Jasper, Alberta, is home to a land of untamed wilderness and rugged adventures. At 11,000 sq km, Jasper National Park is the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies, and known for the beauty of its mountains, stunning alpine lakes and the abundant wildlife roaming free through this northern portion of the Canadian Rockies.
From studying the stars in this designated Dark Sky Preserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site to hiking through alpine meadows, eating al fresco picnics, canoeing on pristine lakes and enjoying every manner of active adventures, these 13 things to do in Jasper National Park will transport you on an all-natural Canadian Rocky Mountain high.
13 Adventurous Things to do in Jasper National Park
In addition to helping you figure out what to do in Jasper, our ultimate guide to Jasper National Park includes some handy details about how to get there, the Park size, some wildlife tips and where to stay in Jasper, Alberta.
How Big is Jasper
The Park is more than 11,000 sq km, yet it doesn’t even crack the top 5 in terms of size. The first place honors for largest national park goes to Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta and the Northwest Territories, at 17,364 square miles (44,972 sq km).
How to Get to Jasper
From Vancouver, you’ll travel east and north along Highways 1 and 5, then east along highway 16 from Tête Jaune Cache to Jasper. The journey is about 800 km.
From Edmonton, drive approximately 365 km west towards Jasper on highway 16.
Flying into Edmonton International Airport? Arrive at YEG and then rent a car or ride the SunDog Connector bus to Jasper. If you’re coming from Banff or Lake Louise, enjoy the magnificent drive 232 km north along the Icefields Parkway.
Visit Maligne Lake and Spirit Island
Jasper is famous for its mountains and its glacial lake systems. Learn how the power of water shaped Jasper on a guided sightseeing tour of the entire Maligne Valley with SunDog Adventures. The six-hour tour includes Maligne Canyon, Medicine Lake and of course, Maligne Lake and Spirit Island by guided boat cruise.
The Valley is sacred to the Stoney Lakota First Nations people. They gave the “disappearing” Medicine Lake its name as the lake’s water held ‘big medicine,’ magically disappearing with out a stream or river outlet. The waters go underground as it turns out, through subterrain drainage system.
Board the Pursuit boat for a cruise on scenic Maligne Lake, which takes you past canoeists towards the sacred Spirit Island and the mountains behind it that are referred to as the Hall of the Gods.
The Island is technically connected to the land via an isthmus (don’t tell anyone!), and the public is asked to stay off it. There are many excellent photo vantage points to include the Island and the mountain range beyond it on the brief 15 minute stop you’ll enjoy there.
If you have time, enjoy an easy scenic hike along the Mary Schaffer Loop (3.2 km/2 miles) along the lakeside. There are some great picnic spots as well, including at a couple of Parks Canada’s famous red chairs.
Jasper Dark Sky Preserve and Planetarium Experience
Stargazers come from around the world to participate in Jasper’s annual fall Dark Sky Festival. But you can enjoy the starlight at any time of year. Get into deep space at a virtual guided tour in the inflated, domed theatre with a LIVE local astronomy guide at Jasper Park Lodge.
Sit back in the planetarium and enjoy an orbit around the earth, looking down on nighttime storms and the auroras. Explore local constellations, the Northern Lights, the Milky Way, and the edge of the universe from Jasper Dark Sky Preserve. Enjoy a Telescope 101 Experience with the largest, most powerful telescope in the Rockies. Learn how telescopes work, touch a meteor and moon rook, and if the skies are clear enough, there’s a hands-on viewing experience. Be sure to dress warmly as this event takes place outdoors at night.
Fireside Chat or Medicine Walk with Warrior Woman
Travel north to Jasper East Cabins and take a seat for a fireside chat with Matricia Brown, founder of Warrior Women. Matricia is a member of the Cree First Nation, and an Indigenous Knowledge Keeper who uses music and songs to tell stories of the land. This is a deeply powerful and meaningful experience where Matricia brings her stories to life through drumming, singing and interactive storytelling. She also leads a Wapakwanis Plant Walk that teaches guests about the flora in the park and her people’s connection to the land.
Easy Scenic Rafting Tour with Jasper Raft Tours
The Athabasca River runs right through Jasper, and you can experience it just like the fur traders did on a rafting tour with Jasper Raft Tours. The scenic tour is a great thing to do in Jasper with kids, as the water is usually quite calm and low in summer. The 1.5 – 2 hour float tour passes through small sets of rapids and many calm stretches, while the National Park Licensed guide points out the natural and human history of Jasper.
