What do you get when you mix breathtaking mountains, forests, glaciers and families of fearless elk that stride past you so close you can almost reach out and touch them?
Jasper National Park.
If you haven’t been, put this majestic park on your list of must-see places to visit in Canada.
As Canadians who live on the west coast (previously in Alberta, now in B.C.), we’ve vacationed in Jasper several times over the years. We love it there!
So without further ado, here’s our list of the best things to do in Jasper National Park.
Things to do in Jasper National Park, Canada
It spans 4,200 square miles (almost 11,000 sq. km) of wilderness.
Needless to say, there’s plenty of room to roam. And oodles of beautiful sights, natural attractions and things to see in Jasper National Park!
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie looking to fight the rapids or scale a frozen waterfall, or you simply want to sit back, relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, Jasper National Park has exactly what you’re looking for – and more!
Oh, about those elk.
Before we continue, you should know that you really shouldn’t get too close to elk, as they can be aggressive.
It’s just that sometimes elk meander very close to you. So be aware.
With that wildlife warning out of the way, are you ready now to discover what to do in Jasper National Park?
We’ve separated out the summer activities from the winter ones in our Jasper travel guide, so you can easily find what to do, based on when you plan to travel to Jasper.
Things to do in Jasper in summer
There’s nothing quite like summer in Jasper.
Jasper experiences average temperatures ranging between 68 F (20C) and 77 F (25C) throughout the summer season.
Rarely do you get really hot days, though sometimes temps climb up to 80+ F (26+ C).
Summer is a great time if you like hiking, bicycling, mountain sightseeing and relaxing alongside alpine lakes.
Let’s take a closer look at some of our favorite Jasper summer activities.
1) Hike Maligne Canyon
One the absolute best things to do in Jasper in summer is to hike along Maligne Canyon.
A truly spectacular gorge, it’s the deepest canyon in the park, plunging to depths of 160 feet (48 meters) and more.
You can start from various points along the canyon, and the trail crosses six bridges.
We started our hike at Fifth Bridge, then walked upstream along the side of the rushing river.
At one point, we even saw a rainbow created by rising mist from the gushing water below.
From the Fifth Bridge to the First Bridge, the hike there and back takes around 2½ hours.
If you’d rather do an easier walk and stick to the upper reaches of Maligne Canyon, see this guided wildlife-and-Maligne day tour.
It combines a 30-minute walk at Maligne Canyon with a visit to Medicine Lake (see #4 below) and a scenic Maligne Lake cruise (#13). The small 21-seat bus picks you up and drops you off at your Jasper lodging.
2) Paddle a canoe on Maligne Lake
Known as “Beaver Lake” by the First Nations people who lived in Jasper, Maligne Lake is the largest natural lake in the Rocky Mountains – 13 miles (22 km) long.
It’s also one of the most beautiful lakes in the Rockies.
Glacier-fed, the blue lake gets its brilliant color from glacial melt water, which carries with it very fine glacial silt or rock flour.
The sunlight reflecting off the fine particles suspended in the lake water gives it the intense blue color.
The more rock flour that flows into the lake, the more turquoise it gets.
In Canada, glacial lakes don’t tend to melt until early June. So that means high summer (July and August) is when Maligne Lake looks the most vibrant.
Canoeing on the lake is fun.
From June to the beginning of October, you can rent a canoe from Maligne Lake Boat Rentals for an hour or more.
And like Maligne Canyon, Maligne Lake is one of the best places to visit in Jasper National Park.
3) Photograph the elk!
We love everything wild, especially wildlife. (Gawking at the “Big Five” on safari in Africa is something we’ll never forget.)
About 1,300 elk live in Jasper National Park.
So the elk are one of our favorite Jasper National Park attractions.
You don’t even have to go anywhere in particular to see elk in Jasper.
You often spot them in fields along the highways (Highway 16 and Highway 93), as well as in and around the Jasper townsite.
At dusk, we saw families of elk grazing on the grass right outside our rented cabin.
