Jasper, Alberta: Winter Perfection

Pyramid Lake Lodge in Jasper, Alberta Canada. Pursuit Collection photo.
Pyramid Lake Lodge in Jasper, Alberta Canada. Pursuit Collection photo.

Jasper in the Winter: Short on Crowds, High on Picture-Perfect Views, and Snowy Adventures 

By Sharon Kurtz
Senior Writer

Preparing for the Ice Walk in Jasper. Sharon Kurtz photo
Preparing for the Ice Walk in Jasper. Sharon Kurtz photo

Jasper, Alberta, is the place for travelers craving snow globe-perfect scenery, thrilling adventures, and a laid-back vibe. Tucked away in the bosom of the Canadian Rockies, Jasper boasts majestic limestone peaks that rise with timeless, rugged grandeur.

I’ve always been drawn to remote destinations far from the crowds and bustling tourist spots. When the opportunity arose to explore Jasper, Alberta—a less-discovered treasure often overshadowed by its famous neighbor, Banff—I couldn’t resist.

I found the opportunity to experience Jasper’s winter wonderland incredibly tempting, especially since I had never visited our Canadian neighbor to the north during this season.

Accompanied by three fellow travel writers, our mission was clear: to uncover the secrets of Jasper’s expansive skies, designated as one of the largest in Canada.

Jasper National Park

Snowshowing on Pyramid Lake © Sharon Kurtz
Established in 1907 and spanning almost 4,000 square miles, Jasper National Park is the second-largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. Surrounded by towering mountains, crystalline lakes, and abundant wildlife, no wonder the national park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Elk CR MikeSeehagel© Tourism Jasper
Elk in Jasper, Alberta.

In addition to its vast wilderness areas, you’ll find powerful waterfalls, vast canyons, and stunning lakes flanked by mountains that are home to a broad array of wildlife such as elk, moose, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, mountain goats and bighorn sheep.

All animals are protected within the park, and their natural habitats are preserved for survival. At the heart of the park is the town of Jasper, offering the same amenities and adventure as Banff but more untamed.

Dark Sky Preserve and Jasper Dark Sky Festival

While in Jasper, take advantage of the opportunity to witness the Dark Sky Preserve and enjoy the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival. As darkness falls over Jasper National Park, a new world emerges, offering incomparable opportunities for stargazing.DarkSkyFestival DroneShow. © Tourism Jasper

Devin Shaw of the Jasper Planetarium shared, “Dark sky preserves are incredibly important; they help people enjoy the sky the way it was meant to be seen. Many of our visitors come from urban centers, where they are lucky to see the brightest stars of significant constellations.

Here, people can escape and envision what the sky above offers. Our ancestors enjoyed this immensely; however, with the rise of industrialization, we lost this privilege over the last few centuries. We are beginning to see the importance of protecting the night sky as we protect other resources on our planet.”

The shorter days of October announce the coming of the magical Dark Sky Festival. Shaw continued to explain that “We’re heavily involved in the festival, offering unique tours like Star Sessions at the Jasper SkyTram, Cocktails and Constellations, and Miette Ghost Towns and Galaxies. The festival typically spans several weeks.” Watch for the 2024 festival schedule as Jasper invites you to power down, look up, and be awestruck by the celestial wonders above.

PyramidIslandAurora JasperNationalPark CRJack Fusco
Aurora Adventures in Jasper’s Skies

For those seeking the elusive beauty of the northern lights, Jasper offers prime viewing opportunities during the winter months. With minimal light pollution and optimal viewing conditions, the mesmerizing aurora borealis dances across the night sky, painting it with vibrant ribbons of color. The aurora borealis is a breathtaking result of charged particles from solar flares colliding with molecules in Earth’s atmosphere.Narrow Canyons on the Ice Walk © Sharon Kurtz

These shimmering ribbons of colorful light dance across northern landscapes on cold nights. Says Shaw, “Over my two years living here, I have seen the lights over 50 times and five displays that I consider some of the most intense I have ever witnessed and were nothing short of awe-inspiring.”

Jasper’s History

Before Jasper emerged as the charming mountain town it is today, it was a humble trading post amidst the wilderness and home to indigenous tribes for millennia. Named after Jasper Haws, a prominent figure in its early days, the town’s history is steeped in the adventures of early settlers and railway pioneers.

Jasper became a railway town in the early 20th century, and the railway played a significant role in its development, providing a connection between Canada’s east and west coasts.

Downtown Jasper.
Downtown Jasper.

In 1885, the railway line reached Jasper, then known as Fitzhugh, and a small station was established. The area’s natural beauty and potential for tourism were recognized, leading to the establishment of Jasper Forest Park in 1907, which later became Jasper National Park.

The railway played a crucial role in the growth of Jasper as a tourist destination. It brought in visitors from across the country, allowing them to access the stunning landscapes and explore the park’s attractions.

Hotels and lodges were built to accommodate the increasing number of tourists, and the town of Jasper gradually developed around the railway station.

Guide Liam in the Canyon. Sharon Kurtz photo.
Guide Liam in the Canyon. Sharon Kurtz photo.

Today, the railway continues to be an essential aspect of Jasper’s history and economy. The Canadian National Railway (CNR) operates in Jasper, and the town remains a popular stop for travelers on the iconic Rocky Mountaineer train journey.

Jasper Today

Jasper isn’t just a tourist spot; it’s a lively community with a rich history and a strong bond with nature. You can enjoy craft beers made with glacier water at Jasper Brewing Co. and delicious locally sourced dishes at Terra. Meanwhile, the Jasper Yellowhead Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into Jasper’s history, showcasing its Indigenous heritage and pioneering spirit.

Celestial Wonders at Jasper Planetarium

Immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring celestial displays at the Jasper Planetarium. Led by expert astronomers, nightly interactive shows explore planets, stars, distant galaxies, and the aurora under the Rockies’ darkest skies. Delve into Jasper’s celestial treasures and uncover Indigenous star lore.

Pyramid Lake from the Lodge.
Pyramid Lake from the Lodge.

 During our stay at the Pyramid Lake Lodge, we joined a remote stargazing tour that led to a nearby edge of the frozen lake, where powerful telescopes had been set up, allowing us to gaze the cosmos firsthand.

Astrophysicist Tyler Burgardt and presenter Jerry Gordy emphasized the need to preserve pristine night skies for optimal stargazing conditions. The hand-on experiences making an aurora and holding meteorites was fun, especially for the kids.

Jerry Gordy shared “Jasper is a stellar place for stargazing. Even on the main strip you can make out planets, constellations, and the occasional aurora.

Going just outside the town and you can start to make out distant star clusters, galaxies, and the arm of the milky way. Add to that the rugged mountains, postcard lakes, and impressive wildlife, and it’s not hard to see why Jasper is a destination for astro-enthusiasts like me.”

Despite cloud cover preventing us from seeing the Northern Lights, the tour includes a 2-year raincheck for rebooking.

Maligne Canyon Ice Walk

Ice Hockey on Pyramid Lake. Photo Credit Jasper Tourism
Ice Hockey on Pyramid Lake. Jasper Tourism photo

The most unforgettable experience of our Jasper adventure was the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk. Maligne Canyon is a deep limestone gorge carved out by the Maligne River over thousands of years. It is more than 150 deep in places and features a series of impressive waterfalls, narrow passages, a variety of foot bridges and unique rock formations.

Bull Moose in the wild. Jasper Tourism photo
Bull Moose in the wild. Jasper Tourism photo

Under a brilliant winter sun, our small group gathered at the equipment area to meet Liam, our experienced guide, and gear up with helmets, boots, and ice cleats for traction.

Liam shared fascinating insights about the canyon’s geology, wildlife, and history. With helmets snugly in place and cleats securely fastened, we embarked on our icy journey, amazed by the breathtaking beauty surrounding us.

Towering ice walls greeted us as we descended into the canyon, their frozen surfaces sparkling in the sunlight.

Glad to have those ice cleats, we were able to explore the canyon, delving into the ice caves and tunnels shaped by the frozen river, while marveling at the translucent blue ice and the sound of rushing water below. The frozen waterfalls captured by attention immediately – suspended in time like mesmerizing ice sculptures as we wandered amidst the shimmering formations, immersed in the surreal experience.

Winter Adventures at Pyramid Lake Lodge

Another highlight of our trip was strapping on snowshoes and heading out onto the frozen Pyramid Lake.

As I stepped out from the cozy confines of Pyramid Lake Lodge, the winter landscape unfolded before me like a scene straight out of the Disney movie Frozen.

The late winter ice surface was bumpy and uneven from multiple thaws and refreezes. While it may have been suitable for a rousing hockey game with kids and their dads, it certainly wasn’t ideal for practicing my twirls on skates.

Dark Sky Festival Telescope_CRJeffBartlett. Photo Credit Jasper Tourism
Dark Sky Festival Telescope.Photo Credit Jasper Tourism

I clipped into a pair of snowshoes and carefully navigated the icy terrain with each step, heading toward Pyramid Island on the lake. Before it became a European settlement, the beautiful island and the surrounding area were frequented by Indigenous peoples. The local tribes considered the area sacred and used it for various cultural and spiritual activities.

Pyramid Mountain is a sentinel on the distant horizon, casting an imposing shadow over the landscape. Along the shores of the lake, snow-cloaked fir trees create a picturesque border, their branches laden with the weight of winter’s embrace. Above, the sky stretches endlessly, a canvas of unimaginable blue, occasionally adorned by billowing clouds as brilliant as freshly fallen snow, drifting lazily in the crisp mountain air.

Pyramid Lake Telescope Experience. Jasper Planetarium photo.
Pyramid Lake Telescope Experience. Jasper Planetarium photo.

Despite the occasional stumble as I traversed the frozen lake on my snowshoes, I savored the calm stillness as I traced my path back to the lodge.

In the heart of the Canadian Rockies, cozying up by the fire or venturing into the wilderness, you will create lasting memories in Jasper, Alberta.

Pursuit Collection and the Pyramid Lake Lodge hosted Sharon’s visit to Jasper National Park. However, all opinions are her own. 

For more information about visiting Jasper National Park, contact Jasper Travel.   

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