I remember falling in love with the Canadian Rockies as a teenage girl watching Brokeback Mountain. The natural scenery behind the two characters as they rode on horseback, herded sheep, and fished were things that left me in awe.
Fast forward 10 years later and I still can’t believe I got to explore it.
In March a couple of friends and I flew from LAX to Calgary to spend a good 6 days, 5 nights in one of the world’s most beautiful places. We were on a mission to explore as much of Banff and Jasper National park as we humanly could, with little sleep, tired bodies, but adventurous souls (read about our Banff adventures here!). Luckily, Banff was only a short 1 ½ hour drive from Calgary and Jasper was a 2 ½ hour long scenic route from Banff. The breathtaking drive was worth all the travel duties (Sorry, too busy being in love to take pictures of the highway. More reason to go see it for yourself).
Abraham Lake. Home to the famous frozen methane bubbles. If you plan to drive up from Banff, take the 93 highway, make a right onto the 11, then drive 30 miles until you reach Cline River. You can stop anywhere on the side of the road (as long as there is a safe spot) and take a short stroll through the forest until you reach a clearing. Sadly when we went, the water was not frozen enough to walk on and a few spots were covered up in snow. I blame global warming! Nevertheless, Abraham Lake was still worth the hour detour.
Athabasca Falls. This is another lookout point that does not require a lot of hiking (1.5 mile round trip to be exact). From beginning to end, there are many viewpoints for one to stop and soak in all the views of the waterfall and river. At the end of the marked trail, we walked along the edge of the forest and into a clearing (see below) where we got to get up close and personal with the rushing river. I sat here for a good while admiring the beauty and quiet peace of a winter in Canada.
Stepping out on the bank of breathtaking Athabasca River.
Columbia Icefields. On the drive up to Jasper from Banff, you get to drive along the stunning icefields. My friends and I stopped here to hike the Athabasca Glacier, a place where snow and ice blanket the earth in complete whiteness. We only hiked the main trailhead leading up to the ice, but if you’re interested in hiking into the glacier, make sure to prepare the right gear. Note: the glacier is a lot smaller today than it was years ago. Another visual effect of global warming (tears).
Maligne Lake. Of course, the lake was completely frozen when we visited. There was nothing but an opened space of white snow. We didn’t walk the entire lake because it was so vast, but damn, look at that mountain range! That view alone was worth it. It started to snow while we were here (woo) and it was really nice walking along the river bed while the snow covered our footprints. That. Was. True. Bliss.
Medicine Lake. Just like most of the best things in life, this pit stop was accidental. While driving in search of Maligne Lake we ended up here. This hike reminded me of a scene in Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s also a great spot for a snowball fight, wink. Definitely something to put on your Jasper explorations list.
Sunwapta Falls. For those not looking to hike very far, Sunwapta Falls is a beautiful viewing point not far from the parking lot. There are many views of the waterfall and rushing river as you walk the rim from top to bottom. Not normal for March, but we caught glimpses of Canada’s turquoise blue waters too. Give yourself a few hours here. It was extremely hard to leave my spot at the top of the rim as we stared out into the water, forest, and into the mountain ranges (pictured above).
Bonus: We saw caribous on the road. Jasper is a great place to see wildlife!
None of these hikes required crazy outdoor gears. Most of the hikes were also short. If you plan to go on other hikes, make sure you check the conditions of the trail. Some may need snow shoes, crampons, or snow boots. During one of the hikes I saw a girl hiking in her Nikes and by the time she was done, her shoes were soaked and her feet were frozen. Don’t be that girl.
Jasper is a great place to go if you’re not looking to travel very far up, but want to catch the northern lights. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s definitely worth a solid shot. December to February offer the longest hours of darkness, while the months of autumn and spring are likely to offer more stable weather conditions and often see more aurora activity.
My final thoughts: I loved spending a winter week here in Canada. There are few crowds making you feel as though you own the world for one second in life. It’s the most wonderful kind of “loneliness” if you can call it that. I definitely want to come back in the summer to go canoeing and see more of Canada once all the ice has melted.
Important things to know:
- Buy plane tickets 5 ½ – 1 ½ months before flying for cheaper flights. We bought our March tickets at the end of February, on a Tuesday night, on Expedia and it came out to $279 for a single round trip ticket (super sweet deal)
- Hotel fees are a lot cheaper during the off seasons months (hello winter!)
- The town of Jasper itself is very small and quiet. Stores closed quite early so if you’re looking to buy some souvenirs, go before 5pm. There also isn’t a lot of places to shop for groceries. There are a couple of breweries around, but that’s about all the city life you get in Jasper. We’re not complaining, we came for the Rockies
- Don’t forget to rent a car to get around. We rented one at the Enterprise located in the Calgary airport. For 6 days, 5 nights we paid $541 Canadian or $441 in American. if you need it for an extra day, don’t be afraid to ask. They’re very accomadating.
- No need for an international license if you’re coming from the states
- During the later half of Winter (March) chains were not required, but still good to have. We didn’t have chains because the main roads were well maintained even with the snow. To get to the trailheads we parked in the lot or on the side of the road and walked to the foot of the trails
- Be prepared to pay park fees. Before entering the park you’ll reach a toll booth maintained by a ranger. They’ll ask you how many days you plan to stay in the park and charge you for those days. Fees are as follows: Adult $9.80, Senior $8.30, Youth $4.9 Family/Group$ 19.60
- Bring clothes to layer up, weather changes quickly from cold, to warm, to freezing then back to warm again especially if you’re constantly moving
- Depending on when you go, you’ll see different things (snow capped mountains in the winter vs turquoise waters in the summer)
- Check trails to see if they are opened on this site
- Bring sunglasses if you don’t plan on being blinded by snow
If you have any other questions about our trip or want to know how to prepare feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be happy to answer them!