Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and is located to the north of Banff National Park in the province of Alberta. The two famous parks border one another with many of their touristy spots located along the highway that connects them. In our Banff Trip Report, we briefly discussed our surprise when we discovered various towns located in Canada’s National Parks. Of course, Jasper was no different. With a variety of restaurants, shops, and hotels located downtown, visitors to the National Park make the town of Jasper their gateway to the many outdoor activities that the park offers.
Derrick and I headed to Jasper on the weekend of our first wedding anniversary, which made our visit to the park that much more special. Our anniversary fell on a Sunday so that Friday we headed (way) south of Jasper to a hot springs hotel to celebrate. Since most of our road trip has been spent house-sitting or camping, the hotel was a relaxing and luxurious way to spend our first anniversary.
Night 1 – Camping on the Saskatchewan River
The next morning, we hit the road early and made our way up to Jasper National Park. The drive from our hotel to the border of Banff/Jasper would take us approximately 4 hours, so we knew we’d be arriving late. Rather than drive all the way to the town of Jasper just to set up camp in the dark, we chose to find a campsite outside of the park boundary before tackling the final leg in the morning. With the help of the trusty iOverlander app, we found an amazing dispersed campsite about 20 minutes outside of the parks.
The site sat just above the banks of the Saskatchewan River and looked out over a stunning mountain range across the way. We’ve camped in some amazing places on this trip, but this one is at the top of the list. Even better than the view, we could finally enjoy our first campfire since arriving in Canada because we were outside of the national park boundaries and were no longer under the fire ban. As we watched a full moon rise over the river, we relaxed by the campfire and enjoyed our first night with heat!
Day 1 – The Icefields Parkway
The next morning, we said a very sad goodbye to our campsite and headed further north toward Jasper. Once you cross the border from Banff National Park to Jasper (about one hour north of where we were camping), Highway 93 then becomes known as “The Icefields Parkway,” aptly named thanks to the hundreds of glaciers that surround the road and valley. Activities on the Icefields Parkway can take a day or two on their own, so we decided to explore the area on our way up to Jasper.
Our first stop was the Icefields Parkway Visitor’s Center, where we quickly learned that glacier tours, the famous skywalk, and an ATV ride onto the ice were far outside our traveler’s budget. If you spend some time on the parkway, we’d recommend budgeting for some of these more touristy activities, although there’s plenty of free ways to explore the area as well. We opted for the free activity known as hiking and hit the trails along the parkway.
Both trails we completed were recommended by a Visitor’s Center employee, and after hiking them, we’d highly recommend them as well. The first was a more touristy hike but is a must-do if you’re in the area. The trail was called “Toe of the Glacier” and literally took you to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, the closest glacier to the highway and Visitor’s Center. It took us about 20 minutes to walk from the parking lot to “the toe”, with only a single steep section between the two.
Along the way, there are small markers beside the trail that show where the glacier ice once reached. The marker right before the parking lot showed the location of the glacier in 1942 before it melted to where it sits today. It was a sober reminder of the effects of climate change, and the markers became harder and harder to look at as we began to realize just how much has melted even in the last 20 years.
Due to crevasses and other glacier hazards, you can’t walk out onto the glacier, but you can walk up to it for a unique point of view. You can even see the tour groups hiking up it, or watch the ATV's drive out to the middle of the ice. This may make you regret not splurging on an adventure, but if you’re on a budget, the next hike we completed will help ease your remorse.
After this short but worthwhile hike, we headed to our actual hiking destination, Wilcox Pass. This is another popular hike, so be sure to arrive early if you want to get a parking spot in the lot. We arrived around 10:30 am on a Sunday and parked right next to the trailhead, but by the time we’d finished about 3.5 hours later, the lot was full and people were parked along the highway for over half a mile. However, even if you’re forced to park along the highway, this day-hike is worth it!
