Day Trips from Jasper National Park

Places to visit from Jasper National Park

Last year, we were lucky enough to spend some time in Jasper National Park.

Waking up early one morning, we heard hushed voices right outside the cabin. Peaking out, a herd of elk were lazily wandering down the embankment. We must have watched silently with about ten other travellers as they made their way from the river to the thick tree coverage.

What a beautiful way to start the morning!

Although we weren’t in Jasper for long, we did get chance to take a couple of day trips. These are our ‘don’t miss’ suggestions:

Athabasca Falls

The view from the top of Athabasca Falls

A furious waterfall on the upper Athabasca River, this was a great way to spend a morning. It was only around a half hour drive from our base in Jasper and was fairly easy to find. The force of the water is incredible, as is the noise as it crashes down into the gorge below. Over the years, the water has channelled a way through the softer cliff walls, creating a twisting, turning chasm.

The water thunders down into the chasm at Athabasca Falls

The viewing areas for the waterfall are well thought out, jutting out at a variety of places across the water. Athabasca Falls is located just off highway 93A, making it a great little stop if you are visiting the Athabasca Glacier or driving down the Icefield Parkway.

Looking out over the Athabasca Falls

Jasper Town Centre

If you are heading through Jasper, you can’t miss a trip to the town centre. Set out on a long stretch of road, multiple little shops await, full of the usual souvenirs and bear spray. This is not why you should visit the town centre. I have a bit of a pet hate of natural parks and remote places adding lots of shops (I’m looking at you Banff). I can completely understand the need for a couple of little stores, stocked with essentials and set up to blend in with the surrounding area – however national parks don’t need shopping complexes in my opinion. Anyway, with that in mind: go to Jasper town centre, find the shops and then turn your back on them. Look in exactly the opposite direction and you will be greeted by an incredible view of the Rockies.

Set against the cars, the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies looked like a cardboard cut out.

I’m not sure if it was the contrast of the mountains against the shops and cars, but this was truly an amazing view. It looked just like a cardboard cut out of a storybook skyline and it was breathtaking.

Athabasca Glacier

This was a slightly longer drive from where we were staying (about two hours). Try to keep your eyes peeled on the drive down the Icefield Parkway as early morning trips are likely to reveal lots of wildlife spotting opportunities.

Standing on a glacier was incredible! A real ‘bucket-list opportunity’

The weather change from Jasper town centre to the glacier is huge – we started in shorts and ended up wrapped up in layers and winter coats! You can read all about our Glacier Trip here.

Maligne Lake

This was the underdog of the day trips from Jasper. I didn’t know much about the lake and we’d not really done much research about the visit, deciding our destination on the spur-of-the-moment.

A view of the glaciers in the distance across Maligne Lake

If you plan to visit the lake, it’s worth trying to have as long there as you can – you won’t want to leave! What a setting this place is! Emerald waters stretch away from the sandy shore, framed by the glacial mountains in the distance, it’s clear why this location is one of the most photographed in the Rockies.

Maligne Lake has such a beautiful of the glaciers and mountains - I really didn’t want to leave!

One of the main attractions is Spirit Island – reachable by one of the many over-priced boat rides on the lake. The Stoney Nakoda First Nation believe that the Island is a spiritual place, particularly as it is overlooked by three of the glacial mountains, which they believe to be their ancestors. As you can’t actually set foot on Spirit Island, we chose to do a walk around the lake instead.

Canoes on the bank of Maligne Lake

A trail follows the outline of the lake, giving glimpses of the mountain range through the tree line.

The emerald waters create a musical setting for walk around the lake

I found Jasper to be far prettier and much more relaxed (and cheaper!) than it’s much-discussed Banff neighbour. Lots of other travellers told us to spend longer in Banff than Jasper, but I’m going to be rebellious and suggest that longer in Jasper would have been better. This might have been something to do with our little log cabin stay at Jasper House Bungalows which, although fairly expensive, were in a gorgeous setting, looking out over the Athabasca River.

We had some incredible sunsets here too, it was such a tranquil setting.

Bear Territory

Spotting bears and stump bears in Canada and USA

When it comes to bears, most people have the same conflict – you want to see a bear in the wild but you don’t want to be mauled to death either! We were exactly the same –  in Yosemite, USA, and in BC and Alberta in Canada, we were keen to catch a glimpse of an elusive bear.

On our first days in Vancouver, we had set off for a trip up Grouse Mountain which has a Grizzly Bear habitat. We spent ages by the habitat, watching the two bears play together – this was a guaranteed bear sighting and we weren’t going to miss it!


Hoping for more bear sightings of the wild variety, we booked on to a wildlife tour in Banff. We booked with Discover Banff Tours. A two hour twilight tour cost around $55 and they were excellent. The guide was really knowledgable and took us to a number of wildlife ‘hotspots’. They were in contact with lots of other tour guides and notified each other of sightings so that we had the best chance of spotting something. It was a great way of seeing some of Banff and we managed to spot some Elk and Mountain Goats fairly early on in the tour.

Half way down the road, we suddenly heard a shout from one of the other group members that they had spotted a bear! Lumbering off into the tree-line, we spotted a Cinnamon Bear (a type of black bear) and there was a great scrambling for cameras as people hustled to get a snap of this beautiful creature. This was one of those times where skills failed us and whilst I got a picture of the back of a friend’s head, Wandering Beeb managed to capture a shaky picture of the bear’s bum, along with the inside of the tour bus! Not the best bear sighting proof to bring back home!

Captured! A bear’s bum!
Snapped the tour bus, not the bear!

Copying the route from the tour, we improvised the next night and headed to the same locations. Again, we spotted Elk and Goats, although no bears!


The first time we visited Canada, the custom’s officer did the usual ‘why are you visiting’ question. Excited to be in Canada and having sat through a very bumpy flight, we responded with “because we want to see bears!” The guy didn’t smile, didn’t laugh and gave us a very stern ‘I want a real answer’ type look. To be fair, most customs officers have been really friendly, but this trip definitely taught us not to be cute when trying to enter a new country – it’s not always well received!

During our time in Banff, our group spotted a total of five bears (including one Grizzly!), usually in the trees as we were driving past. Whilst in Banff, we heard stories of ‘The Boss’ and tales of aggressive bear behaviour in the park. The Boss is a dominant grizzly bear (he even has a serial number – Bear 122) who has eaten black bears and fathered a number of younger bears in the park. Another bear had been aggressive towards people in the park (usually dog walkers) and indeed some of the campgrounds had been closed when we visited due to bear behaviour. It was really interesting to hear from the Rangers about the need to carry bear spray as a deterrent to bears – both to stay safe and importantly, to ensure that bears receive negative reinforcement from their contact with humans, keeping them wild and alive.

The tour guide had told us about the frequency of which people spotted ‘stump bears’ – tree stumps that people mistook for bears. Our bear hunting was frequently punctuated by shouts of ‘bear!’ or ‘Stump bear!’ – making for interesting walks and car journeys!

bearlog copy

When we had visited Yosemite a couple of years earlier, we had the experience of a baby bear happening upon us whist we were eating our sandwiches at Mirror Lake. It was later in the day and most of the bigger groups of walkers had disappeared. We had set ourselves up on a larger rock and started to munch through our snacks and butties. Most of us were facing in the same direction, but one of our eagle-eyed group pointed out a large, dark shape moving towards us. Quickly realising it was a bear and no one else was around, we started to pack up our things. It became clear that it was a younger bear and as amazed as we were, this probably meant that mummy bear was somewhere around. Respecting that bears are far more powerful than we will ever be, we all started to slowly back away, making a fair bit of noise to alert the bear to our presence. Astounded, we watched as the bear made its way across the path and into the trees on the other side. Despite the other bears we have seen, this encounter sticks in my mind like no other. The utter respect that the creature commanded was emphasised by the lack of other people around and the pack of food we were carrying. The grace and stealth that accompanied the bear’s movements made us realise that the granite cliffs and breathtaking tree-line were not the only wonders that we were lucky enough to see that day.