The largest National Park in Canada, Jasper National Park is a must-visit on any Canadian Rockies trip. Part of the Canadian Rockies UNESCO World Heritage site, Jasper National Park will wow you with its awesome beauty. Read on to discover the most unmissable things to do in Jasper National Park!
Located in the western Canadian province of Alberta, Jasper National Park covers an area of more than 4,000 square miles to the northwest of Banff National Park. Together, the two parks (plus others nearby), make for an epic Canadian Rockies getaway.
Less crowded than Banff and Lake Louise, Jasper nevertheless offers a ton of activities if you love the outdoors, from hiking and biking to canoeing and walking on a glacier. And if you are a landscape photographer, prepare to get deliriously happy over the zillion photo spots in the area!
The Best Things to Do in Jasper National Park
With a plethora of lovely alpine lakes, spectacular scenery laced with craggy mountains, gorgeous glaciers, tumbling waterfalls, and emerald forests, Jasper National Park should definitely be on your bucket list if you love nature.
And while outdoor enthusiasts will be delighted with the variety of adrenaline-pumping adventures on offer, you can also visit simply to soak in the beauty of the area, with leisurely scenic drives, wildlife spotting tours, and short walks on the agenda.
My guide is written primarily for visits in late spring, summer, and early fall, when roads and hiking trails are generally open, lakes thawed, and the countryside green and dotted with wildflowers. Of course, Jasper is also fun to visit in the winter if you love winter sports and snow-covered wonderlands.
Here, then, are the best things to do in Jasper National Park!
#1 Ride the Jasper Skytram
Soaring high above the scenic landscape in the bright red Jasper Skytram is one of the most popular activities in Jasper National Park. You climb 7,425 feet from the lower station to the upper station in about seven minutes.
The views are spectacular as you start to ascend, and sensational from the top. Take in the views from several different viewpoints at the top. Hike the short Summit Trail to the top of Whistler’s Mountain, from where you can view six mountain ranges. Keep an eye out for wildlife.
There’s a restaurant at the upper station if you want to enjoy a meal or a drink with a view, and gift shops at the top and bottom. The Skytram is very popular, so reserve in advance to be guaranteed a spot on the day of your visit!
#2 Do a boat cruise on Maligne Lake…
One of the most beautiful lakes in Canada, Maligne Lake is set in the midst of tall mountains and glaciers. It is the longest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, and is located about 27 miles from the town of Jasper.
The drive to and from Maligne Lake is very scenic. If you do the drive early in the morning or around dusk, you will likely spot wildlife such as elk, moose, and bear. Even during the day, we saw several black bear in the area when we visited in late June.
At the lake, you can walk along the shore: the Mary Schaffer loop is about two miles, forested in parts and running along the water in others. Snap a photo of the picturesque boathouse. Take a canoe out on the water.
The one thing you definitely must do at Maligne Lake is the boat cruise through the Samson Narrows to Spirit Island and back. The scenery is simply stunning, and the commentary informative. Book your Maligne Lake cruise now!
Getting to Maligne Lake
You can drive to Maligne Lake if you have a car. Plan on spending the day in the valley, exploring not just Maligne Lake but also Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake.
If you do not wish to drive, consider this popular tour of the major attractions in the area, including Maligne Lake, Maligne Canyon, and Medicine Lake. It’s a great way to enjoy the scenery on the way and learn about the valley.
#3 …And photograph Spirit Island
You’ve probably seen photos of the iconic Spirit Island online: the tiny little island is one of the most photographed places in Canada. Spirit Island can only be accessed from the water, on a Maligne Lake cruise or by canoe or kayak.
If you visit on a cruise, the cruise boat’s destination is Spirit Island. You cannot walk on to the island itself (for much of the year it is connected to the mainland by a strip of land), but you can walk along the shore to photograph it from various angles.
It takes several hours to canoe or kayak to Spirit Island, so it should only be attempted by very strong paddlers. Reserve a spot at one of campsites at the far end of the lake near the island, where you can spend the night.
