Can’t get enough of the Canadian Rockies in winter? Jasper National Park has everything you could want for a winter vacation! There are more things to do in Jasper than you can imagine, and beautiful views everywhere you look. We visited Jasper in the middle of winter, and had an amazing trip. We can’t wait to return to Jasper National Park again and rediscover it in another season as there are so many things to do in Jasper.
Make sure you don't miss our top five tips to make the most of your visit to see the best things to do in Jasper at the end of this post!
Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is Canada’s largest national park in the Rockies. Yet Jasper receives only half of the annual visitors that Banff does. It is no less beautiful, meaning that you will have even more of this beautiful park to yourself! In winter, Jasper offers everything you can imagine, from snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and downhill skiing, to ice climbing and fat biking.
The center of Jasper National Park is the town of Jasper, which has a long history as a trading post. Jasper is the best place to be based for your visit to the park, and is complete with multiple grocery stores, and a ton of restaurants and bars to keep you entertained during your visit.
How to get to Jasper
Jasper is relatively easy to get to any time of the year, though that is weather dependent. If you don’t already live within driving distance, you will most likely be flying into Edmonton, which is about a four hour drive away.
Driving to Jasper from Banff (you can read about the best things to do in Banff in winter here) takes around four hours and you will be driving the Icefields Parkway. It is easily one of the most scenic drives in the Canadian Rockies but the conditions of the roads are heavily weather dependent. If you are visiting in winter, there might be a chance of heavy snow storms and a multiple-day closure of the Icefields Parkway as a result. There are alternative routes you can take but schedule some time buffers into your journey to Jasper National Park to account for a few winter weather related delays.
If you don’t want to drive through the Canadian Rockies in the middle of winter, there are a number of shuttle buses driving from Edmonton to Jasper which take about 5 hours and start at CAD 89 per person one way, and from Banff to Jasper which take about 4 hours and start at CAD 79 per person one way.
An alternative way to reach Jasper is by rail! The Jasper Station receives trains from across Canada multiple times per week. The trains also make their way through the Rocky Mountains, providing equally as stunning views as driving, without the worry of driving through the mountains in winter.
We recommend having your own vehicle so that you can explore all of things to do in Jasper at your own pace! Ensure that you have winter tires, as they are mandatory on all highways during the winter months. We found that it also pays to get up early and start your day with the sun. As the sun sets earlier during winter, your sightseeing hours are less than normal, and driving back home in the snow and the dark is not always fun.
Driving the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful drives in Canada. The 144 mile (232 km) highway connects the towns of Banff and Jasper, as it slices its way through the Canadian Rockies. This makes it an almost mandatory drive as you visit the two famous parks, and one of the best things to do in Jasper.
Highlights along the route include Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, the Columbia Icefield, and Athabasca Falls. Unluckily for us, a winter storm forced the closure of the Icefields Parkway while we were in the area, so we unfortunately did not get to visit all of these breathtaking sights. In winter, there is no accommodation along the route, so we recommend leaving early in the morning and planning a full day to make the drive. Be sure to have enough fuel, snacks, and water before setting off!
Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles
Abraham Lake is a breathtakingly beautiful lake in the summer, situated in a valley between mountain peaks. In the winter however, is when Abraham Lake really shines. A natural phenomenon occurs whereby trapped methane in the lake causes frozen bubbles to form within the ice covering the lake.
The ice bubbles only form in late winter, and even when it is cold enough for the lake to freeze over, they may not be visible. We learned firsthand, because it snowed the evening before we arrived at Abraham Lake, so instead of waking up to see all of the ice bubbles, the lake was completely covered in snow! We spent over an hour digging out a few sections of ice, and were rewarded with some incredible ice bubbles.
As we moved around the lake we saw different sized ice bubbles and different shapes. It is a very unique and unforgettable experience!
Abraham Lake is located about an hour’s drive east from the Icefields Parkway. If you do plan to visit Abraham Lake, especially in the winter, be well prepared as it is quite isolated – far from gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants.
Town of Jasper
The town of Jasper is located in the center of all the main attractions in Jasper National Park. If you are looking for grocery stores, restaurants, or any other services this is where you will find them! We highly recommend checking out the happy hour specials before deciding on where to eat as we found some great deals for half price food and drinks.
Maligne Canyon Ice Walk
Exploring Maligne Canyon during the winter is a must-do on the list of things to do in Jasper National Park! Maligne Canyon is one of the hidden gems of Jasper National Park. This narrow and deep canyon (at some points 160 feet deep and less than 7 feet wide, 50 meters deep and 2 meters wide) has some spectacular sights. During the winter the freezing water creates towering frozen waterfalls and ice caves to explore.
We toured Maligne Canyon on a guided afternoon icewalk with Maligne Canyon Icewalks. After meeting our small group, we were provided with winter boots, ice cleats, and a helmet for our walk. The walk began with a topside view of the frozen waterfalls. We learned that the unique Karst topography (basically underground rivers) is what is responsible for creating these unique waterfalls.
Soon enough, we were walking through the base of the canyon, seeing the ice formations up close. If anyone is scared of walking on the frozen river, taking this guided tour is the best way to explore Maligne Canyon. We had an experienced guide that was informative, fun, and made sure our safety was top priority.
The ice in the canyon changes daily, so everyone’s visit will be unique. The previously frozen river had disappeared just before our tour, leaving the top ice shelf suspended in the air which was an incredibly sight to see!
During the second half of our tour we got to see more of the canyon from the top, and crossing over some bridges with a very steep drop off.
We wrapped up our tour with a hot beverage at the beautiful Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen. The tour was a fantastic, safe and fun way to explore the ice canyon during the winter, and we can highly recommend it to everyone as one of the best things to do in Jasper.
Where to Stay in Jasper
We stayed at the Pyramid Lake Resort, which is just a few minutes outside of the town of Jasper, situated on the beautiful Pyramid Lake. The resort offers some of the best winter activities and things to do in Jasper. From snowshoeing to cross-country skiing, and fat biking to sleigh rides; all of these can be found right at the Pyramid Lake Resort.
And after a long day of outdoor activities, what better way to relax and warm up than a sauna or dip in the outdoor hot tub. During the winter, the onsite Pines Restaurant has locally inspired meals on weekends, though it is recommended that you make a reservation in advance! Our stay was mid-week so unfortunately, we did not get to try the Pines Restaurant this time.
Disclaimer: Our Icewalk tour and stay at Pyramid Lake Resort was provided by the Pursuit Collection and we loved it. As always, all of our opinions on our experience and the best things to do in Jasper are completely our own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that support us!
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for Things to Do in Jasper in Winter
1) Prepare for the cold
This is winter in the Canadian Rockies, and as we already mentioned it can get really cold! Even if you already live somewhere that has cold winters, it pays to be prepared for your trip to Jasper. Especially when traveling, most people end up spending a lot more time outdoors, so be sure to pack all of your best warm clothing and hand warmers! These small heat packets saved our cold hands when we were outside for extended periods of time.
2) Stay Hydrated
We noticed that our skin was very dry during our stay in Jasper. This is partially due to the cold and dry air outside and the hot dry air inside from the building heaters. Another important factor is that we tend to drink less water when it is cold outside! Packing a thermos with some warm water, tea, or broth on your outdoor adventures is a great way to stay hydrated and warm at the same time!
3) Search for Happy Hour Deals
There are some fantastic restaurants in Jasper, and many of them have some great happy hour deals with specials on food and drinks. If you can eat a bit earlier or a bit later than normal, you will be rewarded with some of the same great food at half the price!
4) Do an Ice Walk at Maligne Canyon
This is undoubtedly one of the main winter activities in Jasper, and is something that you just can't find anywhere else. The ice walk tours provided by Maligne Canyon Ice Walks can be taken in the morning or afternoon to fit your schedule, and will be a unique experience for everyone as the ice changes almost daily! We highly recommend this as one of the best things to do in Jasper in winter!
5) Have a Flexible Schedule
This is the number one mindset to have to enjoy your trip to Jasper in the winter. Winter weather is unpredictable, and can be rather unfriendly towards winter travelers. On our trip we encountered multiple road closures, rain, snow, and sunshine. You never really know what the weather conditions will be, but you just have to be able to roll with it. That being said, it's great to always have a secondary plan in the back of your mind if your first plans don't work out due to weather.
What Are Your Favorite Things to do in Jasper?
We would love to hear from you and know what your favorite things to do in Jasper are! What did you think of this list? Did we miss anything? We are already planning to go back in the future and would love to add your suggestions to our list of things to do in Jasper!
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