E-bike Rentals from the Adventure Centre
Biking around Jasper townsite and its surrounding lakes just got a whole lot easier with the new e-bike rentals at the Adventure Centre. Rent the powerful Pedego e-bikes downtown enjoy getting up the hillier sections of Jasper, even up to Pyramid Lake, with ease. We had a blast riding around Lakes Edith and Annette, and past Lac Beauvert and Jasper Park Lodge in no time.
Take a Downtown Foodie Tour
Jasper may only have about 5,000 people, but it’s got more than 70 restaurants. Which makes choosing where to eat in Jasper a bit of a challenge. Enter Jasper Food Tours and its delicious downtown food tour.
Over 3 hours, you’ll visit 4-5 different local restaurants and walk about 1.5 km on this guided tour, eating carefully handpicked dishes paired with four boozy treats. Along the way you’ll learn about Jasper’s culinary and park history, including some tall tales. The price is all inclusive and includes fair pay for participating restaurant partners and tips for the staff. All you have to do is walk, eat and enjoy on repeat.
Enjoy a Peak Nic with Jasper Food Tours
Staying with a foodie theme, Jasper Food Tours also runs a truly unique and wonderful al fresco foodie experience – the Peak Nic. Owner Estelle Blancette leads guests on a 3.8 KM intermediate hike up the Old Fort Trail, through a pine forest up to a stunning peak followed by a hands-on backcountry cooking lesson.
Estelle prepares and measures out the lunch or dinner’s ingredients and packs it all up into backpacks (including a table, pots and cutlery).
“I found that many people had never cooked outdoors and I wanted to give them a unique hiking and cooking experience that would really showcase the beauty Jasper,” says Blanchette.
For our Peak Nic experience, we shouldered the backpacks and hiked it all up to the spot where we learned to prepare our own gourmet meal in the great outdoors using efficient and environmentally friendly backcountry cooking methods.
We enjoyed a truly delicious Indian vegetarian feast of butter mahkni with homemade paneer cheese (which I made myself!), daal, homemade naan, rice and chai.
Sitting down to enjoy our homecooked gourmet meal while staring at Jasper’s incredible panoramic views was pretty priceless, and one of the highlights of our trip.
Guided Pyramid Lake Canoe Adventure with Wild Current Outfitters
If you love canoe adventures as much as we do, a paddle tour of Pyramid Lake with Wild Current Outfitters will have you dip dip and swinging your wooden paddle in sheer joie de vivre.
Our sunset canoe tour of Pyramid Lake (named for the peak looming and reflected in its waters) took place on a clear blue day with no wind, making for limitless Rocky Mountain views and reflections in the mirror-like lake.
We paddled out to a secret beach for a picnic, accompanied by a family of curious loons. While we didn’t spot any large predators like bears or cougars, it was probably for the best as they can swim too.
Take a Hike in Jasper
There are more hikes and excursions to beautiful waterfalls in Jasper than I can name here, but I will highlight a few must-sees that are not far from downtown. Stop in to visit and enjoy these sites if you can.
Athabasca Falls may not be the tallest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies but it is one of the most powerful, due to the sheer volume of water flowing into the gorge from the Athabasca River, fed by the massive Columbia Icefield. A short distance from
After viewing the upper Sunwapta Fall take a short hike to the down to the lower fall to see three waterfalls spread over the Sunwapta River.
Mount Edith Cavell
At an impressive 3,300-metre peak, Mt. Edith Cavell is an area famous for interesting moraines, the Cavell Meadows, and spectacular views of Angel Glacier. The hike to the glacier is a 45-minute loop if you’re time-limited. This mountain is a photographer’s dream, especially on a clear day.
Valley of the 5 Lakes
The Valley of the Five Lakes is an easy gradual walk that passes five different coloured lakes. It is suitable for just about everyone as there are loop trails ranging from 3 km to 9 km and there is minimal elevation gain. Great for families.
Drive the Icefields Parkway
Routinely cited as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, the Icefields Parkway connects Jasper and Banff National Parks. The 232 km scenic highway passes breathtaking mountain peaks, waterfalls, rivers and lakes, and glaciers, including one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world, the Columbia Icefield.
If you’re up for an adventure on your road trip from Jasper to Banff, walk along the Columbia Icefield Skywalk; a see-through glass walkway that is suspended out over the Athabasca River, providing more stunning mountain and Athabasca Glacier views.
Visit Miette Hot Springs
Note: The hot springs are closed for the 2021 season.
If you can handle the hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies, you’ll definitely want to visit Miette Hot Springs, even if you’ve only got 48 hours in Jasper National Park. The natural hot springs water flows from the mountain at 54°C (129°F). The water is then cooled to a comfortable temperature of 40°C (104°F) as it enters the hot springs pool. The hot springs are open seasonally from May to October, and are accessible via a scenic drive along the wild Fiddle valley.
Where to Stay in Jasper
As one of Canada’s premier wilderness destinations, there is no shortage of places to stay in Jasper. However, Jasper’s pretty popular in its summer season, and there is a lot of competition for those places. I highly recommend booking your accommodation well in advance of your trip. Here are some of our favorite hotels in Jasper, Alberta.
Fancy your own cozy log cabin with fire pit? You’ll want to stay at Pine Bungalows on the banks of the Athabasca River. The 50+ cabins (each with their own kitchenette, dining area, fireplace and outdoor fire pit) are surrounded by a forest of spruce, pines and douglas fir trees.
The lovely cabins and peaceful, inspiring environment are made even better by the lack of televisions, telephone or internet. There’s a Canteen in the office building to grab snacks or extra s’more supplies for the outdoor pit. If you need help building a roaring fire, Pine Bungalows even has a free Fire Valet service.
Pine Bungalows is home to the Kumama Bistro, a Japanese-inspired restaurant with great morning coffee, brunch and dinner. Kuma means bear in Japanese, and the chef wanted to make the similar kind of comfort food he enjoyed from his mama, hence the name truncation. The small but carefully edited dinner menu that offers delicious vegetarian and meat dishes. The food tastes as beautiful as it looks.
Alpine Village Cabin Resort
Experience your own ‘cabin in the woods’ lifestyle in Jasper at the Alpine Village Resort. Curl up by the stone fireplace, ease back on red Muskoka chairs on the porch, and make use of the full kitchen inside your log cabin 2 km south of Jasper.
Family-owned and operated since 1986, the 56 cabins are close to the Athabasca River and include kitchens, fireplaces, television and as much WiFi as the mountainous location permits.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
The grand-daddy of rustic national park lodges, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is a luxury hotel resort of 442 guest rooms and signature cabins, dotted along the lakeside of the beautiful turquoise-green water of Lac Beauvert.
Guests can rent canoes, kayaks or paddleboards at the red Boathouse to enjoy on the lake. Or follow the walking path to enjoy views of the lake and resort from the trail and forest. The Lodge has a 18-hole golf course where elk are known to wander.
Jasper Park Lodge is home to Mountain Galleries, established in 1992 in by artist/filmmaker Wendy Wacko, Mountain Galleries is one of the largest commercial galleries in Western Canada with locations in Banff, Jasper and Whistler. The collection represents major and mid-career artists. The mission of the gallery is to support and promote Canadian Artists.
The Lodge offers several dining experiences, including dinner at the fine dining Orso Trattoria, the Emerald Lounge bar (also great coffee in the morning), and the Great Hall Gastropub and Patio, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, all with beautiful views onto Lac Beauvert.
If you’re looking for a unique foodie, pre-order a picture-perfect gourmet champagne picnic from Fitzhugh’s Fine Foods in the Lodge. Enjoy an al fresco spread of savory favourites, some bub and sweet delicacies (vegetarian picnic options are available).
Picnic baskets are perfect for a spread under the sun on the Lodge’s great lawn or request a picnic backpack for a more portable option. Then head out into the mountains or to Maligne Lake for a day of gourmet adventures.
A note about Jasper Wildlife
Elk, deer, caribou, black and even grizzly bears are known to roam freely throughout the park and on many hotel and resort properties throughout Jasper.
Remember to always stay at a safe distance from the wild animals, and note that it’s illegal to touch or feed the animals. If you’re out hiking or in the backcountry, pack out what you pack in and practice the Leave No Trace principle.
A special note about elk. They may look harmless but they’re not, particularly during the late summer and fall rutting season, and during spring when mothers are tending to their young. Do not approach them, feed them or try for selfies.
Pin for Later