Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

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We started our travel into the Canadian Rockies from the town of Jasper in mid-June 2016. Temperatures in Jasper were cool, around 37-45F (3-7C). We realized quickly that gas prices in Alberta was more affordable compared to Northern British Columbia, even in a remote National Park. Though busy, we did not have any trouble with parking, and the crowds were pretty light compared to our closest National Park, Yosemite (though we traveled through the Canadian Rockies on weekdays). Since these parks are a natural habitat for both grizzly and black bears, we carried bear spray with us on all our hikes, though we did not have any encounters. Given the cool weather, we layered thin fleece jackets to keep warm, which we easily shed when we warmed up.  There is a town of Jasper that has amenities such as hotels, gas and restaurants.

Mountains along Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Canada

Snowcapped mountains along Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Canada

 

Practical Information (as of June 2016)

Entrance Fee: $19.60/per vehicle/day which covered all Mountain National Parks (free admission in 2017 in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday)

Campsite Reservations: reservation.pc.gc.ca or 1-877-RESERVE.

Backcountry Camping: pc.gc.ca/jasperbackcountry

Disabled Access to trails: accessjasper.com - not sure what is offered here, but just thought I’d pass it on.

Closest airport: Edmonton (360km or 225 miles)

Distance from Calgary: 419km or 262 miles

Km to Miles conversion: 1.6 km = 1 mile

More Information:  Jasper National Park

 

Icefields Parkway (Highway 93)

Mountains and blue waters along Icefields Parkway, Canada

Mountains and blue waters along Icefields Parkway, Canada

 

Voted one of the most scenic drives on the planet, Icefields Parkway is the roadway that connects Jasper to Lake Louise. It is an incredibly scenic roadway with amazing changing views of mountains of different hues and shapes, numerous waterfalls visible near and far from the roadway, and views of several glaciers. 

Mountains along Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Canada

Mountains along Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Canada

 The road is 233 km (145 miles) long from Jasper to Lake Louise and takes about 3 hours drive time alone when not stopping to enjoy any of the hikes or views. The drive takes you along the Continental Divide and over the Columbia Icefields, the largest icefield outside of the Arctic Circle.  There are over 100 ancient glaciers along this roadway.  There are many stops along the way to enjoy. With time constraints, we stopped at three of the attractions on Icefields Parkway: Athasbasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls and Toe of Athabasca Glacier.

More mountains along Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Canada

More mountains along Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Canada

 

Our entire excursion down Icefields Parkway from the town of Jasper to Lake Louise took about 7 hours, including all stops and short hikes. Be sure to pick up a brochure at the entry gate or Visitor Center. There are no gas stations along the Icefields Parkway, so be sure to fill up beforehand. There are also no cafes or restaurants along Icefields Parkway, so be sure to bring along food and snacks if you are planning on nourishing.  We were lucky enough to spot a black bear along this roadway as it made its way into the bushes.

Other roadways that you will encounter in the Jasper/Banff National Parks are Bow Valley Parkway and Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1).  Both are very scenic in different ways.  Bow Valley Parkway is a wildlife corridor and is partially closed in the spring to early summer to allow for safe wildlife crossings.  The openness of the Trans-Canada Highway will make it hard to keep your eyes on the road.

 

Practical Information (as of June 2016):

Distance: 233 km (145 miles) from Jasper to Lake Louise

Features: Amazing constantly changing mountain views with glacier views, access to hikes with teal blue waterfalls and lakes, accesspoint for hikes to glaciers, drive along the Continental Divide over the Columbia Icefields, the largest Icefield outside of the Arctic Circle

Other: No gas stations, Road open year-round but may close (as long as 3 days after heavy snowfall), check weather before trip -  www.weatheroffice.gc.ca

More Information:  Icefields Parkway

 

Athabasca Falls, near Jasper, Alberta

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park, Canada

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park, Canada

 

About 30 km (19 miles) from Jasper, Athabasca Falls was our first stop. This is the first place we set our eyes on that beautiful teal blue glacial water. We expected a very quick auto-tour type stop where you park, snap and drive off but we were delightfully surprised by the maze of bridges and stairs that took us on a 0.8 mile tour of the falls and its surrounds. The maze brought us over the falls and over canyons with views of beautiful blue green waters as they calm into a pool after thundering down the Athabasca River.

Athabasca Falls from afar, Jasper National Park, Canada

Athabasca Falls from afar, Jasper National Park, Canada

Canyon View of the Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Canada

Canyon View of the Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Canada

Calm river view of Athabasca, Jasper National Park, Canada

Calm river view of Athabasca, Jasper National Park, Canada

 

Stairs led us to a canyon that the blue waters used to course down many years ago when the river took a different course. We spent about an hour at this stop exploring every nook and cranny these walkways afforded us. We arrived at Athabasca Falls around 1pm and got parking in one of the last 2 parking spots. People were coming and going often so I don't think it would have been a problem to get a spot had there not been parking spots right away.

