Canada’s celebrated Banff National Park is a popular Rocky Mountain destination, but the lesser-known Jasper National Park is equally stunning. And even if you have just 48 hours to explore this sleeping giant of a park — the Rockies’ largest — you can still see the highlights. Here’s how to spend two perfect days here.
Soaring Above it All
Start your Jasper visit with a seven-minute ride up the Jasper Tramway, a gondola that whisks you to a peak more than 7,400 feet above the surrounding national park. You’ll get the lay of the land, along with the expansive views. If you’re up to it, hike the dirt and shale path above the tram station to the summit beyond, where the vistas of the snow-topped peaks are even more spectacular; allow 45 to 60 minutes to walk round-trip. Book your tram ticket online to avoid the lineups, especially in mid-summer.
Painting En Plein Air
Have you always wanted to learn to paint? Or maybe you’d like to hone your art skills? Spend the afternoon of your first day with artist Wendy Wacko, accomplished landscape painter and owner of Mountain Galleries, who offers private and small-group painting lessons in Jasper National Park. She’ll give you an exclusive tour of her gallery at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, pack a gourmet picnic and take you into the park. A favorite destination is Medicine Lake, where she’ll provide a drawing lesson and then move on to painting. She can customize lessons to your requirements and even offers a combination helicopter tour and art class. Half-day classes start at $250 per person.
Sipping the Local Brews
Back in town, head for the Jasper Brewing Company, where you can recap your day’s adventures over sips of local microbrews, like Sutter-Hill Pilsner, Rockhopper IPA or Liftline Cream Ale. If you need more solid fuel to accompany your drinks, order a burger or the hearty “Derky’s Legitimate Salad,” an outdoor adventure-sized platter of greens, grilled chicken, avocado, dried cranberries and feta cheese.
Exploring the Glaciers
On Day 2, get an early start for one of Jasper’s don’t-miss adventures: a 90-minute drive down the scenic Icefields Parkway. Your destination is the Columbia Icefield, where you can ride a big-wheeled snow coach out to the Athabasca Glacier. You’ll learn about how glaciers were formed and their present-day ebb and flow, too. Dress warmly — it can be cold and windy out on the ice. On your way back to Jasper, stop for a hike; a good choice is the easy 15 to 20 minute trail to the rushing Athabasca Falls.
Floating Down the River
A number of Jasper companies run thrilling whitewater rafting trips on the area’s rivers, but for a more peaceful water adventure, schedule a float trip down the Athabasca River with Jasper Raft Tours. You’ll ride through a few small rapids — enough to get your adrenaline flowing — but the large inflatable boats are stable and smooth. Trips are suitable for everyone from kids to seniors, and you don’t even have to paddle: Your guide does all the heavy lifting while pointing out scenic spots en route.
Unwinding at the Spa
After all this activity, you’ll want to relax, so book an appointment at the recently expanded Fairmont Spa at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. They offer a variety of massages to soothe tired hikers’ muscles or skin treatments like the “Reflections of Blue,” which combines a salt-and-lavender scrub and body wrap. The Fairmont is the area’s best lodging, too, with a gracious staff and a stunning setting on verdant Beauvert Lake — it’s the place to stay for two perfect Jasper days.
Photos Courtesy of Tourism Jasper