Monday, July 28, 2014

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park

Every time we make the trek north to Jasper National Park we try to stop and see something new as a family.   Last year we took the Jasper Tramway up to the top of Whistler's Mountain and it was one of the most amazing experiences we've ever had as a family in the park. The story is here at Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - Whistler's Summit

This year, we wanted to check out the awesome bike paths in Jasper that loop the townsite, surrounding lakes and campgrounds to form a family-friendly trail network of easy pathways.  We headed up for the July long weekend and while it was rainy for the first part of our visit, the sun finally came out so that we could check most of the bike paths off our list.  That story is here at The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - Biking along the Athabasca River

Our July long weekend camping trip this year wrapped up on Canada Day and it was one of those perfect days in the mountains with barely a cloud in the sky.  There was no way we could drive home via the incredible Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise without stopping to do a hike.  We'd also been hearing great things about the all new Glacier Skywalk tour at the Columbia Icefield Centre.

We decided to do my favourite all time Jasper hike to Wilcox Pass and figured we'd still have time to do the Skywalk Tour afterward since the hiking trailhead was only 3km away from the Icefield Centre.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - Wilcox Pass Hike

It was a proud day for us to be able to get our 5 year old son up the Wilcox Pass Trail because it meant Noah had reached a new milestone in hiking;  He could now do "real" hikes!  The Wilcox Pass hike is one that tourists come from far and wide to tackle.  Groups of fit adult hikers do this trail without children in tow and it's not just a cute little family hike.  Wilcox Pass is a premier destination in Jasper and one of the top 10 hikes in all of the Canadian Rockies.  And Noah did it!

Wilcox Pass with the Athabasca Glacier and Mt. Athabasca in the background
Wilcox Pass hike - Premier Destination in Jasper National Park

We didn't hike all the way to the pass which is 8km return, but we hiked about 2.5km until we reached a really good viewpoint across to the Athabasca Glacier, had snacks, and then ran down so we could go to the Icefield Centre for our Skywalk Tour.  All in all, it took us a couple of hours maybe and was very doable by a 5 year old child. 

Hiking up the Wilcox Pass Trail
Wilcox Pass - one of the easiest trails for accessing the high alpine in the Canadian Rockies!
And we saw sheep!!
Found the Red Chairs at Wilcox Pass! 
KEEN Ambassadors in Jasper

We finished our hike and thanks to Brewster Travel Canada, we already had complimentary tickets to go check out the nearby Glacier Skywalk.   We just had to go into the Columbia Icefield Centre and pick up our tickets.   We anticipated epic crowds being that it was Canada Day on our visit, but we were pleasantly surprised with how efficient the whole experience was.  We stopped in at the Icefield Centre, stood in line for maybe 10 minutes to get tickets, switched over to the Glacier Skywalk line up for the bus ride, and within another 10 minutes were sitting on our tour bus.  The bus ride was a short 5 minutes and within no time at all we were off the bus and heading for our tour.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - The Glacier Skywalk Tour
The Skywalk Observation Platform with Mt. Athabasca in the background

The Glacier Skywalk is a glass sidewalk and viewing platform high above the Icefield valley bottom.  The Brewster Travel Canada describes their tour better than I ever could so I've copied there description  below from their website:

"The Glacier Skywalk is an experience like no other: a perfect balance of breathtaking views, interpretive story-telling and adrenaline-pumping excitement. Start by taking your time to explore a cliff-edge walkway that is filled with nature-inspired interpretive exhibits. Look down and you’ll see hints from life thousands of years ago. Look up and you’ll see the most stunning alpine and glacial vistas. Look around and you’ll discover one of the most unique ecosystems in the world; a place where it’s so hard to survive that adaptation never stops.
The grand finale to this experience is a glass-floored observation platform 918 feet (280 metres) over spectacular glacier-formed valleys and rushing waterfalls."
Walking along the sidewalk  to the viewing platform
Busy day at the Glacier Skywalk

The tour is reasonably priced at $24.95 per person and offers a fun way to take a break while driving the Icefields Parkway.  It's a 3 hour drive between Lake Louise and Jasper on the Parkway and every child I know loves to take rest stops while driving that distance.  Children's tickets are only $12.50 for the tour and kids 5 and under are free.

Checking out the valley bottom below the glass sidewalk

The tour itself only takes about an hour including the bus ride to and from the viewing platform, time to walk around on the glass sidewalk and take lots of photos.  It's the perfect amount of time for a rest stop while driving the Parkway and if you're planning to spend a longer amount of time at the Icefield Centre  there are other tours that can be taken as well.

Walking on the glass sidewalk
Noah thought it was pretty cool - No Fear!

The best companion tour with the Glacier Skywalk would be the Glacier Adventure where you get to take a big snow coach bus out onto the Athabasca Glacier to walk around on the ice.  It's an incredible experience and offers families the rare chance to walk on a glacier.  The tour is more pricy at $49.95 for adults but it's completely worth it and you can bundle tours together to make it more affordable.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - The Athabasca Glacier Adventure

To see the BEST that Banff and Jasper National Parks have to offer, consider taking the Ultimate Explorer Tour.  This tour includes tickets to the Glacier Skywalk, the Glacier Adventure on the Athabasca Glacier, the Banff Gondola, and the Banff Lake Cruise on Lake Minnewanka.  We have now completed the full tour after having visited the Skywalk.  My previous stories can be seen here at Playing Tourist in Banff National Park and Tots on Ice - A Foundation for Mountaineering.


Banff Gondola and hike up Sulphur Mt.

The Ultimate Explorer Tour is only $109.95 per adult and $54.95 per child with kids 5 and under free.  And you don't have to do all four tours in the same day.  It's an ideal way to spend a weekend from your base camp in Banff since the Banff Gondola and Lake Cruise can both be done in a day while staying overnight in Banff.  The Athabasca Glacier and Skywalk Tours meanwhile, can both be done as a day trip to the Icefield Centre from Banff.

Devil's Gap as seen from the Banff Lake Cruise

We've done all four tours now and I highly recommend all of them for local families as well as for families on vacation in the Rockies.  And if you have out of town guests that you want to take to Banff or Jasper, these tours provide a great way to show off some of the best scenery you will find in our national parks!

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - You could be here!

Visit the Brewsters Travel Canada website for more information on their tours.  Visit the official Jasper National Park tourism website for more information on what to do or where to stay in the park.  And finally, find more information on the Brewster website on the Icefields Parkway and surrounding area.

Driving the Icefields Parkway

Disclaimer:  Complimentary tickets were provided for the Glacier Skywalk Tour but as always, all opinions  are my own and I wasn't compensated in any other way for this story.


6 comments:

  1. Wow! These are amazing photos and what a great trip. I used to live in BC (now back in my home country of Australia) and miss those incredible mountains. We'll be back for a holiday in 2016 and your blog is the perfect inspiration for what to do with my daughter, who will then be seven. She's already quite the adventurer and when I showed her your pictures she said "I want to go there right now!"

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    1. So glad your daughter is excited to come. Glad you get to come in a couple years.

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  2. This is all so spectacular! Congrats to Noah for hiking Wilcox Pass! Also love your great form in the yoga asanas. And as for the red chairs in Jasper--if you ever hike up Woods Quarry in Boulder, there's something special up there to take in the view. ;-D

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    1. Thanks as always for your comments Gail. We love doing summit yoga. :)

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  3. What a beautiful hike! Can't wait go to Jasper next summer!! (We haven't been up that way since we had kids.)

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    1. Thanks! Have fun when you go next year.

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