An Explorer's Guide to Jasper, Alberta

Huckberry Ambassador Chris Brinlee Jr. lays out everything you need to climb, paddle, and hike in the Wild West of Canada
January 25, 2016Words by Chris Brinlee Jr. Photos by Chris Brinlee Jr.

There’s a lot more to do in Jasper, Alberta than stand in front of pretty alpine lakes while wearing brightly-colored jackets (although that's not without its perks). With thousands of miles of trails to hike, hundreds of mountains to climb, and dozens of lakes to canoe, the place is an adventurer’s paradise.

With so much to offer, narrowing down a list of things to do in Jasper can be a daunting task. But this guide will help you make the most out of your week in the Canadian Rockies’ largest national park.

Editors Note: For authenticity's sake, Chris has listed all prices in Canadian dollars. As a reference point, one American dollar currently equals roughly 1.42 Canadian dollars. 

How long does it take?
2-3 days
How much does it cost?
$30 shuttle ticket, $10 per person per night campsite
What do you need to do it?
Backpacking gear, backcountry permit, and campsite reservation

Hikers are greeted with alpine country within a few hours of embarking on the Skyline Trail, which boasts the highest average elevation (8,238 feet at its highest point, in fact) of any trail in Jasper, Alberta. At about 27 miles long, the Skyline Trail is remote enough to offer a real backcountry experience, but it’s short enough to be completed in just two or three days. It’s super accessible too — the trail ends just 10 minutes’ drive from downtown Jasper.

This well-trodden path snakes through alpine meadows and skirts along ridgelines, offering both peaceful serenity and an exciting sense of exposure and making it the perfect endeavor for anyone who seeks to answer the mountains’ call. For a detailed guide, check out my trip report on IndefinitelyWild.

How long does it take?
1-2 hours
How much does it cost?
$35 per hour

Pyramid Lake gets its name from Pyramid Mountain, which, at just over 9,000 feet, dominates the lake’s horizon. The lake itself is more than a mile and a half long and it features an island and several secluded inlets accessible only by hiking or boat. Rent a canoe from Pyramid Lake Resort to explore its tranquil waters. The lake is only a 10-minute drive from town.

How long does it take?
4-5 hours
How much does it cost?

In case you’ve never heard of it, canyoning is a relatively new sport that combines hiking, climbing, rappelling, sliding, and swimming to descend rugged and remote canyons. Commercially-run canyoning trips are brand new for Jasper.

The adventure takes place at Two Valley Canyon, a short 20-minute drive from downtown. Upon arriving at the canyon’s mouth, you’ll don a wetsuit, splash jacket, hood, harness, boots, and gloves before hiking into the woods — following the edge of the canyon along the way.

After reaching the canyon’s gates, you’ll spend the next three to four hours descending back down, using a series of slides and rappels. It’s cold, wet, and awesome. Book your trip through Maligne Adventures.

How long does it take?
9-12 hours
How much does it cost?
$600-800 with a guide (or free without a guide)
What do you need to do it?
Mountaineering gear

Towering above the Columbia Icefields Parkway at 11,453 feet, Mount Athabasca is a crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies, and it offers some of these mountains' most classic alpine climbing routes.

The North Glacier, which can be seen from the parkway, is the normal route; the AA Col can be used if conditions are less than ideal. The Friends of Jasper store, which shares the same building as the Jasper Visitor’s Center downtown, sells small pamphlets with beta and route information; we found those to be most useful when planning our climb.

Don’t have enough mountaineering experience to confidently conquer it on your own? You can hire Yamnuska Mountain Guides (which also offer rentals of all mountaineering gear) to take you up Athabasca, or a handful of other incredible peaks in Alberta.

How long does it take?
3+ hours
What do you need to do it?
Sport climbing rack, climbing rope

There are a ton of great crags located throughout Jasper, and Hidden Valley is arguably one the area’s best. Several walls feature dozens of routes — both single and multi-pitch — rated anywhere from 5.4 and up. In addition to lots of great routes, the scenery is incredible, making Hidden Valley such a great place to climb.

The crag is located about 30 minutes’ drive outside of Jasper, and once you reach it there’s an additional 30-minute approach. Directions and route information are located in this handy guide.

How much does it cost?
$15 for a burger, $7 for a pint

With all of that adventure, you’re going to work up an appetite. Thankfully, those cravings can easily be satiated with a toasted Reuben or classic burger from Jasper Brewing Company, located in the heart of downtown.

The brewery offers the kind of rustic yet trendy atmosphere that you’d expect from a small, popular mountain town. They’ve also got quite the selection of original beers on tap.

There are several accommodation options in Jasper, ranging from hotels to hostels, car camping to camping in your car.

Hostelling International runs a rustic getaway near Two Valley Canyon that offers both shared dorms and private rooms. Meanwhile, the Whistler’s Inn provides a more refined but equally cozy abode in downtown.

For the more adventurous, there are several campgrounds dotted throughout the park, many of which are located along the scenic Columbia Icefields Parkway, providing quick access to incredible nature. For more information on where to camp, check out Parks Canada.

No matter where you explore in Jasper, you’re sure to have the adventure of a lifetime. Your only regret will be leaving. [H]

Whether he’s climbing in the Himalayas or writing from LA, Chris Brinlee Jr. is an adventurer and storyteller who can’t stay put for more than a few weeks at a time.

Images ©: 1, 3-10, 13; Chris Brinlee Jr. 2, 11, 14; Gilberto Gil. 12; Yelp, Joshua B.

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