We spent a full day driving the 145 miles from Lake Louise to Jasper, and it wasn’t nearly enough time. The Icefields Parkway is jam-packed with spectacular views of lakes, waterfalls, mountains, and glaciers. We stopped at most overlooks but had to pass on the longer day hikes. If we were to do it again, I would consider spending the night along the way, although choices are limited unless you’re camping.
Here are a few photos from our drive. The first set are from the Banff National Park section of the highway.
The next set of photos are from the Jasper National Park side of the Icefields Parkway.
If you get a chance to venture to the Canadian Rockies, be sure to include this drive on your itinerary!
Like the towns of Waterton, Banff, Lake Louise and Field (in Yoho National Park), Jasper the town lies fully within national park boundaries. With about 4,000 full time residents, it serves as the commercial center for Jasper National Park, which at 4,200 square miles, is a little larger than Yellowstone.
We were pleasantly surprised by the town’s charm and vibrancy – busy but not crushed by tourists during the peak season. We stayed at a short term, centrally-located vacation rental that was fine. Jasper is a walkable town, and we enjoyed exploring both on and off the beaten path.
Our first stop was the Jasper Visitor Center to pick up hiking and sight-seeing information. Pretty much a waste of time. Our helper had his own spiel about how we should spend our time (and dollars) that didn’t align with our interests, so we moved on. Back to researching the area on the internet. No problem finding interesting things to do – brief summary and photo galleries below.
Maligne Canyon Trail
A short, easy hike in this limestone gorge yields a lot of bang for your buck – an impressive waterfall, steep canyon walls, mountain views, and five bridges over the rushing waters of the Maligne River. In peak season, it also features swarms of tourists, but the crowd dissipates quickly once you get beyond the second bridge.
Venturing upstream from Maligne Canyon, we encountered a herd of about 20 bighorn sheep – moms and youngsters – on the road to Maligne Lake.
Old Fort Point Trail
Another easily accessible hike, the Old Fort Point trail begins with a steep uphill climb to a viewpoint overlooking the meandering Athabasca River, the town of Jasper, Lac Beauvert, and a multitude of mountain peaks. We continued on a loop trail around the back side of the hill through a heavily wooded poplar forest – very muddy at times. Others reported seeing grizzly bears in the area, but I’m happy to report that we did not.
Miette Hot Springs
Advertised as the hottest mineral hot springs in the Canadian Rockies at 129 degrees Fahrenheit where it emerges from underground, the Miette Hot Springs has a pool, but we didn’t partake. Instead, we walked alongside Sulphur Creek to the source of the springs, the ruins of the original pool and bathhouse constructed in the 1930s, and points beyond. A pleasant hike that can be as long or as short as you want.
Pocahontas and Jasper House
On the way back to town after visiting Miette Hot Springs, we made two quick stops.
The first was the ghost town of Pocahontas, which given the name, we were curious to learn about. Established in 1910, it was the company town for the Pocahontas coal mine, named after a coal mining town in Virginia with the same name. Only marginally successful, the mine was operational until 1921. All that remains today are a few building foundations and a loop trail around the area.
The second stop was at Jasper House National Historic Site, which consists of a historical plaque and a view across the Athabasca River to a meadow where Jasper House once stood. A major supply and staging area for travelers crossing the Canadian Rockies during the early to mid-1800s, it closed for good in the 1890s and was physically demolished in 1909 by surveyors for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, who used the lumber to construct a river raft.
Although it’s an important part of Jasper’s history, the Jasper House site warrants a visit only if you’re in the area anyway and want to stretch your legs.
On a whim during our first day visit to the visitor center, we signed up for a free walking tour of Jasper the town. Turned out to be a good decision that we should consider for future destinations – learned more than we would have picked up on our own, particularly about some of Jasper’s colorful residents during the early years.
We learned about the Two Brothers Totem, shown in the photo below. Commissioned as a replacement for the Raven Totem that had stood in Jasper for 94 years before it was deemed structurally unsafe, the new totem was dedicated in 2011.
Designed and carved by Jaalen and Gwaai Edenshaw, the totem tells the story of two aboriginal Haida brothers who long ago travelled from their home in Haida Gwaii on the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains. The elaborate totem was fashioned from a 600-year old cedar tree.
A few other highlights from our tour of the town:
And that pretty well sums up our time in Jasper – the third leg of our tour of the Canadian Rockies. Much more to see during a future visit!
I’ve included a few additional photos from Jasper in the gallery below. And here’s a question to ponder – do Canadians refer to the U.S. segment of the Rocky Mountains as the American Rockies?