The Jasper Dark Sky Festival in Jasper, Alberta, is an out-of-this-world experience you won’t want to miss! Imagine a weekend filled with stargazing, live music, fascinating astronomy talks, and the chance to witness the stunning beauty of the night sky in one of the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserves. Whether you’re a seasoned astronomer or simply a lover of the cosmos, this festival offers something for everyone. Explore the mysteries of the universe through powerful telescopes, embark on celestial-themed hikes, and even enjoy the opportunity to meet renowned scientists and space experts. Plus, the charming mountain town of Jasper provides the perfect backdrop for your cosmic adventure.
So, if you’re looking for a unique and enchanting getaway that’s truly “out of this world,” mark your calendar for the Jasper Dark Sky Festival and prepare to be starstruck!
What is a Dark Sky Preserve?
Dark-Sky Preserves are protected areas that make a special commitment to protect and preserve the night, reducing or eliminating light pollution in all forms. Many plants, wildlife and insects rely on darkness to forage, breed and navigate so protecting the dark sky not only provides a magical experience for you, but it also protects ecosystems!
Jasper became an official Dark Sky Preserve in 2011 and is one of 17 designated Dark Sky Preserves in Canada. Jasper is also the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world and the largest accessible Dark Sky Preserve – meaning there’s a town within the limits of the preserve.
Things to Do at the Jasper Dark Sky Festival
After years of wanting to experience the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, we finally made it happen in October 2023. It’s not like anyone needs an excuse to visit the beautiful town of Jasper, but when it includes the chance to experience the world’s largest accessible Dark Sky preserve while getting a deeper look and appreciation of everything that surrounds this place we called Earth, it’s a wonderful time to visit.
The Jasper Dark Sky Festival takes place over three weekends every October. You’ll want to visit their website to see the weekend activities and decide when you want to go. You could also stay the entire three weeks and truly soak up one of the most beautiful places in the world. October is, after all, a great time to visit. While some of the warm weather activities are no longer available and the winter activities are yet to begin, Fall brings nice cool temperatures, autumn colours, and fewer people. The sun also drops below the horizon earlier than in the summer, allowing you to start gazing at the stars much earlier. October also tends to be a good month to potentially see the Northern Lights, which we were lucky enough to spot this time around.
All in all, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival offers a wide range of activities and experiences for attendees to enjoy. Here are some of the top things to do during your next visit.
Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the night sky in one of the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserves. This is the cornerstone of this popular festival. You can wait until nighttime and just admire the stars from the streets of Jasper or you can partake in one of the many offered activities, such as joining guided stargazing sessions where you can observe celestial wonders through powerful telescopes and learn about constellations, planets, and distant galaxies.
Some of the activities typically offered include a Planetarium Dome Theatre Experience, a Telescope Experience, a Geocaching Dark Sky Treasure Hunt, and a special trip up to the top of a mountain, which we’ll talk about below.
Jasper SkyTram Star Sessions
The Jasper SkyTram Star Sessions experience deserves its own category because it truly is a unique way to experience the dark skies of Jasper. The Jasper SkyTram takes guests up a whopping 2,263 metres to the top of Whistler’s Mountain, which provides easy access to a boardwalk and hiking trails in the alpine zone of the Canadian Rockies. This summer attraction closes down in the late fall and typically doesn’t run at night. During the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, however, guests can purchase tickets to Star Sessions, which includes a trip up the mountain just before sunset, a 3-course dinner at the top, and the opportunity to witness the dark sky from the top of a mountain.
For us, this was truly the highlight of our trip. There’s nothing quite like experiencing a sunset from the top of a mountain but also being able to gaze through powerful telescopes above the town and, in our case, see the Northern Lights above the mountains, is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Another really interesting and unique attraction of the Jasper Dark Sky Festival is having the opportunity to listen to informative and engaging talks by renowned astronomers and space experts. These sessions provide fascinating insights into the cosmos, the latest discoveries, and the mysteries of the universe.
During our visit, we enjoyed the Science For Breakfast event with Erich Karkoschka, a Planetary Scientist who taught us to observe deep-sky objects in the night sky, whether using the naked eye, binoculars, or a large telescope. we learned about the type of information needed to find deep-sky objects, how to locate objects using finder charts, and which observing techniques are needed to see enhanced details.
Numerous other breakfast, lunch, and brunch events feature many other interesting people, such as professional photographers, astronomers, artificial intelligence experts, and more.
You’ve probably seen some incredible photographs if you’re inspired to look up at the dark sky. Thankfully, you can learn the art of capturing the night sky through photography while attending the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. Experienced photographers will guide you through the techniques to take stunning images of stars, planets, and the Milky Way, teaching you how to work your way up to those amazing photos we’ve all been inspired by.