#4 Hike Maligne Canyon
The deepest canyon in the Canadian Rockies, Maligne Canyon is a must-explore slot canyon on your way to Maligne Lake. There are six bridges built across the canyon, offering breathtaking views.
Waterfalls, lovely textured rock formations, the river far below, and the flora and fauna in the canyon make for an exciting opportunity to get into the wild. There are interpretive displays so you can learn as you explore.
If you do the full loop, it’s five miles, and will take you about 2.5 hours with lots of stops to marvel at the scenery and take photos. The Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen is a great place to stop for a drink or a bite to eat.
If you do happen to visit in the very early spring or winter, consider the Maligne Canyon Icewalk Discovery guided tour, available only in the colder months of the year. You can go to the bottom of the canyon, and admire the beautiful frozen waterfalls and ice formations.
You can drive to Maligne Canyon, or do a guided tour of Maligne Valley that combines a stop at the canyon with a stop at Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake.
#5 View Medicine Lake (or not!)
Medicine Lake is a quick scenic stop on the way to or from Maligne Lake. It is famous for its disappearing water. In the summer, the lake looks like any other alpine lake, but if you visit in the early spring (before the snow melt), or the fall, all you might see is a giant mud hole, or very shallow water levels.
There are sinkholes at the bottom at Medicine Lake, and the water from the Maligne River, which feeds both Maligne Lake and Medicine Lake, drains out of Medicine Lake through the sinkholes and resurfaces a few miles down after traveling under the ground.
The scenery is beautiful, so if there is water at Medicine Lake when you visit, it’s definitely worth stopping at the pullout to stretch your legs and take some photos. You might even spot some wildlife: we saw moose, mountain goats and a pika when we visited.
You can drive to Medicine Lake if you have a car. If you do not want to drive, book a tour of the Maligne Valley that includes a stop at Medicine Lake, along with a Maligne Lake cruise and a stop at Maligne Canyon.
#6 Enjoy a wildlife tour
You will lots of wildlife in Jasper National Park when you are out driving or hiking. We saw lots of elk everyday on the road leading up to our cabin in Jasper, and black bear, pika, moose, and mountain goats as we were out exploring.
But when you are in Jasper, it is very worthwhile to consider a wildlife spotting tour as a dedicated experience. We did an evening tour and saw a plethora of wildlife, including a coyote that ran across the road right in front of our van, a bald eagle, a mountain goat, lots of bighorn sheep, an elk, black bear, and a grizzly that ran alongside our van for almost 15 minutes.
With large windows in the minivans, it is easy to view wildlife safely, and take photos. You’ll also learn a lot about the region, the wildlife, and how wildlife is protected within the park.
While wildlife views are not guaranteed, the scenery is breathtaking, and the local guides select the route based on seasonal movements of animals in the area. Our wildlife tour is one of my most favorite memories from our visit to the Canadian Rockies!
#7 Walk Jasper Town
The little alpine town of Jasper is more rustic than Banff: we saw a herd of elk right in town one morning! It’s small, and you can explore it on foot in under an hour.
Jasper used to be a railroad hub, and is today one end for two of three routes the famous Rocky Mountaineer trains with their glass-dome coaches. The routes run between Vancouver and Jasper or Banff / Lake Louise, and are considered some of the most scenic train journeys in the world.
If you visit the town in the earlier part of the day, stop in at the Bear’s Paw Bakery. Their raspberry and white chocolate scones are famous, and their sandwiches make for a great to-go lunch. The coffee is great too!
For a sampling of local cuisine and a walking tour of Jasper, consider this 3-hour food tour that guides you through the sights, along with stories about the town and four stops for food and beverage tastings.
#8 Take a canoe out on Pyramid Lake
If you are in Jasper on a clear bright morning, head to Pyramid Lake for beautiful photos of pyramid Mountain reflected perfectly in the still waters of Pyramid Lake. But even without the reflections, Pyramid Lake is one of the most scenic spots in the park.
At Pyramid Lake, you can hike the lakeshore trail, about 1.25 miles long. Walk the wooden bridge to the island in the lake. Take a canoe or kayak out on to the water. Look for wildlife and birds.
#9 Walk the shore of Lake Annette (or Lake Edith)
There is no shortage of beautiful lakes in Jasper National Park. Lake Annette and Lake Edith, two beautiful lakes we visited, are within easy driving distance of Jasper town.
With picnic tables, sunbathing and diving decks, and trails you can walk, either lake is a great place to spend a few hours enjoying the beautiful scenery. There are sandy beaches from which you can walk into the water, or go swimming if the water is warm enough.
#10 Do a day trip to Mount Robson Provincial Park
If you are in Jasper for a few days, consider a day trip to Mount Robson Provincial Park, which is also part of the Canadian Rockies UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mount Robson is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and a stunning sight when clouds are not obscuring its majesty. The Visitor Center offers great views of the peak, and you can enjoy the wildflower meadow at the foot of the mountain if you visit during the bloom season.
The Yellowhead Highway makes for a gorgeous drive, and you can visit lakes and waterfalls along the route. Start early to allow for time to do a couple of short hikes during the day.
#12 Do a day trip to the Columbia Icefield
While you can stop at the Columbia Icefield as you drive to Jasper or back, a day trip to the icefield is well worth the time if you plan to be in Jasper for a few days.
Start your visit at the Discovery Center, where you can view the exhibits and the short film and look out at the Athabasca Glacier from the grounds of the center.
Next, board the Ice Explorer bus, which will transport you across the ice to the foot of the Athabasca Glacier, where you can alight and walk on the ice! Seeing the glacier up close is awe-inspiring. We saw lots of folks filling up their water bottles with the glacier melt!
Finally, visit the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, a glass-bottomed cliff edge walkway that hangs over the Sunwapta Valley. The views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers and forests are spectacular. If you visit in the morning, you can join a guided tour.
You have a choice of two restaurants for lunch, or you can do what we did: pack a cooler with a picnic lunch that you can enjoy on the grounds of the visitor center.
Getting to the Columbia Icefield DiscoverY Center
If you have a car, you can drive the spectacular Icefields Parkway to the Columbia Icefield and back. If you leave early, you can complete your visit by the afternoon, and return to Jasper for another activity, or make a few stops on the drive.
If you do not wish to drive, opt for a guided tour. This highly rated tour includes the ride to the glacier on the Ice Explorer, admission to the Skywalk, and a hot buffet lunch.
#13 Enjoy a river rafting adventure
River rafting is one of the most popular adventure activities in the summer in Jasper. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, you can find a river rafting expedition suited to your skill level!
If you want a scenic river rafting tour where all you do is sit back and enjoy the views, consider this highly rated 2.5 hour Athabasca River Rafting tour! Licensed guides do the rowing and provide commentary on this fun tour that visitors of all ages can enjoy. You’ll traverse a few small rapids, but it’s mostly smooth sailing.
For a more active rafting adventure that’s still suitable for beginners, check out this tour that starts from the base of the Athabasca Falls and takes you along a number of exciting rapids! This Class 2+ adventure includes 90 minutes on the water.
More experienced rafters will enjoy navigating Class III rapids on the Sunwapta River as part of this highly rated 4 hour tour. Enjoy the beautiful scenery and watch for wildlife on the river banks as you ride the choppy currents!
#14 Be awed by the Athabasca Falls
A magnificent spectacle along the Icefields Parkway near Jasper, the Athabasca Falls are a must-visit. It is not a super tall waterfall, but the sheer force of the water flow will leave you breathless.
Located in the upper portion of the Athabasca River, the falls are at their ferocious best in the spring, when the snow melts. But there’s still lots of water even in the fall, when rivers generally are at their low levels for the year.
Walk the pathways to various viewpoints from where you can snap photos of the powerful falls. You can get close enough to get drenched by the spray! You can also walk down to the actual river, which flows peacefully at the bottom.
#15 Admire the beauty of the Sunwapta Falls
Also located along the Icefields Parkway, the Sunwapta Falls consist of a pair of waterfalls. The Upper Sunwapta Falls are just steps from the parking lot, and the water drops about 60 feet.
To access the Lower Sunwapta Falls, walk the forested trail down: it is about 0.8 mile. The lower falls consist of three beautiful falls.The path is packed dirt, with loose rock and exposed tree roots, so watch your step. The return uphill is not too bad.
Since the Sunwapta Falls are fed by melt from the Athabasca Glacier, they are at their best in late spring and early summer. If you have the time, do the walk down to the Lower Sunwapta Falls, where you’ll find magnificent scenery and fewer people.
#16 Do a scenic drive up Mount Edith Cavell
If you have the time, a half day trip to the top of Mount Edith Cavell is one of the best things to do in Jasper National Park. The drive is super scenic, and the hikes at the top epic.
At 10,800+ feet, Mount Edith Cavell is truly majestic. A narrow winding road, about 9 miles in length, takes you up the mountain to the top, where you can park your car and explore the beautiful area, with its alpine meadows, wildflowers in season, and interesting rock formations.
If you enjoy hiking, you can choose between the Path of the Glacier trail, which is a moderate difficulty, 1 mile round trip, or the much longer Cavell Meadows trail, which is about 4 miles long and also classed as moderate.
We did the Path of the Glacier trail, and thought it was one of the top hikes from our Canadian Rockies visit. The views of the Angel Glacier from the trail are spectacular. Alpine flora, moss, and lichen make for interesting detail along the way.
If you are lucky, you may see ice chunks break and fall during your visit: that is a sight not easily forgotten! Stay on the trail both for your own safety and to protect the delicate environment.
The Cavell Meadows trail features beautiful wildflower meadows in the summer. So if you visit then, you may want to set aside a few hours to do both trails!
#17 Enjoy the Fairmont Spa and discover Lac Beauvert
Even if you do not stay at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, plan on a relaxing treatment at the spa in the resort. A luxurious spa with large windows open to the spectacular surroundings, a treatment here is the perfect way to relax after a day out! You can also enjoy a drink on the lovely terrace.
Located close to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, beautiful Lac Beauvert is worth a visit as well. You can stroll along the shore and take in the beautiful views. On a bright still morning, the reflections of the mountains in the water are breathtaking.
And if you haven’t spotted wildlife elsewhere, you will very likely see elk on the grounds of the lodge, especially if you visit early or late in the day.
#18 Snap a photo of pretty Patricia Lake
There are so many beautiful lakes in Jasper National Park! We visited quite a few during our time in Jasper, among them pretty Patricia Lake, which was right by the Patricia Lake Bungalows, where we stayed. In fact, we had a view of the lake from our unit!
You can walk the shore of Patricia Lake (about 3 miles if you do the full loop), go swimming in the crystal clear waters if it’s warm enough, lounge on the beach, or take a kayak or canoe out on to the lake. Look for birds and wildlife! With Pyramid Mountain as its backdrop, Patricia Lake offers great photo ops.
#19 Enjoy a soak at the Miette Hot Springs
Located about 38 miles northeast of Jasper, Miette Hot Springs are worth the drive even if you do not want to soak. The drive is beautiful, and the pools are set outdoors, with stunning views over the valley.
A relaxing soak in the water (the pools are set at different temperatures so you can pick the one that appeals to you) is an incredibly stress-relieving, calming experience. When we visited, two pools were hot and two were cold.
There is a cafe if you wish to eat or have a drink, and you can also just walk around, enjoying the serenity and beauty all around you. If you wish, you can actually walk up to the source of the springs, where the water is much hotter, at 129 degrees Fahrenheit.
There is a fee for admission, which also gives you access to amenities such as showers and lockers.
#20 Do one (or more) epic Jasper National Park hikes
Whether you’re a novice hiker or an expert, you’ll find trails to hike in Jasper National Park. Hiking is one of the best ways to get up close to the breathtaking scenery around you, whether you stroll around a lake or attempt to scale a summit.
Some of the best trails in the park include the Maligne Canyon trail and the Edith Cavell trails. But there are others you can tackle if you have the time!
The Valley of the Five Lakes is a gorgeous trail that’s just what it reads: a walk along five beautiful alpine lakes. The entire loop is about 2.8 miles, and will take you about 2 to 2.5 hours at an easy pace that allows you to explore along the way, admire the stunning views, and take lots of photos.
For a more challenging hike, try the Opal Hills trail, classed as moderate. A little under 5 miles in length, the trail weaves through pretty alpine meadows, offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains. It does have some steep parts though, so be prepared to do some climbing. This trail is especially beautiful in the early summer, when wildflowers are in bloom.
#21 Enjoy stargazing at night
Jasper National Park is a Dark Sky Preserve, one of under 2 dozen sites in Canada. So if you enjoy being outside in the quiet dark of the night, you will love this park!
Bundle up in layers and head outside to take in the breathtaking spectacle of millions of stars in the dark sky, especially on moonless nights. Brush up on your night photography skills and take photos of the Milky Way!
If you visit in October, you can enjoy the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, with special events through the month at different sites in the park. Some events are free, and others have a fee. You might even see the Northern Lights at this time of year!
#22 Drive the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is the road that connects the village of Lake Louise to the town of Jasper. Officially Alberta Highway 93, the 167-mile route is considered one of the most scenic drives on the planet.
With many beautiful places to stop and explore, the drive is best done over the leisurely course of a full day as you travel north to Jasper or south to Lake Louise and Banff.
I have listed some of the attractions along the Icefields Parkway that are within Jasper National Park, such as the Athabasca Falls, the Sunwapta Falls, and the Columbia Icefield. But the drive itself deserves mention as one of the top Banff or Jasper things to do.
The Icefields Parkway not only offers beautiful scenery and many spectacular natural attractions, but also lots of opportunities to view wildlife. We saw mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and black bear on our Icefield Parkway drives.
If you see vehicles parked by the side of the road, it generally means wildlife has been spotted. If you decide to stop, park well off the road and view from the safety of your car.
If you do not wish to drive, consider this one-way sightseeing trip that takes you along the Icefields Parkway from Banff or Lake Louise to Jasper.
Getting to Jasper
If you are visiting Jasper as part of a Canadian Rockies trip coming from the south, you will likely travel to Jasper from Banff or Lake Louise. If you have a car, take the Trans-Canada Highway from Banff to Lake Louise, and drive the Icefields Parkway north from Lake Louise to Jasper.
Arriving by air
Calgary and Edmonton are the closest international airports, serviced by numerous domestic and international air carriers. You can rent a car at the airport in Calgary or Edmonton and drive to Jasper. Driving distances and drive times in normal traffic are as follows:
Calgary to Jasper: About 257 miles (approximately 5 hours)
Edmonton to Jasper: About 227 miles (approximately 4 hours)
You can arrive by air to Vancouver (British Columbia) as well, and then do a fun road trip from Vancouver to the Canadian Rockies, arriving either in Jasper or Banff.
If you plan to drive to Jasper from Vancouver, note that it’s a long drive, close to 500 miles, with a drive time of about 8.5 hours in normal traffic. You can overnight in Clearwater.
For a much more scenic (but equally long) route, drive from Vancouver to Banff with an overnight stop in Kamloops, and then go north to Jasper via Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway.
Renting a car for your Jasper National Park trip
Renting a car for your trip to Jasper is super convenient with Discover Cars, which allows you to compare prices across multiple car hire companies and pick the car that’s best for you.
We found the roads in Canada well-maintained. Major roads within Jasper National Park are fully paved, and scenic routes have pullouts where you can park to enjoy the views.
If you visit in late spring, summer, or early fall, you should find roads open and free of snow, although weather in the mountains is subject to abrupt changes and you should always check weather conditions and the status of roads just prior to your visit.
While a car is definitely very convenient for exploring Jasper National Park, you can take a shuttle from the airport at Edmonton or Calgary, and then explore via guided tours.
