Canadian locals say Jasper is what Banff used to be, before it got overcrowded and nearly impossible to book hotel rooms—at least within three digits per night. Jasper is a charming town in the Canadian Rockies, where you’re encouraged to power down and look up.
No matter when you visit, you’ll find drastically different itineraries and hobbies, each with their own perks. For starters, you’ll notice that room rates are about 60 percent less in winter than in summer months. And if you don’t like the weather, locals advise to “wait five minutes.” In Jasper you can easily experience four seasons in one day, which makes it a unique destination all its own.
Here, what to do in Jasper no matter what season you visit.
Ski and snowboard. Marmot Basin welcomes skiers and snowboarders of all levels and is the highest base elevation of all Canadian ski areas with over 1,720 acres. Their 91 runs are pretty evenly split between novice, intermediate, advanced, and expert slopes. Marmot Basin’s efficient lift system and diverse terrain are just two of the reasons it’s consistently ranked as a top resort, including being named the most affordable ski resort in North America. Average ski season extends November through May.
Go ice climbing. Whether you want a restorative winter vacation or you’re an adrenaline-seeking junkie, Jasper has something for you. But if you're the latter, ice climbing is one of the most unique and exhilarating ways to dive into a favorite local winter sport. Channel your inner-Wolvervine and go for a guided private or group ice climbing tour here.
Attend the Dark Sky Festival. In 2011, Canada's Royal Astronomical Society designated Jasper as a Dark Sky Preserve due to its limited light pollution which creates ideal conditions for dark sky viewing, and October is prime time. This annual festival, Oct. 16-25, is regarded as one of the world’s premier astronomy-focused events set in one of Canada’s few Dark Sky Preserves. Stargazers of all ages are invited to discover the unparalleled beauty of Jasper’s night sky and take part in an assortment of immersive experiences and educational events.
Get fed on Jasper Food Tours. Jasper isn’t particularly known for its culinary scene (unless you count maple syrup and whiskey), but a day with Jasper Food Tours may make you think twice about the town’s dish diversity. The tour—daily from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.—is within the friendly confines of Jasper’s historical downtown area, and the included drinks will certainly help warm you up. And whether you tour or not, be sure to visit Olive Bistro for the Vincent Van Gogh double infused espresso vodka on the rocks, or try their raspberry mango mimosa with a ball of mango that explodes to make your drink extra bubbly. Raven Bistro has half-priced bottles and glasses of wine from 3 to 6 p.m., or try the Rustic Elk Meatloaf at Jasper Brewing Company, the first brewery in Canada’s National Parks.
Ice walk in Maligne Canyon. Winter hiking is locally referred to as an "ice walk," which is highly regarded in Canada. Take the guided three-hour Maligne Canyon Ice Walk and experience a true winter wonderland, icicles, naturally frozen waterfalls, and more. Dress warm and bring your camera.
Escape with Sidecar Motorcycle Tours. Experience the Great Canadian Rockies from the side of a legendary Harley Davidson (driven by a professional rider). Meet the team downtown to get fitted—they have helmets, heated vests, blankets, leather chaps, gloves, goggles, and more to help you have the most enjoyable riding experience through the breathtaking mountains.
"Peak-nic." Jasper Food Tours leads this 3.8K intermediate hike up a stunning peak followed by a hands-on backcountry-cooking lesson, where you’ll learn to prepare your own gourmet meal in the outdoors using efficient and environmentally friendly outdoor cooking methods. Choose from a lunch or dinner “peak-nic,” each three hours.
Glacier walk in Athabasca. Here you’ll be safely introduced to the mysteries of the striking landscape. An ice walk in the summer may seem odd, but it’s still Canada. Athabasca is a 1.5-hour drive from Jasper, making it a perfect day trip along the spectacular Icefields Parkway. Guided tours run late May through September.
Cruise Maligne Lake. This is perfect for the less adventurous types who still want to take in as much scenery as possible. Named "Best Boat Cruise in Canada” by 8 million Reader’s Digest subscribers, the Maligne Lake Cruise is an awe-inspiring panoramic tour. Glide past mountain peaks on your way to Spirit Island, a world-famous destination only accessible by boat. Tour dates for 2020 run from May 30–Oct. 11.
Attend the Jasper Folk Fest Music Festival. As one of the closeout events of the summer (Sept. 11-13), this festival has a lineup that makes it the place to be for live music junkies. September is one of the most popular times to visit, so plan ahead.
Where to stay: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is ideally situated on 700 acres in Alberta’s breathtaking Jasper National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is also one of the most iconic Fairmont properties, surrounded by nature and some of Jasper’s furriest outdoor residents, and located right on the shores of glistening “Lac Beauvert” (Beauvert Lake). You’ll experience all that nature has to offer (so be warned), along with world-class charm and first-class service.
Getting there: Direct flights from Houston to Edmonton are available, but a rental car or shuttle service for the four-hour drive to Jasper is a must. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but perhaps that’s a good thing. We made our journey worthwhile by referencing this handy guided tour.