Finally! You’ve come down to see Banff’s quieter, more underrated twin Jasper! Banff is much more charismatic, more popular and woos everyone (your girlfriend, grandma, even your dad). But Jasper has a charm that you won’t see coming, and once you get inside its heart, you’ll fall truly, madly, deeply in love. This 24-hour itinerary will get you out and about exploring all the top sites in the town of Jasper that you don’t want to miss, but first…
Heading up to Jasper from Banff? Check out the top 10 must-see spots along Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) that will absolutely blow your mind! When visiting Jasper, these are iconic landmarks you shan’t skip over!
All righttttt, let’s get to it. Now you can attempt to visit all these beautiful spots within a single day or split them up so that you save a few for the next morning (if you are staying overnight that is). If you are in fact booking yourself at least one night in Jasper, my recommendation is to stay within the actual town, near or on Connaught Drive (i.e. 16A). We managed to book two nights at the Mount Robson Inn on BMO Reward points alone and it was great! Close to a gas station, food, and easy access to the highways. But that’s just my take; there are plenty of gorgeous and secluded lodges and hotels that you might just want to look into! Namely the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, the Pyramid Lake Resort, Pine Bungalows and more.
Jasper is in fact a small town and you’ll rarely be met with the vehicle and people traffic that you will frequent in Banff year-round. So it makes life easier when you’ve only got a day to see the amazing sites!
Don’t forget: you’re visiting a Canadian national park so you’ll need a park pass. Banff and Beyond explains the Parks Canada Entry Fees exquisitely here!
If you’re staying at the Pyramid Lake Resort, a chalet-style alpine hotel overlooking Pyramid Lake, you’ve got this one covered. Definitely a must-see location and one of the most fantastic spots to catch the stars at night. The road is incredibly narrow from the resort to the little parking area where you can access Pyramid Island so be cautious during the winter months.
But one thing I have to say about Pyramid Lake Road is that when we drove up from Jasper town to Pyramid Lake, we saw plenty – and I mean plenty, like stop your car or you’ll get hit plenty – of elk having their midday snack. It was marvellous! That’s one other thing that distinguishes Banff from Jasper: so much wildlife so close to you. It’s a short 10-minute drive but becomes a 20-minute trip because of your constant stopping or slowing down for animals.
Spend time walking through the constructed walkways at Pyramid Island and take in the view of Pyramid Mountain before heading back into town for the next sighting!
Maligne Lake Road
These next three spots are part of a single trip and will take you 3-4 hours to enjoy, so be sure to start earlier in the day rather than later. Maligne Lake Road is not well maintained in the winter months and even with our beefy tires, we had to bail out on taking the road in the dark too early in the morning in October. That’s another tip: from October to June, be sure that you have proper winter tires, and – even better – chains or snow socks, for safe driving.
The first stop you can make on Maligne Lake Road is only a 15-minute drive from Jasper town and is at Maligne Canyon, a slot canyon perfect for exploration in both summer and winter. It’s the deepest canyon in all of Jasper National Park and you’ll be met with ice caves you’ve never even dreamt of if you visit in the winter, and tall blue waterfalls in the summer. The view and experience in both seasons are as different as apples are to oranges so I guess you’ll have to visit Jasper twice! Once you’re done exploring and trekking, the next two spots will be more of about capturing sweeping views from a lakeshore.
Important: It’s strongly recommended that you not attempt to trek in Maligne Canyon on your own, but to have a guide take you on an in-depth tour.
The road to Medicine Lake might feel long but you’ll every single minute of it and want to film out of your window the whole time. Not much comes close to the majestic peaks that come into your sight as you drive along Maligne Lake Road. The Medicine Lake viewpoint is about 30 minutes from the town of Jasper and it’s an incredibly open view. The mountains feel much further away here compared to Pyramid Lake and the water seems to go on forever.
