Jasper NP

Key information: Jasper NP

  • This famous park in the Canadian Rockies has some of the world’s most beautiful mountain landscape.
  • World-class walks, including the famous Skyline Trail and Tonquin Valley.

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  • Note: Negs: popularity, crowding on popular routes.

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Your choice
  • Maximum Altitude: 2,320m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
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WALK SUMMARY

This National Park in Alberta’s Rockies is home to some of the world's most beautiful mountain landscape. We love Lonely Planet's description: 'filled with the kind of immense scenery that has turns the monosyllabic into romantic poets'. Jasper is quieter than Banff NP to its south, its backcountry even remoter – although you won’t feel alone on its popular trails in high season.

Prepare for majestic peaks, craggy ridges and vast cliffs; glaciers hanging from high valleys and shelves; powerful rivers, gorges and wide bottoms sprinkled with lakes; high meadows and boundless forest below. And pure, pure air. A feature of the south of the park is the vast Columbia Icefield, with its 6 + outlet glaciers, including the Athabasca. Most of the forests are of spruce, with some firs and ground-hugging pines higher up. There is a good variety of shrubs, but the area is famous for its glorious wildflowers, which appear with the snowmelt or shortly thereafter, thus appearing later on the higher slopes.

Wildlife includes black and grizzly bears; moose, elk, deer and Bigham sheep and mountain goats; wolves and coyote; beavers, marmots and little pikas. Birds include golden eagles (which migrate north-south past Jasper), ospreys and owls; and nutcrackers and thieving jays.

There is an excellent network of trails (said to be 1,200km-worth) in the park, so you can find countless walks to suit you, from shortish potters to long explorations deep into true wilderness. 

Multi-day walks

The most famous walk here is the 2-3 day Skyline Trail. This superb high-ground walk is claimed by many to be the finest walk in Canada, enjoying outstanding views (visual heaven) and a good chance to encounter the interesting wildlife.

The other really great walk is the trek in to the marvellously beautiful Tonquin Valley, a long basin sprinkled with beautiful lakes and overlooked by the line of peaks and cliffs known as the Ramparts. 2 days+.

Brazeau Trail: a superb and less-walked trail out into the high back-country, crossing the Jonah and Nigel Passes. Enjoy high alpine landscape as well as lovely forests. Various ways of tackling it, from 3 day (54km) to 5 days (80km).

The North Boundary Trail heads for 192 km north then westwards towards Mt Robson NP and the stunning Berg Lake.  This is a truly remote backcountry hike, crossing view-wealthy high grounds but also thick forest and marshy areas. A demanding walk requiring a lot of preparation. Assume roughly 10 days, give or take two either way. 

The Fiddle River Trail follows its eponymous valley deep into the wilderness south-west from Miette Hot Springs, to cross the Fiddle Pass then descend into the remote Wildhorse Wildland Provincial Park. (You may want to walk this in reverse, so you end at the hot springs, which, as well as giving a rewarding soak, may be easiest transport-wise.) A fabulous 37km/4-day backcountry hike in stunning landscape. For experienced hikers only, wayfinding not easy.

South Boundary Trail: beginning with a gentle climb up the valley from Medicine Lake in the Maligne Valley to Jacques Lake (see below), this utterly remote backcountry hike leads its way southwards (and out of the park) for some 170km. While it explores meadows and crosses passes, much of it is in forested valley bottoms. A serious walk, wayfinding not easy. You can also walk from Nigel Creek up to Brazeau Lake, in 18.3 miles, one way. See more at https://canadianrockiestrailguide.com/jaspers-south-boundary-trail-revisited/

Day Walks

North of the NP: In the north of the park are the  Miette Hot Springs. 

The 700m climb to the Sulphur Skyline and Sulphur Lookout is the best day walk in the area, delivering vast and wonderful views from the high ridge at 2,000m +. Beware unpredictable weather. 8 (9?)km return, 3 hrs or so.

The springs are also the start of the lengthy Fiddle River Trail (see above).

Mid NP – near Jasper town

The shortish (4km circuit) but steep climb (gaining 130m) to Old Fort Point rewards with lavish views of the surrounding mountains. The straightforward 9km circuit from Jasper town to ravishing Mina Lake and Riley Lake makes a lovely 3hr walk. A good leg-stretcher.

Indian Ridge is some people's favourite day hike. From the top of the Jasper SkyTram at Wistlers Summit, this walk climbs to the summit, then descends to a col, then climbs back up to the Indian Ridge.  Huge views include Mt Robson.

Morro Peak is a 600m climb to a peak with views over the Athabasca valley. 8km, 4 hrs+.

South – off Icefields Parkway

Astoria Valley: this lovely valley is mainly used as access to the famously magnificent Tonquin Valley, although it is a good walk in its own right. You climb steadily through forest and beside the river for the first 10km, with some lake and mountain views to whet your appetite. You then climb some 300m of not-too-difficult switchbacks for 3 km or so, emerging into the flower-filled pastures of lower Tonquin for a visual feast of the famous walls of the Ramparts marching ahead. Ie, to make a superb rather than a merely very good day, you need to make a long day of it.

Eremite Valley:  A lovely, forested valley leading to marvellous scenery lake-and-mountain at its upper end. Begins on the Astoria River trail. 16km+ return.

Geraldine Lakes: this is a stunning but (once past the first lake) demanding hike/scramble up a stepped valley to two gorgeous lakes (and, indeed) you could climb further to two further lakes. An easy beginning to the first lake, then a proper scramble up the first two steps, to a waterfall then to the upper lake. 10km/3.5hrs there and back. 400m+ height gain. [Photos, describe. Big mts about?l

Path of the Glacier Trail: walk up the still-desolate recent glacier path to the greeny iceberg lakelet at the foot of the particularly beautiful Angel Glacier.  1.5km to the viewpoint. You can head on down to the lake. A popular walk.

Edith Cavell Meadows: a 440m climb past meadows and viewpoints and through lovely forest to the wonderfully beautiful flowery high Edith Cavell Meadows. Close into the cliffs and ice of Mt Edith Cavell and with views of the Angel Glacier as well. 8km+, 3hrs there and back (more if add on Glacier Trail).

The superb Sunwapta Falls are an easy walk off the Icefields Parkway. 3km/1hr return to the lower falls in their wide, forested valley.

Sunwapta Peak: Climb 1,850m to the bare, rocky 3,315m summit of this glacier-dangling peak. Astounding views. A really demanding 12km walk. Not for the uninitiated.

Wilcox Pass is a generally moderate hike on the slopes above the Athabasca Glacier into ever-wilder (windswept) country, up to this high pass (actually, wide, flattish valley) amidst glaciated peaks for stunning views. 8km/2.5 hrs return.

Parker Ridge: a shortish (6km, 2hrs return) climb to a ridge for incredible views of the vast Saskatchewan Glacier, the biggest of the Columbian Icefield’s outlets, and its surrounding mountains. (Don’t be fooled by the underwhelming-seeming walk up.)

To Athabasca Glacier: an easy walk to the base of this stunning glacier.

South-east – Maligne Valley: the start of these walks is in the Maligne Valley, so you can get here by shuttle. While the Maligne Lake shore (and valley) are crowded in summer, you can get away from most of them pretty quickly.

Opal Peak: a steep 1,200m climb to flowery meadows and then on to this stunning rocky summit. The views are, it barely needs saying, astounding. 12 km.

Mary Schaffer Trail: short and easy (and therefore popular) potter to a famous viewpoint. Not for the serious walker.

Moose Lake: a short (2-5km) and easy circuit to this lovely lake on a surprisingly empty path. Chance of moose sighting.

Bald Hills: from the foot of Maligne Lake, climb 500m to make a couple of loops on rock and alpine meadow on the Bald Hills to the south-west of the lake-head. Huge and stunning views of the mountainous, glacier-speckled wilderness and lake. Up to 11km (5 hrs).

Beaver Lake to Jacques Lake: this is one of Jasper's best lower-level walks, a long but not difficult trek from Medicine Lake up a flattish valley past three fine lakes to Jacques Lake, with dramatic mountains marching each side. 24km round trip, 6hrs+.

Others: While both are short and popular, it is worth having a look at Maligne Canyon and walking to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier.

[See video clip(s) here.

This can be demanding walking in remote mountains with uncertain weather, and where bears are a risk. Come fully prepared.

Our friends and partners Responsible Travel have a selection of walking and other holidays here. Because they have numerous holidays, you should get good ideas, perhaps for something you hadn’t thought of!

We want to tell more - please send us your ideas, suggestions, experiences and photos. Thank you!

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Books and Maps

Suggest books and maps

Books on these walks (support us: find books using our Amazon links)       

Lonely Planet’s Banff, Jasper and Glacier NP is excellent.

Canadian Rockies Trail Guide by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson. The serious walker’s bible.

Find these and other books on Amazon.

Other books (support us: find books using our Amazon links)

Find these and other books on Amazon.

Maps

Maps are easily bought, locally.

Stanfords: A good online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks). Also try Maps Worldwide.

Best times to walk/weather

Best times to walk

July to October are the best times to walk here. May and June will see quite a lot of snow on higher ground still, as will July – and, June is the wettest month here.

July and August are busiest but have the best weather. September and October can be good for avoiding the summer crowds as well as for the pleasures of Fall. Summer can see plagues of insects in some areas, in particular, black flies, mosquitoes, depending on weather conditions, humidity, and habitat. They get less bad from early August.

Forget the long winter months, if it is walking you are here for.

Weather

Generally fine in season, but come prepared for unpredictable mountain weather (including thunderstorms).

For detailed weather information, have a look at: country guides on www.weather2travel.com.

Getting there/transport/permits/fees

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Check the current visa positon for people from your country.

Calgary and Edmonton are both reasonably convenient airports for getting to/from the park. There are airport shuttles to the park. And public buses accessing the park. You can also get to Jasper by train.

Most people get there and around by car, and car hire is easy. There are some shuttles within the park (to Maligne Lake in particular), but car is the easiest way to get around.

Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from/to arranged start/departure points.

Park passes must be bought.  Wilderness passes and backcountry reservations are needed to do overnight walks. They can be obtained from the National Park office(s) and can be obtained up to 3 months ahead (do check the latest position). Expedition organisers should arrange these.

Local taxi services exist in the towns and can (e.g.) take to or pick you up from a roadhead.

You can arrange a guide and pack animal for some walks (see below).

Possible problems, health, other warnings

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  • This can be tough walking, and you will need to be physically and mentally up to it and fit enough. Advance preparation needed.
  • Mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind and thunderstorms are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Get off high ground if a thunderstorm may be approaching. Some of the steep rock can get very slippery when wet. Come prepared.
  • Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
  • Heights and exposure: the heights can be dangerous and exposure severe on some walks; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
  • Dangerous/harmful/annoying animals of all shapes and sizes, including snakes, ticks; mosquitoes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Mosquitos are particularly bad in the evenings and are worst up to early August – take all usual mosquito and tick precautions. Bears (both black and grizzly) are a potential problem: come prepared to deal with an encounter and store camp food equipment appropriately. There are plenty of websites with advice on hiking in bear country, and a particularly good one is the US National Parks Service site. Take all appropriate precautions (carry a bear bell?) and walk noisily if you think you are near a bear.
  • Rivers can swell after rain – caution required!
  • This can be a remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies/food and other supplies will not be readily available and help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
  • Don’t drink unpurified water – risk of giardiasis and other infections.
  • Glaciers: are for the experienced/guided and properly equipped only.

See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Make sure you have appropriate insurance.

Guided or independent?

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Independent

You can do these walks independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient on longer routes, so come fully prepared.

Guided/supported: walking and trekking holidays for Jasper Country

Some people form or join organised/supported expeditions, particularly when doing multi-day walks. Given the remoteness of the country, some will prefer to do it this way,and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Organisers can also arrange for permits to be obtained.

Choosing a suitable guide or company is of course vital. If hiring a guide locally, meet him/her and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed.

Expedition organisers include:

www.canadianskylineadventures.com organise guided hikes throughout Jasper.

Our friends and partners Responsible Travel have a selection of walking and other holidays in Canada. Because they have a wide selection, you should get good ideas, perhaps for something you hadn’t thought of!

PLEASE HELP Walkopedia by recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise. 

Accommodation

There is a wide variety of accommodation (luxury lodges to campsites) in the park. The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation.

www.stayinginjasper.com has a great selection of private BnBs.

A good range of accommodation can be found on www.booking.com

Camping once on trail is in designated campgrounds, although you can wild camp in a few areas and there are a few backcountry lodges/cabins including at Shovel Pass on the Skyline Trail and in the Tonquin Valley.

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Other information and tips; responsible tourism and charities

Bring insect repellent. Mosquitos can be a nuisance….

Having the correct gear is essential for a comfortable, safe walk. Begging and borrowing gear off others is ideal if you’re on a budget, or this is your first long walk, but at some point you may want to invest in some of your own. Some of our favourite equipment and clothing specialists include  Surfdome, Britain’s Cotswold Outdoor.

Walkopedia encourages responsible tourism!

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Useful websites and information

There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.

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Other things to do in the Jasper area

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Other walks

Canada has a huge variety of great walks. There are hundreds of great walks in Alberta – look up Banff NP and Waterton Lakes for starters.

Other activities

Great mountain biking, climbing, white water rafting, birdwatching – in fact, a huge range of outdoor delights.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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