Jasper National Park and the Icefields Parkway

I know I mostly speak about what we do and not HOW we do it in a van. So I guess, the Jasper article will be a tiny bit more oriented this way. I’ll tell you where we stayed, how we got wifi and what we visited. Because this is real vanlife : not knowing when you will sleep at night, sometimes struggling because sleeping for free in a National Park is not really permitted and spending some time in coffee shops so we can use the restrooms and the wifi ;). But that’s part of the fun!

Jasper National Park is the biggest National Park in the Canadian Rockies, that is mostly because it is crossed by the Icefields Parkway, a 232-km long drive along the Continental Divide following more than 100 ancient glaciers. Jasper is also considered the wildest mountain park in the country and I won’t disagree with that fact. We saw a ton of wildlife and not a lot of gas stations! Jasper is located between Mount Robson (article will be linked here once I post it) and Banff National Park.

Once you’ve followed Hway 93 (the infamous Icefields Parkway), you can only take a couple different roads through the park : the road to Lake Maligne (where you will see most wildlife and 2 majestic lakes) and Hway 16, which will take you along recreation lakes (Edith, Anette) but also will follow the Athabasca River all the way to Jasper Lake. Even if roads are sparse, there is A LOT to cover in this park. So let’s get started !

The article is made of 7 sections. I’ll first tell you where we slept and then I’ll take you along the Icefields Parkway. After that, I’ll talk to you about our short hike to the Athabasca Glacier followed by the trail around Athabasca falls. Section number 5 will talk about the road to Lake Maligne where we saw the most wildlife. Finally, the last 2 sections will be about Jasper Lake and other recreational areas in the park.

1. Vanlife essentials for Jasper National Park

This section will be focusing on the places where we slept and the coffee shop where we had the best coffees and wifi ;). Big disclaimer here is that it is usually not allowed to stay in Jasper town or in the National Park for free. If you are able to, you should always stay in a paying facility and campground. In our case, we went to stargaze and just fell asleep. Also we stayed discreet & packed in/out our garbage, LEAVING NO TRACE (which you should always do anyway). If you happen to stay in a place that is not an official campground, I would recommend to never stay in the same spot twice. We did not make any fire either or move anything. We just slept there. Arrived late and left early!

Not all spots are equal of course. Some are beautiful and remote and some are in the middle of the city or close to the highway. But we’ve felt safe and we slept well in all 3 places. Each point was a great start point for what we wanted to do the next day.

Now the coffee shop that has great wifi and great matcha latte is called Wicked Cup. I would totally recommend them, clean, safe and great service + coffee.

Now I don’t have a lot of pictures for this paragraph so I’ll just share the first spot we stayed at.

A wonderful place to stargaze or to enjoy a fire sunrise.

2. Icefields Parkway : the most beautiful drive in the world

Like I told you at the beginning of the article, Icefields Parkway is 144-miles long (232kms). It connects Banff to Jasper and goes through some of the most incredible scenery on the planet. On the road, you might be lucky to see some wildlife (we didn’t really) but you’ll principally be amazed by the 100+ ancient glaciers perched at the top of sharp and snowcapped mountains. Just take it easy and take your time. The best advice I can give you is to stop at as many viewpoints as you’d like to take pictures and if you can drive the road twice (which we did) so once North and once South, you won’t regret it. Both times, we had different weather which made for a very complete experience. We saw the highway both under the rain and under a beautiful sun.

On the road, you’ll be able to stop at Sunwapta Falls (second picture), not as impressive as the Athabasca ones we’ll talk about later in the article. But quite pretty, huh?

If you like this type of pictures, let me know in the comments. I might do a “photo series” like I used to do for Hawaii etc, solely on the Icefields Parkway because I have a ton of shots.

3. Athabasca Glacier : a stop worth making

Part of the colossal Columbia Icefields that bestrides the continental divide, the Athabasca Glacier is the most visited in North America. It is easily visible from the Icefields Parkway, about 100 km (62 mi) south of the town of Jasper. The glacier has receded in the past 125 years but still covers an area of approximately 6 sq km (2.3 sq mi) and at its thickest, measures 300 m (980 ft). Guided tours take visitors right up onto the glacier or you can take the self-guided trail that will take you a bit less close.

Along the trail, a few signs indicate how much the glacier has receded. It’s quite interesting to see as it is both the result of the end of our Ice era and our human activity.

4. Athabasca Falls

These falls are not very high but they are mighty strong! This is due to the size of the Athabasca river, being so large (the largest river system in Jasper, flowing directly from the Columbia Icefields we just talked about) and the Athabasca canyon being so narrow. It forces the water into a powerful stream and a gentle mist for the visitors. We went early in the morning and it was already quite busy but there are a good amount of small trails, including one that takes you down the former canyon. Yes, you read correct, the Athabasca falls have changed course over the years, leaving a canyon with no purpose and no water while another limestone canyon was formed on the other side.

5. Road to Maligne Lake and wildlife spotting

If I had to pick a favourite part of the park, it probably would be this road (but also Jasper Lake, which we will talk about next). And like a lot of things in life, it’s not the destination that matters but the path towards it. That couldn’t be more true for Maligne Lake. It’s a beautiful lake but it has probably more charm in the winter. And the super well-known shot of Spirit Island in the middle is only reachable by boat and most of the tours cost between $60 and $130 which sounds a little excessive to me. Maybe something to do if we go back but didn’t feel particularly right that day.

On the road to Maligne Lake, we checked out Medicine Lake and were lucky to see a female moose and a couple male elk. If you go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you’re pretty much certain you’ll cross wild animals.

The road is a dead end and stops at the lake, so you’ll have the pleasure to drive it twice :).

In the photos below : 1. Moose / 2. Elk / 3. Maligne Lake / 4. Medicine Lake and the road.

6. Jasper Lake and the road towards Edmonton

Second favourite place in the park for a very simple reason : you can walk across the lake and the water will never go above your knees. Other than that, the lake is a little too close to the road and the water is simply glacial so it’s not really a paradise. But once you get used to the water temperatures and start walking across the lake, the views are so breathtaking, none of it won’t matter anymore. We really had the most wonderful moment there. A place I want to go back too as soon as possible!

A fun fact about Jasper Lake is that it’s not exactly a lake. It’s actually the Athabasca river at its largest.. but it’s big it was called a lake. Of course, it is glacier fed from Columbia Icefields which we talked about earlier.

7. Other recreational lakes

And if you haven’t had enough fun with all this, Jasper is full of other small recreational lakes including 3 we visited : Pyramid Lake (where you can find Jasper Stables and book a horseback riding tour), Anette Lake and Edith Lake. All 3 of them are obviously not as special as what you can find south of the Icefields Parkway in Banff BUT they are all very pretty and great places to canoe, paddle, swim or just chill with on the beach!

Pyramid Lake

Anette Lake

Edith Lake

Did you ever visit these lakes? I think they’re still quite impressive and what I love is how crystal clear the water is.

Voilà, this is basically everything we saw and did in Jasper. We definitely could have hiked but we were tired from Mount Robson. I’ll tell you why real soon and once it’s posted, I’ll add the story here.

If you’ve been to Jasper, would also love to know if we missed anything and in particular if the boats on Maligne Lake are worth it.

Thank you for reading, talk to you very soon,

Love,

Coco, Bobby, Nola & Vanito!

COPYRIGHT: All pictures belong to Fanny Cohen Sanchez, @fannychn on Instagram, Three Times Nine 2020.

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