NESTLED IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES on the west side of Alberta, JASPER IS A SMALL ALPINE TOWN THAT PACKS A BIG PUNCH. LESS TOURISTY THAN BANFF OR LAKE LOUISE, THIS IS THE PERFECT PLACE FOR OUTDOOR ENTHUSIASTS LOOKING TO ESCAPE THE CROWDS AND IMMERSE THEMSELVES IN THE WILDERNESS. Jasper National Park is our new favourite place in the rockies and we can’t wait to show you around! Keep reading for 14 marvelous things to do in jasper this summer.
Jasper is the largest national park within Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Home to iconic spots like Maligne Lake and The Athabasca Glacier, Jasper also houses a ton of more “off the grid” adventures. It boasts several remarkable springs, lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers, as well as some of the most abundant wildlife we have ever seen.
“I dont know how on earth it took me 27 years to visit, but I am completely obsessed!”
The town itself has a more local and down-to-earth vibe than Banff and the attractions are far less crammed. If you are looking to connect with nature, escape the crowds, and have unlimited outdoor adventures, you have come to the right place. I can’t wait to show you all the reasons we have fallen in love with this extraordinary area and help you experience all that Jasper has to offer! Below are our top recommendations for things you can’t miss in Jasper.
The Maligne Lake Cruise to Spirit Island
The Maligne Lake Cruise by Pursuit is actually one of our favorite tours in all of the Canadian Rockies. There are a few reasons for that, but here’s the biggest:
They do an excellent job of keeping it quiet and secluded, despite how popular it is.
There are many tours that David and I will avoid or recommend trying on your own to ditch the crowds. This is not one of them! The small group sizes and spaced-out departure times ensure that you can enjoy the serenity of this magnificent area without it feeling busy or overcrowded.
Over this 1.5 hour tour, you will travel over halfway across Maligne Lake to one of the most photographed spots in all of Canada, Spirit Island. Tours start at 9 am daily and in our opinion, the earlier you can book the better! Arriving early will typically give you the calmest water and the smallest crowds. It also significantly increases your chances of seeing wildlife. To book your tour in advance, click here.
Hiking for All Ages & Abilities
Jasper National Park is home to an incredible array of hiking trails. From easy hikes around turquoise lakes to multi-day adventures through some of the most scenic alpine terrain in Canada, there is truly something for everyone in Jasper.
Some of our favorites include:
The Valley of The 5 Lakes | EASY: 4.8km & 172m elevation
The Valley of the 5 Lakes is an easy and scenic hike located just south of the town of Jasper on Highway 93. Beginning in the forest, you will make your way past 5 beautiful lakes, all connected by a 5-kilometer loop. Each lake varies in color from different shades of blue to green and the red Adirondack chairs between the third and fourth lake are the perfect place for a picnic. This is a great option for any fitness level and is suitable for children.
Edith Cavell Meadows Trail | MODERATE: 8.5km & 558m elevation
Edith Cavell Meadows is one of our all-time favorite hikes in the area! Featuring spectacular flowery meadows, glaciers, and mountains; it`s really got it all. The elevation gain is steady most of the way while you wind past Angel Glacier, Cavell Pond, a subalpine forest, and alpine meadows full of colorful wildflowers. To get to the very top of the summit requires ascending about 1 kilometer of steep scree. It`s challenging but 100% worth it once you arrive.
The Tonquin Valley Trail | HARD: 45.4km & 1320m elevation
The Tonquin Valley is what backpacker’s dreams are made of… seriously! With multiple routes and options to stay in tents, huts, or lodges; this area is unique and well worth the adventure. Some highlights include The Rampart Mountain Range, Amethyst Lakes, Eremite Valley, and Moat Lake; not to mention the higher than average chance of seeing the endangered mountain caribou. Most people take 3-7 days to complete this hike and in our opinion; the more time, the better!
Unplug in a Cozy Cabin
There is just something about staying in a cabin that can’t be beat. Especially when you’re in the middle of the astonishing Canadian Rockies. During our last trip to Jasper, David and I stayed at Bear Hill Lodge and it was absolutely perfect! Their cabins range from cozy studios to multi-room homesteads that can sleep up to 8 adults. Each unit is incredibly unique, with the buildings ranging from the mid-1900s to the newest addition in 2019.
Features include fireplaces, kitchenettes & full kitchen units, pet-friendly units, and continental breakfast for rooms without a kitchen. They also offer a very unique dinner package. The chef at the Fiddle River Restaurant prepares all of the food, delivers it to your door, and you do the cooking! That’s my kind of meal.
Get Your Adrenaline Pumping With A White Water Rafting Adventure
Jasper has a variety of rivers with class II & class III rapids, making white water rafting a great summer activity. The Fraser River, Sunwapta River, and Athabasca River offer tours ranging from scenic floats to multi-day trips. We took a trip with Maligne Rafting Adventures down the Athabasca River and absolutely loved it!
