Weekend escapes: A trip to Jasper

by Theresa Tesolin

Jasper National Park is the place for Edmonton nature-lovers looking to escape to the mountains, lakes and valleys of the Rockies. To help you make every minute of your weekend getaway count, here are the top things to do as you explore Jasper, Alberta. [Image credit: iStock.com/Bike_Maverick]

Weekend escapes: A trip to Jasper

Jasper is said to be the quieter, less commercialized cousin of Banff. It’s also the larger of the two, meaning more space for you to get away from it all; while Banff National Park is 6,641 square kilometres, Jasper National Park eclipses it at 10,878 square kilometres.

Getting to Jasper from Edmonton or Calgary

If you’re traveling from Edmonton to Jasper, the drive clocks in at under four hours. The main road is the Yellowhead Highway, running pretty much due west until it takes a turn to the southwest as it nears the park. A little over half way there, in Edson, grab lunch at Mountain Pizza & Steakhouse. For a scenic stop, visit the Obed Summit which is the highest point on Highway 16. You’ll see rolling foothills and panoramic views of the Rockies that you’ll be seeing up close soon enough.

Driving from Calgary to Jasper takes about five hours. The TransCanada Highway takes you west into Banff National Park, where you’ll turn northwest and follow the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 N), one of the most famous and beautiful stretches of highway in the world, into Jasper Natoinal Park. Check out this detailed map of scenic Icefields spots. A few highlights include Peyto Lake and Bow Summit with its lovely mountain meadow trails.

If you’re not planning on driving, other ways to get to Jasper include Greyhound, Sundog Tours and Via Rail.

Day 1: Explore Must-See Sites

Start your day with a hearty breakfast at Bear’s Paw Bakery with a sausage roll or sandwich and stock up on trail cookies to keep energy levels up.

Here are a few must-see destinations to choose from:

Shorter trips:

  • Athabasca Falls. It would be a shame to miss these roaring falls. Easy, kid-friendly walking trails with self-guided interpretive signs make this stop short and sweet.
  • Maligne Canyon. This busy site has easy walking trails and lots of scenic viewpoints and bridges – take your camera! Choose from the shorter 30-minute trail, or the longer one.
  • Jasper Skytram. A trip on the Skytram affords you a bird’s eye view of majestic mountains. Have lunch at the mountaintop restaurant and hike the short trail to top of Whistlers Mountain for views of Mt. Robson. Dress warmly – the wind at the top is chilly!
  • Pyramid and Patricia Lakes. Just a short drive north of Jasper, the two lakes offer lots of water and beach activities in the summer. The docks are open year-round and there are many walking trails to explore. The lakes offer a quick picture-worthy spot if you’re short on time.

Longer trip:

  • Columbia Icefields. With glaciers rapidly melting, experience this icy beauty while you still can. Bus tours take you right onto the glacier, which is about one hour south of Jasper, or you can park your car and walk to the perimeter yourself.

For a filling, authentic Jasper meal, visit Papa George’s where you can sample elk and wild boar.

Day 2: Slow Down and Explore Nature

After visiting popular destinations on Day 1, slow things down and explore a few sights at your leisure:

  • Mt. Edith Cavell. Located 6 km south of Jasper, The Path of the Glacier trail is a 2 km hike and offers stunning views of an iceberg-dotted lake. Explore Mt. Edith Cavell’s flowering meadows and see the Angel Glacier, a natural wing-shaped formation.
  • Maligne Lake. Located 50 km from Jasper, this glacier-fed lake is surrounded by mountains. It features Spirit Island, a remote, world-famous landmark. Join a boat tour or explore the lake and surrounding trails at your own pace. Kayaks and canoes can be rented if you want to make your own way on the water.

Finish off with a long soak at Miette Hot Springs, natural mineral outdoor pools with majestic views of the Rockies.

If you’re looking for a rejuvenating weekend getaway in the remote wilderness, Jasper doesn’t disappoint. Get the most out of your trip by avoiding the crowds in July and August.

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