Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: June 2022
Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. It is best known for its vast wilderness, majestic mountains, turquoise lakes and abundant wildlife. It offers many outstanding opportunities to hike, camp and just enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
Day 1: East Jasper
We flew into Edmonton super late the night before. Due to some changes with our itinerary and delays at the airport, we landed well after midnight, which meant that the car rental place was closed. Instead we took an outrageously expensive taxi to our accommodations near the airport. We then had to head back to the airport first thing the next morning to pick up our car. We stocked up on supplies and drove to Jasper, the first stop on our road trip through the Canadian Rockies.
We entered Jasper in the early afternoon from the east near the Miette Hot Springs. We first checked out a viewpoint of Punchbowl Falls. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to a bridge that overlooks the falls. There’s also a short trail that leads to the Miette Campground, but we had other plans for the day.
We hopped in the car and drove back towards the highway, stopping at the next parking lot to hike along the Mine Trail. The trail consists of a lower (900m loop, rated easy) and upper portion (1.7km loop, rated moderate) to form a longer loop. It leads through an old mine site and passes some remnants from the past. The lower mine loop was mostly flat and followed along a paved path while the upper mine loop (key word being up), gave us a preview of what hiking in the mountains is like. The path leads up to a viewing platform that provides sweeping views into the valley below.
We then stopped at the Jasper House National Historic Site. There’s a short and easy path that leads to a viewing platform that overlooks the river and former site of a fur trade post.
We continued our drive through Jasper and stopped in town to hike the Old Fort Point Trail (3.8km loop, rated moderate). The path winds through the forest and involves a few steep sections that lead up a hill, or rather hills. The first hill contains a pair of the Parks Canada Red Chairs that overlook the mountains. From there it’s a short push up another hill to reach the highest point, which provides a nice view of the town below. The way back down to the parking lot is steep, but short.
We then drove to Wapiti Campground where we planned to spend the next two nights. Many of the sites are small and out in the open, but it was quiet, which is all we cared about. We could even hear the sound of the river from our campsite. We made dinner in the back of our car because of the wind and went to bed shortly after.
Day 2: Valleys
The thing about camping in the mountains is that it gets chilly overnight, which is great for sleeping, but it makes it challenging to get up in the morning. So we figured we’d go on a hike first, after making a cup of coffee of course.
On the drive out of the campground we saw some elk on the side of the road. What a great start to the day. We drove to the trailhead for the Valley of the Five Lakes Trail (4.6km loop, rated moderate). There were only a couple of other cars in the parking lot, which is another motivating factor to get an early start to the day. The trail passes by five colourful lakes in the mountains. The path is wide and was in pretty decent shape with minimum mud patches. The first stretch involves a steady ascent through the forest. A few minutes after starting the hike, we encountered some more wildlife and saw a fox coming towards us down the path.
After crossing the bridge, the trail forms a loop that passes by the series of lakes. There is a side trail that branches off and loops around the first lake for a longer hike, but we figured this wasn’t necessary as we got a nice view of the lake already from the main trail. At the third lake we came across a set of the Red Chairs. This seemed like a great spot to take a quick break and just enjoy the views and lovely weather. The fourth and fifth lakes were equally as beautiful.
We then drove into town to pick up a few additional supplies. We also figured we should check out the Information Centre and Park Store since we were nearby. After making a quick breakfast in the parking lot, we drove to Maligne Valley, starting with the Maligne Canyon Trail. There are a few different options and access points to the trail for a bit of a choose your own adventure. Overall, there are six bridges around the canyon that criss-cross at various points.
We started at the second bridge and hiked to the fifth bridge and back again. Along the way there are a few interpretive signs that provide more information about Maligne Canyon and how it was thought to have formed. There are a couple of different theories, including that it was once a cave that was uncovered by the scraping of glaciers and water erosion.
Once we reached the fifth bridge, we hiked back along the horse path for a change in scenery, which forms a loop back to the first bridge and parking lot.
We hopped in the car and drove to Medicine Lake, which is commonly referred to as the Disappearing Lake. During the summer, the shallow lake fills up with all the meltwater from the mountains, however, during the winter, it’s often dry. The water actually drains out through sinkholes in the bottom and travels through an extensive underground cave system and resurfaces downstream.
After eating some lunch at Jacques Lake, we headed to Maligne Lake where’s there’s a boat launch, boat tours, canoe rentals and even a few hiking trails. We first hiked along the Mary Schaffer Trail (2.9km loop, rated easy). The trail starts off along a paved path that hugs the shoreline of Maligne Lake. After passing the Red Chairs, the trail becomes more rugged and winds through the forest. It felt a bit eerie given how quiet it was. But it was a short trail and we were back at the trailhead in no time.
We then drove to the other side of the lake to hike along the Moose Lake Trail (2.7km loop, rated easy). The trail follows along the shoreline and splits off to form a loop through the forest. However, there was a (warning) sign that indicated that the upper loop was not maintained. We should have paid more attention to this, but we figured it was rated easy and it was a relatively short trail, so how hard could it be.
We started off with the lower loop, which leads to Moose Lake. The name of the lake was a bit of a let down as we didn’t actually see any moose. Here the trail connects with the upper loop. And this is where things get interesting. At first it wasn’t too bad. There were a few fallen trees that we had to hop over and around. But then the path became washed out in certain places and disappeared entirely. We continued to hug the shoreline of the lake as that seemed like the best way to get back to the junction. To make things worse, the midges were out of control, which meant that slowing down was not an option. At least the views were nice.
We finally made it back to the parking lot. Overall it took us just under an hour and a half to complete the hike, which leads us to believe that the upper lake portion is not factored into the length or difficulty rating of the trail. But hey, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
I guess it was meant to be in terms of timing as on the drive back to the campground, we came across a black bear with her three cubs by the side of the road.
We made one other stop at the Maligne Valley picnic area to find another pair of the Red Chairs.
By the time we returned to our site, it was just after 6p.m. It was still warm and sunny. We made dinner and spent the remainder of the evening playing cards at the picnic table.
Day 3: Pyramid Lake
We woke up bright and early as we had a long day ahead of us. We planned to drive along the Icefields Parkway, but first things first, coffee. While we waited for the condensation on our tent to dry, we figured we might as well squeeze in one last hike in Jasper. Plus, the weather was fantastic.
We drove to Pyramid Island. There aren’t many parking spots here, so we figured this was a great hike to do first thing in the morning. I’d say the timing worked out rather well as we spotted another fox on the side of the road.
The trail around Pyramid Island is short and sweet. After crossing the bridge, the trail loops around the island and provides outstanding views of Pyramid Lake and Pyramid Mountain along the way.
Afterwards we hiked a small section of the Pyramid Lake Trail that leads to a scenic overlook of Pyramid Lake and a pair of the Red Chairs. While the trail continues onwards to form a longer loop, we hiked back the way we came.
We returned to our campsite to make breakfast and to pack up and move on.