Last updated: November 8th, 2020
Located a little further off the “beaten track”, Jasper is like a smaller, more local Banff. Nestled at the north end of the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park, Jasper is surrounded by vast valleys, towering mountain peaks, and hordes of wildlife. If you’re looking for a quieter version of Banff, this is it.
Just like Banff, Jasper is an epic destination for outdoor enthusiasts. You’ll find Alberta’s tallest mountain, stunning Maligne Lake and Instagram-famous Spirit Island, the world’s second-largest dark sky preserve, more than 1,200 kilometres of hiking trails, and the incredible Jasper SkyTram. There’s also a variety of delicious restaurants, accommodation, and souvenir shops – everything a traveller could possibly want.
In this guide, we’ll describe all the things to do in Jasper so that you can plan the best trip ever.
Where is Jasper, Alberta?
Jasper is right at the intersection between Yellowhead Highway and the Icefields Parkway. It’s about 365 kilometres from Edmonton, 288 kilometres from Banff, and 413 kilometres from Calgary.
Jasper has a population of around 5,200 people and Jasper National Park receives around 2.5 million visitors each year. Yes, it’s a popular place.
Getting to Jasper
For those travelling to Jasper, you can only go by road. There is no airport. The closest airport is Edmonton International Airport (YEG) as well as the Calgary International Airport (YYC), which isn’t much further away.
There are a variety of options for getting to Jasper, including car, bus, rideshare, or even the train. There are car rental companies in Jasper as well, though it’s much better to rent one before you get here.
Edmonton is the closest city if you’re looking for the most direct route, but Calgary is also a great option as it’s very close to Banff as well. We’ll go over that below.
Getting to Jasper by Car
Like most of Canada, getting around with a vehicle is the most convenient option. It’s a huge country and both Jasper National Park and Banff National Park are big places, which means a lot of driving. However, they’re also incredibly scenic and there’s no shortage of places to stop off and let your jaws drop.
Note: Driving in the mountains is fairly straightforward but does come with some caution. First and foremost, there is a lot of wildlife in this area. This is great for spotting bears and elk, but not so great if you run into one. In addition, there might be heavy traffic in the summer, whereas the winter presents icy conditions. Be alert and drive safe.
Edmonton to Jasper: Jasper is approximately 365 kilometres from downtown Edmonton. The fastest route is heading almost entirely west, taking highway AB 16 all the way to Jasper. It takes approximately 4-hours without stopping.
Calgary to Jasper: Jasper is approximately 413 kilometres from downtown Calgary. The fastest route here also happens to be one of the most scenic routes in the world. You’d link up with the Trans-Canada Highway towards Banff and once you hit Lake Louise, you’d jump on the famous Icefields Parkway and continue north until you arrive in Jasper. This drive takes 5 hours, but in all honesty, you should allow yourself 10 hours to fully enjoy all the scenic stops along the way.
Jasper to Vancouver: Vancouver is approximately 800 kilometres from Jasper and takes approximately 9 hours without stopping. This is also a scenic drive so if you’re hoping to stop off along the way, you may want to add in some extra days and enjoy other places along the way.
Banff to Jasper: Driving from Banff to Jasper is around 288 kilometres as Jasper is at the opposite end of the Icefields Parkway. The drive takes 3-hours if you don’t stop, but if it’s your first time (or second or third or fourth), you might be inclined to stop half a dozen times. I’d allow at least 6 hours to enjoy it or even more if you plan on doing some light hikes along the way.
Getting to Jasper By Train
Thanks to the Jasper VIA Rail Station, there’s actually a couple of options for arriving by train. VIA Rail has a direct route from Edmonton to Jasper that takes around 6.5 hours and runs every day. There’s also a VIA Rail route from Vancouver to Jasper, which takes around 19 hours.
Another option is the Rocky Mountaineer, which also goes from Vancouver to Jasper but not as a direct route. The Rocky Mountaineer is actually a luxury tour that stops in Lake Louise. The one-way trip can take anywhere from 2-4 days and is much more expensive than VIA Rail.