Walking through an old canyon that the Athabasca River flowed through

Walking through an old canyon that the Athabasca River flowed through

Practical Information ( as of June 2016):

Directions: Along Icefields Parkway, Athabasca Falls is about 30km south of Jasper, 203 km north of Lake Louise. Look for signs along the Icefields Parkway.

Hike Features: Glacial blue waterfalls, canyons of water and canyon walkway where water used to flow

Distance to view all aspects of waterfall: 0.8 mile

 

Lower Sunwapta Falls, near Jasper, Alberta

Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park

Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park

 

This stop would have been a park-snap-drive type of stop if we hadn't hiked to the Lower Falls. The walk to Lower Falls was about 3km (2 miles) from the parking lot. This hike brought us over a wooden bridge to view the rushing waters of the Upper Falls with mountains in the background.

Wooden bridge overlooking Upper Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park

Wooden bridge overlooking Upper Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park

 

Further downstream we got a good view of the teal blue waters swirling in the canyon as it made its way downriver.

River of Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Canada

River of Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Canada

 

There were 3 falls altogether if I remember correctly and this short hike through the woods afforded us views of all of them. We spent 1.25 hours at this stop, thanks to a protesting hiker among us.

 

Practical Information (as of June 2016):

Directions: Along Icefields Parkway, Sunwapta Falls is about 54 km south of Jasper, 179 km north of Lake Louise. Look for signs along the Icefields Parkway

Features: walk over wooden bridge in front of Upper Falls,walk along canyon downstream for Lower Falls, with intermittent views of teal blue waters in canyon, walk through a Canadian forest trail

Distance to Upper Falls: 0.1km

Distance to Lower Falls: about 3 km (~2 miles)

 

Toe of Athabasca Glacier, near Jasper, Alberta

Walking towards the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier

Walking towards the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier

 

As we climbed Wilcox Pass towards the Athabasca Glacier, it started snowing. The thermometer in our car read 37F(~3C). The land surrounding the glacier was barren and rocky as the glacier had recently receded to its current position. No plants have taken root yet here. Our drive up to the glacier parking led us past the 1942 glacier level. About a hundred feet from where the trailhead started, the sign 1982 marked the glacier level in that year. It's amazing to see how much it has receded in just 30 years. The Athabasca Glacier is 6 km (~3.75 miles) long with an area of 6 square km.  It is as deep as the Eiffel Tower is high in some places. Unfortunately the trail did not lead us close enough to touch the glacier, which was somewhat disappointing. Standing in front of the Athabasca Glacier where the trail ended gave us perspective on the size of the glacier. Looping back on the trail, an ice cave caught our eye. Down below there were a couple of ponds of glacial melt. Huge mountains adorn this receding glacier on three sides.

Pond just below the Athabasca Glacier

Pond just below the Athabasca Glacier

 

The distance to the glacier from the closest parking lot was around 2 km (1.25 miles round trip). Temperatures were significantly lower at the glacier trail compared to lower elevations, as much as 15F. We wore layers of jackets which we shed as we warmed up walking up the incline to the glacier, then put back on as we cooled down on the walk down. There was light snow while we made our way up to the glacier. We spent about an hour at this stop.

Icefield Center was across the street. More information can be obtained from here about Jasper National Park. Kids booklets can be picked up or returned here in exchange for souvenirs.

 

Practical Information (as of June 2016):

Hike Features: Walk on glacial debris to see how far the glacier has receded in the last 40 years, Views of Athabasca Glacier

Directions: Along Icefields Parkway, Toe of Athabasca Glacier is about 100 km south of Jasper, 130 km north of Lake Louise. Look for signs along the Icefields Parkway for Athabasca Glacier

Hike Distance: 1.8 km (1.2 miles)

Accommodations

At the end our day down Icefields Parkway, we stayed near Lake Louise at Paradise Bungalows. Our beautiful one-room cabin came complete with kitchenette and gas-burning woodstove for CAN$290/night +tax. The price tag was a little high for us, but choices were limited two weeks before our trip (and I wasn't interested in camping in grizzly bear country with young kids in tow). I hope to have my reward points pick up the tab. Proximity to Lake Louise (town and actual lake) and Moraine Lake was about 10-20 minutes.

 

Warning: The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. Although care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information provided at the time of publication, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  As such, we will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and be safe.

 

Current rating: 4

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