4) See Medicine Lake
Nestled in the Maligne Valley, Medicine Lake isn’t really a lake but a catchwater basin for overflow glacial water from the Maligne River.
By early summer, the water pools up to form the lake.
Come autumn, though, you might only see a few small pools – the rest of the lake water having drained through underground sinkholes over the course of the summer.
If you’re lucky, you might even see black bears grazing near the lake!
5) Hike the Old Fort Point Trail
For a short easy hike, this is one of the best hiking trails in Jasper. And it’s a hike you can comfortably do with young children.
Most people just head straight up to the top from the parking lot. But that involves a steep climb.
We prefer going in the clockwise direction and doing a gentle loop trail. We think it’s the best way to reach the two viewing points at the top. (Read our post on hiking the Old Fort Point Trail for details.)
You get amazing panoramic views from the top of Old Fort Point!
6) Swim in Lake Edith And Lake Annette
Two of the warmest lakes in Jasper are Lake Edith and Lake Annette, a few miles away from the town center.
The more popular lake is Lake Annette; it has a long curve of sandy beach with a large grassy area and picnic tables.
Lake Edith usually has fewer people. But both lakes are fairly quiet.
And on a hot summer day, both lakes are must-see places in Jasper National Park. Because… they’re both very inviting for a quick swim to cool off!
7) Ride the Jasper Skytram
For the absolute best views in Jasper, you can’t beat riding the Jasper Skytram.
It’s Canada’s longest and highest guided aerial tramway – and one of the top attractions in Jasper National Park.
The ride up Whistlers Mountain takes 7 minutes, and a “flight attendant” is on-hand to point out particular mountain peaks and answer any questions you may have.
You’re whisked up to the Upper Station at an elevation of 7,400+ feet (2,263 meters). There, you can walk around the boardwalk to drink in the stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding area.
The Skytram operates seasonally from late March to the end of October, and the cabins go every 9 minutes.
In high season (especially July and August), it’s a good idea to reserve your space in advance. You can pre-book your Skytram tickets here.
8) Hike to Whistler’s summit
This isn’t the famous Whistler Mountain at Whistler Blackcomb (Canada’s famous ski resort).
But this mountain peak is no less impressive. Standing 8,100 feet (2,470 meters) tall, Whistlers Mountain is part of the Trident Range of the Rocky Mountains – and is one of the top sights in Jasper.
A trek to the top can take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours and takes you across steep hills and terrain.
Not keen to hike all the way up? Thankfully there’s an easier way to get to the top.
The Jasper Skytram does most of the work for you as you ride almost to the top. From the Skytram, continue with a short 20- to 30-minute hike to summit the mountain.
At the top, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramas, including views of Mount Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, over 62 miles (100 km) away.
You’ll really feel like you’re on top of the world!
9) Spot moose at Moose Lake
So, what do you think you might see at Moose Lake? Yes, the name is a giveaway.
And the lake is indeed one of the best places to see wildlife in Jasper. Meaning moose, of course.
For a short quick hike, the loop around Moose Lake is a pleasant one. It’s just over 1½ miles (a bit more than 2½ km) and will probably take about 30 minutes.
Keep an eye out for moose in the forest or swimming in the lake!
And just like with other wildlife, always keep your distance if you spot one.
10) Hike to Angel Glacier and Cavell Meadows
The hike to Cavell Meadows is one of the most spectacular and best hikes in Jasper.
If you don’t want to walk too far, a short easy trail, just over 1 mile (a little over 1½ km) there and back, takes you right up to the face of two glaciers.
Angel Glacier hangs on Mount Edith Cavell, spreading out her wings, and Edith Cavell Glacier sits above the meltwater of the pond below.
We took the longer route, about 5 miles (8 km) return, working our way up through a boulder field and continuing on through forest into alpine meadows at the top.
The views of the two glaciers are staggering up here – they really are sights you absolutely must see in Jasper National Park.