The Athabasca Falls Canyon Run Rafting Tour begins downtown Jasper where you check-in, meet your guides, and board the bus. We were lucky enough to spot a mama grizzly and her three cubs on the 20-minute drive to the starting point! Once we arrived, we got all suited up and hit the river at the bottom of Athabasca Falls. We spent the next few hours floating down a good mix of rapids and calmer water. The first portion of the trip boasted a unique view of the river with the high canyon walls on each side while the last opened up for views of the valley.
This tour is family-friendly and such a fun way to spend a morning in Jasper, especially on a hot summer day! On top of The Athabasca River, Maligne Rafting Adventures also offers trips down the Sunwapta River and they are actually the only operator in Jasper licensed to raft the Fraser River!
Swim, Canoe, and Cliff Jump in Turquoise Blue Lakes
Jasper National Park is home to an array of crystal clear alpine lakes with remarkable colors. Almost all of them offer beaches, swim spots, canoe rentals, cliff jumping, and/or incredible photo opportunities. Here are a few we would recommend:
Maligne Lake is well known for the color of its water, the 360-degree mountain views, and the three visible glaciers in the area. If you want to spend some time out on the water, rent a canoe from the Maligne Lake Boathouse. There are several hiking trails in close proximity including Opal Hills Loop and Bald Hills. Both of these offer a birds-eye view of Maligne Lake as well as the entire valley.
Horseshoe Lake is a refreshing place to visit on a hot summer day. After the short walk in, you`ll be able to enjoy the beautiful wildflowers and go for a swim in the turquoise water. It`s a popular cliff-jumping spot with multiple different ledges to choose from—the highest being around 80 feet tall! Horseshoe Lake can get fairly busy on the weekend so go during the week or earlier in the day if possible!
This pristine, kidney-shaped lake is well known for its location at the base of the statuesque Pyramid Mountain which towers over the town of Jasper. You can spend a few hours walking along the shore or rent kayaks & canoes from Pyramid Lake Resort. Don`t forget to check out the bridge over to Pyramid Island, the place is just screaming for a photo or two!
TIP: Keep your eyes peeled for the Elk heard that frequent the area year-round.
Edith & Anette Lakes
Edith Lake and Annette Lake, known collectively as Kettle Lakes, are the residuals of the lake that covered the entire Athabasca valley during the end of the ice age. They are a beautiful shade of blue/green and are actually fed by the same extensive underground river system that created Maligne Canyon. Both Lakes are located less than 100m from the parking area in opposite directions. Each lake has a loop you can walk, Edith 4.5km in length & Annette 2.7km, with minimal elevation gain. They also have great beach areas and places to swim on a hot day!
Hike Maligne Canyon Trail
Maligne Canyon Trail is located about 10 minutes northeast of Jasper with two main access points. The parking lot at The Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen and the Fifth Bridge Parking Lot.
The trail, paved and accessible to hikers of all abilities, features five bridges built across different areas of the canyon. The waterfalls and winding river below reach a depth of more than 50 meters in certain areas. Hikers can explore the 3.4 kilometer trail year-round with exhilarating views and a ton of local wildlife. In total, the trail gains 118m of elevation, but you will most likely be too distracted by the views to notice. The Maligne Canyon Trail can get busy, so we recommend going early!
Soak Up the Views from the Top of The Jasper SkyTram
This incredibly scenic flight takes you to an altitude of 2,263 meters in about 7 minutes. From there, you can take the 1.4 km hike to the summit and choose to stop at any or all of the scenic viewpoints along the way. You can also choose to visit the Summit Restaurant (we were told the poutine is extraordinary!) while soaking in the views from the wall of windows on the second floor.
If you get the chance to visit on a Saturday in October, the Jasper Planetarium offers an exclusive dining and stargazing experience from the top of the Jasper SkyTram. How cool does that sound? From the upper station, you’ll have the chance to look through powerful telescopes at the darkest skies in the Canadian Rockies.
If you`re into hiking, a great option from the top of the SkyTram is Indian Ridge. From the top, the trail takes you over Whistlers Summit and back down through a valley before bringing you up along this picturesque ridge. The nice thing about starting so high up is that the views are unbelievable the entire time! The last portion of this hike turns into a fairly technical scramble which is not for the faint of heart.
IMPORTANT: Only go as far as you are comfortable with. Many people don`t complete the scramble portion of Indian Ridge and still agree that the views from the rest of the trail are well worth the effort!
Explore The Area on a Mountain Bike
With hundreds of kilometers of mountain bike trails as well as numerous road riding options, biking is an excellent way to explore the wonders of Jasper National Park. Trails range from easy to difficult with backdrops like Pyramid Lake, Maligne Lake Road, The Icefields Parkway, and so many more!
On our recent trip to Jasper, David and I spent an afternoon mountain biking and we were completely blown away. I had no idea how accessible Jasper’s top lakes, hikes, campgrounds, and viewpoints were, all by bike.
“If you are intimidated by the idea of mountain biking, I would encourage you to trust me and just give it a shot. Jasper is the perfect place for beginners! The trails were well signed, well maintained, and the grade was super manageable. It was my first time mountain biking and it was honestly a highlight of the entire trip.”