Here are some Night Sky photography tips to get you started:
- Exposure: Exposure should sit around 15-25 seconds. When you shoot 30 seconds or longer, you may see small star trails.
- White Balance: Set your white balance to tungsten or fluorescent as auto balance tends to create an orange night sky.
- Format: RAW is always best if you want to maximize your editing options.
- Settings: When there’s not a lot of moonlight, you can use ISO 1600 or 3200 and a 25-second exposure with f/2.8 or 30 seconds with f/4.
Science and Space Exhibits
As we explored the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, I couldn’t help but imagine how much the characters in The Big Bang Theory would have loved it. This is because you can explore interactive exhibits and displays that showcase the wonders of astronomy, space exploration, and the science behind the cosmos.
One very popular activity, especially for kids, is the chance to build a little rocket and launch it in front of spectators. This is put on by The Edmonton Rocketry Club (ERC), which is dedicated to the promotion of model rocketry as a hobby. For just $20, you’re given a rocket kit that you can build right away and prepare to launch. Rocket Building sessions typically take place on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings before launching them from Commemoration Park in the afternoon. In addition, you can see a large display of rockets of various sizes and designs, and watch them be launched as well.
Another great event is Sciencefest, which is presented by TELUS World of Science. Also held in Commemoration Park, kids will love to learn and participate in a bunch of science experiments, such as standing on light bulbs, firing a ping pong ball through a can, bouncing an egg and launching a water-powered rocket.
Events can change but as you can see, kids and adults alike can get their science and space fix at the Jasper Dark Sky Festival.
Guided Nighttime Hikes
With so many world-class hiking trails nearby, this is your chance to embark on guided hikes under the starry sky, where you can enjoy the tranquillity of the forest and the magical ambiance of the dark skies. Some hikes are led by astronomy experts who share their knowledge as you walk.
One of the night hikes at this year’s event was called Animals of the Night Hike, a family-friendly night hike up on Pyramid Bench. This hike combined the opportunity to learn all about the local nocturnal wildlife while enjoying a scenic 4km route. If you’ve never experienced hiking under the stars, this is a great chance to do it with a guide and other people, making it a safer and more enjoyable experience.
Concerts and Entertainment
Another great part about the Jasper Dark Sky Festival is the live music performances and entertainment that add a festive atmosphere to the event. Musicians and artists often incorporate celestial themes into their acts, which adds to the experience.
One of the musical events that we attended was ᐸᐦᑭᓯᒧᐣ Pahkisimon, a free Indigenous celebration held on the shores of beautiful Lake Annette, starting just before sunset with a ceremonial tipi raising followed by teaching, hand-drumming and a song by Warrior Women. We witnessed everything from Indigenous rap to a community pow-wow drumming session. One of the events we wish we could have experienced is Symphony Under the Stars, which featured the magic of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Strings, amplified by the Rocky Mountains, under thousands of twinkling stars, all next to the illustrious Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.
Workshops and Family Activities
Participate in hands-on workshops, family-friendly activities, and educational programs that cater to all ages. These activities make learning about space and astronomy fun and accessible to everyone. Some of these workshops and activities include Sciencefest, Planetarium experiences, and much more.
Instead of fireworks, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival features drone shows on some evenings, showcasing beautiful patterns in the sky, all created by synchronized drones. This is often a favourite for adults and kids alike.
Eat Your Heart Out
Another great thing about visiting Jasper is the array of restaurants, bars, and dining options, some of which create dark-sky-themed drinks and other items. You’ll find everything from fine dining to fast food, making it very easy to tantalize your tastebuds every day. Some of our favourites include:
- Jasper Pizza Place: This place is known for making the best pizza in town and it did not disappoint. The star attractions are pizzas from their wood burning and traditional ovens. However, they also serve burgers, pasta, salads, steaks and an array of appetizers including wings, fresh salsa & chips, and calamari.
- Terra: Terra, which is inspired by the rawness of Jasper, is one of our favourite restaurants in all of Alberta. Locally farmed and foraged fare is at the heart of what they do and everything from brunch to dinner is delicious. Like the seasons, their menus are constantly changing to incorporate natural, local ingredients.
- Jasper Brewing Company: If you’re looking for a tasty meal with equally delicious beer, you should stop by Jasper’s National Park Brewery. Six signature beers are brewed on-site, using only the best premium hops and malts combined with their very own cultured yeast strains. Our favourite beer was the Tangerine Dream and our favourite meal during our visit was the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich.
