Jasper, Alberta: A Great Girlfriend Getaway
Darkness was falling as I showed the ranger the park pass hanging off my mirror and inched my truck through the gate of Jasper National Park. As I resumed highway speed, I commented to my friends, Dawn and Carrie, “It’s too bad we’ll be driving the most scenic part of the highway at night.”
We’d miss most of the mountains that made the last hour’s drive between the park gate and the town of Jasper so beautiful.
But as our truck followed the curves of the highway through the mountain valleys, I realized how wrong I’d been. A full moon hung low in the sky, casting its silver glow over the snow-capped mountains, wide rocky riverbeds, and smooth ice-bound lakes.
Any talk other than oohs and aahs faded as we stared out our windows at the beautiful night before us.
Because of the hour, there were few other vehicles on the road, and I gripped the steering wheel, alternately glancing at the highway and then at the scenery. The moonlight bathed the park in a surreal, romantic glow, making me appreciate anew the scenery that I’d seen so many times in years of driving this highway.
That was March, and my friends and I were bound on a girlfriends' trip to Jasper, a break from our university studies. We’d left the city right after we finished classes, driving the four hours to our favourite mountain getaway for some hiking, relaxation, and girl time. That full-moon welcome into Jasper made the late afternoon drive worth it and promised better things to come.
The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we hopped into the truck and went to find Pyramid Lake. A left turn at the edge of town put us on the winding Pyramid Lake Road, which we followed for several kilometers, past evergreen forests, swampy marshes, and a small marina.
Then a small parking area and an outhouse signalled that we’d arrived. Parking the truck, we zipped up our jackets and walked back to the trailhead.
A short bridge took us across to an island on the lake, dotted with picnic tables and benches for best viewing the scenery around the lake. In March, the bridge wasn’t necessary -- the lake was frozen solid and we could have walked out to the island.
Smooth, white snow spread out for miles around us, stretching across to the foot of the mountains rising on the far edge of the lake.
Some hikers before us had made a snowman on the lake, who grinned merrily towards the bridge while pointing one stick hand up at the mountains over his shoulder. The early afternoon sun brought out the shadows and contours of the snow covering the peaks and made the snow on the lake into a million pieces of cubic zirconium sparkling at us.
Then the cold wind whistling across the lake send my friends and I for the cover of the trees on the island, and another bench where we could sit, protected from the wind, and enjoy the solitude and silence offered.
During the summer months, Pyramid Lake is a popular destination for picnickers, dayhikers, and boaters. The marina rents out kayaks and paddle boats by the hour for those wishing to explore the lake itself.
The picnic tables on the lake become heavily contested by those hoping to enjoy their lunches while admiring the scenery, and hiking becomes a matter of dodging other hikers on the short trail.
In March, however, we had the island to ourselves. Other hikers before us had packed the snow into easy-to-follow trails, and that same snow made the mountain scenery just a bit different than our familiar summer views.
Trails Behind Jasper
After that brisk hike at Pyramid Lake, we returned to our B&B for some study time and lunch. In the afternoon, it was time to stretch our legs again, and we followed our hostess’ recommendation to check out the trails behind the B&B.
On the edge of the Jasper townsite is a system of trails that stretches for several miles, creating loops of varying lengths. Most of these trails are protected by trees and, even in March, had very little snow on them.
The trees block most of the mountain views, but the quiet serenity of winding through forests, catching occasional glimpses of mountains or lakes, is worth the walk.
We clambered up the hill behind the B&B and set off to see where the trail would take us. At various junctions in the trail, little yellow signs were posted, telling us where we were and were we could go.
As we rambled back along the trail, lost in our thoughts, I caught sight of a large elk standing just up the hill from the trail.
“Don’t look left, Carrie,” I said in an even voice as I reached for the camera on my belt. Big animals made her nervous, and so Dawn and I kept up a smooth, rambling conversation, just to let the elk know we were there, while we continued our even pace past him.
Another curve in the trail made us pause at the sight of nearly half a dozen more elk. Instead of heading to the trailhead at a parking lot near the Jasper Activity Center, we decided to take a shortcut straight down the hill and back into town, leaving the elk to peacefully munch whatever dry grass they could find.
Carrie wanted to see what Athabasca Falls looked like frozen, and so when we arrived back at our B&B, we piled into the truck again for the short drive out of Jasper.
The sky was clear blue as we followed the highway south, contrasting with the slate grey, snow white, and evergreen colours of the mountains that had us craning our necks to see them through the truck windows.
Athabasca Falls is another popular tourist destination, crowded with tour buses in the summer, but virtually abandoned in March. Here we found more ice than other places we’d hiked, because of the spray from the waterfall. The steps and walkways were icy, particularly the stairs which were no longer stairs but instead a slide.
The falls themselves had frozen into icy white formations, with turquoise-green water bubbling and churning in small holes, hinting at the spring to come. Though it was much less water than usually flows through the falls, it had worn the ice as smooth as the rocks around it that had been polished by thousands of years of water.
Jasper Park Lodge and Lac Beauvert
The next morning, we packed our things and started back down the highway towards home, but first, we took a detour into Jasper Park Lodge. A bridge took us over the frozen Athabasca River --calm and wide here, in contrast to the narrow, rocky path that it follows at the Falls -- to the narrow, paved access road that ran parallel to the highway until we reached the Lodge.
Consisting of sprawling buildings, paved pathways, and small parking lots, the Lodge is located by cool, clear Lac Beauvert -- or, in English, “beautiful green lake.”
We meandered past the manicured lawns and cozy cottages of the Lodge, daydreaming about someday staying there, but forgot about that in the beauty of the still, frozen Lac Beauvert and the towering mountains around it.
Carrie and I paused every few feet to snap pictures or to read the signs identifying the mountain peaks we were staring at. Their tops were still iced with snow, while their lower flanks were blanketed with dark evergreens and lighter poplars and birches.
Finally, we got into the truck and returned to the highway home. This time we had a view of the mountains in the afternoon, and time to stop at a highway pullover where Dawn and I climbed the hill for a goodbye to Jasper.
We sat on our mountain-goat perch, watching the cars whizz by beneath us and staring at the mountains now across from us. The weekend had been all that we hoped for -- relaxing and refreshing, readying us to go back to our normal lives renewed and reenergized.
Hiking in Jasper
Jasper Dayhiking Guide (Pyramid Lake, Mina Lake-Riley Lake Loop)
Staying in Jasper
Jasper Home Accomodation Website (bed & breakfasts)
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