Getting to Jasper by Bus
If you’re not up for getting a car but still want to enjoy the scenery, taking the bus is probably the best option. Jasper isn’t as serviced as Banff but there are still a few options for bus services:
Sundog Tours: This tour company offers bus service to Jasper from both Calgary International Airport and from Edmonton International Airport. This plus side of going from Calgary is that you’d arrive via the Icefields Parkway. The cost is approximately $89.
Cold Shot: This relatively new bus company has a range of options with one of them being Edmonton to Jasper. It costs approximately $55.
As of now, there is no longer any direct service from Vancouver to Jasper. However, there are options for going from Vancouver to Banff. Once in Banff, you can find a way to get to Jasper, including with Sundog Tours. Busbud is a good option for searching and comparing different buses.
Jasper Park Pass
Jasper National Park, like all national parks in Canada, requires a Park Pass to enter.
The current daily fees are:
Youth (up to 17 yo): FREE
Family/group (up to 7 people): $19.60
Commercial group (per person): $8.30
The daily passes expire at 4 pm the following day. If you’re exploring any national park in Canada for more than 6-7 days, you’ll definitely want to consider a yearly Discovery Pass, which offers access to all national parks and historic sites for an entire year.
Current fees are as follows:
Getting Around Jasper
Although the town of Jasper can probably be walked in less than two hours, it’s all the other sights in the area that require some mode of transportation.
Rent a car: Driving a car will give you the best opportunity to schedule your own trip and see everything in the area. Options are limited in Jasper but you can rent a car from Budget or National. If you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll probably want to book well in advance. Even better, book one in Calgary or Edmonton and drive here.
Cycling: Bikes can be rented in all seasons from the Bench Bike Shop. The warmer months are obviously much better but fat-tire biking is catching on rather quickly in the winter months. There are many trails in the area but make sure you have enough time to visit certain sites and please ask about wildlife in the area. Even on a bike, you can’t “outrun” a bear.
Shuttles: If you don’t have a car and you want to get to some of the distant natural attractions, you will need to take a shuttle. These are run by tour companies and include guides who can give you quality information about the sites you’re visiting.
Taxi: There are also a number of taxi companies in Jasper, including Mountain Express Taxi, Mr.Taxi, and Caribou Cabs. It won’t be cheap to go far distances but it is an option if you need it.
Weather in Jasper (Best Times to Visit Jasper)
Jasper is a year-round destination. However, most people visit between June and late September. Some lodges close down after October. We actually love visiting in the fall, as it’s slightly quieter and the fall colours are beautiful.
Like Banff, Jasper is warm in the summer (roughly +20 Celcius in the day) and cold in the winter (roughly – 25 Celcius in the day). Nights are much cooler than in the day. If you’re into skiing, winter is a good time to visit. If you’re not a skier, the warmer months are a much better time to visit, as there are a lot more things happening.
What To Do in Jasper
Alright. Now for the most important part. All the fun, incredible, and beautiful things to do in Jasper National Park. If you’re looking for world-class shopping, you are in the wrong place. If you’re looking for world-class mountain scenery, this is the place to be!
One cannot simply visit Jasper without visiting the Jasper SkyTram and riding Canada’s highest, longest, guided aerial tramway. It’s only a 7-minute journey to the top, but once there you’ll be greeted to some of the best views of Jasper and the surrounding area from an elevation of 2,263 metres. From here, you ca n continue hiking up to the summit for even more impressive views or take it easy at the Summit Restaurant.
One of the most popular sites near Jasper is beautiful Maligne Lake. This is the largest glacially-fed lake in the Canadian Rockies and is also home to the Insta-famous Spirit Island. Most people come here to take the 90-minute Maligne Lake boat tour to the island while learning about the history of the area, as well as its geology, wildlife, flora, and fauna. You could also bring your own canoe or kayak if you have one, or even go hiking. Please note that Maligne Lake is almost 50 kilometres from the town of Jasper and takes about an hour or so to get there. The scenery along the way is spectacular so throw in some more time and enjoy it.