We paid a visit to The Bench and they suited us up with bikes, helmets, locks, a map, and a variety of ideas for our adventure. It was clear that they were extremely passionate about the trails in the area and that excitement was contagious. To our surprise, several trails take off right from town and they are all in excellent condition.
The loop we did, which we would highly recommend, was around 30km, relatively flat, and took 3 hours with plenty of stops. We started downtown Jasper and took Old Fort Point Road to a beautiful viewpoint over the river. Then, we followed Trail 14 to Beauvert Lake at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, there were plenty of signs to get us there. We biked past the golf course and through the property and then proceeded past Mildred Lake.
From there, we biked to Edith and Anette Lakes, where we stopped for some beach views and a snack break. Next, we followed Trail 18 all the way to the fifth bridge at Maligne Canyon. We watched the river roar over the rocks for a few minutes before turning around. On the way back, we stopped at Beauvert Lake for a swim (it was 31 degrees out!) and then made our way back into Jasper for dinner.
For a full list of mountain trails, Tourism Jasper has a downloadable PDF here.
Go On a Waterfall Hopping Adventure
Athabasca Falls is a beautiful stop along the Icefields Parkway just before arriving in Jasper. It is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the Canadian Rockies due to the sheer volume of water flowing from the Athabasca River. The falls are stunning and there are several bridges you can walk across, each offering a different perspective.
Tangle Creek Falls
Also located along the Icefields Parkway, Tangle Creek Falls is extremely easy to get to and a beautiful stop to make. You don`t need to budget a whole lot of time for this adventure since you can actually see them right from the road! NOTE: You do have to cross Highway 93 to get up close and personal with the falls. There is a crosswalk but make sure to be extra careful!
Sunwapta Falls are yet another stop along Highway 93 that you definitely want to check out. The Upper Falls is located right next to the parking area and barely requires a walk. These are the more impressive of the two if you`re short on time. The Lower Falls is a short 1.5km walk and a nice way to stretch your legs along the drive.
Visit The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
This historic hotel is worth a visit even if you don`t plan on spending the night. The impressive property is home to a golf course, several restaurants, daily lawn games, wildlife fireside sessions, a pool, a spa, a planetarium, trail rides, shopping, and so much more! The wildlife in the area is booming and the natural beauty is wonderfully relaxing.
During our last visit, we rented a canoe from the boathouse and explored Lake Beauvert. The color of the water is incredible and it was a great way to enjoy the serenity of the area. We then had an appetizer and a drink on the patio of the Emerald Lounge before jumping in the lake!
For a full list of activities at the Jasper Park Lodge, click here!
The Jasper Dark Sky Festival
Not technically a summer activity, but I just couldn’t leave this one off the list! The Jasper Dark Sky Festival, held annually in October, aims to connect all ages to our universe and beyond. Before packing up and heading to The Jasper Dark Sky Festival, you might be wondering what all the hype is about. Jasper was designated as a Dark Sky Preserve in 2011 due to its limited light pollution. They are the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world and the largest accessible one. This is because the town of Jasper is actually located inside the reserve!
A Dark Sky Preserve is an area in which no artificial lighting is visible. These preserves make a special commitment to protect the night by reducing or eliminating light pollution in all forms. They also take active measures to educate and promote light pollution reduction to the public and nearby cities and towns.
The Jasper Dark Sky Preserve is an incredible place for clear and undisrupted views of the stars as well as the Aurora Borealis. On top of that, many plants, wildlife, and insects actually rely on darkness to forage, breed, and navigate. Jasper is providing a magical experience for all of us by protecting an important ecosystem!
There are a variety of fun events and activities scheduled throughout October. Ranging from SkyTram Star Sessions to guest speakers from NASA, you have countless options depending on what strikes your interest!
Related Post: The Jasper Dark Sky Festival: Why You Need to Visit!
Indulge in Different Cuisines
For a relatively small town, the food in Jasper will blow you away. There are several fantastic options to choose from and most places are great at catering to dietary restrictions. Here`s a list of some of our favorites, but to be honest I don’t think you can go wrong anywhere you go!
Drive the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is highly regarded as one of the most scenic drives in all of the Canadiana Rockies. Also known as Highway 93, this stretch of road spans 233 km from the town of Lake Louise all the way up to Jasper. If possible, budget a few extra days to explore this incredible area and all that it has to offer!
View Wildlife From a Safe Distance
Jasper National Park is home to some of the most abundant wildlife we have ever seen. You have an extremely high chance of seeing wildlife on hikes, in town, as well as on roads like Maligne Lake Road, Pyramid Lake Road, and the Icefields Parkway. Bears, moose, elk, and deer frequent the area and are most commonly seen at dawn and dusk. There are also hundreds of smaller species of birds, animals, and insects that offer great viewing opportunities.
NOTE: Please do not get out of your vehicles or attempt to approach any wildlife. Giving them their space and admiring them from afar is the safest move for them, for you, and for future human encounters.