Let me be the first to confess that when I sit down to think about winter holidays, I do not type ‘north’ into my search engine or choose ‘all destinations north’ when I visit travel sites. My love for beaches aside, though, Jasper has won my heart as a winter vacation destination, and there is paradise to be found if you choose to venture beyond Kananaskis or Banff for your mountain getaway.
What to expect from the drive on the Icefields Parkway
From Calgary, you’ll most likely travel to Jasper via Highway 93 known as the Icefields Parkway. This scenic drive links the towns of Lake Louise and Jasper in a distance of 230 kilometres. Allow for three hours driving time (longer if the roads are bad), and be prepared for winter conditions with packed ice and snow covering the lanes. The highway can be closed for up to three days after a storm, and winter tires are required if you’re going to travel this road safely. It’s always a good idea to check road conditions before starting your trip and to have a backup plan in place. In a pinch, Jasper can be reached from Edmonton via Highway 16 if the Parkway is closed.
A valid park pass is required to travel the Parkway and to stop anywhere in Banff or Jasper National Parks. You can purchase passes as you drive into Banff at the park gates. Also, make sure you fill up on gas in Lake Louise because you will find no services once you get on the Parkway until you reach Jasper.
Top winter experiences in Jasper
Ice caves and glaciers - The Columbia Icefields Centre is located roughly half way between Lake Louise and Jasper, and this is a good spot to stop for a short hike to the ice caves at the tow of the Athabasca Glacier. Snowshoes are usually not necessary for this outing, but you will want to wear warm clothing and good winter boots. It is never safe to step onto the glacier without training and proper gear. It is also not safe to go inside the ice caves; do so at your own risk. Allow for an hour or two in your schedule if you want to stop here and explore.
Frozen waterfalls and canyon ice walking - One of the top winter experiences in Jasper is to hike the frozen Maligne Canyon with one of the local tour companies. Experienced hikers can do the trip without a guide, but you’ll want to bring ice cleats or micro spikes to protect against falls. Helmets are also recommended for children at the very least, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea if all family members had one on to protect from falling ice.
To sign up for a tour in Maligne Canyon, consult with the Jasper Visitor Centre when you arrive in town or visit the Tourism Jasper website to find a list of companies so you can reserve spots in advance.
Hiking and snowshoeing - Our favorite place to go for a winter hike is on frozen Medicine Lake, located along the highway to Maligne Lake northwest of town. There are no official trails so hiking is easy across the wide-open terrain. Snowshoes are recommended as the snow gets too deep to wander around without.
Another adventure that we enjoy in winter is the hike to Horseshoe Lake located 30 kilometres south of town on Highway 93. The 1.5-kilometre loop hike is short and easy, and children will enjoy tromping around on the frozen lake. Snowshoes may be required if it has snowed recently. Otherwise, expect the trail to be well packed.
Check in at the Jasper Visitor Centre for directions to both trailheads.
Skiing - No winter trip to Jasper would be complete without a day on the slopes at the local ski hill, Marmot Basin. The hill is located along Highway 93 south of town and families will receive discounts with a Sunshine-Marmot card (also valid at Banff’s Sunshine Village).
For families who enjoy cross-country skiing, there are several great areas near Jasper where you can find groomed and tracked trails. The Visitor Centre can direct you to the best trails that would work for your family’s ski abilities. We have personally found the trails near Athabasca Falls to be relatively flat and easy for children.
Ice-skating - The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge clears a large oval on Lake Mildred that is open to the public for free outdoor skating. The Pyramid Lake Resort also clears an oval on Pyramid Lake that is great for skating. For skate rentals, inquire with the Jasper Visitor Centre or at one of the resorts previously mentioned.
Where to stay in Jasper
Affordable accommodations can be found at the HI-Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel, which has two private rooms for families to use. Each room sleeps six people with shared kitchen space available in a communal cabin that has a comfortable fireside room to relax in when you’re not out skiing or exploring.
Families wanting to book a hotel room will find many options in the town of Jasper. A quick search on any travel site will bring up options from simple motel rooms in town to luxury stays at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge or Pyramid Lake Resort.
For more information
You can find more information on the Tourism Jasper website, jasper.travel.
Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to a spunky six-year-old. She loves hiking, camping, skiing and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.
Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2020 Calgary’s Child