On the way down, we watched a family of hoary marmots (like large bushy squirrels) frolic in the rock boulders and lie out in the sun.
11) Walk around Pyramid Lake
Another must-see in Jasper, this small kidney-shaped lake, positioned at the foot of Pyramid Mountain, is picture-perfect.
An easy trail, about 1¼ miles (2 km) in length, winds along the lakeshore. There’s also a wooden bridge you can walk across to a teeny island in the middle of the lake.
Pyramid Lake truly is one of the most beautiful places to see in Jasper National Park.
12) See Athabasca Falls
On the upper Athabasca River, the Athabasca Falls aren’t very high at 75 feet (23 meters).
But they’re very powerful – and one of the loveliest Jasper attractions
A short trail about ½ a mile (1 km) along the canyon offers lots of photo opps. There’s a bridge too that crosses right over the falls.
Lichen on the boulders changes color with the seasons – from green and gold in the summer to orange and red in autumn.
13) Relax on a Maligne Lake cruise
We mentioned earlier that you can go canoeing on Maligne Lake (#2).
But if you’d rather sit back and relax, you can enjoy a boat cruise on the lake. The glass-enclosed boats are heated so you’ll still be comfortable if the weather is cooler.
These interpretive Maligne Lake boat cruises have been taking visitors out on the azure waters of the lake for more than 60 years.
The cruise was declared the “Best Boat Cruise in Canada” by Reader’s Digest in 2007. So they’re definitely doing a lot right!
You motor to world-renowned Spirit Island on your 8½-mile (14-km) cruise.
You’ve probably seen pictures of Spirit Island. It’s one of the most photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies.
A picture of it hung in Kodak’s Colorama showcase in NYC’s Grand Central Station back in 1960. And Apple used an image of Spirit Island to showcase the 2014 iPad model’s camera ability.
When the boat docks, you can get off the boat and walk on a short nature trail to a viewing platform to get your own bucket list photo of the teeny-tiny magical island.
Spirit Island is definitely one of those must-see places in Jasper National Park!
Note: Spirit Island is actually a peninsula, crowned with a small grove of trees. To protect the island, no one is allowed to walk on the island itself.
14) Delight in the wildflowers
Ahhh. The wildflowers in spring and summer!
They’re as pretty as the mountains are breathtaking.
A sea of colorful alpine wildflowers – scarlet Indian paintbrushes and cheerful yellow Arnicas – greeted us when we hiked in the Cavell Meadows.
You can also see carpets of purple calypso orchids and blue asters.
Again, like the elk, you don’t have to go to any particular place in Jasper to enjoy them – they bloom all around you!
15) Drive the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is the 144-mile (232-km) stretch of highway connecting Lake Louise with Jasper.
If you’re driving from Banff to Jasper (perhaps coming from Calgary), you’ll experience this super scenic drive.
And what a great idea!
Parks Canada has placed several bright red Adirondack chairs at picturesque spots in national parks across the country – perfectly situated for kicking back and soaking in the majestic views.
The idea is to sit quietly and really connect with nature.
We took in the views – and had our photo taken – at two of these red Parks Canada chairs at a picnic spot on the Icefields Parkway.
16) Stand on the edge on the Columbia Icefield Skywalk
The Columbia Icefield is located on the Icefields Parkway, about a one-hour drive south of the town of Jasper.
It’s the largest icefield in North America’s Rockies – and touring it is one of the most unique things to do in Jasper National Park. (The icefield lies partly within the southern part of the park.)
Among the popular attractions here is its skyway.
A glass platform suspended 918 feet (280 meters) above wild and rugged terrain, the Columbia Icefield Skywalk offers unparalleled views of the Sunwapta Valley and the world below.
As you walk along the skywalk – almost ¾ mile (1 km) long – you’ll see waterfalls, glaciers, plants and wild animals, including bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and possibly, just possibly, grizzly bears.
You can book your Skywalk tickets here. They include round-trip shuttle transportation from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center.