You can learn more about other restaurants and activities in our detailed guide to the best things to do in Jasper.
Scenic Beauty of Jasper
While not directly part of the festival, you simply must take some time to explore the stunning landscapes and wildlife of Jasper National Park during the day. The breathtaking natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies will leave you in awe.
Some of the sights and activities we recommend are:
- Driving the Icefields Parkway: Known as one of the best road trips in the world, the drive between Jasper and Lake Louise should be high on your bucket list. You’ll pass by spectacular views, stunning glacial lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, and more. Make sure you stop along the way at sights such as Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, Tangle Creek Falls, Peyto Lake, and the Athabasca Glacier.
- Winter Wildlife Discovery Tour: If you’re keen on seeing wildlife and don’t have your vehicle (or would like a knowledgeable guide), you can take a wildlife tour with SunDog Tours where you’ll learn about the history, geology and ecology of the area, and be able to ask questions and take photographs of the striking landscapes. Winter is a unique time of year for wildlife in the park with elk, deer, big-horned sheep, goats, coyotes, wolves, moose, foxes and lynx roaming around. If you’re lucky, you may just capture some on camera to share with your envious friends! During our tour, we saw two moose!
- Maligne Canyon: This beautiful canyon is only 15 minutes from the town and is the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park, with a depth of more than 50 metres at certain points. Hikers of all abilities can explore this incredible natural landmark by crossing six bridges built across various points of the canyon. For those looking for a gentle hike, head over the First and Second bridges. The Second Bridge is the highest point of the canyon, standing more than 50 metres above the water.
- Valley of the Five Lakes: This hike is a nice gradual walk that passes five different coloured lakes, it is suitable for just about everyone as there are loop trails ranging from 3km-9km and there is minimal elevation gain. If you’re comfortable, do the entire 9km loop around all five lakes, if little legs on little people get tired we can make the tour a little bit shorter to keep everyone happy and still enjoy the spectacular views and the beautiful lakes.
- Old Fort Point Loop: Discover this 3.7-km loop trail near Jasper, Alberta. It is generally considered a moderately challenging route. This is a very popular area for birding, hiking, and road biking, so you’ll likely encounter other people while exploring. The best times to visit this trail are March through October.
Where is the Best Place to See the Night Sky in Jasper
One of the benefits of watching the night sky from Jasper is that you can see it from anywhere. Even from the town itself, you should be able to see the Milky Way. However, it’s always best to avoid all the light pollution, so with that in mind, some of the best places to see the night sky from Jasper is:
- Lake Annette: Located near the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, this beautiful lake is surrounded by mountains.
- Old Fort Point: Located 2 km south of Jasper, this is another great spot to admire the dark skies.
- Maligne Lake: This destination requires a 1-hour drive, as it sits 48 km southeast of Jasper. The highway is also known for wildlife, so be cautious driving at night and take your time.
- Pyramid Island: Located just past Pyramid Lake Resort, this location is 7 km north of Jasper.
- Medicine Lake: Located 25 km southeast of Jasper, this is another great spot to see the stars.
- Jasper Planetarium: You’ll find the Jasper Planetarium at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, which is 7 km southeast of Jasper.
How to Get to Jasper
Jasper is one of those rare places where simply getting there is part of the experience. Jasper is located approximately 365 km (four-hour drive) southwest of Edmonton, Alberta. This is where the closest international airport can be found. However, the best way to arrive would be via the Icefields Parkway, which is known as one of the most beautiful road trips in the world. The Icefields Parkway stretches from Lake Louise in Banff National Park to Jasper National Park. This is also the highway you would take if you’re coming from Calgary, which is about 415 km (a five-hour drive). Please keep in mind that if you drive the Icefields Parkway, you will want significantly more time to stop off and see the many sights, such as glaciers and waterfalls. I would allow 2-3 additional hours at least. In addition, the Icefields Parkway can be treacherous in the winter months and occasionally closed due to avalanches. You also need winter tires as it is mandatory from November to April.
By now, I hope I’ve inspired you to add this festival to your Canadian bucket list. The Jasper Dark Sky Festival offers a fantastic blend of education, entertainment, and natural beauty, making it a must-attend event for anyone with an interest in astronomy and a love for the cosmos.
Where to Stay
There are many hotels to choose from in Jasper, including luxury options like the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. You can easily search Expedia for the best options, but if you’re looking for something right in town that’s perfect for the family, we can recommend Bear Hill Lodge. We had a cabin with two rooms side-by-side, a full kitchen, and a fireplace.
For more things to do in Jasper and beyond, check out our other travel guides below: