Jasper National Park… where do I even begin?! Jasper National Park was by far my favorite place we visited in Alberta. Everything from the mountains to lakes to towns was beautiful! And there is SO MUCH to do and see! I feel as if Jasper is a bit underrated compared to Banff National Park. Everyone wants to visit Banff because I mean… who wouldn’t? It’s absolutely beautiful! However, Jasper National Park is just as beautiful!
We only had a few days in Jasper National Park, but we saw pretty much everything. And to top it off, the smoke from the wildfires wasn’t too bad! We didn’t have full visibility, but we could see enough to make our hearts skip a beat at Jasper’s beauty. Below are my top sights to see in Jasper National Park!
1. Pyramid Lake and Patricia Lake
Pyramid Lake is BEAUTIFUL. You must go there. End of story.
I want to believe Pyramid Lake is a hidden gem, but I think we just got lucky when we visited because there was no one there. Pyramid Lake was the first place we visited in Jasper, and we were not disappointed. It’s easy to find, too! Just take Pyramid Lake Road which is off of Connaught Drive- the main road running through downtown Jasper. Simple isn’t it? OH, and you pass by another beautiful lake- Patricia Lake.
Pyramid Lake is surrounded by a lot of mountains, but the most beautiful mountain in that area, in my opinion, is Pyramid Mountain. You can best see this mountain (and all of the other mountains) from the small island in the middle of the lake. Don’t worry, you don’t have to swim to get here. It’s only a short walk from the parking area over a bridge and BAM. Beautiful views!
The best time to come here is during sunrise. Sunrise anywhere is amazing, but here, it is even magnificent! The sun shines its beautiful morning glow on Pyramid Mountain in all of the right ways. If you walk all the way to the end of the island, you will be able to experience this. Your camera will be able to capture Pyramid Mountain in its prime along with a beautiful reflection of it in Pyramid Lake. Rather watch the actual sunrise? Don’t fret! You can also go to the right section of the island and watch the sunrise over the mountains and capture that beauty of a picture. Whichever you prefer, you will not be disappointed with this beautiful and peaceful spot.
OH!! And I almost forgot!! Pyramid Lake Road is a fantastic spot for seeing animals especially if you drive there for sunrise. We saw a lot of deer on our way to the lake!
2. Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake
After having your first taste of Jasper lakes, you will want to see all of them. And you are in luck! Jasper has many beautiful lakes. Next on your list should be Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake. These two beauties are marvelous!!
You can take Maligne Lake Road off of Trans-Canada Hwy to get to these two beauties. Medicine Lake will be the first stop. Just before you hit Medicine Lake though, you will see an eerie site. There was a fire here in July of 2015 that burned about 12,000 acres of land. Crazy right?! This is a cool spot to stop and take pics, but if you are just looking for the lake, continue on through for a short distance and voila! Medicine Lake.
I would suggest parking in the first turn off spot. Most people will be at the second stop down by the lake, so the first is more secluded. I love this spot because you get an epic mountain view, and you can walk down to the lake to get the classic Alberta shot - blue lake with mountains in the background. When we were here, the lake was actually pretty dry, and it was really smokey, so we couldn’t get the classic shot, but it was still beautiful!
After you are done soaking in this beauty, you can head back on the road to drive toward Maligne Lake. We, unfortunately, did not get to experience the true beauty of this lake due to the smoke, but we heard it is beautiful! There is a big mountain range surrounding Maligne Lake, so you can only imagine how beautiful this landscape is on a clear day!
Fun Fact: Maligne Lake is the second largest glacier-fed lake in the WORLD (!!!!) just behind Lake Baikal in Siberia.
If you are looking to do a small but beautiful hike, I would recommend Moose Lake Loop! This 1.2-mile trail is very easy and brings you along the shores of Maligne Lake and Moose Lake. Moose Lake is a small lake that - you guessed it - has a lot of moose! This can be a great place to spot a Moose especially during the early morning or late evening hours.
If you are looking for something else to do, you can take a journey on a cruise on Maligne Lake! This cruise brings you into the 14-mile long glacial water of Maligne Lake allowing you to get some beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains surrounding it. It also brings you around Spirit Island which is one of the photographed places in the Canadian Rockies!
If you would rather see the lake yourself, you can rent a canoe, kayak or rowboat! You can rent the boats anywhere from an hour to the whole day, so you have plenty of time to take in the beauty of this lake!
Because it was so smokey here, we, unfortunately, didn’t get many pictures and decided not to do any activities. This is definitely a spot we will return to once we travel back here!
3. Lake Annette and Edith Lake
Once you have explored the beautiful shores of Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake, hop back onto Maligne Lake Road and follow the signs to Lake Annette and Lake Edith. These are two beautiful lakes that offer some of the most beautiful swimming spots! I mean, who wouldn’t want to swim in a blue lake surrounded by the Canadian Rockies?! They both have sandy beaches and are easily accessible. However these lakes are glacier-fed, so be prepared for some chilly waters! Although, these lakes can be in the low 60s mid-summer.
There is also a beautiful 1.5-mile paved trail that hikes around Lake Annette called Lake Annette Loop. It’s also nice for biking since it is paved. It offers a great opportunity to see some wildlife, too, so make sure to keep your eyes out for Elk!!
Another big activity here is kayaking and paddle boarding! There is a cute little hut that offers rentals. If it wasn’t so smoky, we would have rented a paddle board. We saw a few people paddle boarding, but it didn’t look too much fun on this day due to the winds causing some choppy waters!
Fun Fact: Lake Annette and Lake Edith are also known as “kettle lakes” because they are leftover from one large lake that covered the Athabasca Valley during the ice age!
4. Icefields Parkway Drive
Mountains, blue lakes, glaciers, OH MY! This is one of the most beautiful drives on the planet - seriously. Once you are done exploring the beautiful lakes near downtown Jasper, it is time to explore this amazing road and all it has to offer. I could technically include Icefields Parkway in my Banff post as well, but I decided to keep it in Jasper since we spent the most time on this beautiful road in Jasper National Park!
Icefields Parkway is a 145-mile road linking Lake Louise to Jasper and offers breathtaking views along the whole journey. There is so much to see and so many great pull-off spots. I could go on and on about what to see here, but I won’t give everything away! My only advice is to stop everywhere you can. Every pullover area is worth stopping at, trust me. And don’t forget to take a road shot!! This is where photographers get the classic road shots with mountains at the end. I obviously had to take one (pictured at the beginning of the post)!
Besides the beautiful mountain views, there are a few things worth noting:
5. Valley of Five Lakes
Every person we talked to in Jasper told us to go to the Valley of Five Lakes. There are two awesome hikes here - one is 6 miles round trip while the other is an easy 3-mile hike around - you guessed it - five lakes! Three of the lakes are on the smaller side while two are larger, but all are nothing short of beautiful! All of the lakes are shades of blue/green due to the glacial rock dust found in them.
The third and fourth lakes are the most beautiful in my opinion! The third is a beautiful lake with a deep green color and beautiful mountains in the background. This is a great place to stop and take a break if needed on your hike. There are even some red chairs set up at the top of the lake giving you the best view of the lake! The fourth lake is similar to the third where it has a deep blue/green color with a beautiful mountain view.
This is a VERY popular hike, so I would suggest getting to the Valley of Five Lakes earlier in the day. The parking lot can be packed by 9:00 AM!
6. Horseshoe Lake
Visiting Jasper on a hot summer day? Want to cliff jump into a beautiful blue lake? Look no further, my friends! Horseshoe Lake is the place for you! Horseshoe Lake is a bit further down Icefields Parkway, but the trailhead is right off the side of the road. We missed the sign the first time we passed it, so make sure to keep an eye out for it. A short 1-mile hike from the parking area will bring you to the horseshoe-shaped lake!
Horseshoe Lake is one of the deepest lakes in Jasper and is surrounded by cliffs making it the perfect swimming hole. Most of the cliffs are about 25 feet high with the tallest point being 80 feet! We saw someone jump off one of the higher points, and my body hurt for him when he landed. I would not recommend jumping off the higher points. A lot of people have gotten hurt jumping off the taller cliffs. Just stick with the shorter cliffs and have some fun!
Another cool feature of this lake is the clarity of the water! Even though it is a very deep lake, you can see very far into the water! It is almost crystal clear which allows you to see all of the fish here. Some lakes freak me out, but I would have no problem jumping in this one since I could see what I was jumping into! However, the water was very cold when we went, so there was no cliff jumping for us! The best time to swim in the lakes of Alberta is in late June through July. We went in August, and the water already cooled down a lot!
7. Athabasca Falls
After taking a dip in Horseshoe Lake, continue down Icefields Parkway to Athabasca Falls! These falls aren’t mind-blowing, but the backdrop is! Mt. Kerkeslin is right behind the falls and makes for a beautiful backdrop! There is a small hike you can do that brings you next to Athabasca Falls as well as a canyon downstream. The blue waters, of course, make everything beautiful. This is also a very busy spot, so keep that in mind when visiting! We arrived around noon time and the parking lot was overflowing. Luckily, you can park on the street, but we still had to search a bit for a spot!
8. Athabasca Glacier
Continuing down Icefields Parkway will bring you to the Athabasca Glacier. This is the most visited glacier in North America! It is part of the Columbia Icefield, which is the only remaining part of what used to be a huge ice mass covering most of Western Canada. Many of the tallest mountains in the Canadian Rockies are situated here, so you already know the views are beyond amazing! You will notice most of the mountains still have a HUGE layer of snow on them. This area can get up to 22 feet of snow per year! Because the summer season is short here, the snow will stay put refusing to melt. We saw one area that had 10 feet of snow!
There is a small hike (less than 1 mile) that brings you pretty close to the Athabasca Glacier. The Toe of the Athabasca Glacier trailhead is across from the Icefields Centre, so it is easy to find! You can’t go on the glacier from here because it is super dangerous, but there are tours you can take if you want to get up close and personal with the glacier! We overheard a guide say people exploring the glacier without a tour have died from falling into the glacier’s hidden crevasses, so be smart when visiting!!
There is a pullover spot just before the glacier that offers amazing views as well, and you can walk along the glacier river! I was curious how cold it was, and let me tell you… my hand went numb after being in the river for less a minute! Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but it was super cold!
Sad Fact: Because the climate keeps rising, the Athabasca Glacier keeps melting. It melts about 16 feet per year!! As you drive to the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier trailhead, you will notice markers starting from 1860 to present. These markers show how much the glacier has retreated over the years - almost 1 mile so far. So crazy and sad.