A thorough exploration of Jasper’s best known walks would not be complete without a climb up to the top of Old Fort Point.
This hill looms up out of the surrounding forests to stand sentinel beside the Athabasca River. I guess, in a way, it does resemble a fort, maybe even more so to those long-ago travellers making their way through the Rockies along the Athabasca. But, as far as I know, there is not and has not ever been an actual fort here.
Old Fort Point is a year-round popular spot for tourists, locals, and wildlife. It is within walking distance from town and Jasper Park Lodge. The parking lot is also the pullout for river rafting adventures and a frequented location for fishermen to try their luck.
When you arrive at the Old Fort Point parking lot, you have a handful of options. The highlight is a climb to the top of Old Fort Point and a 360 degree view of the Athabasca Valley and Jasper Townsite.
My children have done this walk as young as 3, but it does take some time for them as it can be steep at times.
The other night we chose to start with the stairs, make our way to the top and then descend on the backside coming back around to the parking lot, trail #1. This loop took us about 90 minutes. Many people just go up the stairs, enjoy the view, and come back down again.
For young children, it can be very exciting to climb the tall stairs. Even from the top of these stairs, there is a nice vista along the river towards town. It is also a fun spot to watch rafts come down the Athabasca and take out at the parking lot.
Continuing upwards from the top of the stairs is a steady climb. At times the path is steep with steps made in the stone. I recommend stable footwear; flip flops can be tricky on the rock. There are also a few places along the trail where I hang on tight to little hands as the trail is narrow with a steep decent on one side. The rock formations are interesting and varied in this area. In fact, University of Alberta geology students use this area for fieldwork and study.
The trail will bring you right up to and behind a large rock, take the narrow path up these rocks and you’ll find yourself on top of Old Fort Point. As long as it isn’t too windy this is one of our favourite spots for a picnic. Be careful, though, there are some clever chipmunks around who may also want to partake in your picnicking fun. And please remember, feeding the wildlife, even cute little chipmunks, is illegal.
From the top of Old Fort Point, you could choose to go back down the same path, or continue taking the trail which leads off through the trees. If you follow this loop down and around, you will find yourself in the trees the remainder of the way. Usually I don’t particularly enjoy walks just in the trees, but I find the forests around Old Fort Point very interesting. There are a few places on this #1 trail where you’ll hear your voice echoing back at you. There are lots of fungi and mushrooms which can be a game to spot. Also, the other side of Old Fort Point is usually very green and moist with lush beds of moss on the ground and climbing up the trees and rocks.
On this particular walk, I was sure I saw something black slide behind a tree. A few moments later we heard noises off in the bush. Was it a bear? Maybe. Maybe not. I got my bear spray out; we spoke loudly and called into the trees. We waited. Eventually we started walking again. Below you can see for yourself the evidence that bears do visit the area.
Old Fort Point is a good location for seeing wildlife. Mountain sheep frequent the area as do elk and bear. Because of this it is very important to take notice of any trail closures. Seasonally, trail #7 along the water is closed for elk calving and the trails behind the golf course can be closed due to bear activity. Not only could you be fined for going on a closed trail, but you may also be putting yourself, your family, and the wild animals in danger.
On walks in the past we have found ourselves surprisingly surrounded by mountain sheep and have seen elk laying in the shade of the trees. We were even lucky enough to see mountain goats on one early season walk up Old Fort Point. So, keep your eyes and ears open and bring along a camera. Animals or not, you’ll want to snap some photos of your family up here with Jasper down below.
Old Fort Point, Trail #1, Jasper National Park
Distance: 0.6km up to Old Fort Point Summit. 4km to take the full loop.
Time with young children: about 60 minutes to climb the summit and back down or close to 2 hours to complete the loop.
Trailhead: From town or Highway 16, take Highway 93A to the Old Fort Point access road. You’ll find the parking lot after crossing over the old iron bridge. From the trail kiosk, choose the stairs to your right or go straight to take the path to the summit from the backside.
Description: This is a very popular trail and because of this, you will likely not be alone while exploring Old Fort Point. The summit is 123 meters above the parking lot. The trail can be steep at times, but it is relatively short in duration which makes this hike suitable for families. This is also a good walk to test out your families’ hiking abilities before venturing out to longer or more challenging walks.
Up to the summit is rocky and steep at times, but the remainder of the loop is smooth packed dirt and gravel. The backside is chariot friendly from the parking lot around the backside almost all the way to junction 1a (but then you miss the best part of this hike). I do not recommend trying to get to the summit with a stroller of any kind.
From the parking lot you have two options. Taking the stairs gives you a lot of elevation gain at once, or you could choose to take a slower incline and loop around from the other side. I think I prefer to get the hard part done at the beginning, but it can also be nice to save the great view for last.
Amenities: There is an outhouse in the parking lot.
Also, see my Guide to Jasper page for more Jasper information and few guide books we love.