Shuttle from Calgary or Edmonton
If you do not wish to drive, you can take a shared shuttle from Edmonton International Airport to Jasper (or the other way around). The air-conditioned van has plenty of room for luggage.
A shared shuttle transfer service is also available from Calgary International Airport to Jasper, via Banff and Lake Louise.
Arriving by train
If you are traveling from Vancouver to Jasper, consider the Rocky Mountaineer train for a super scenic way to arrive! The luxury train offers glass-dome coaches so you can appreciate the stunning scenery.
You can also travel by VIA Rail Canada to arrive in Jasper by train from Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, or other places in Canada.
Getting around in Jasper
A car is by far the best way to explore Jasper National Park, since major sights are spread out in the large park. With your own car, you can stop along routes to take photos or to enjoy the views, and you can fit a lot more into your time in the park since you are independently mobile.
If you do not wish to drive, you can use a mix of taxis (which tend to add up) and guided tours to explore the park. If you stay close to the town of Jasper you can walk to the bakeries and restaurants.
Where to stay in Jasper
We stayed at the Patricia Lake Bungalows, about 3 miles outside the town of Jasper. Our lakeview cabin was just steps from the lake, so as early risers we could stroll by the shore before breakfast. A great way to start the day!
The cabins are spacious, beds super comfortable, and you can fix breakfast in your cabin if you wish. The grounds are beautiful, with barbecue facilities and canoe rentals in season, and you will very likely encounter wildlife. We saw elk every single day we were there!
There is no onsite dining though, so you have to drive into town to eat, or bring back food to your cabin.
Book a stay here
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge has a beautiful location overlooking Lac Beauvert. The grounds are gorgeous, with lots of room to walk and enjoy the beautiful setting. You can stay in the main lodge, or one of the cabins on the property. I would opt for a standalone cabin facing the lake!
The best time to visit Jasper National Park
While the scenery in Jasper National Park is spectacular all through the year, you should plan to visit in late spring, summer, or early fall if you want to hike, bike, mountain climb, canoe, kayak or raft. In these seasons, you can expect roads and trails to be generally open.
In the late spring and summer, enjoy the abundance of wildflowers in the alpine meadows and along roadways. In the summer, you can swim in the lakes. In the fall, enjoy the changing colors. And when the lakes are fully thawed, you can appreciate their surreal turquoise color in all its magnificence.
July and August are high season in the Canadian Rockies and accommodation prices tend to be at their highest. Reserve your accommodation well ahead of time if you plan to visit during these months. We booked in January for our late June/early July trip.
Winter brings its own list of activities to enjoy in Jasper, from ice skating and ice climbing to cross country skiing and dog sledding. And the park is beautiful when blanketed with snow. But road closures and snowstorms can disrupt travel schedules in the winter, so be prepared for weather-related snafus.
How long should you spend in Jasper?
While you could easily spend a long time enjoying the wild beauty of Jasper National Park, allow for 3 full days to enjoy most of the activities I have described above.
As part of a 2-week trip to the Canadian Rockies, we spent 3 days in Jasper National Park, along with two days driving the Icefields Parkway (once in each direction), and thought that amount of time was just enough to experience the best of the park. If you can afford a couple days more, you can experience all the park has to offer at a slower pace.
Jasper National Park is one among multiple national and provincial parks in the Canadian Rockies, and you can combine your visit to Jasper with some others that appeal to you.
Southeast of Jasper are the village of Lake Louise and the pretty alpine town of Banff. With Banff as your base, you can explore Banff National Park, and do day trips to adjoining Kootenay National Park and Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park.
You’ll find a ton of exciting things to do in Lake Louise, from visiting the world-famous lake of the same name to epic hikes and scenic drives. You can also do a day trip to Yoho National Park in neighboring British Columbia from Lake Louise or Banff.
So there you have it: my suggestions for the best things to do in Jasper, Canada! Have you been? If you have, I would love to read what you thought of this beautiful part of the world: comment below to respond.
If you haven’t yet visited Jasper, I do hope you will plan a visit soon! It really is a spectacularly beautiful place, a place to get away from it all, and I hope you put it on your travel list.
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