for a picnic.
And now that we’ve completed the warm up, it’s time for the really good stuff. Head towards the Icefield Parkway and enjoy the ride. I had serious trouble in staying focused on the road, my eyes felt compelled to gaze around and stare at the landscape in complete bewilderment, so all my self-control was required to keep on the road instead. Luckily for me (and hopefully for you as well when you’re there), the road was empty, so I could slow down, take a few pictures and really take it all in. My original plan was to do a two-day trip and drive all the way to Banff, but technical problems (like being stranded on an island for an extra-day) messed up my schedule, so I could only go as far as the
My favourite destination of the day. The site just has it all: breathtaking scenery, unreal shades of turquoise, rocks dating to different geological areas, stunning selfie spots, a contrast of snowy white and deep crystal blue that makes you want to jump in. (Don’t, by the way. It’s high, freezing and dangerous). The trail is really easy and allows you to see the site from every possible angle. It’s a touristy spot, so it may be better to get there early in summer. In April it wasn’t busy at all, other than an Instagram-influencers-wannabe-couple and a very lively soccer team of kids running around and snowballing each other.
Super pumped and excited by the Athabasca Falls, I decided to go a bit further to the Sunwapta Falls. Sunwapta apparently means “turbulent river” in Stoney Indian language. The site was impressive and completely deserted. Unfortunately there was too much snow to go all the way down the path. The falls are usually really powerful, but I got to see them partially frozen instead. Still worth it.
Warm at last!
At sundown, before getting forever lost on the road with a car I was supposed to return in the morning, I headed back to Jasper. My hostel was located on the top of a hill, completely surrounded by snow. Apparently it’s also the favourite hangout of the bears of the area. As expected the WiFi was terrible, but the common room area was nice and cozy, and the dorm, despite the 28 people sleeping in it, surprisingly quiet. I headed out at 4 am, flashing my light around and running like a maniac towards the parking lot, hoping to make it to the car before becoming breakfast material for bears.
At 6am there I was again, waiting for my new best friend: a Greyhound bus. Next destination: Edmonton.
1 day itinerary. I would go the Maligne Lake and Canyon and then head directly to the Icefield Parkway. Stopping for an hour at the Athabasca Falls, you could make it all the way to the Columbia Icefield and back. If you’d rather be in Jasper for dinner and some relax time, go until the Sunwapta Falls as I did (they’re only 55 km away from Jasper) and then head back.
2-day itinerary. Definitely do the full trip to Banff and back (staying there overnight).
Eating and sleeping: the town of Jasper has lots of cute restaurants and hotels. There is one hostel in downtown Jasper, but there’s a minimum stay of 3 nights. The HI Hostel is about 7 km out of down on a hilltop, so I wouldn’t recommend it without a car. There’s nothing around there, so you’ll have to buy everything you need in town anyway.
If you arrive at 5 am like me and you don’t know where to go to avoid hibernation, there’s a Tim Hortons open 24 hours literally at a 5-minute walking distance from the station.
Ready to go and explore?
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Questions or suggestions? Let’s start a conversation below!