Far in the wilds of western Alberta, one park in the Canadian Rockies can boast in its scenic vistas and pastel-painted landscapes. But perhaps Jasper National Park’s biggest boast is that it is actually the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies spanning over 4,200 square miles of rugged terrain.
The park was named after Jasper Hawes, a Canadian trading post operator that was part of the Northwest Company, a trading business headquartered in Montreal from 1779 until 1821. They were the main competitor against the Hudson’s Bay Company and this area was a prime location for trappers and voyagers due to its many creatures crawling around the forests and mountains of the region. The park became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984.
It is filled to the brim with every kind of creature imaginable including caribou, elk, deer, lynx, beaver, porcupine, foxes, bears, goats, sheep, wolves, and even wolverines. It is also a sanctuary for many of the large birds of prey that have been trying to make a comeback in North America; raptors like eagles and great horned owls stalk the sky on silent wings.
So with such a large park filled with so many creatures, what are the best things to see while you’re touring Jasper National Park? Well, there are many different options for touring the area which makes Jasper National Park a unique location in Canada.
Cruise to Spirit Island
You wouldn’t think that a tiny little island in the center of the lake would gain worldwide recognition, but Spirit Island is one of the most photographed views of the Canadian Rockies in the world. It’s a must-see destination that is a little more than a few trees standing up in the center of Maligne Lake. This is a very popular lake for tourism as it has several sightseeing tours and cruise boating options organized specifically for leisure guests and photographers alike. A typical cruise to the island lasts about an hour and a half and tends to cost around CA$100 per adult. There also guided forest walks that will take you through the woods to get some shots from a different location. These are typically much cheaper but they sell out very quickly so make sure you put in your reservation!
Get a Birds Eye View
One incredibly unique way to experience the Canadian Rockies is from the air. High above the valley floors and beautiful lakes of Jasper National Park lives a hidden tundra in the heart of the Continental Divide. The Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field in the entirety of the
Rocky Mountain system and it covers over 100 square miles. This area receives over 280 inches of snowfall per year so one of the only ways to see this magnificent winter landscape is by helicopter tour provided by an affiliate with Jasper National Park. They have tours that range from 20 minutes to nearly an hour-long flight cruising at 12,500 feet. The breathtaking view is a fantastic and unforgettable experience to add to your vacation but make sure that you bring enough cash! Reservations start at CA$680.
A Canadian Safari
As mentioned before there is a host of creatures that call Jasper National Park their home. One of the most popular things to do in the park is to hire a guide to take you on a wildlife photo tour to view some of the park’s most iconic species. Whether you’re into hiking, mountaineering, or cruising around in search of adventure, these tours are a great way to spend time in the park with someone who knows it like the back of their hand. One of the most popular options is a guided wildlife hiking-package which is offered in May through June and September through October when the animals are moving about the most. Hikers are encouraged to pack a picnic lunch and water to hike through the ins and outs of the beautiful valleys and mountains. Adults cost C$105 including taxes.
A Food Tour
This is another unique thing that the town of Jasper itself offers and would be a great addition to your trip, should you choose to capitalize on it. This famous tour boast authentic Rocky Mountain cuisine tastings at various locations in town. It is led by locals who have put together and perfected a fantastic repertoire of delicious foods and drink pairings of the area. These tantalizing dishes include wild game, local brews, Canadian classics and even globally renowned cooking featuring dishes all the way from France. Although the tour guides prefer to keep the menu a secret, every single review we found of the experience claimed that it was worth every penny. Food tours are a great way to help stimulate the Jasper economy and they promise that for the $115 price of admission you will enjoy an entire afternoon of food drinks and good conversation at every stop of your encounter.
Rock Climbing and Whitewater Rafting
If you still want to get a bird’s eye view but keep your feet firmly planted against ground of some sort, there are a ton of options for rock climbing tours on the various cracks and crevices of the mountain system. An affiliate company hosts a fantastic crash course and guided climb with professional climbers during a four-hour outdoor, rock-wall experience. For around $100 you will get to see and experience sites that only the eagles were allowed to see until now. Another adventure that you might need to give a whirl is white water rafting along the Athabasca River. Take a bus with fellow travelers and suit up for a class two and class three white water rapids adventure up the Sunwapta River led by a fantastic team of local guides who are experienced in traversing and teaching mastery over the crashing waves of these wild rivers.
Being the largest park in Canada, it’s no surprise that there are dozens of ways to experience Jasper National Park. And while we have focused mostly on the unique experiences this park has to offer, there are also plenty of things to see when you strike out to be your own guide. Jasper is a testament to the spirit of the Canadian Rockies and the people who have inhabited them for the last several thousand years. At the same time, it is a virgin landscape that is still very much the beating heart of the Canadian wilderness. No matter what your ‘scene’ is, adventure is always just around the corner when you’re in Jasper.