9 Epic Experiences You Can Only Have in Jasper
Jasper’s sheer size is staggering. Unfurling over 11,000 square kilometres, it’s the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. In fact, it’s bigger than the area’s other three parks — Banff, Yoho and Kootenay — combined.
But it still manages to fly under the tourism radar. (In 2019, older sister Banff received 67% more visitors.) This means Jasper is a world of superlatives — the biggest, the highest, the best — that still has secrets to discover. Curious explorers can find remote islands, sunken warships, 1,600 unnamed lakes and even pairs of red Adirondack chairs hidden throughout its borders.
Ready for a virtual vacation? Read on for our guide to nine epic, superlative adventures you can only have in the wilds of this national park.
1. Ride, walk or soar over the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies
A craggy swath of unending blue-white, the 240,000-year-old Columbia Icefield is a remnant of the frozen shield that once blanketed most of Western Canada’s mountains.
An easy entry point is an hour and 20 minutes’ drive south of Jasper (the nearest town). From there, there are multiple ways to see the ice. You can ride out onto one of its most famous glaciers, the Athabasca, and drink straight from a glacial stream with the Columbia Icefield Adventure experience. You’ll end with free time at the Skywalk, a glass-bottom bridge that hovers you 918 feet over the rocky Sunwapta Valley below.
For a longer hike on the glacier itself, opt for a small-group trek that comes with mountaineering equipment and an expert guide who can navigate the Athabasca’s ice caves and snowy crevices.
If you’re more of a solo hiker, you can’t walk on the ice, but you can get up close to it on the 1.8-kilometre Toe of the Athabasca Glacier trail.
Want an experience as epic as the icefield itself? Soar overhead in a helicopter to view the area’s turquoise lakes and ancient glaciers from above. You can opt for a scenic flight over other areas in the Rockies, too.
2. Stare up at a dome of stars in the largest accessible Dark Sky Preserve on the planet
Jasper National Park is the biggest Dark Sky Preserve in the world with a town within its borders, so it’s fitting that its planetarium also boasts the Canadian Rockies’ largest telescopes.
On a clear night, you can peer through them, let an expert show you how they work and touch an actual meteorite on a Telescope Experience (you can add a five-course dinner to it, too, with wine pairings and deliciousness like Alberta bison).
If you’d rather stargaze solo, Jasper is rife with ideal spots to gape at the galaxies or catch sight of meteor showers (psst — the Perseid meteors will be at their peak from Aug. 10-12 of this year). And don't miss the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival; this year’s runs from Oct. 15-24, 2021.
Travelzoo Tip: To see the northern lights dancing above you, visit from September-May and subscribe to email alerts from Aurora Watch, a site that tracks aurora borealis activity and lets users know when it’s particularly bright in the Edmonton area and beyond.
3. Watch the Canadian Rockies’ largest natural lake change colours
Framed by a crown of regal Rockies, 22-kilometre-long Maligne Lake acts like a gradient of cobalt blue to emerald as you float southward on its waters. This is because the lake’s southern end is closer to glaciers, so it has a higher concentration of rock flour, the silt created when glaciers rub on stone.
Taking a boat cruise is a must here. (Some tour providers even combine wildlife tours with a Maligne Lake sailing.) Spirit Island, a tiny islet tall with trees that’s arguably the most photographed spot in Jasper, is only viewable by boat. Its iconic image has been displayed everywhere from New York’s Grand Central Terminal in the ‘60s to a 2014 iPad ad.
Travelzoo Tip: See Maligne Lake from above by climbing the challenging Bald Hills hike. This difficult, four- to six-hour trek rewards intrepid explorers with flowery alpine meadows, the occasional moose viewing and stop-you-in-your-tracks panoramas of the jewel-toned lake surrounded by titanic peaks.
4. Tee off at the best golf course in all of Alberta (and one of Canada's top 10)
The 18-hole golf course at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge reigns as one of the top 10 courses in Canada (Golf Digest and SCOREGolf) and the highest-ranking course in all of Alberta. As if that weren’t enough accolades, Golf Digest called it one of the 100 best golf courses in the world last year.