From the trailhead, we instantly begin to climb through a wooded forest before the trail opened to a stunning alpine meadow with 180-degree views of the glaciers. The actual “Wilcox Pass” hike ends at the top of the pass (about one hour from the parking lot) but you can then continue to a peak overlooking the Icefields Parkway, or extend your route by 6 KM and eventually reach a popular waterfall. Since you can see the waterfall from the highway, we opted for the peak and made the final ascent to the summit. Again, this extra 1.5 KM is worth every step because the view from the top will take your breath away, even if you’re in good shape (see what I did there?).
It was impossible to choose just a few pictures from this hike, so SCROLL THROUGH the images below to check them all out!
Knowing that we still had to find a campsite in Jasper, we quickly headed back to the parking lot and began the final trek to downtown. What we didn’t expect was the sheer amount of people once we arrived. As remote as Jasper may seem, it’s clearly not remote enough. We should mention that we’d chosen to visit Jasper on “August Long,” the only long weekend in August. Canada has one long weekend every month during the summer so people can get out and explore! It’s a perk for many reasons, but also a burden when it comes to crowds.
We arrived on Sunday night to full campgrounds and an even more packed downtown. We’d done some research on first-come, first-serve (FCFS) campgrounds before arriving but quickly talked to a Park Ranger who told us that every campground in the park was full for the night. Luckily, the town of Jasper offers an “overflow campground” about two minutes past one of the FCFS campgrounds and we followed the crowds in that direction.
After arriving to what can only be described as a “camping free-for-all,” I had a brief meltdown and decided I’d been too spoiled by some amazing campsites to bring myself to camp in the middle of a gravel lot surrounded by massive RV's. I know, I know, woe-is-me. If the campgrounds in Jasper are full for the night, the overflow lot is a welcome place to set up shop and we were very thankful that the park even offered this accommodation. Again, I’m just campsite-spoiled (we'll catagorize that under "things I never thought I'd say...").
Luckily, one of my family friends knows a whitewater raft guide in Jasper, so we desperately reached out to see if we could crash with her for the night. We’ve made it a point not to burden anyone on our travels, but that night was a must. Fortunately, Kaleigh the raft guide ended up welcoming us without issue and let us crash in her house near downtown. It wasn’t the most romantic way to spend the night of our anniversary, but it sure beats a gravel lot! Moral of the story, don’t visit a popular national park on a long-weekend without making a reservation first. Camping, hotel or otherwise. You’ve been warned!
Day 2 – Maligne Canyon & Lake Annette
We woke up early the next morning and immediately got in-line at the visitor’s center for a parking pass to Mount Edith Cavell. We’d heard from just about everyone that hiking Edith Cavell was a must. However, due to construction to expand parking at the trailhead, access was limited throughout the summer. To regulate the parking flow, Parks Canada was enforcing parking permits which limit the number of people that can park at the trailhead per 3-hour period. So when we arrived at 8:00 am to find over 100 people in line, we weren’t that surprised. If you want to get a pass for a same-day hike, you had to arrive earlier than we did, so we opted for the 11:00 am time slot the following day.
With a pass in-hand and the rest of the day ahead of us, we decided to check out some popular lakes in the area. First up was Maligne Lake, a beautiful but somewhat remote lake outside of downtown Jasper. We’d planned on hiking near the lake, but when we arrived, we realized how lazy we were both feeling and asked the tour guides to point us in the direction of a beach. After taking some quick pictures at the beautiful but crowded Maligne Lake, we took the advice of the guides and headed back toward Jasper to check out Lake Annette.
We made a quick pit stop at Maligne Canyon to get our hiking fix and enjoyed the short but challenging hike along this natural wonder. Maligne Canyon features a trail with a series of bridges that cross it so you can plan your hike based on the bridges you want to reach. We completed five of the six bridges, but the trail was crowded throughout because you can drive and park next to many of them. We’d recommend checking this trail out if you go on a weekday.
Finally, we arrived at Lake Annette around mid-afternoon and found a beautiful sandy beach next to another one of Canada’s unbelievably blue lakes. I’ve decided that “Unbelievable Blue” is the official color of most Canadian lakes because we truly can’t believe the color every time we see them. We spent the afternoon lounging on the beach and swimming in the pristine lake. After a rough night of sleep (we’d gotten used to our Jeep platform!), it was just the type of lazy day we needed.
We’d also made the best use of our early morning wake-up call and driven out to one of the FCFS campgrounds, called Snaring Campground, after getting our pass to Edith Cavell. Since it was Monday, we found a vacated site and staked our claim before heading out to the lakes. This made us very excited to get back to camp after Lake Annette, and we spent the rest of the night exploring the campground and watching the incredible sunset over the Snaring river.
Day 3 – Hiking Mount Edith Cavell
We took advantage of our late-morning arrival time at Edith Cavell and caught up on some sleep the next morning. After enjoying breakfast and coffee at the campsite, we started the 1.5-hour trek south of Jasper to the Edith Cavell trailhead.
You’re probably wondering why there is a mountain in Jasper with a first and last name. Mount Edith Cavell is named after a heroic British nurse who is credited with saving many lives in WWII. It’s a strangely formal name for a mountain, but it grew on us after spending over 4 hours hiking around it. Edith Cavell is also home to Angel Glacier, a massive and active glacier that we could hear thundering in the distance throughout our hike. We even saw a large chunk of ice break off at one point which was both impressive and terrifying at the same time.
The Mount Edith Cavell loop trail begins with wooded switch backs and ends in an alpine meadow surrounded by towering mountains and glaciers. The official or "marked" trail is not too much of a challenge and the view points along the trail make excellent resting places to enjoy your surroundings. We even saw a Marmot and some beautiful gray birds of which I, unfortunately, can't remember the name (scroll through the images below to check one out).
SCROLL THROUGH TO SEE ALL IMAGES
After hiking to the third viewpoint, we realized that enough ambitious hikers had added to the trail and carved a route up to a nameless summit with 360 views of Jasper National Park.
“We’re already up here, let’s just do it!” said Derrick, and I soon found myself dragging my out-of-shape lungs up to 8,000 ft. That’s a laughable elevation for anyone that’s hiked in Colorado, but when you start at 4,000 ft., it’s tough (I swear!). Of course, the views made the ass-kick worth it and we could see all the way to downtown Jasper from the summit.
SCROLL THROUGH TO SEE ALL IMAGES
Knowing the 4:00 pm wave of permit-holders would be arriving shortly, we started making our way back to the parking lot after taking thousands of pictures of the amazing views from the top. Even with the early wake-up call to obtain a permit, hiking Mount Edith Cavell is worth the extra effort (are you sensing a theme here?). We recommend getting an early morning or late afternoon permit to avoid the crowds, but if you decide to hike to the summit, you won’t deal with many people anyway.
That night, we took a much-needed shower at Jasper’s famous all-in-one laundromat, shower facility, and wifi café. It was a pretty cool spot and perfect for us wayward travelers. We then treated ourselves to dinner on the rooftop patio of the Jasper Pizza Place before calling it another early night at Snaring Campground.
If you can’t tell already, we enjoyed our stay at Snaring and would recommend this affordable, FCFS campground to anyone visiting Jasper. It fills up quickly on the weekends, so take a Friday off - or quit your jobs entirely, like us ;) - and arrive during the week to ensure you get a spot. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in the overflow gravel lot with the other non-planners!
We left Jasper National Park feeling like we hadn’t spent nearly enough time there. Sadly, this has been the case with most of the places we’ve visited in Canada. Jasper offers so many outdoor adventures to choose from that you could easily fill two weeks with activities. We packed what we could into three-days before heading off to our next house-sitting destination in the Okanagan Lakes region of British Columbia. If you haven’t visited Jasper National Park, add it to your bucket list and plan to spend at least a week in this wild and rugged outdoor playground. Of course, the adventures I’ve listed in this trip report are a good place to start ;).