13 adventurous things to do in Jasper National Park

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Jasper, Alberta, is home to a land of untamed wilderness, spectacular natural beauty and rugged adventures. At 11,000 sq km, Jasper National Park is the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It’s known for its magnificent 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.

spirit island at maligne lake in summer

13 adventurous things to do in Jasper National Park

Out ultimate guide to Jasper National Park includes helpful 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, but 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. It wins with 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 the town of Jasper. The journey is about 800 km. If you’re planning to visit Jasper in winter, note that winter tires are required on all provincial highways. And remember that weather may be a factor on your journey.

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.

Use the map below to search for hotel and short-term rental options in Jasper

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. 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.’ Essentially, the water magically disappearing without a stream or river outlet. The waters go underground through sub-terrain drainage system.

Hop aboard a Pursuit Collection boat for a cruise on scenic Maligne Lake. You’ll probably pass canoeists on route to sacred Spirit Island. The mountains behind it are referred to as the Hall of the Gods. 

spirit island at maligne lake in summer

The Island is technically connected to the land via an isthmus, 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. The tour boat stops for about 15 minutes, long enough for photos.

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.

Experience Jasper Dark Sky Preserve and the Planetarium

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 at Jasper Park Lodge. The Lodge is home to an inflated, domed theatre with a live local astronomy guide who helps guests navigate the stars.

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 and touch a meteor and moon rock. If the skies are clear enough, there’s also a hands-on viewing experience. Be sure to dress warmly as this event takes place outdoors at night.

lady staring at dark sky preserve dome in jasper

Enjoy a 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. Brown is a member of the Cree First Nation, and an Indigenous Knowledge Keeper. She uses music and songs to tell stories of her people and the land.

The Fireside Chat is a deeply powerful and meaningful experience. Brown 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. 

warrior women with drum jasper

Go on an easy scenic rafting tour with Jasper Raft Tours

The Athabasca River runs right through Jasper. 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. As you float, the National Park licensed guide points out the natural and human history of Jasper. 

Rent an e-bike from the Adventure Centre

Biking around Jasper townsite and its surrounding lakes is fun and easy with an e-bike rental from the Adventure Centre. The Centre is located in downtown Jasper. Rent a powerful Pedego electric mountain bike and power your way up the hillier sections of Jasper. You can even cycle up to Pyramid Lake, with ease. We had a blast riding around Lakes Edith and Annette, and past Lac Beauvert and Jasper Park Lodge.

lady on e-bike in jasper

Savor a downtown Jasper Food 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. This guided tour features carefully handpicked dishes paired with boozy treats, like craft beer from Jasper Brewing Company. 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

Jasper Food Tours runs a truly unique and wonderful al fresco foodie experience – the Peak Nic. Owner Estelle Blancette leads guests on a 3.8km intermediate hike through a pine forest up the Old Fort Trail. Once you reach the stunning peak overlooking Jasper, get ready for 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.

Canoe on Pyramid Lake 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. It made 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. They can swim, too.

lady canoeing on pyramid lake
pyramid mountain reflected in pyramid lake jasper sunset

Take a Hike in Jasper

There are more hiking trails in Jasper and excursions to beautiful (in winter, frozen) 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 spectacular sites if you can.

Athabasca Falls
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 

Sunwapta Falls
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. Bring binoculars to look for mountain goats or other wildlife.

Whistlers Mountain

The Whistlers is a 2,470-metre mountain summit with incredible valley views. The 6.8 km hike to the summit is one of the best hikes in Jasper. If that’s not an option, step aboard the Jasper SkyTram, the highest and longest guided aerial tramway in Canada.

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.

athabasca falls in jasper national park

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.

people walking on columbia skywalk jasper

Visit Miette Hot Springs

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.

ice fields parkway glacier in summer

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.

log cabin at pine bungalows at sunset

Pine Bungalows

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.

lady enjoying fire pit at pine bungalows

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.

lady canoeing on lac beauvert in jasper

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.

champagne picnic spread at jasper park lodge

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.

prince of the forest elk in jasper

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Claudia Laroye
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