17) Walk on Athabasca Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier is one of the six main “toes” of the Columbia Icefield.
A Jasper National Park must-see, it’s one of the most accessible glaciers in all of North America, offering the chance to explore its cold hard surface on foot.
Getting to the glacier is almost as fun as exploring it.
Hop in a Brewster Ice Explorer, a $2 million all-terrain bus, for an 80-minute ride that navigates steep slopes and uneven terrain with ease.
Halfway through the adventure, you can step out onto the 25,000-year-old ice with your tour guide and walk about. You can even taste pure clean glacier water straight from the glacier!
For the full experience, you can book a combination glacier tour. It includes a ride on the Ice Explorer and walking on the Glacier Skywalk (#16 above).
If you’d like to do a longer walking tour on the ice, Ice Walks offers guided 3- and 6-hour ice walks on Athabasca Glacier, serving up some exercise enhanced by superb views of the Rocky Mountains.
18) View Sunwapta Falls
Sunwapta Falls is another popular Jasper tourist spot worth visiting.
Located on the Icefields Parkway, these falls are actually a pair of waterfalls created by hanging valleys.
The Upper Falls are right next to the road, so they’re convenient to walk to and photograph. The Lower Falls are a short hike away.
The falls are most impressive in late spring when snow and ice are melting, and clouds of mist swirl around.
19) Get a bird’s eye view on a helicopter ride
Soar through the air and see Jasper and the Rockies by helicopter.
These 20- to 60-minute tours fly you by and over jagged cliffs, mountain ranges and pristine alpine lakes. Headsets enable you to hear your expert pilot’s commentary.
Guaranteed – you’ll remember the views long after your Jasper vacation is over!
Check out this top-rated helicopter tour with Jasper-Hinton Air (aka Jasper Helicopter Tours), departing from the Jasper-Hinton airport.
20) Explore downtown Jasper
Yes, the park itself (with all its outdoor wonders) is why you go. But it’s also fun to stroll about downtown Jasper.
History buffs will love the rustic Old Fire Hall and the heritage train station, which dates back to 1935. And who can resist snapping a selfie with Jasper the Bear, a classic Canadian statue from 1948?
Throw in some restaurants and quaint shops, and you have a very cute mountain town.
21) Look up at the stars
Did you know Jasper is home to the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world? Dark Sky Preserves are areas dedicated to protecting the dark sky.
Jasper has limited light pollution and provides the perfect conditions for stargazing and spotting the Milky Way.
So one of the most breathtaking activities in Jasper National Park at night is simple – look up! Its celestial landscape is quite magical.
Just don’t get a crick in your neck!
22) Dine on the terrace at Jasper Park Lodge
For a special food-with-a-view experience, make reservations for the Orso Trattoria outdoor terrace at Jasper Park Lodge.
You’ll pay a pretty penny for the braised boar shoulder with seared scallops and other Italian-influenced dishes. But on a balmy summer evening, the views of Lac Beauvert alone are worth it.
23) Play a round of golf
In addition to its mountains, lakes, and glaciers, Jasper is also home to a top-notch golf course.
Designed by Stanley Thompson, the Jasper Golf Course (run by Jasper Park Lodge) is ranked by SCOREGolf as one of the best golf courses in Canada.
The 18-hole course is surrounded by pine forests and mountain peaks, with wide undulating fairways. It suits both vacation and scratch golfers. Bonus: You might spot bears, deer, moose or elk – they often roam the course.
24) Go whitewater rafting on the Athabasca River
Get your heart pumping while navigating the rapids and canyons of Jasper National Park.
Rafting on the Class 2 whitewater rapids of the Athabasca River is the perfect way to get away from the crowds and experience a whole different side of Jasper. It is, without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Jasper National Park in summer!
Sign-up for a 3½-hour whitewater rafting tour and you’ll be treated to views that can only be seen by boat – and ride some thrilling rapids too!
25) Float down a river
Want something less adventurous? Try floating down a river.
Check out Jasper Raft Tours.
