The Lonely Planet guide introduced us to Jasper with: ‘take Banff, half the annual visitor count, increase the total land area by 40%, and multiply the number of bears, elk, moose and caribou by three. The result: Jasper, a larger, less-trampled, more wildlife-rich version of the other Rocky Mountain parks.’ With this in mind we had booked to camp here for 4 nights over the Labour Day long weekend (which we’d been advised by posts on trip advisor would mean that everything would be booked and crowded). Fortunately we’d booked because yes, the campsite was full. But crowded? Nope. And our awesome campground, Whistlers, described by LP as a ‘not particularly private mini camping city’ we found to be excellent. We had a private spot with shady trees, friendly squirrels visiting us and best of all, hot showers!
We loved Jasper and could easily have spent a week there. I never understood families who go back to the same place on holiday every year. There are so many great places around the world to visit, magical holiday destinations, why would you waste time re-visiting the same place over and over? Well, I get it now. For me, I hope Jasper will be a place I revisit over and over. The national park is centred around a town of the same name which has a great community vibe (the bicycle race, Tour of Alberta was passing while we were there and so the locals were out and loving it), great Ranger’s information centre (gorgeous stone cottage building and really friendly, helpful staff inside), excellent eateries and a shop called Nutters!
While the park itself has miles and miles of challenging and rewarding hiking trails begging to be explored AND we got daily glimpses of the Canadian Rockies big 5 (deer, elk, moose, wolf and bear)! It’s a special place and so ill try my best not to go too overboard in sharing some of the (many) highlights of our time in Jasper.
Sulpher Skyline: Our first hike was the steep 8km return walk up the Sulpher Skyline. The weather forecast was poor for the day so we’d decided to just to do a short walk about an hour along the track and then turn back and spend the rest of the day watching the rain from the Miette Hotsprings. However, after getting to the halfway marker and no rain yet I couldn’t turn back with the summit apparently so close, so we ploughed on.
Poor Mitch with his injured knees had a hard time with the really steep, rocky path but wow, what a view from the top! Looking down over the Fiddler River valley, Utopia Mountain and Ashlar Ridge was quite spectacular even if the threatening clouds were gathering. It was pretty cold and windy at the peak and after watching an extremely tame chipmunk dash in and out of the rocks and across our shoes we headed back down to the warmth of the hot springs!
Old Fort Point Loop: this was a much easier 4km loop close to Jasper town but with great views across the valley. We enjoyed sitting on the chairs positioned at the top, having a moment to just take it all in. A great walk to get a feel for the town and surrounds.
Opal Hills Loop: noted as one of the steepest trails in Jasper, this 8km loop took us way up to the snow line where we could look down on Maligne Lake. We walked up through the trees, being mindful about bears as we were in prime bear territory and came out into the meadows where we hopped across streams and caught sight of a few deer as we ventured around the top and back into the woods. A fantastic day hike.
The most thrilling wildlife encounter came just as I wasn’t expecting it on exiting the ‘washrooms’ in the carpark before we set off on the Opal Hills Loop. I looked up to see a huge black bear crossing the empty (except for our car) park. It looked at me, I looked at him and I backed up, squealing for Mitch to hurry up as there was a BEAR, a real BEAR just 20 metres away! Alas, another car pulled in and the bear was scared off. Still, it was terribly exciting to see a bear in such close proximity, and after seeing it up close I was actually more relaxed about coming across one on the trail. I think it took away that silly fear that we get of the unknown.
We also happened to be in the park for elk rutting season. We saw a number of the huge males with their big antlers and their ladies, in fields and most spectacularly, on an island in the middle of the river. They make an incredible noise when they are bugling, it’s quite eerie, haunting and almost sounds painful. I’m not sure if it’s to warn off other males, or to attract more lady friends..
In addition we spotted caribou, mountain goats and numerous deer throughout our stay. Even the local radio stations, which we like to tune into to learn about the local community happenings, were called ‘The Bear’ and ‘Eagle FM’.
We had an action packed day where we went horse riding around Lake’s Edith and Annette with a wonderful guide who told us a lot about the area, pointed out bear scratchings on the trees and entertained us with jokes and riddles.
It was rather chilly so we were glad of the long wax jackets they leant us for our ride on Tommy and Fargo. Afterwards we warmed up with a coffee in front of the huge roaring fire in the lobby of the Fairmont where we also appreciated 2 hours of free wifi! As the sun came out we ventured back outdoors to pretty Pyramid Lake where we hired a canoe and went for a paddle much to the unhappiness of the teenager who was responsible for the hiring and clearly not too happy to have customers! We were really lucky to be in town to experience a ranger led evening out into the park at night to experience Jasper’s dark sky preserve. The evening started at 10pm in town, with our small group of about 10 people (can you believe more people didn’t take advantage of such an amazing, free event?!) looking up at the stars while in among the lights of the town. Now Jasper’s quite a small town and they are going to lengths to upgrade the street lights to ensure the light only points down and us LED technology, so we could still see quite a few stars but could still manage to count how many were out. Next, we drove in convoy back out to Pyramid Lake where we put on as many warm clothes as we had and walked out to the island where there were no lights at all and looked up. What a difference, only about 8km out of town and there was a blanket of stars, impossible to count. The ranger had decked us all out with a pair of binoculars and it was amazing how much more clearly you can see the stars with a simple pair of binoculars. He entertained us with the myths and legends behind the different constellations and although our night was cut short by increasing cloud cover it was a fantastic evening and incredibly informative. We lay on our backs, gazing up into the night sky, identifying constellations and feeling so incredibly tiny in this vast universe, what an experience!
And then of course, there was the food. No blog post is complete without some mention of some tasty morsel. We sampled some local beers at the Jasper Brewing Co which were highly enjoyable. More noteworthy was the food alongside. We had an enormous portion of poutine, a Canadian speciality of chips with gravy and cheese curds. Anything with gravy gets my vote but this hearty combination was the perfect accompaniment to a few beers.
On the only rainy evening we decided to treat ourselves to dinner out and left our camp stove in the car. We stumbled across Syrahs and as their first diner’s at 6pm were given a lovely table by the window. It was quite a fancy place starting us off with a fish cervice amuse bouche, followed by freshly baked bread rolls with seasoned butter. We then shared a hearty venison stew with gnocchi and the vegetarian plate. Both simple, yet delicious, with clear attention to good seasoning. Mitch finished the evening with a sortilege – whisky and maple syrup. Excellent food, perfect service and a great atmosphere.
I don’t expect that we’ll get back to Jasper on this trip but I’m already thinking it would be a great place to experience in the different seasons. We were there late summer so that gives us spring, autumn, winter and well, probably mid summer too!