Perched on a rock overlooking the mirror-smooth, ice-cold waters of Medicine Lake I had to pinch myself. Ahead of me were the craggy peaks of one of the most famous mountain ranges in the world, the Rockies, and they were more magnificent than any of the photos or videos I’d ever seen. Unlike some iconic sights (for me it was the Pyramids in Egypt) the Rockies do not disappoint; they exceed expectations. In Jasper National Park you get to see the Rocky Mountains at their splendid best; but this area is not just great for mountains; there are lots of interesting things to see and do.
My travelling companion, photographer Alison Bailey, and I were driving from Vancouver to Calgary on an RV road trip. We spent three days exploring the Jasper area and could easily have spent much longer. We were there in June; weather was good on some days and rainy on others; the scenery was always stunning. The trees were in full foliage and alpine flowers added a colourful counter-point to the grey mountains. Here are 6 highlights in Jasper National Park, Alberta.
There’s a slightly ‘wild-west’ feel to Jasper. Yes, it has all the tourist amenities, including the helpful Visitor Centre housed in the oldest building in town. But it’s not as ‘touristy’ as Banff and with the railway trundling through its centre, it feels like a place that has adventure and exploration at its heart. It was one of the first trading points in this area at the beginning of the 20thC. Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives tells its fascinating history and the feisty characters who first settled here, via engaging displays, unique exhibits and an excellent video documentary. If you’re lucky, you might see the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer stop here and for sure you will see the VERY long goods trains transporting grain from the Alberta prairies to Vancouver. There’s an art gallery, lots of outdoor clothing shops, restaurants, bars and cafes. Search out the Bear’s Paw Bakery for scrumptious cakes, sandwiches and artisan bread. We stayed at Whistler’s Campground on the edge of town. One morning we woke up surrounded by elk, just lying around, eating and relaxing.
It’s not really a lake but a river overspill which mainly appears in late spring, summer and early autumn when the glacier run-off is high. The view from the shore of Medicine Lake is one of the best we saw in the Rockies. Eagles nest in the trees beside the lake and we saw a black bear on the grass verge beside the road nearby. Further up road is renowned Maligne Lake with lake cruises.
10 miles down river is the evocatively-named Maligne Canyon. You park at the top and walk down this steep gorge; 50 metres below the rivers roars its way through the narrow walls. There are 5 bridges across the falls. We only managed three, which was more than enough; what goes down must come up. Rare birds flitter amongst the trees and the noise of the water is almost deafening in places. It’s a beautiful, awesome place, well-worth a visit.
Miette Hot Springs
The drive to Miette Hot Springs snakes up a dramatic mountain route, which in June is bedecked with colourful alpine flowers. As we drove our RV into the car park, a herd of shaggy mountain sheep wandered in front of us. They roam freely in this area and a very used to humans. Miette Hot Springs were discovered by railway workers in the early 1900s and has been popular ever since. There are two swimming pools where the temperature is around 40 degrees and a plunge pool which is much colder. It’s lovely to lie back in the warm water and look up at the mighty mountains all around.
Pyramid Mountain and Lake
You can’t miss Pyramid Mountain; it towers over Jasper Town like a mighty Toblerone. There are hiking trails up to the peak of the mountain but you can get lovely views of it from Pyramid Lake on Pyramid Island. We made good use of the wooden hut, built in 1933, to shelter from the rain, which does fall quite often in the Rockies. Jasper National Park is a ‘Dark Sky Preserve’ and they have Astronomy on the Lake talks here. Pyramid Resort, opposite the island, offers canoe, kayak, sailing boat and bike hire so you can explore the lake at your leisure.
For the best view of Jasper National Park that doesn’t involve a lot of climbing, take the Jasper Skytram, about 7km out of town, to the top of Whistlers Mountain. It’s the highest and longest aerial tramway in Canada. We got the gondola in the late afternoon and the golden glow of the sun lit up the mountains all around, reflecting off the deep green rivers and bright blue lakes. In the distance the famous Icefields Parkway wends its way towards Banff, along one of the world’s most scenic routes. Little chipmunks begged for food and kiddies jumped in the snow, whilst others posed for photos and enjoyed the stunning views all around.
This is just a glimpse of Jasper National Park; I hope you get to see it for yourself one day.