Much more relaxed than whitewater rafting, their Athabasca River trips let you enjoy all the perks of the water without any of the work.
Instead of paddling, you just sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery, while traveling the same route fur traders used more than 200 years ago.
It’s one of the most fun things to do in Jasper National Park, whether you’re two or 92!
26) Soak in Miette Hot Springs
For the ultimate in relaxation, we recommend taking a soak in Miette Hot Springs.
About 38 miles (61 km) east of Jasper, Miette Hot Springs is a genuine natural wonder and one of the best things to do near Jasper.
The hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies, these pools are filled with natural hot mineral waters fed by the mountains. The water temp ranges between 104 F (40 C) and 98 F (37 C) – perfect for easing sore hiking muscles.
The site has accessible change rooms, and you can even rent swimsuits and towels.
Hours of operation vary by season, and the site runs on a first-come, first-served basis. During busy times, you might have to wait a while before entering to soak in those deliciously hot waters.
Things to do in Jasper in the winter
Winter in Jasper is a completely different experience.
Jasper morphs into the perfect destination for anyone who likes to ski, snowboard, skate or sip wine by the fire. And you get to see the mountains and alpine lakes in all their regal white glory!
Temperatures during the winter months fluctuate between 30 F (-1 C) and 5 F (-15 C), so of course you’ll need to pack warm winter clothes. But don’t worry about rain, as you’ll experience very little wet weather.
There are many winter activities in Jasper to enjoy. Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular ones.
27) Go ice climbing
One of the most unforgettable experiences you can have in Jasper in winter is ice climbing.
The ice is usually best between December and March.
But sometimes you might be lucky and can start as early as November. And sometime the ice climbing in Jasper is great until April.
Climbing sites vary, based on the weather, but one of the best is hiking up inside Maligne Canyon (covered in #1), where you’re treated to amazing close-up views of frozen waterfalls.
Thrilling, yes. Missable, definitely not!
Check out Rockaboo Mountain Adventures. They have a reputation for offering six-hour ice climbing tours that are fun, unique and safe.
28) Ski or snowboard Marmot Basin Ski Resort
So you want to go downhill skiing?
You’re visiting the right place. One of the top Jasper activities in winter is just that – skiing and snowboarding at Marmot Basin.
Just 20 minutes from downtown Jasper, the ski resort covers more than 1,675 acres. It has upwards of 86 named trails, with great options for skiers and snowboarders of all levels.
29) Skate on the ice of Lake Mildred
Ice skating at Lake Mildred is one of the best things to do in Jasper for free.
The lake is groomed in several areas, creating an oval around the outside as well as rectangular hockey rinks for anyone looking for a pick-up game.
You can rent skates from the nearby Jasper Park Lodge, making it easy to lace up and hit the ice.
The lake is also lit for night skating, with plenty of benches to sit on. Plus, there are bonfires, free hot chocolate and warming huts for anyone looking for a little break from the cold.
30) Try fat biking on snowy trails
Hey, did you know you can enjoy one of Canada’s fastest growing winter sports, fat tire biking, in Jasper?
Fat bikes have tires that are almost twice the size of regular summer mountain biking tires, allowing you to stay on top of the snow, rather than fight it.
Many trails around the town of Jasper are ideal for fat biking in winter.
Perhaps fat bike along Trail 7 along the Athabasca River? You can also find excellent trails at Pyramid Lake and Maligne Lake.
31) Go cross-country skiing
Cross-country skiing is a great way to combine your winter sightseeing in Jasper National Park with a little physical activity – to explore the best of Jasper that you might otherwise miss.
Almost any traveler can do it. And it’ll get your heart pumping as you glide along the snowy terrain.
A short easy trail is the Moab Lake Trail within the Whirlpool Cross-Country ski hub.
It’s just under 4½ miles (7 km) round-trip to the Parks Canada red chairs overlooking Whirlpool River.
Or for a longer round-trip ski of about 9½ miles (15+ km), continue past the red Adirondack chairs on the groomed Moab Lake Road to the Moab Lake viewpoint.
