Posted by: James Shannon | February 24, 2010

5 Essential Destinations You Must Visit In Jasper National Park, Canada

Inspired by the comment that Jarred Alexandrov of The Upside Down Life left on the previous post Picture of The Week: Maligne Lake from 1000 Feet Up, I have decided to dedicate this next post to the top attractions that Jasper National Park has to offer.  This park, part of one of the largest UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Canadian Rockies) in the world, has much to offer any visitor, from rugged backcountry hikers to those who prefer luxury and comfort.

(1) Maligne Lake (disclosure: I work as a boat driver for Maligne Lake)

Spirit Island, Maligne Lake

Boasting the 2nd most photographed spot in the Canadian Rockies, Maligne Lake stands out as the brightest gem in Jasper Park’s crown.  This aquamarine beauty is the largest glacial lake in the Canadian Rockies, spanning 22 km (14 miles) to the southeast, 2 km (1.25 miles) at its widest point, and averaging depths of 50 metres (~150 feet) to 97 metres (318 feet) at its deepest point, which is just located just behind the star attraction of the 90 minute boat tours, Spirit Island.

Canoe docked near Sinking Ship Ridge, Maligne Lake

In addition to boat tours, you can paddle along the detailed shoreline in a canoe, kayak, or rowboat: all are available for rent at the boathouse on site.  In the photo above, I took this canoe to a hidden cove in the shadow of a peak named Sinking Ship Ridge. 

(2) Jasper Tramway

Jasper Tramway from the Whistler’s Mountain summit trail

When strolling around Jasper, you might glance upward and spot a structure on top of a pimple-shaped mountain; no it isn’t The Eye of Sauron, it’s the top station of the Jasper Tramway, the best and least strenuous way to get a bird’s eye view of the Athabasca Valley, the Town of Jasper, and all the surrounding peaks and mountain ranges.  If it’s a clear day, you might be able to see Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Rockies from the summit of Whistler’s Peak.

Whistler’s summit trail; only 1 km and 400 feet elev. gain  to the summit from here!

To get that view however, you need to work for it!  After enjoying the view, cinch up your hiking shoes and hit the Whistler’s summit trail; you may have to sweat to reach your destination, but put it in perspective: some of your fellow hikers have been on this path from the base of the mountain (instead of taking the tram)!  Ensure that you are prepared though: take plenty of drinking water, sunscreen, warm and waterproof clothing, and protect your eyes using UV-protective sunglasses, as the alpine environment possesses cooler temps, lots of wind, and harsher UV rays than lower elevations.

(3) Miette Hot Springs

Credit: Parks Canada, Brenda Falvey

Touted as the hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies, it may surprise you how unspoiled the Miette Hot Springs are.  This solitude, as well as the epic surroundings, make for a sensory experience you won’t soon forget!  If you want to earn your soak, go on an excursion up one of two trails departing the main parking lot of the hot springs: one takes you to the old hot springs complex (now a ruin) and the source of the springs. If you have time to kill and you are in good physical condition, go beyond the source to reach a flower-filled mountain pass in season.

Climbing into the mist, Sulphur Skyline, near Miette Hot Springs

The other climbs a peak called Sulphur Skyline, a mountain that is part of the Front Ranges of the Canadian Rockies.  Amazing hike; it’s just a shame I climbed it when it was foggy, but it made for a mysterious atmosphere, as you can see from the photo above.

(4) Columbia Icefields

Saskatchewan Glacier, Columbia Icefields

Moving along from an out-of-the-way attraction to the most trafficked destination in Jasper Park, the Columbia Icefields lay host to 325 square kilometres of glacial ice, sitting atop the hydrological apex of Western Canada. Meltwater from the icefield flows to three different oceans from here (Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic); unfortunately, it has been receding for the past 155 years, with signs along the approach road detailing the climate carnage.  A great visual and educational experience, and a great escape from summer heat that affects the lower altitudes in the Canadian Rockies.

Yours truly posing with the Ice Explorer

Ice tours are available from the main chalet; either book a trek with the motorized Ice Explorer you see above, or for the more adventurous, hire a guide to take you onto the ice by foot.  NEVER EVER WALK ON THE GLACIER UNATTENDED — IF YOU FALL INTO A CREVASSE, YOU WILL DIE (there have been 0 successful rescues in the last couple of decades)

(5) Marmot Basin Ski Resort (full disclosure: I presently work for Marmot Basin this season)

Paradise straight ahead

In the winter, Jasper National Park largely empties of tourists, but for those who take a closer look, they will find that there is still plenty to do and see.  The most obvious attraction for those seeking winter excitement is Marmot Basin Ski Resort, 20 km south of town.  This resort is off the beaten ski/boarding track, as most foreign snow holidaymakers seek the peaks adjacent to Calgary and Banff.  What this means for you is:  World class skiing/boarding, no/short lines.

Skiing out into the great wide open…!

Weekends give plenty of breathing room compared to resorts in Lake Louise and Banff.  On weekdays, you may have whole portions of the mountain to yourself!  The difficulty of the runs are evenly split between beginners, intermediates, and experts, so there is plenty of terrain for any skill level.

Any additional information you want to know about the above destinations?  Let me know below in the comments!



  1. Thanks a lot James…this post convinced my girlfriend to put on our travel list. looks like a lot of fun and its great to have an insiders point of view

  2. Where’s the RSS button?

  3. Great pictures.

    I lived in Jasper for 6 months a long time ago and loved it. I did a lot of cycling on all the immaculate high ways around there.

    I encountered lots of wild animals cycling up to Maligne lake. Nature is still relatively untouched there. I even awoken a sleeping bear on a trail run. Fortunately, the bear was more afraid then I was.

    It is also a great place to see the Northern lights.

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