36 Hours in Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park, and for that matter, all of Alberta that I’ve seen, is absolutely magnificent.

Last year I visited for the first time onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, with a final stop in breathtaking Banff. This year, won over by the opportunity to cool off in the middle of a deadly hot Florida summer, I started in Vancouver on the train once again, but went even further north, up to Jasper National Park and the former fur-trading outpost of Jasper.

Jasper 10

Ever since I road-tripped out West with my siblings in 2014, and maybe even before that when I spent a few hours in Denali National Park with my grandparents, I have this insatiable desire to be in the wilderness. Like, 10 million acre wilderness — not my backyard, not the city park. I don’t want to see people or roads or signs, I just want open sky, snow peaks and wind in the tall trees.

Quite a change from the NYC gal I used to be, right?

Jasper 17

So what’s a wilderness-seeker to do in Jasper? With as little as 36 hours, you can actually see quite a bit.

Here’s my list of top activities to do in Jasper National Park!

Jasper 30

Wander around town.

Jasper, known as the little town on the big National Park, is home to around 5,000 permanent residents. The town is compact and walkable, and has everything you might need to spend a few days, from souvenir shops to candy stores to good restaurants. There are also plenty of Poke Stops and Pokemon to capture… errr, at least that’s what I heard.

Jasper is much smaller and less bustling than Banff, and nearly every hotel and guesthouse is within walking distance of the train station. Allegedly, wildlife is spotted often in this tiny town in the Athabasca River Valley, but we didn’t see a thing!

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Jasper Leaf Miner Aspen Tree

Jasper Wildflower

Jasper wildflower

Wander outside of Jasper

You don’t have to go far outside of the town of Jasper to experience the Canadian wilderness. Really, the town is a tiny speck in 4,200 sq. miles of Jasper National Park, so even a short jaunt from town puts you in Canadian Rockies bliss.

Jasper 12-min

Mom and I set out from the Sawridge Inn one morning to see what we could see, and we ended up walking several miles on an easy trail through Aspen trees. I was hoping to encounter a moose, a bear and maybe a Sasquatch, but we had no such luck. Just a couple little groundhog-like critters and an enormous dandelion. Make a wish!

Hike Maligne Canyon 

Mom and I didn’t make any plans in advance for our full day in Jasper. I knew I wanted to get out and see something, but I didn’t quite know what there was to see. As soon as we disembarked the Rocky Mountaineer and checked in to the Sawridge Inn at the edge of town, we visited the tour desk for ideas. The guy at the desk was also the bellboy, and I suspect maybe the janitor, too? He hadn’t been on any of the tours, so we chose rather blindly. But we chose perfectly!

Medicine Lake

We booked the Maligne Valley Wildlife & Waterfalls tour with Maligne Adventures. It cost about $115 Canadian, and was worth it for our guide alone. Marie, an adorable, pregnant, French Canadian biologist, was our guide for the day, and she was absolute gold. She knew everything about the area, the wildlife, the glaciers and the intricate underground river system that drains Medicine Lake (above) seasonally.
Jasper 4-min

Maligne Canyon was stunning, too, and well worth a visit. It seems like a little rushing stream and then suddenly it plunges into a narrow canyon 160 feet deep. There are several hikes of varying intensities and distances, so if you’re not on a tour, you have time to wander and take it all in.

I will say it was a challenge to photograph the enormity of the canyon with just an iPhone, so come prepared if you want better photos than these!



Visit Maligne Lake & Spirit Island

A boat ride to Spirit Island was included in our tour, so after hiking a bit around Maligne Canyon and snapping a few photos at Medicine Lake, we made our way to the Maligne Lake Visitor Center. To my surprise, it was a large facility with a beautiful deck overlooking the lake and the boat house, and a tasty restaurant. We grabbed some lunch there and ate it on the boat ride over to Spirit Island.

Jasper 21-min

Maligne Lake is really something to behold. Is there anything prettier than a glacier-fed lake?

Jasper 15-min

When you book the tour, you have the option to skip the boat ride out to Spirit Island in favor of just hiking around the lake on your own… but Spirit Island is SO beautiful.

Jasper 19-min

Oh my word, it was photogenic! It was the kind of place an Instagram fiend like me just goes nuts for! It needs no filter and no editing.

Y’all, Spirit Island woke up like this!

Do not skip Lake Maligne when you come to Jasper. It’s just too pretty to miss!

Jasper 18-min

You can easily rent a car and do this same experience on your own, and have much more time to wander and explore at your leisure, but it was wonderful to have Marie’s expertise on the tour as we explored.

Note: it’s crucial to have reservations for the Maligne Lake boat ride out to Spirit Island, otherwise you could be waiting for hours and hours for a boat. If you’re exploring on your own, plan ahead!

Jasper 23-min

The only negative part of our experience was the lack of wildlife – we didn’t see anything! Ok, we saw a few eagles, two deer and a handful of little squirrely critters, but no bears, no caribou, no elk and no moose. BOO!

Experience Icefields Parkway

To get home from Jasper to Jacksonville was no simple feat. It involved an 8-hour bus ride to Calgary with stops all along the way in Banff and Lake Louise, an overnight flight to Toronto and then a quick direct flight back to JAX. (Who knew Toronto was that close?!)

Jasper 9-min

The best part of the journey home was the bus ride, which was really a bonus tour on one of the world’s most scenic highways, the Icefields Parkway. It stretches 144 miles through the Canadian Rockies and gets you up close and personal with glaciers, lakes, rivers and finally, wildlife! (See the blurry shot below? It’s a BEAR, as seen from the bus. I was yelling and jumping up and down on a moving bus while trying to take the photo, so I apologize for the quality… I WAS PUMPED.)

Jasper 8-min

Along the way, we passed the Glacier Skywalk and Athabasca Glacier, where you can actually board the all-terrain Ice Explorer vehicle for a journey up the glacier.

Jasper 7-min

As much as I’d love to road trip here in an RV with Rick in the future, it was a treat to ride in the front of the bus and just sightsee with abandon.

Jasper 6-min

You’ll note I leave out several activities that make Jasper’s top to do lists, and you’ll also note, if you’re very observant, that a few of those cater to folks without a fear of heights. Y’all know I’m only afraid of one thing, but my darling mom, who joined me on this adventure, is acrophobic in a bad way. So we avoided some of the typically recommended attractions, like the Jasper SkyTram and the Glacier Skywalk. Personally I feel like if you’ve done one mountain tram or glass-bottom walk, you’ve done them all, so I wasn’t disappointed at all. Other activities to consider include Mount Edith Cavell, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, Miette Hot Springs, Pyramid Lake with Pyramid Mountain, Athabasca Falls and some great fishing, rafting, kayaking and camping.

Just writing this little guide to Jasper is making me crave a return visit. There’s no place quite like the Canadian Rockies, eh?


Disclosure: I was a guest onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, and I served as one of their social media ambassadors in 2015-2016. Mom & I paid for all other tours and experiences. As always, opinions on Angie Away are all my own.

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9 thoughts on “36 Hours in Jasper National Park”

  1. The colour of the water is mesmerizing! Gorgeous photos! Haha I would probably react the same way if I saw a bear near the road, I like that you still shared the photo because it conveys your excitement! 🙂

  2. Your pictures are excellent and the descriptions make me want to go there!!!! Sorry you only saw 1 bear – but I must admit – glad you didn’t find one when you were hiking! I’m sure your mom would have died. You two looked so wonderful – from the last pictures of you two and food !!
    Love ya!
    Auntie J.

  3. My friends and I are going to the Rockies at the end of this month and I’m SO EXCITED!! I wasn’t sure if I should add the boat ride to Spirit Island on my itinerary or not, but now I think I will! Thanks for the heads up, Angie!

  4. Gail Jones & Lane Tomey

    Hi Angie, Lane and I so enjoyed you and your mom on our Rocky Mountaineer adventure. We loved the rest of our trip, spending the next five days touring Jasper National Park and then down to Lake Louise for one night and Banff for one night, before driving to Calgary for our return flights to Atlanta and Raleigh. We booked our whole trip through Rockey Mountaineer, so we had a beautiful Fairmont Hotel waiting for us each night at all locations except Calgary. We chose the option of having our own car and if possible, that is the way to go. Each time we checked into our hotel, Lane talked to the concierge about the best way to spend our time in the parks. Having the luxury of time, we were able to drive to each point of interest and spend as much time as we wanted.We found the Canadians spectacular! It was hard to actually capture the magnitude of beauty, even with my Nikon camera. We were also fortunate with wildlife sitings, two grizzlies, a mama black bear and he cub crossed the road, right in front of the car in front of us. They proceeded to walk right up the very sleep incline on the other side. How cute was that! A very large male Elk was grazing in the gulley beside the road and on the way to Athabacca Falls, a dozen white mountain goats were grazing on the side of the incline. Lane was fascinated by all the Marmets we encountered all over the place. This trip was right up there with some of my favorites! We found the Canadian so friendly & welcoming too.Once again, it was a pleasure to spend those to days on the train with you and your mom. Gail Jones

    1. Hi Gail! We absolutely loved meeting you and Lane on the trip! It was so much fun to be able to get to know you while zipping through Canada. You had much better luck than we did with wildlife – now I want to go back and try again!! Let us know when you’re heading out on a trip again… we could make a girls’ weekend of it =)

  5. Im visiting Canada in three weeks! And Im so excited ???? Im currently planning what to see and do in Jasper, a d it seems there is so much beauty there. Im so excited. Thanks for the post! Definately some information I can use 🙂

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