Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Winter Escape to Jasper National Park

I'm from Northern Alberta originally and when we went to the mountains for the weekend, it was always to the small town of Jasper, 4 hour west of Edmonton.  We never travelled south to Banff or Lake Louise because they were just too far away.  Now, living in Calgary,  we seldom travel north to Jasper.  Few of us here would ever think of driving 5 hours north to Jasper for a weekend to go skiing when Banff is so much closer. (One hour Vs. five hours of driving.)  However, Jasper is awesome in winter and needs to be visited at least once.  After that, you'll want to go back every winter.  (and maybe stay for a week!)

Maligne Canyon in winter

We spent the February long weekend in Jasper this year, thinking that three nights would be long enough to see and do everything.  Man, was I wrong!  We could have spent a week in Jasper and still have trails left to explore next winter.  It didn't help that our son  got sick late in the afternoon on our first full day there.   After an epic ice walk in Maligne Canyon and a fairly long hike on  the Pyramid Bench, our poor little Pook was all done, and proceeded to throw up all over the back of our truck.  Blah!  (one of the great joys of parenthood.)  Sunday was hence, pretty chill, and Noah spent the day sleeping in his sled or on the sofa of our hostel.  We contemplated going home early but a 5 hour drive would not have been fun with a child glued to a bucket!  We decided to stay put and make the best of it.

Poor Pook Resting at our Hostel

Reasons to Visit Jasper in Winter


Cross Country Skiing 

Cross country ski trails are plentiful in Jasper and from our home base at the Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel, we only had to go across the highway to access the nearest trailhead for Leach Lake.

We skied on the closed 93A Highway until we reached the lake 4km away.  It was an easy ski and very well groomed.

While we skied straight back to the hostel after, our friends stopped at the picnic day use area at the lake and had a great half day outing.

Skiing to Leach Lake on Hwy 93A

If you decide to go to Jasper for a winter cross country ski trip, just stop in at the visitor centre in town to get a winter trails guide.  It lists all the trails and rates them by their difficulty.  Next time we go to Jasper we want to ski the Whistlers Campground Loop.  It's only 4.5km long and the highlight with kids would be the ski-in fire sites in Marmot Meadows.  The campground is also lit for night skiing on Thursdays through Saturdays until 9pm!  Super Cool!!  For more information on ski trails in Jasper, visit the Parks Canada website for access to all trail maps.

Picnic at Leach Lake

Ice Skating

There are two awesome places for ice skating in Jasper and we chose to try Pyramid Lake since  Pyramid Mountain is one of my absolute favourite mountains in the Rockies.   I've paddled the lake, hiked on the island, and now I wanted to skate it!  Classic lake skating doesn't get much better than Pyramid, and the staff at Pyramid Lake Resort maintain a lovely oval on the lake.

Skating the Oval on Pyramid Lake

The other place I recommend skating is at the Jasper Park Lodge on Lake Mildred and Lac Beauvert.  Lake Mildred offers the biggest skating oval in Jasper with rectangular rinks as well for hockey.  Meanwhile, scenic Lac Beauvert is lit for night skating should you find yourself out this way after dinner.  Skate rentals are also available at the lodge.  For more information on ice skating in Jasper, visit the Tourism Jasper website. 

Skating on Pyramid Lake


Winter Hiking and Snowshoeing

Hopefully you read my last story on our wild and crazy ice walk in Maligne Canyon because this is the top winter hike I recommend in Jasper.  The story can be read here at The Wildest Winter Canyon Hike in the Canadian Rockies.

Hiking in Maligne Canyon with 40 Metre Tall Waterfalls

If you want something a little less slippery, there are plenty of trails along the Pyramid Bench near Pyramid Lake.  We did a short loop from the far parking lot at Pyramid Lake looping around Katrine Lake.  It wasn't the most scenic loop so I would recommend following our exact loop, but Noah did have fun on his winter snow bike.

Bike Skiing on the Pyramid Bench
And here is where I put in a shameless plug for Strider Snow Bikes because I LOVE these little bikes. And, who wouldn't love skis on their bike??

He was having so much fun on his bike!

Other suggestions for family-friendly winter hikes or snowshoe trips in Jasper:
Athabasca Falls Hike

  • Patricia Lake Loop, Pyramid Bench
  • Hiking along the Athabasca River from the Wapiti Campground
  • Maligne Lake Trails (the Mary Schaffer Loop is easy and scenic)
  • Athabasca River Loop from Old Fort Point to Lac Beauvert
  • Valley of the Five Lakes
  • Jasper townsite to Mina Lakes
  • Athabasca Falls

For information on the trails above, visit the Information Centre in Jasper for a summer day hiking map.  All trails will be shown on the map with distances.  For an online map that you can print and use for planning before you go, visit the Parks Canada website.

To hike the Athabasca Falls trail, park outside the summer parking lot gate which will be locked and walk in.  This is a good option for families wanting to experience similar similar scenery to Maligne Canyon with less risk.

Hiking in the Lower Canyon at Athabasca Falls

Where to Stay

While there is no shortage of hotels and motels in Jasper, we chose to stay at the Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel instead for a taste of soft winter camping.  The bathrooms are located outside (hence my reference to winter camping) but that's where the camping ends.  We slept in a warm cabin with room for three families.  Our cabin was divided into two private rooms and we had both rooms booked.  We fit two families (6 people) in the one room, and another family of 4 in the second room.  While it was a bit cozy to have two families sharing one room, it was doable and allowed us to all go to Jasper together.

Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel

The hostel only has two private rooms but they do have shared dorm rooms as well for bigger groups or for families with children over 5 years of age.  All sleeping rooms are for just that - sleeping, but the rest of the time you'll  be hanging out in the main cabin which is equipped with a kitchen, living room, and fireplace.  It's a very big cabin and I'm pretty sure we were sharing it with at least 40 people on our final night in Jasper.  And yes, that was very crowded, but if you avoid long weekends I would imagine the hostel would be MUCH quieter.

Family-Friendly Athabasca Falls Hostel

We love hostelling and often choose to stay in wilderness hostels over hotels whenever we get the chance.  Why???

One - We get to stay together with our friends and hang out with them in a common cabin to play games, cook, and eat together.

Two - We get a winter wilderness experience which is great when it's still months to go before camping season begins.

Three - There's more room for the kids to run around and play together.  (very much impossible in a small hotel room.)

Four - The kids can play outside in the snow, build snow forts, build a snowman, etc.  (again, hard to do from a hotel in the middle of a city.)

Five - We save money by staying at an affordable hostel and can cook our own meals rather than having to eat out.

Communal Life at the Athabasca Falls Hostel

For more information on the Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel where we stayed, follow the link to their website. 

Exploring Athabasca Falls, across the highway from the hostel

To read my story on Spring in Jasper, go to Spring Adventures in Jasper.

Old Fort Point Hike in Spring

Disclaimer:  Our stay at the hostel was graciously taken care of for our trip to Jasper.  As always, all opinions and words are my own. 


  1. Wow, Jasper NP is beautiful. It is one of the few places in Canada I have been to. If we ever make it up that way again I will have to check out the hostels.

  2. Forget the five hours - It would be a 34 hr drive for us and three of my kids looking at your article with me (another snow day) said "Let's go!!!" :) Beautiful scenery and so much to do...