Hitting the green on this Stanley Thompson-designed course is a must for any Canadian golfer. Another must? Grabbing a Jasper the Bear ale or seasonal cocktail at the hotel’s Emerald Lounge afterward for top-notch service and striking views of Lac Beauvert.
Travelzoo Tip: Alberta residents get up to 35% off green fees when booking through this link (must show proof of residency upon arrival).
5. Glide above the Rockies on Canada’s highest and longest guided aerial tramway
The Jasper SkyTram, located just 10 minutes from town, pulls guests up to a height of 2,263 metres, taller than any other guided aerial tramway in the country.
An onboard expert will tell you about the sights below during the seven-minute-long ride. After you touch down at the upper station, you can soak up the view of six different mountain ranges, listen to the whistle of a hoary marmot or watch pikas dart under rocks.
For almost painfully beautiful views, journey onward along the Summit Trail to climb 200 more metres to the top. Share the vista with your pup — dogs are welcome on the SkyTram with a $5.70 ticket.
Travelzoo Tip: For ideal photo-taking light and fewer crowds, go in the early morning (8-10 a.m.) or evening (7-9 p.m.). Plus, you'll get a 20% discount on tickets for riding at an off-peak time.
6. Experience one of the 10 most beautiful drives in the world
Icefields Parkway, which weaves through the mountains between Jasper and Lake Louise, has been named among the 10 most stunning scenic drives in the world by both Conde Nast Traveller and National Geographic.
The 232-kilometre stretch offers tons of well-marked viewpoints so drivers (or motorcyclists) know where to stop for the best views of aquamarine lakes and slow-moving glaciers. Some of the national park's most gorgeous hikes shoot off of this roadway; stop along the way at a few of our favourites:
Best for non-hikers: Stroll the 200-metre paved Athabasca Falls pathway until you can feel the mist of the gushing cascades pouring over quartzite stone. Bring lunch for a particularly memorable picnic on the tables nearby.
Best family-friendly option that doesn’t sacrifice views: The 4.6-kilometre Valley of the Five Lakes loop trail showcases five of the park’s most postcard-perfect lakes. Stop along the way for photos backdropped by mountain crests reflecting off jade-green water.
Best for more experienced adventurers: The 8-kilometre Wilcox Pass trail pulls you to an elevation of 2,370 metres for a memory-making view of Athabasca Glacier from above. Grazing bighorn sheep may become your trekking companions when you hit the alpine meadows.
Travelzoo Tip: Parks Canada has hidden red Adirondack chairs throughout Jasper National Park, and two pairs are findable along the Valley of the Five Lakes and Wilcox Pass trails.
7. Take a dip in the Canadian Rockies’ hottest hot springs
At Miette Hot Springs, you can rest trek-weary muscles in thermal waters while gazing out at towering peaks and lodgepole pine. Locals have been enjoying this view for centuries — First Nations guides introduced the area’s springs to members of the Hudson’s Bay and North West companies back in the 1800s.
The waters reach temperatures of 54 degrees Celsius but are cooled to a comfortable 40 degrees before entering the pools. Admission is $4.47-$7.21 per person and includes locker rental.
Note: Miette Hot Springs were temporarily closed at time of publication; anticipated reopening dates will be shared on the Parks Canada website as soon as they're available.
8. Canoe over the largest aircraft carrier never built (or dive down to see the wreckage)
At Jasper’s Patricia Lake, you can swim, kayak or canoe over a piece of WWII history called Project Habbakuk.
In 1943, to combat German U-boat attacks, Winston Churchill approved an eccentric plan — the construction of an unsinkable aircraft carrier made of ice. It was to be 2,000 feet long and 200 feet wide, which is more than double the size of the Titanic.
A smaller prototype was built in Patricia Lake, created from ice, wood pulp and refrigeration machinery, but shortly afterward Project Habbakuk was abandoned and its remnants sunk to the lake floor. Now, a small, 85-foot-deep plaque commemorates the site. Certified divers can dive down to see it.
9. Raft down the longest river in Alberta
Take on white-water rapids (or opt for a peaceful float) on the Athabasca River, following the same routes that fur traders once took in the early 1800s when this waterway was the area's main highway.
In between battling rapids, you may spot palm-antlered moose or black bears munching on buffalo berries on the shoreline.