Every summer, holiday-hungry visitors come to Jasper National Park to feast their eyes on the smorgasbord of sights for which the Canadian Rockies are justifiably famous.
Let’s face it: Jasper has a bountiful buffet of beautiful views. Those mountains, and the playgrounds contained within them, are in large part why I moved to Jasper 12 years ago.
But a buffet beginner can get quickly overwhelmed. In piling the potatoes too high too early, one leaves little room for the prime rib.
When it comes to making the most of a weekend in Jasper National Park, locals know how to skip the lines and head right to the carving station. So grab a plate, sharpen your knife and get ready to dine a la carte on some of Jasper’s most delectable views, tastiest treks and most nourishing nature experiences.
You’re going to wake up for that sunrise selfie without a java jolt? Suit yourself, but let it be known that the Cadillac of espresso machines fires up at 7 a.m. at SnowDome Coffee Bar, downtown on Patricia Street. Aussie ex-pats living in Jasper—who take their caffeine very seriously—will testify that SnowDome’s coffee is the crema of the crop.
BEAT THE CROWDS AT PATRICIA LAKE
With java in hand, you’ll soon start to wake up. Meanwhile, up on the Pyramid Bench, the natural world has come alive. Early morning at Pyramid Lake is a standard suggestion for first time visitors to take in a sublime sunrise and a symphony of bird calls, but the locals’ pick is even closer to town. Patricia Lake is just as beautiful, just as blue and yet attracts a fraction of the attention that its bigger sister gets.
If you score first dibs on one of the few roadside pullouts along Pyramid Lake Road, just scurry down to the water’s edge and see how long it takes before you’re dipping your feet in. If it’s a beach you’re after, paddle a boat to the far end and pick a sandbar.
PACK YOUR LUNCH
Lunch is an important consideration when you’re trying to pack in a weekend’s worth of wildlife watching, waterfall wishing and summit soaking. That’s why, instead of sitting in a restaurant with the rest of the visiting public, you should take your food to go and plan a picturesque picnic.
Our first choice for efficient, excellent eats is the popular and perky Patricia Street Deli. Deliman Glen Leitch’s made to-order fresh sammies have fuelled many an expedition in JNP. If you dine at the downtown eatery often enough, the staff will start to remember your favourite sauces (curry mayo, sweet chilli, regular mustard and cranberry chutney, thanks).
THE BEST HIKE IN JASPER
You might know there’s more than 200 kilometres of trail opportunities leading from your hotel’s backdoor, and you also know you can’t do them all. What you probably don’t know is that you don’t really want to. I weep for the families of well-meaning dads who get dragged through the muck and the mosquitoes towards Jasper’s least-desirable day-hike destinations. The park trail office is a good place to check in to ask staff what’s dry and doable, but they’ll often send everyone to the same six spots.
The Valley of the Five Lakes Trail is perfectly beautiful, but if you don’t feel like sharing it with the rest of the school groups, dog walkers, mountain bikers and wedding parties who get directed there, shake your tail at the turnoff to Wabasso Lake (Trail 9). It’s a six kilometre hike through a ridge-lined river valley before arriving at a lake-side picnic spot. Dig out that deli sandwich and dine in solitude.
While the views in Jasper never get old, one of the best ways to experience the vistas with fresh eyes is to take in your surroundings from the middle of a lake. Getting yourself in a canoe on calm water, when the reflection off the glassy surface creates an even more immersive effect, is the kind of experience that transforms a summer staffer into a Jasper lifer.
Even more fun—because you’re able to move freely and expressively and never have to bail your boat—is hopping on a paddleboard. Once you find your balance, you can try a few basic yoga poses to really get serene. If you don’t have your own board, Translucid Adventures, who set up a board shop at Lake Edith, can float you a deal.
SEE THE STARS
After dark is when the lights come on in Jasper. You’ve probably heard that Jasper National Park is the world’s second largest dark sky preserve, on account of the fact it’s a just a teeny town in the middle of 10,000 square kilometres of undeveloped wilderness. What you probably don’t know is that the best place to view the celestial chandelier is a five minute drive from the centre of town.
Old Fort Point gets the local vote as the perfect place to snag a seat under the sky because a 10 minute hike gets you enough height for panoramic viewing, plus it’s far enough from ambient light so as to not diffuse the darkness. In mid-August, watch for the annual Perseid meteor shower and with each streaking star, be satisfied your trip couldn’t get any more heavenly.
Top image: Pyramid Lake (© Parks Canada/Olivia Robinson)