So, you’ve planned a trip to Japer this summer…. but you’ll only be here for a few days. How do you decide what to do? This can be a hard decision as there are so many great sites and activities to do in Jasper National Park.
Alright, if you and your family are looking for a fun-filled two days, this is what I suggest.
Jasper in 2 days:
Day 1: Icefields Parkway, Valley of the Five Lakes, Athabasca Falls, Athabasca Glacier
Definitely plan a drive down the Icefield’s Parkway, highway 93. Leaving Jasper after breakfast will give you time for a walk at Valley of the 5 Lakes before stopping for lunch at Sunwapta Falls.
Valley of the Five Lakes
There are a lot of options in the Valley of the Five Lakes to shorten or lengthen your walk depending on your family’s walking pace and endurance. Toddlers and little kids might make it to wooden bridge and back to the parking lot in about an hour’s time. If you and your family are more enthusiastic, follow 9a around the 5th Lake, and cut back on 9b to reconnect with 9a back to the parking lot. This might take you about 2- 2 ½ hours. There is a large map at the parking lot and smaller maps at every junction so it is easy to find your way around.
After leaving Valley of the Five Lakes, continue south along the Icefields Parkway. There are numerous scenic pull offs along the side of the road for a picnic lunch. You’ll need to stop at Athabasca Falls, but in the summer time this can be quite busy. You might find smaller crowds if you stop here on your return later in the day. The only restaurant and snack stop between Jasper and the Icefields Center is at Sunwapta Resort. Sunwapta Falls are 100 meters past the resort and have outdoor tables for a picnic lunch.
Icefields Center and Athabasca Glacier
After your lunch stop, continue driving south and enjoy the spectacular view! Tangle Falls are located on the side of the road and are a good place to stretch your legs. Arriving at the Columbia Icefields you have the option of purchasing tours onto the glacier in a snow bus and visiting the Glacier Skywalk or walk to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier for free. Keep in mind this is a glacier… a very very large chunk of ice and snow. It is also quite a bit higher in elevation. So, while it could be a lovely warm day in the town of Jasper, it could actually be snowing at the glacier. Be prepared with coats, hats, and sunglasses.
All this probably brings you into late afternoon. Starting back up the highway towards Jasper remember to watch the sides of the road for wildlife. Bears frequent grassy areas to eat flowers. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep frequent the rocky slopes.
Athabasca Falls and Hwy 93a
On your way back to Jasper, stop at Athabasca Falls if you did not do so earlier. While you’re here, continue back on 93a to experience some different scenery. Meetings of the Water is an inviting pull off by the river, a good choice for some afternoon snacks.
I assume that by the time you arrive back in Jasper, everyone will be eager for supper. So, go grab a bite to eat. Refueled by pizza or souvlaki, now is the time to buy an ice cream cone and explore around town and check out some local shops. Many of the stores will be open until 8pm (if not later).
Local’s tip: Being that you’re on vacation and are lucky enough to be travelling with teenagers, you can send them off to catch a movie at the local theater while you stop in to one of the many inviting restaurants or bars for an hour or so of much appreciated adult time!
Jasper in 2 days… second day: Skytram, Maligne Canyon, Edith Cavell, Mountain Biking, Beaches and Lodges
You have a few options closer to town. I suggest dividing your day in half and choosing 2 of these activities: one for the morning, and one for the afternoon.
You will want to book your ‘flight’ (your tickets) online so that you are not waiting too long at the station to get a ride to the top. Once at the top there are trails to explore, rocks to sit on for great family photos, awesome views, and a little cafeteria for snacks. Please respect the alpine fauna up here and don’t leave the trails. With younger kids you will want to stick closer to the upper tram station. With older kids you can explore the peak and ridge of Whistlers mountain.
To get to the Jasper Skytram head south from town on Highway 93 and turn right on Whistlers Road. The Skytram parking lot is only a 10-15 minute drive from town.
Rent bikes in town and go exploring
You can rent bikes at a few different shops in town (Freewheel Cycle, Vicious Cycle, and Jasper Source for Sports). Some even rent out chariots for pulling your baby or young child in. Biking skills and fitness level will determine your choice of trail. For an easier experience, you can head out to Old Fort Point on relatively flat tails. If you are more adventuresome, you can head up towards Pyramid Lake onto what is known as ‘the bench’. The bike rental shop will provide you with the best up-to-date recommendations on which trails to hit and why. You can find current bike trail or hiking trail maps at the information center.
Free and super cool. Either start at the top (1st bridge) for a quick look down into the canyon and exploring as far as the family wants. Or, start at the bottom (5th bridge) and walk up to the top and back down again. Here’s an earlier post on what to expect for the walk along Maligne River down to the 5th bridge. Exploring around the 1st bridge is stroller friendly, but continuing further down along the canyon is not. There is a shop and cafeteria as well as picnic tables and outhouses by the main parking lot at the top of the canyon.
To get to Maligne Canyon head west from town on Highway 16, turn right onto Maligne Road. Watch for signs. The parking lots for 5th bridge and 1st bridge are on the left. It is about a 15 minute drive from town.
Get up close and personal with geology. From the parking lot take the steep and paved trail up towards the hanging glaciers. You’ll end up overlooking a tarn (small body of glacial meltwater). Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to see some huge chunks of ice floating in the water or spot some delicate alpine flowers. Do make sure to spend some time watching the rocks for small furry pikas (about the size of a guinea pig) running and gathering grass. As much as I love the scenery here, the pikas are my favourite attraction. Do be aware that if you plan to visit Edith Cavell on a busy summer day, the parking will be limited. Also, the road up to Edith Cavell is long and windy with many switchbacks. I have know both kids and adults to feel nauseous after the drive.
To get to Edith Cavell, head south from town on 93. Turn right on 93a after the park gate. Turn right again when you see the sign for Edith Cavell Road.
For supper on this night, I have two suggestions, depending on both the weather and your family’s preferences.
Picnic at the beach
Grab some food-to-go from town. Try wraps from Patricia Street Deli, take-out from Lou Lou’s, or stop by the grocery store for hotdogs and marshmallows. Then, head out to Lake Annette or Pyramid Lake. You’ll find numerous picnic tables for eating and fire pits for cooking at either location. Spend your evening watching the sun go down while the kids play in the sand and shallow (but cold) waters. Lake Annette is surrounded by a paved trail and has a large grassy field perfect for flying kites, a playground, outhouses, and covered shelters; everything you need for an enjoyable family evening.
Jasper Park Lodge
If an indoor venue is more your style, go check out the main floor of Jasper Park Lodge. The lodge has huge picture windows looking out onto the lake, and many comfy couches where they will even serve you dinner. The lodge has a pricier menu but kids 5 and under eat for free.
Locals Tip: For older kids, you may want to bring along a board game, cards, or books to enjoy after eating. You could even bring swimsuits and play in the heated outdoor pool after supper or send your teenagers to do that while you continue to enjoy the cozy lodge and views (with or without a drink in hand!).
Looking back over this, seeing all of Jasper in 2 days sure will be fun-filled. But if your family is one which finds ‘filled’ less than fun, then you’ll just need to plan a longer visit! I know, unfortunately, that may not be possible, so just take it easy, pick your favourite suggestions above and make the most of your Jasper in 2 days.
Needing somewhere to stay? Here’s a rundown of all Jasper accommodation options (from hotels and rentals, to campsites and cottages). And if you’d like to keep in touch, sign up for the Take Them Outside Club Notes. You’ll get travel tips, nature news, goodies and more delivered right to your inbox.