On your way back to town from Maligne Lake, do stop and do the hike into Maligne Canyon. If you’re too tired, no problem. Maligne Canyon is only 10 minutes from town, making it an easy place to return. This is a fairly simple hike that takes through the canyon, past waterfalls, and into the thick pine forest. It’s beautiful.
It’s not too often you visit a place where wildlife is one of the main attractions. This is one of the things that makes Jasper so special. On all of our trips thus far, we’ve seen dozens of Elk, deer, and Canadian Geese. However, you may also see grizzly bears, moose, cougars, mountain goats, and more. In our experience, we’ve seen them right in the town or right next to our cabin at Becker’s Chalets. However, you could also go on a guided tour to more secluded areas. Important note: Wildlife is wild. Please do not approach them. Deaths have occurred in the mountain parks due to people getting out of their car and getting closer to wild animals in hopes of a better photo. Bears are often the most feared but elk can be even more dangerous. Admire from a distance.
If you didn’t stop at Athabasca Falls while driving the Icefields Parkway, you certainly want to make it here before you leave. It’s also one of the most popular stops in the area due to its natural beauty. It’s not a high waterfall but it’s very powerful and very beautiful.
Almost in the middle of the Icefields Parkway is the world-famous Columbia Icefields – the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. There’s a variety of ways to enjoy them too. You can simply admire them from the highway or you can jump on an Ice Explorer tour and drive right on the glacier for a chance to walk on it and even sip some fresh glacier water. There are also walking tours for those looking for more adventure. In addition, there’s the incredible Columbia Icefield Skywalk, which gives you the chance of walking out onto a glass platform that sits 918 feet (280 metres) from the valley bottom.
Dark Sky Preserve
If you love stargazing, Jasper is one of the best places in the country. There are 17 Dark Sky Preserves in Canada and Jasper is one of the darkest. This is because light pollution is so limited here that you can see the stars in all their glory. You may even see the milky way! If looking up at the dark sky is very important to you, you may want to time your visit for the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival in October. There are even speakers, ranging from NASA astronauts to celebrities.
As you can imagine, Jasper is an ideal place to get into water sports such as kayaking, canoeing, and whitewater rafting. Whether you opt for a lake or river, this is a great way to get into nature and admire the stunning surroundings. If you have your own, you’re pretty much free to go, but if you don’t, there’s a number of companies in the area that offer tours for all skill levels.
Miette Hot Springs
If you’re looking to sit back and relax in a natural hot spring, this is the closest one to Jasper. It’s located about 1 hour from Jasper on the road to Edmonton. With water temperatures kept steady between 37 and 40ºC, the Miette Hot Springs is actually the hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies!
Hiking in Jasper
Jasper is one of the top destinations in the world for hiking. Whether you’re looking for a simple day hike or a multi-day expedition, Jasper has it all. There are many different trails that take you to or through vast valleys, stunning lakes, and gorgeous mountain scenery. The warmer months are best but you can also hike in the winter if you have the proper equipment.
Golfing in Jasper
We’re not big golfers but we were surprised to hear that Jasper is home to Canada’s #1 golf resort. Then again, it’s easy to imagine why. Who wouldn’t want to golf in the middle of Jasper National Park, surrounded by mountain peaks and thick pine forest? It’s located at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club.
Things to Do in Jasper in the Winter
Jasper is beautiful in both the summer and the winter. Many of the activities mentioned above (such as hiking, hot springs, etc) are available in the winter as well, but its also home to winter-only activities, which we’ll get into below.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Without a doubt, skiing and snowboarding are the most popular activities in the winter months. However, there’s only one resort: Marmot Basin. That’s not a bad thing though. Marmot Basin offers 1,720 acres of varied terrain, 3,000 vertical feet of prime powder, and more than 90 runs! It’s only 20-minutes from Jasper, making it a very convenient mountain to visit. It’s also not nearly as busy as the big resorts near Banff.
Many people dream of going on a dog sled ride so why not do it to the backdrop of the mighty Canadian Rockies? It’s a wonderful experience not only to see the scenery but to be towed by eager dogs wanting to get some exercise. There’s a variety of tours to choose from and they range from a quick 1-hour jaunt all the way to a full 5-hour excursion.
Maligne Canyon Icewalk
While Maligne Canyon is a beautiful place to hike in the summer months, it’s even more magical when it freezes over. Just 10-minutes from the town of Jasper, you can wander through the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park and admire the ice climbers who make their way up large vertical sheets of ice. If doing the hike on your own, make sure to wear the proper footwear. If it’s very icy, you may want ice cleats on the bottom of your shoes. Another popular place to see similar scenery is Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park.
Where to Sleep in Jasper
Jasper had all sorts of accommodation options ranging from luxury to rustic. There’s also a plethora of camping options in the summer months.
Budget: For the ultimate budget and nature experience, camping is one of the best options in the warmer months. You can book online via Parks Canada and choose from an array of stunning campgrounds. There’s also hostels such as Hi-Athabasca Falls, and Hi-Maligne Canyon.
Mid-Range: The only place we’ve ever stayed at in Jasper (we just keeping coming back) is Becker’s Chalets, which are located about 10-minutes south of Jasper along the Icefields Parkway. We like them because they’re right next to the river and offer cabins with full kitchens. Every morning, we’d look out the window in the massive field and see elk or Canadian geese. It’s a great spot, especially for families or couples. However, there are many other options for where to stay in Jasper.
Luxury: Without a doubt, the most luxurious option is the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. This luxurious hotel has 8 on-site restaurants, a spa, and one of the most popular golf courses in the country.
Airbnb: As always, Airbnb is another option for finding accommodation as well. If you haven’t signed up for Airbnb yet, use this link to get a discount on your first stay!
Where to Eat in Jasper
Due to high tourism, Jasper has a number of very good restaurants to choose from. We haven’t tried all of them yet, but we’ll list some of our favourites below:
Syrahs of Jasper: This is one of the highest-rated restaurants in Jasper. We come here each time we visit because it’s just so darn good. It’s one of those places you need a lot of time for. Expect 2-hours minimum to fully experience this fine-dining restaurant. It’s also quite small but the ambiance is very intimate and the service is impeccable. They offer “Canadian food” and the menu is prepared daily. Whatever you do though, you must try their White Chocolate Goat Cheesecake. MmmMMMmm. Want 2-for-1 Dessert? Check our new Canada Saver Card.
The Raven Bistro: If you’re looking for a great place to have lunch (or dinner) The Raven Bistro is another stellar option. The Buffalo Chicken Wafflewich is mouth-watering delicious. Although the Spiced Lamb Burger was also very good.
Evil Dave’s Grill: Another place we’ve tried is Evil Dave’s Grill, which is another great place for dinner. I’ll always remember their coconut battered shrimp and their bison and wild boar bacon meatloaf. (Update: Evil Dave’s is currently closed until they find a new place to operate)
If you’re a foodie, you may want to partake in a food tour with Jasper Food Tours. They’ll take you on a 3-hour feast to 5 surprise restaurants. how can you go wrong?
Things To Do Around Jasper
It would be one of the worst mistakes you could make in life to come to Jasper and not drive the Icefields Parkway. Yes, it’s that SPECTACULAR. From Banff to Jasper or Jasper to Banff, it’s truly mind-blowing and is easily one of the best road trips in Canada. Watch our Icefields Parkway Video for more information.
This little town is known as the “Gateway to the Rockies” and is a wonderful place to see beavers! All you have to do is walk their 3-km Beaver Boardwalk around Maxwell Lake.
If you do drive down the Icefields Parkway and want to take a side trip, head to Abraham Lake via highway 11. This is a great place to spot wildlife and in the winter, it’s one of the most photographed lakes due to the frozen methane bubbles beneath the surface. It’s spectacular to see. Plus, you can also take an incredible helicopter tour over the mountains with Rockies Heli.
Want to EXPLORE more of CANADA? Check out these articles below:
- Things To Do in Banff
- Things To Do in Calgary
- Things To Do in Canmore
- Things To Do in British Columbia
- Things To Do in Alberta
- 3-Day Jasper Itinerary
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