Thursday, August 18, 2016

Our Top Ten Favourite Things to Do in Jasper - updated 2024

We usually visit Jasper a couple of times each year and it's one of our favourite road trip destinations from Calgary. The drive takes roughly 5 hours from Calgary via the scenic Icefields Parkway (our favourite drive in the Canadian Rockies.) To break the trip up, consider stopping at the Columbia Icefields Centre (featured below) or stop for a short hike at one of the many trailheads along the Icefields Parkway. (We especially love the Parker Ridge Hike.)

We still have years of exploring to do before I'll have a complete list of the "best adventures in Jasper" (and I suspect it will actually take a lifetime to create that list) but for now, these are our top ten favourite things to do while visiting Jasper National Park. We've personally tested and tried each experience below and would repeat every one of them multiple times!

Our Top Ten Favourite Things to Do in Jasper (photo: Old Fort Point)

Our Top Ten Favourite Things to Do in Jasper


1. Ride the Jasper Sky Tram and Hike to the Summit of Whistlers Mountain

We would ride the Jasper Sky Tram on every trip to Jasper if we could afford to do so. Cost aside though, it is something you HAVE to do at least once! It just might be my favourite family adventure in the Canadian Rockies and I've enjoyed riding the sky tram since I was a child.

Views from the top of the Jasper Sky Tram over to Pyramid Mountain

Once you get to the upper terminal, it's a short 1.2 km hike one way to the top of the Whistlers Mountain Summit.You'll gain two hundred metres in your uphill walk but it's never too steep and young children should have few problems with the hike. (My son first did the hike when he was 4 years old.)

Hiking to the Summit of Whistlers Mountain

The hike is stunningly gorgeous and it's our favourite hike in Jasper. Well behaved dogs are welcome on the Sky Tram and there is a restaurant at the top should you want a snack after hiking to the summit.

To read more on our Jasper Sky Tram adventures, read Family Friendly Summits in Jasper.

There are lots of fun boulders to climb on along the summit hiking trail

2. Hike the Old Fort Point Trail

We hike this trail every year so that my son and I can capture our annual photo on the Old Fort Point summit. It's become a tradition for us and it guarantees we'll be back to Jasper every year to catch next year's photo.

There's no better view of the Jasper Townsite area and valley in such a short hike. For more information visit the Hike Jasper site. And we prefer to hike straight up the wooden stairs to the viewpoint and return the same way. We also like biking to the trailhead from town or from one of the campgrounds just outside of town on the easy trail system.

9 Years of Hiking the Old Fort Point Trail (ages 2 - 10)

3. Bike the Jasper Easy Trail System

I've written an entire story on biking around Jasper and we make it a priority to do a big loop every time we visit. We either start at one of the campgrounds just outside of town and follow the Wapiti Trail to the Red Squirrel Trail and Old Fort Point Trailhead or we start in town and get onto the Red Squirrel Trail from there. 

From Old Fort Point, we follow the Athabasca River Trail to the Jasper Park Lodge and make our way over to Lake Annette where there is a beach. From there, we like the Big Horn Alley trail which takes us back to town.

Biking the Jasper easy trail system 

Most of the easy trails (Big Horn Alley aside) are wide enough for a chariot and are perfect for novice riders. They are not paved (so wait till the kids are off training wheels) but they are fabulous for introductory mountain biking and have very few challenges or rough sections.

For more, please read my story: The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper.  

Biking the family-friendly Jasper easy trail system 

4. Bike from Pyramid Lake back down to Jasper

The Pyramid Trail (number 15) takes you on a fun flowy downhill adventure from Pyramid Lake back to the Jasper Townsite in a quick 6.2 km ride with 118 metres of height lost. It is an intermediate trail and definitely not wide enough for towing a chariot, but it's great for kids who are ready to try something a little harder than the easy trail system. (and honestly, it's a very easy intermediate trail that would be rated easy in other parks.)

We always do the ride with a shuttle so that my son doesn't have to ride back up. If you don't have a second vehicle, take turns riding the trail with the kids while one adult drives back down to the bottom of Pyramid Lake Road.

And once the kids have mastered this trail, there are other trails on the Pyramid Bench that we enjoy as well.

For more on all trails in Jasper, please read my story: The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper.  

Biking on the Pyramid Trail in Jasper

5. Paddle on Pyramid and Patricia Lakes

These lakes are our two favourite places to paddle on in the park. The water is usually pretty calm and you won't have to worry about motor boats or strong winds and waves typical with bigger lakes.

Paddling on Pyramid Lake on serene glass like water

The last time we paddled these two lakes, we started with Pyramid at sunrise, had breakfast at the Pyramid Lake Resort, and then moved on to Patricia. We found a great beach area at the far end of Patricia lake and the water was bathtub warm near the beach as a great bonus!

Paddling on Patricia Lake

If you don't have boats to bring with you, you can rent boats (including stand up paddleboards) at Pyramid Lake Resort . You can also contact Translucid Adventures or visit their mobile site on Lake Lake Edith.  

Stand up paddleboarding at Lake Annette

 6. Hit the Beach

Lake Annette is the home to Jasper's beach with sand for the kids and calm water for paddling. It's a fabulous starting or ending point for bike rides on the easy trail system.

Beach Time at Lake Annette

Another option that we have discovered is the Jasper Lake Sand Dunes as you drive into Jasper from the East Park Gates. The water is knee deep at most and the kids will love the soft sand here.

Exploring the Jasper Sand Dunes

 7. Visit Miette Hot Springs

While you're out exploring the sand dunes, you should continue on to Miette Hot Springs, the best hot springs in our national parks (in my opinion.) They are hotter than the Banff or Radium Hot Springs and there's a café located right beside the pool with a patio overlooking the pools. (Bring some money into the pool with you and stash it in a bag beside the pool)

Relaxing at the Jasper Hot Springs

If you have the energy for it, you can also hike the Sulphur Skyline Trail while here, walk the short trail to visit the source of the hot springs, or continue on further to Hinton for an afternoon of biking at the Hinton Bike Park. There are many options out this way.

Soaking at Miette Hot Springs


8. Take a Boat Cruise to Spirit Island

We'd always wanted to take the boat cruise across Maligne Lake to Spirit Island and I was blown away by the experience when we finally tried it. I must not have truly researched the tour ahead of time because I was absolutely shocked that we got to stop at Spirit Island and to take photos from the shore directly beside the small picturesque island. 

I had expected the boat to slow down near the island as everybody fought for space to capture their prized photo from the side of the boat. How enjoyable to realize that we'd actually have 20-30 minutes to take photos and to enjoy the experience!

Spirit Island Boat Dock

Note that you won't get to actually go ON to Spirit Island but you'll stop at a boat dock that is right beside the small island and you'll be plenty close to grab your photos. The island itself is considered sacred to the local native people and it would destroy the small island to have hundreds of tourists tromping across it daily.

Spirit Island and the classic photo of Jasper National Park

For more information on tours to Spirit Island, visit Pursuit Tours and make a reservation before you go. We didn't and had to wait a long time before we could get on a cruise.

Spirit Island, Jasper National Park

9. Explore Downtown Jasper

We have three things we have to do every time we visit Jasper.

One. Have dinner at the Jasper Brewing Company. I love their nachos and of course the beer is amazing!! My favourite is the Jasper the Bear Ale. I think I'd actually drive to Jasper for a weekend just to have a pint of that beer! (And yes, they take children)

Nachos at the Jasper Brewing Company

Two. Have coffee and fresh baked goods at the Bear's Paw Bakery. They have the best coffee in Jasper and you'll have a hard time deciding on what you'd like to order with your cup of coffee.

A small selection of baked goods at the Bear's Paw Bakery

Three. Stop to play at the Centennial Park Playground, located on Bonhomme Street. This is an amazing park and it's a great place to go explore after getting your coffee above. (or en route to the Brewing Company.)

Playing in the huge sand box at Centennial Park with the playground behind

Other restaurants I highly recommend that we've discovered over the years:

  • The Jasper Pizza Place - Located right on the main street of Jasper you can't miss it. And the pizza is fabulous.

  • Famoso Italian Pizzeria, Jasper - This is another great pizza and pasta restaurant, and it's often much quieter than the Jasper Pizza Place. 

  • Coco's Café - Quite possibly the best breakfast restaurant you'll ever find. You'll see!

10. Visit the Columbia Icefields Centre for a Glacier Adventure

Book a Glacier Adventure Tour with Pursuit Tours and you can take a giant bus up onto the Athabasca Glacier where you'll get to walk around on the glacier. It's a safe experience and the tour company ensures that the area where you'll be walking is free of crevasses or other hazards. 

It is recommended though that you wear good waterproof shoes or hiking boots, wear warm clothes, and consider bringing mittens or gloves with you. A warm hat would also not be out of line. Think summer to winter in a 10 minute drive.

Ride this giant bus onto the Athabasca Glacier 

Now that's a big bus!!

You'll want to reserve a time in advance (or risk waiting for up to three hours to board a bus) and you really do not want to purchase food at the Centre. Bring a lunch with you and you'll save both money and time waiting in line for the cafeteria.

We've done the tour twice now and it's always fun. And unless you have the experience, equipment, and skills required to take your family on an authentic glacier traverse, this might be your only chance to get out and actually walk on a glacier before they all melt. :(

Such an incredible experience with kids!

Along with your Glacier Adventure, you'll also get to experience the Glacier Skywalk Tour. While not as exciting as the Glacier Adventure, it's still kind of cool and since it's bundled together with your other tour, you might as well enjoy both while you're on your bus. It's not often either that you get to walk on a glass sidewalk above a canyon with views of glaciers all around you.

The Glacier Skywalk with Mt. Athabasca in the background

For more photos of the Columbia Icefields area, check out my previous stories:

Views of the Athabasca Glacier from Wilcox Pass

What Next?

Maligne Canyon in Winter

Visit in Winter of course! You have to return to Jasper to hike the frozen Maligne Canyon, to snowshoe Medicine Lake, and to enjoy streets with not a single other tourist on them. Jasper is paradise in winter and one of our  favourite places to visit in the off-season.

For more on Jasper in winter, check out my stories 

And my most recent story from 2021:
Read: Winter Road Trip! North to Jasper National Park 

There's no shortage of things to do in Jasper year round. You can get more ideas along with suggestions on accommodations from the Jasper Tourism website.

Come for summer and return for winter!

Additional Resources

Obviously I didn't mention every trail, activity or tour. Check out the following stories for more inspiration:

Top Twenty Things to Do in Jasper - Adventure Awaits

Family Rafting in Jasper - Adventure Awaits

Floating down the Athabasca - Adventure Awaits

The Best Ways to Explore Jasper with Kids - Twirls and Travels

15 Spectacular Things to do in Jasper National Park (great photography and videos!) - Crazy Family Adventure

Family Adventures in Jasper National Park: 10 Things to do with Kids near Jasper - Backwoods Mama 


  1. Great blog - makes me want to get back there ASAP

  2. Excellent blog. Very imformative and helpful. THANKS!