We had spent a long day reaching Jasper National Park coming from Dawson Creek, British Columbia on the Alaska Highway. We drove nearly 300 miles into Hinton, Alberta, right on the northern outskirts of the park. It was fairly late so we got a bite to eat and found a quiet trailhead to camp just outside of the park entrance.
2017 marked the 150th Anniversary for National Parks in Canada, so we took advantage of the free entry they were offering visitors. We were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. If you’re planning a trip in 2018 or beyond, check out Parks Canada’s website here for the latest entrance fees. You can also grab an annual pass at any of the national park entrance stations or visitor centers, if you don’t have online access.
Jasper is the largest and wildest of the Rocky Mountain Parks. Stretching over 4,200 square miles, the park is made up of five spectacular regions – Miette Hot Springs, the town of Jasper, Maligne Valley, Edith Cavell and the Icefield Parkway. I’ll guide you through three of those five regions that Kellie and I really enjoyed while exploring the park, beginning with Miette Hot Springs. A must do when visiting Alberta and Jasper National Park.
Upon crossing over from the north entrance, you’ll embark on the first region – Miette Hot Springs. From Highway 16, it’s about a ten-mile drive up Miette Hot Springs Road, and then there are a few trailheads along with the hot springs facilities. We chose to hike first before relaxing in the natural springs. They offer a few trails up through the Fiddle Valley or the Sulphur Skyline. We chose the latter.
Sulphur Skyline is about a five mile round trip hike that is a steep gain of about 2,300ft (Kellie swears it was at least 5,000ft) up to some of the best panoramic views in Jasper. We happened to come across it after a weekend snowstorm, so from the start there was a substantial amount of snow and ice we had to trek through. I fortunately had my micro spikes, and was surprised to find that most of the other hikers I came across didn’t, including Kellie (hence the 5,000ft myth). When it was all said and done though, we both reached the summit and were rewarded with some spectacular views that we’d worked hard for. Getting down was equally entertaining because I walked behind Kellie, trying my best to catch her when she slipped. She is very clumsy though so most of the time I had to dig her out of the snow.
Don’t be like Kellie. Always be prepared for when the weather might change. Have plenty of food, water and supplies for your hike, especially in winter conditions. Anything can happen!
After an eventful decent down, we enjoyed the hot springs at the bottom immensely after such a frosty hike. The facilities are more commercialized than other hot springs we’d enjoyed, like the Liard River Hot Springs in British Columbia. Miette fills pools with water from the natural springs, whereas Liard is a natural pool formed by the springs. However, we took advantage of the showers they provided, unlike Liard where we had to resort to bathing in an alpine lake (even though that sounds much cooler) (no pun intended).
We then drove into the Jasper region of the park and eventually made it to the town site. We spent some time at the visitor center to get my next national park pin and see what the rest of the park had to offer. While getting acquainted with Jasper, we discovered there is much to offer tourists of all backgrounds in the summer and in the winter months. It seemed like an active community, with lots of attractions, shops and restaurants, including the Jasper Brewery.
From there, we decided it’d be best to get a campsite for the night. With many to offer, we found Whistler Campground to be the closest to town. For $27 Canadian, you get a site with a fire pit and access to water, restrooms and showers. It’s more than I typically like to pay, especially since we just sleep in the car, but a shower is worth every penny.
After we settled in, we continued our exploration of the area near by. We took a quick drive to Pyramid and Patricia Lakes just in time for the sunset. They were gorgeous alpine lakes with surrounding mountains and waterfront lodges. Each lake offered canoe and paddleboard rentals, which would have been a treat if we were there earlier in the day.
Once the sun set we quickly discovered why Jasper is considered a Dark Sky Preserve. To our excitement, we received a reading that the Northern Lights were going to be active that night. Kellie had still never seen the aurora, even during her stint in Alaska, so with the radar up to a six out of ten, we knew we couldn’t let this chance slip away.
I set my alarm for around 2am, thinking the lights would be their most active at that time. I’ve chased the aurora borealis several times since my year of living in Alaska so I kind of have a knack for excursions like this, if I do say so myself. As we were already sleeping in the Jeep, it was easy for us to get up and go. We were on a mission.
We found a spot off the highway just outside of town, where there was hardly any light pollution. Surprisingly enough, the only interference was coming from the headlights of the eighteen-wheelers that were driving by constantly.
I set up my Nikon and tripod, made the proper setting changes and looked up. There weren’t any greens or purples that we could see visibly, but we could tell there were solarwinds fluttering across the sky. I snapped a shot, and the slow shutter speed produced a beautiful image of the aurora.
We were so excited! Kellie couldn’t believe what she was seeing! It’s truly one of the most magical phenomenons you could ever experience. We stayed out there for about an hour, with the night sky only lighting up more and more, the auroras circling around us as they danced. You never want to leave when magic is in the air, but it was still 3am and we were freezing our toes off.
A couple hours later, we were still amazed from that moment we shared together. I was so happy Kellie could witness that, finally. It made the depression of leaving Alaska a little easier.
We spent the following day exploring more of Jasper and made our way into the Maligne Valley Region. It’s an hour drive one way that weaves along the Maligne River, to the longest lake in the Canadian Rockies. The Maligne Lake is also the second largest glacially fed lake in the world. Surrounded by the Maligne Range and the mesmerizing Queen Elizabeth mountain range, it was easy to spend all day there.
Even easier to do if you lose your travel partner and have to spend three hours looking for her, when the whole time she’s on the other side of the lake talking to a friendly couple from Idaho. Pro-tip: when traveling with a partner, especially when you only have one kayak, determine a meeting time and place BEFORE embarking on your chosen alone time activity.
The park offers a boat tour across the scenic lake and several trails to different viewpoints. You also have the option to rent canoes or kayaks for the day or even an overnight adventure to Spirit Island. There is access for personal non-motorized watercrafts, so the first thing I did was put my kayak in the water (refer back to pro-tip).
On our way back to town, we made a stop at Maligne Canyon. We checked out the river gorge and sharp cliffs carved by the rushing water below, which flowed from the lake that we were just visiting. It was a different perspective of the area than what we had already experienced. The force of the rushing water through the steep canyon was just another showcase of Mother Nature’s power, one of many that you will get to experience when visiting Jasper National Park en route to The Icefield Parkway.