A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at https://www.travelwithirenke.blogspot.com
Published August 21st 2016
Spirited away on a rocky mountain high
Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, covering over 10,000 square kilometres, and as such, there is much to do in this vast wilderness of western Canada. Natural beauty abounds in plunging waterfalls, mountain lakes, glaciers and wildlife.
Our trip through this magnificent park and the township of Jasper had many very special highlights that will stay with us for a very long time. If it's not on your radar or bucket list, then your bucket list is not complete and here's why it should be added to any trip to this part of the world.
Crossing from Banff National Park into Jasper National Park, one of the first things you will come across is the Columbia Icefield. The largest icefield south of Alaska sees glacial ice and snow cover stretching over hundreds of kilometres, no matter what time of the year you visit. We travelled during summer and it was cold (around 7-10 degrees Celsius) and in winter, well one can imagine how cold it would be. The main glacier is Athabasca, after the river of the same name. To get to this glacier and walk on it takes two buses and this is not because it is far from the visitor centre but because of the terrain. The first bus was a regular touring coach that took us part of the way before we disembarked and boarded a very different bus, the Ice Explorer. The latter was a fun ride and is what gets you right up to the glacier. The wheels on this all-terrain vehicle are huge and are what gets it over 1,200 feet of thick ice. Standing next to the bus and on the magnificent glacier, you feel like you're in the land of the giants. Walking on a glacier is not your everyday experience and it's a must do here. This glacier, looking like a tongue hanging from the top of a mountain, gives you glimpses of icy crevasses and ice-fed streamlets.
Unfreeze the bones a bit and head via Tangle Creek Falls to Athabasca Falls, another treasure thanks to the thundering Athabasca River crashing through a narrow gorge and carrying sand and rock in its wake. This is a great area for a picnic and another walk.
Our next adventure was whitewater rafting on the Athabasca River. After gearing up with plastic poncho and safety vest, we headed out with the idea of spotting wildlife along the river banks. However, our focus had us holding on tight as we bounced up and down and rocked from side to side doing our best not to get wet but loving it when we did even though the temperature was pretty cold. This river barely surpasses a few degrees above freezing at best. The rapids were classed as level 1 and 2, not the biggest by far, but enough for us novice rafters.
Trusting our multi-talented navigator (also a chef) on the Athabasca River
You could say by now we were on a Rocky Mountain High but there was more unspoilt beauty, adventure and highs to come. The following day was all about lakes, first stopping off at Medicine Lake. Sometimes known as Magic Lake, this is not actually a lake. It appears to be and by chance, you may see water in it and then again you may not. This intriguing so-called lake is actually the Maligne River, which flows underground and then resurfaces causing water levels to change drastically. Thus, it led local tribes to call it Magic Lake. We were lucky it had water in it when we visited, which made for another great photo stop.
Medicine Lake - the now you see it, now you don't lake
Next up was a narrated cruise on Maligne Lake to Spirit Island. Now this is a real lake that's glacier-fed and the second largest in the world, encompassing 22 kilometres, whilst the island is the opposite in size. The tiny island sits on the south end of the lake with trees standing tall and not much else. It is one of the most photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies and is enchanting and sad in its history of two lovers from feuding families, a bit like Romeo and Juliet. The lovers used to meet secretly on the island but eventually the woman confessed to her father and she was banned from ever going to the island again. The lad returned to the island frequently, hoping his love would return but she never did. He died there and his spirit is said to live on, hence the name of the island. Majestic mountains and picture postcard views had us in awe in this beautiful paradise. It's a great place for guided fishing, kayaking and canoeing, hiking and horseback riding or cross-country skiing in winter.
On our way back to Jasper town site we stopped off at the dramatic Maligne Canyon and were mesmerised again, this time by the deep gorge cut by the ferocious Maligne River. With sheer limestone cliffs that plunge to depths of 50 metres, this canyon is accessible via a trail beginning at a picnic area. Hikers can cross 6 bridges and catch the spray from the river or peer down into the depths. In winter, you can do a guided tour across the floor of the frozen canyon.
It was time for lunch in Jasper and time to try a new restaurant. We chose to dine in Smittys, Canada's largest family restaurant chain. There are lots of choices here, from burgers to steaks, salads to turkey dinners, omelettes, waffles and pancakes. My son chose a schnitzel dish and I ordered a taco salad which 'wowed' me when it came out. It was the most colourful dish I'd had. The corn chips came not just in your standard yellow but also in blue and pink.
After lunch, we perused the shops. Very quaint and picturesque with flower baskets hanging outside, much like Banff, although this town began as a tent camp. Now a resort destination, a central park dominates the town from which the streets seem to radiate out. A teepee tent onsite and a totem pole opposite give insight into the town's history. Mountains surround the town and visibility provides more great photo opportunities.
Our Jasper jaunt was coming to a close but not without first doing an evening nature walk. One kilometre each way saw us trekking through craggy beauty around the base of Mt Edith Cavell. The high altitude had me stopping along the way to catch my breath, take in the surroundings of alpine plants and marvel at this amazing area. Highlights on this hike, the Path of the Glacier Trail, are Angel Glacier (named after its appearance) and Cavell Glacier. Both are stunningly beautiful, in addition to the small meltwater pond where the trail ends. It is littered with icebergs of both white and blue layers. With a side benefit of exercise, it hands down beats working out in a gym.
Our way to and from this mountain was by way of minibus on a twisting route through sub-alpine forests. Leaving the mountain after 9pm, the light of day was only just beginning to descend into night and it made for some wildlife spotting and more beautiful views. The cute factor came with a couple of baby elk popping their heads up in a meadow of vegetation.
Another sleep and it would be time to leave. Speaking of sleeping, our two nights were spent in Lobstick Lodge, try saying that fast 10 times or so. It's a comfortable 3-star eco-friendly property with an indoor pool and spa, restaurant and bar, lounge and cosy fireplace, plus free wifi. Not far from the town centre either.
It was sad to leave this awesome place but our departure from Jasper was by train, the spectacular Rocky Mountaineer, so we weren't too sad. Another adventure and journey to be written when time permits.
A road trip, a raft trip, a hike – whichever way you venture through Jasper, it's bound to be amazing.