Date Established: 1907
Size: 2,774,500 acres
The largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper is wild in every sense of the word. Its landscape covers an expansive region of rugged backcountry trails and mountainous terrain juxtaposed against fragile protected ecosystems as well as the world-renowned Columbia Icefield. It’s also chock-full of wildlife, home to some of North America’s healthiest populations of grizzly bears, moose, and elk along with thousands of species of plants and insects.
Landscape: The park comprises rough-and-tumble mountains, valleys, glaciers, forests, alpine meadows, and rivers along the eastern slopes of the Rockies in western Alberta. More than 615 miles (990 kilometers) of hiking trails offer day and overnight trips. A number of spectacular mountain drives also beckon.
Preserve: Established in 1907, Jasper protects what’s left of the wildlife that was once commonplace in the West. While other areas have seen a dramatic decline in wildlife, strong populations of plants and animals persevere here. The park’s elevation range, geology, geography, and climate serve as a safe habitat for a variety of species.
World Heritage Site: Due in part to the incredible diversity of wildlife found here, Jasper is part of the UNESCO Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage site, one of 15 World Heritage sites in Canada. It is home to nearly 70 species of mammals whose health and survival depend on the park. That’s why it’s crucial that visitors make as few disturbances as possible.
How to Get There
The town of Jasper is situated at the intersection of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) and Highway 93 N (Icefields Parkway). It is straight west 225 (362 kilometers) miles on Highway. 16 from Edmonton and west from Calgary along Trans-Canada 1, then north on Highway 93 from Lake Louise, 256 miles (412 kilometers) in total. Major national and international carriers service both Edmonton and Calgary’s international airports, with multiple flights arriving daily. Renting a car at the airport is the easiest way to make the trip, but rail travel to the park is also available through VIA Rail and the Rocky Mountaineer. Shuttle services are available through tour operators.
When to Go
Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017 and, to celebrate, it's offering everyone free admission to its national parks. The park is open year-round, but the weather and scenery are generally spectacular in late summer and early fall. Forest fire season in North America also winds down in the fall, so the air is clearer—especially important for photo enthusiasts.
Wildlife viewing can happen any time of year, but your best bets are early in the morning or late in the evening during the slow seasons (fall and spring), particularly for bears, elk, and sheep. The best time to watch the annual elk rut, when males bugle and compete with each other for females, is August to September along the Athabasca River. Camping is very popular in summer. Most campgrounds are open until Labour Day weekend; some stay open later in the fall. There are winter campgrounds as well. Skiing and snowboarding at Marmot Basin typically runs from November to April.
How to Visit
Within the park, travel by car is most convenient. Stay alert for wildlife while driving. Be especially cautious at dusk and dawn, when many animals are most active.
You can hike and bike along several trails in the park. Many of the backcountry trails were established first by wildlife, then by early travelers including First Nations people, fur traders, explorers, and adventurers. There are nearly 620 miles (998 kilometers) of trails and 82 backcountry campsites in the park. Licensed commercial services include three backcountry lodges, several horse outfitters, and numerous hiking/interpretive guides. The Alpine Club of Canada manages four alpine huts.
Plan to spend at least a half-day in the town of Jasper and several days exploring the park.
This text was adapted from the National Geographic book Guide to the National Parks of Canada.