Alas, you’ve arrived at the end of the road, 45 minutes from Jasper town, and you might just want to switch modes of transportation if you’re here on a sunny summer day. If you thought Medicine Lake was long, Maligne Lake is much bigger. You’ve probably seen those famous photos of Spirit Island, a patch of land with trees standing tall, blue water surrounding it and gaping mountains covering the background. Well that’s Maligne Lake! In the summer, you can take a boat cruise to get to Spirit Island and see the photo behind your own lens. But these boat cruises book up FAST so be sure to make a reservation beforehand!
In the winter, we can admire the lake from the boat docks. A pro for travelling to Jasper in the winter: you often get the views to yourself even if you miss out on some iconic destinations. Again, you’ll have to make two separate trips to Jasper to get it all!
BONUS: Athabasca River Viewpoint off Yellowhead Highway (Route 16)
Okay, this one isn’t so much a spot as it is a scenic drive. Between 16A and Maligne Lake Road, I don’t think you can find a similar view to the one you’ll get from the side of Yellowhead Highway. The intertwining veins of the Athabasca River are like eye candy for photographers. We spent a good 30 minutes admiring this open scape from the road. Take the time to look out the window as you make your way to Maligne Lake!
Old Fort Point
Next up is a spectacular and highly underrated viewpoint just a mere 5 minutes car ride from downtown Jasper. From 16A, you’ll take Hazel Ave and make a left onto Old Fort Point Road. You’ll cross an older structured bridge and you might wonder why I got you to stop here, apart from this cool looking bridge. Find a parking spot in the wide lot and you’ll spot the wooden staircase on the side of this rock. Up those three flights, your confusion will vanish and you’ll why Old Fort Point was worth the few steps out of your car! We actually found this by mistake. We only got out to get some footage on the bridge but then our eyes found the staircase and voilà! Pyramid Mountain, Athabasca River and this cool structure all in one glance. We loved it so much that we came back during sunrise when our tires weren’t too ecstatic about being on Maligne Lake Road early morning (see above). Old Fort Point is a trailhead for a number of different hikes. You can actually get to Maligne Lake by foot from here!
Lac Beauvert (Beauvert Lake)
The reason why we were even on Old Fort Point Road to begin with was to check out some of the lakes neighbouring downtown Jasper. Beauvert Lake is home to the Jasper Planetarium and the end of Old Fort Point Road before you reach roads belonging to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Relax at the lakeshore before heading back into town for the evening.
Stargazing at Annette Lake and Edith Lake
If you don’t know this already, Jasper is known for its dark sky preserve, meaning that it has very restricted artificial light pollution. You won’t be able to have the same stargazing experience in Banff as you would Jasper which is why I implore you to try and catch the stars if you’re fortunate enough to witness a cloudless night! We’d never seen anything like it until that weekend in October. No clouds, just us and the Milky Way. A few places to try stargazing is at Annette Lake and Edith Lake, and as I mentioned before, Pyramid Island. But honestly, you can’t go wrong with any other location for that matter so long as it’s some distance away from downtown with a wide, open view of the sky.
Jasper Skytram (open late March to late October)
If you’re visiting Jasper between spring and early fall then you’re in luck because you can also add the Jasper Skytram to the list! This one was extremely fun – windy but fun! We ventured Whistlers Peak in July 2016 and it was beautiful up there as we took in the 360-degree view of the six different mountain ranges including Mount Robson, the tallest mountain in all of the Canadian Rockies. But my cousin and his fiancée actually did the Skytram the last week of October 2020, a week after we left Jasper, and managed to spot a mountain goat! Those are not easy to find!
Which wild animals will you spot?
When I visited South Africa, my family and I did a safari drive and tried to catch sight of the Big Five. Well which Canadian alpine animals will you see in Jasper? A moose? Bighorn sheep? Black bears or grizzly bears? Coyotes? Take note of the ones you see and stay safe (in your car with windows and doors locked, preferrably) as you do so!