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!
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?
1) Hike Maligne Canyon
One of the most popular Jasper attractions is Maligne Canyon.
A truly spectacular gorge, it’s the deepest canyon in the park, plunging to depths of 160 feet (48 meters) and more.
A hike along the canyon is the ultimate way to experience it. You can start from various points along the canyon, and the trail crosses six bridges.
From the Fifth Bridge to the First Bridge, the hike there and back takes around 2½ hours.
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.
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 and a scenic Maligne Lake cruise. The small 21-seat bus picks you up and drops you off at your Jasper lodging.
Winter in Jasper is a completely different experience.
You can hike up inside Maligne Canyon and get close-up views of frozen waterfalls.
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.
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), where 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) 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 (2.7 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.
9) 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 (1.6 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.
10) 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.
11) See Athabasca Falls
On the upper Athabasca River, Athabasca Falls is not very high at 75 feet (23 meters).
But they’re very powerful.
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.
12) 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.
Anyway, when the boat docks at Spirit Island, 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.
13) 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!
14) 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 Parks Canada’s bright red chairs at a picnic spot on the Icefields Parkway.
15) 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.
As you can see, there are awesome things to do in Jasper, Canada!
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.
More information about Canada’s Jasper National Park
See the Parks Canada website on Jasper.
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Photo credits: 3, 4, 12, 19 to 21, 27, 29, 32 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase