True to its name, Jasper National Park is a large sparkling gem in the Canadian Rockies, featuring everything you could dream of experiencing in Canada. From pristine lakes and awe-inspiring mountains, to ancient glaciers, natural hot springs and gushing waterfalls—Jasper shouts adventure and begs to be experienced. You can hike, bike, drive, ride and tour and I guarantee you will be awestruck around every curve of the road. If there is one perfect way to get the Canadian experience, it would be to take a week to do a road trip through Jasper. Just up the highway from world famous Banff National Park, Jasper boasts the same, if not more, Rocky Mountain splendor. Last summer I spent a week road-tripping through the Rocky Mountains with my sister and we enjoyed the peace and brilliant nature there over any other place we visited. Because much of the trip is through wild, nearly untouched nature, there are some things you should do and know before you start.
Always Have Extra Water and Fuel
Keep in mind that your trip through Jasper will take you into some quiet, uninhabited areas without service stations or potable water fountains. It is smart to know in advance where gas stations are on your route and to make sure you always have plenty of fuel to reach the next service station. While keeping your vehicle hydrated, don’t forget about yourself! In my experience, keeping a large jug of water in your vehicle to refill your water bottles, clean dishes and wash your face with is extremely handy. We never regretted having liters of fresh water always available. Fill up whenever you find a place that has a potable water fountain or spigot and stay hydrated! Of course, this also applies to any road trip you might do anywhere in the world.
Travel with a Sense of Adventure
In order to stay relaxed and be able to enjoy the park, don’t come with an hour by hour plan. Loosely plan out where you’d like to stop each day and book your campsite ahead of time if you wish but leave time to get out of your car, stretch your legs and marvel in the impressive scenery all around you. Be flexible and channel your inner free spirit! You can research your bucket list destinations so you don’t miss them, however, the highway through Jasper has many signs which point out special peaks or announce a point of interest which you would otherwise drive by unawares. The signs will be in a variety of styles, from wooden painted and engraved to green or blue park signs. The highway itself runs straight through the middle of the park and past endless bright blue and green lakes, historical peaks and glaciers. Many of these beautiful places will not appear as top destinations in a Google search but are worth pulling off the highway to see and picnic beside. Often they are less known, and therefore less busy and more enjoyable then trying to eat a peaceful lunch overlooking a lake in a crowd.
Slow Down and Move Over for Emergency Vehicles
As you cruise through Jasper, you may or may not see signs asking travelers to reduce speed and make room for police cars, ambulances and fire trucks with lights and/or sirens. The chances are you won’t even see any such vehicles while driving through Jasper National Park, but be aware of this rule in Canada, which is put in place for the safety of emergency people and the people they are helping.
For the ultimate Canadian park experience, set up a tent and crawl into a cozy sleeping bag at the end of a day exploring. Jasper is a dark sky preserve and the views of our galaxy and surrounding stars are incredible; views you can have all night if you camp. Fresh air, scented with conifers and campfire smoke, cool breezes and bird song beats sitting behind a TV in a hotel. Pack some warm clothes even if it is summer; the nights can get cool up in the mountains! Before you light a fire, make sure you check the fire ban status on the Jasper website
to find out if you are permitted to have a fire at that time of year on your campsite. Often the highway and campsites will have signs posted with the status of the fire ban as well but it is best to know before you go. The safety of you and those around you is most important.
Keep Your Eye Out for Wildlife
A large part of the attraction of Canada is the wildlife that roams free and majestic through Jasper and most other Canadian parks. Dawn and dusk are the best times of day to find the animals, and certain times of year will boast sightings of certain species. Watch for wildlife on the road and on roadsides for your safety and theirs, and for photo opportunities. If someone is braking ahead, please brake and look! You might be able to catch a glimpse of a bighorn sheep or bear but you do not want to hit one. Never approach or feed the wildlife as this could not only dangerous for you but for the animals themselves. Certain seasons offer higher chances to see certain animals. Spring brings the bears out to eat the fresh soft grass growing on the sides of the road. Fall boasts elk in the rut, when the males bugle and show off for the right to mate.
Visit Jasper National Park in the Off-Season
If possible, visiting this huge park during the off season—when most other tourists think it is a less than ideal time of year—has its benefits. The off season, for example early autumn, will make for a more relaxed, quiet trip and you’ll end up seeing more. Sharing the road, lakes, waterfalls and glaciers with less people means better views, quieter picnics and short to no pit stop lineups. Hikes could be more peaceful and less people in the park translates to less people on the campsites. Since booking ahead is not an option for most rustic, roadside campsites in Jasper, knowing that there is less demand for spots will take one thing off your mind. You can be as free-spirited as you’d like, knowing that wherever you end up at the end of the day there will be a spot for you. In early September, we had no problems finding choice spots in campsites and hiked in relative solitude.