Jasper National Park is the epitome of Canadian natural beauty. Vast landscapes of mountains, flowing rivers and evergreen forest blanket the region and the wildlife here is king. Larger and filled with more untouched, rugged wilderness than Banff, I think I just found my favourite place in Canada.
Many people however, avoid Jasper in the winter months and not without reason. Even getting there proves difficult, as the main route to Jasper through the Icefields Parkway becomes a treacherous, icy, avalanche-prone zone. Then even once you are there won’t be as much wildlife out and about as there is in the summer and of course many of the rivers and lakes are frozen over, so activities such as kayaking are a no go.
BUT the winter months can also be some of the most magical. Here’s how and why a wintery trip to Jasper shouldn’t be dismissed:
The Trip From Banff to Jasper is INSANELY beautiful
Without a car it can prove difficult to get to Jasper from Banff as it’s a good few hours away and there’s no public transport. I know some people who have hitchiked but I chose the safer route and booked myself a seat on the SunDog Tours Mountain Connector. Pro with it being the quite winter months? I had plenty of room to stretch out!!
During the warmer months the same tour company offers trips to the Colombian Icefields and the Glacier Skywalk, unfortunately this doesn’t happen in the winter but you do still get an amazing view of them as you pass by!
TIP 1: If you’re driving make sure you fill up with fuel, there are no gas stations open in the winter between Lake Louise and Jasper
TIP 2: If like me you take the SunDog bus then shotgun a seat on the left handside for the best views!
Jasper Town is a Home away from Home
With all the touristy attractions of the mountains, forests and wildlife it’s amazing how Jasper has retained its homely feel, but it has. Friendly smiling locals take pride in their closeness with the nature and wildlife that surrounds them and they are fearcly protective of preserving the unspoiled beauty of this land.
If you’re camping in the wrong spots, feeding the wild animals when you’re not supposed to, badgering animals just to get a photo or speeding through wildlife crossings, then expect to be yelled at and rightly so. Respect the nature here as the locals do and they’ll welcome you with open arms.
There are fewer places to stay here in regards to hostels with it being such a small town. The main HI-Jasper one is a bit far out so mainly good for those with a car, but they are in the works of proposing a new one closer in. I stayed at a place called World Travellers Fraternity and it was more like a guesthouse than a stereotypical hostel, located in the converted basement area of a house. It is however roomy, homely and run by a lovely couple who are more than helpful with tips and places to go whilst in Jasper.
The Wildlife Is Still Out and About
Walking around the town you can spot deer and elk wandering down the rail tracks, or even crossing the roads. As I said wildlife is king here and they have learnt to live alongside the community and people here who respect them.
Other ways to spot the wildlife is to just simply drive around and see what you can spot or go for hikes. I came across some deer munching away close to the road:
Then on a hike up Old Fort Point was greeted by some curious mountain sheep!
Another way if you don’t have a car is to jump on a wildlife tour. I went on one with SunDog and again because of the quieter tourist season, I was the only one on the bus!! This means I got to sit up front and chat and learn so much about Jasper’s wildlife from my knowledgeable guide Dave.
We came across a huge herd of Elk!
Then had a close encounter with some cheeky looking sheep!
We also visited the beautiful Medicine Lake:
Dave explained how at this time of year the lake is known as the ‘disappearing lake’ because it literally drains away. This is due to an underground river system that empties in the winter, thus leaving gaps for the lake water to vanish into. The result is this magnificent landscape of shimmering white.
You Get To Go On Ice Canyon Walks
In the winter the Malign Canyon opens up as the rivers waters dissappear and freeze over. What was once a vast deeper river in the summer becomes an icey Canyon wonderland you can explore (with caution).
Frozen waterfalls and huge icycles make for a spectacular walk.
I went with SunDog Tours and was once again the only visitor, another private tour for me yay! 😄 It was useful to go with them as they pick the safest times to go, paths to take and provide you with the appropriate footwear.
Canada has had an especially warm winter this year and this is evident by the melting ice and snow around Jasper. It also meant that the evening Ice Canyon walks were not running due to the thawing and that they would most likely be closing off the Canyon in another week or so, so I got there just in time!
You might think that in the winter the trees in the park will be bare, everything covered in snow and all of the rivers would be frozen over. Wrong! The evergreen forests remain vibrant and green, the weather is still good for walking and many of the rivers are fed by underground warmth waters, so remain flowing.
I did drink a bit of the water here too.. not as cold as Lake Louise water but still fresh and crisp!
The Athabasca River is the main river that runs through Jasper and according to the locals has been thawing rapidly fast in parts for this time of year:
It’s vivid emerald green waters are truly an incredible if not worrying sight.
The last point I wanted to make for coming to Jasper in the winter is of course there will be hugely less footfall. The bears are hibernating and many of the park grounds are closed, so the millions of crowds that usually traverse the park in the summer aren’t there. I loved this. Less annoying throngs of people trying to get a selfie with a bear (don’t do that it’s dumb), peaceful hikes and cheaper rates. Brilliant!
Whatever time of year you do go, you’re still going to have an amazing time in Jasper. It’s impossible not too. To be that close with nature and to see such beautiful landscapes really does wonders at soothing the soul and I’d recommend anyone to visit the secret gem that is Jasper in the winter. I’ll be back for sure 😊🌲💙