As you can see, there are awesome things to do in Jasper, Canada!
Jasper National Park is one of the most incredible natural attractions in Canada – a haven for hikers, bicyclists and nature lovers, as well as skiers and snowboarders.
Less touristy and busy than Banff National Park, Jasper National Park holds a special place in our hearts as a treasured family vacation spot.
We have no doubt you’ll fall in love with Jasper too.
Where to stay in Jasper
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge:
Open year-round, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is the most famous and best hotel in Jasper.
Hugging the shores of Beauvert Lake, it’s like a small village, with the main lodge and cozy cedar chalets housing some 442 guest rooms. Stay in a cabin or suite to get a wood-burning fireplace.
What we love? The rustic-chic décor, lakefront location, outdoor pool and all the activities on offer (like canoeing on the lake).
What we don’t love? The additional daily resort fee of $40 that the lodge charges for self-parking, WiFi, local phone calls and the like – we find these resort fees so annoying!
Alpine Village Resort:
On our last Jasper visit, we stayed at the top-rated Alpine Village Resort, nestled within the forest on the fringe of the Jasper townsite.
Offering quintessential Rocky Mountain accommodation, it has 56 charming and authentic log cabins.
Sleeping from 2 to 5 people (depending on the cabin), they’re packed with plenty of modern luxuries. Many cabins have full kitchens and living areas; most have wood-burning fireplaces too.
Open seasonally from May to October, the Alpine Village Resort is the perfect place to stay to lose yourself in nature.
We’ve also stayed at Pine Bungalows.
Built in 1936, Pine Bungalows is great if you’re looking to unplug and unwind – and you want to spend a little less than at Alpine Village Resort.
Set on 11 acres of land along the Athabasca River, these cozy cabins offer a true rustic mountain experience. We even saw moose munching on grasses around our cabin one day at dusk! All cabins feature a fireplace, and most have a kitchen too.
As well, Pine Bungalows has a 16-room lodge with air conditioning and WiFi.
Pyramid Lake Resort:
Another year-round property, the newly renovated Pyramid Lake Resort is located just a few miles outside of Jasper town.
Overlooking Pyramid Lake, each of the resort’s chalet-style 62 guest rooms offers a fireplace and views of the lake and mountains.
You also get complimentary use of the canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and mountain bikes at certain times of the day. But the resort also charges that dratted daily resort fee ($15 a day).
How to get to Jasper, Alberta
The trip to Jasper is fairly easy, whether you’re coming from Edmonton in the north, Calgary to the south or Vancouver to the west.
Edmonton to Jasper:
The drive from Edmonton to Jasper National Park will take you through small-town Alberta.
Travel to Jasper along Highway #16 and the trip should take you just shy of 4 hours, depending on when you visit.
Winter weather can add to the 226-mile (365-km) trip, as can busy summer weekends, so it’s always best to plan ahead.
Calgary to Jasper:
At more than 240 miles (400 km), the drive from Calgary is slightly longer but no less stunning.
The nearly 5-hour journey will take you to Jasper National Park via the Trans-Canada Hwy #1 and Hwy #93.
Along the way, you’ll see glorious vistas and the epic scenery of the Rocky Mountains as you say goodbye to the city.
Hwy #93 from Lake Louise to Jasper is the Icefields Parkway (see #15 above), where the scenery on view from your car is some of the most stunning in the world.
Vancouver to Jasper:
If you’re keen on a road trip from the West Coast, you’re going to want to set aside more time.
The 720-mile (1160-km) drive from Vancouver to Jasper will take you close to 9 hours as you twist and turn along Highway #5 (the Yellowhead Highway).
But again, we can tell you from personal experience that the drive is exceptional and offers some totally unforgettable views.
More information about Canada’s Jasper National Park
See the Parks Canada website on Jasper.
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Photo credits: 2, 3, 5, 12, 15, 20 to 22, 28, 30, 33 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase