Travel Alberta, Canada: Jasper National Park and its Icefields

Travel Alberta, Canada: Jasper National Park and its Icefields
A World of Tamed Scenic Wilderness

By Habeeb Salloum

View from Icefields Parkway to the Columbia Icefield

View from Icefields Parkway to the Columbia Icefield

For two days we gloried in the fantastic world of Banff National Park, enjoying its many natural and man-made attributes. We explored some of its castellated mountain peaks, dense forests, sweeping green meadows, turquoise lakes, sparkling rivers, roaring waterfalls as well as its dazzling white snowfields. Now, we were leaving this scenic panorama for the adjoining Jasper National Park – another majestic world of nature with very few equals in the world.

A short time after crossing into this wonder of nature, we reached the Columbia Icefields, formed by six glaciers – the largest accumulation of ice south of the Arctic Circle. Edged by 11 of the 22 highest mountain peaks in the Rockies and covering an area of 325 sq km (126 sq mi) and averaging 3,000 m (9,840 ft) in height, the six glaciers form a true ‘Continental Divide’ – their waters pouring, via the Athabasca and South Saskatchewan Rivers, into three different oceans: north to the Arctic; east to the Atlantic; and west to Pacific.

Travel Alberta: Jasper Icefields Parkway

Travel Alberta: Jasper Icefields Parkway

We stopped by the Icefields Centre – a huge chalet-like stone building built to serve annually half a million visitors. Its location on a spot where one of the six glaciers, the Athabasca, is clearly visible makes it easy for visitors to walk to the glacier’s edge and gaze at the enormous expanse of crevassed ice.

Like hundreds of thousands of other tourists, we took the Snocoach Tour onto the icy slopes of the huge glacier. After a short bus ride, we transferred to a 56 passenger Snocoach – a vehicle not found any place else on earth. Especially designed and built by a Calgary-based company for the Columbia Icefields, it took us to the middle of the Athabasca Glacier.

As we moved along, our guide pointed to the edging glaciers, “They’re majestic! Are they not?” He went on, “But if they continue receding at the present rate, in some 650 years they will disappear.”

Black Bear Mom with Cub

Black Bear Mom with Cub

After returning from our 90-minute icefields exploration, on the road again on our way to the town of Jasper, 103 km (64 mi) away, we entered a vast world of pine and spruce, emerald lakes and deep canyons, rugged sky-reaching snow-capped mountains, tumbling waterfalls, large wildlife-filled evergreen forests and the Athabasca River – one of the most historic and beautiful rivers in Canada.

Established in 1907 on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, Jasper National Park is Canada’s largest Rocky Mountain Park covering an area of some 10,878 sq km (4,200 sq mi)) with 1,200 km (745 mi) of wilderness trails. A part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain World Heritage site, the Park, draws some 2 million visitors a year to see this ‘Paradise on Earth’. Making our way northward on the Icefield Parkway, considered to be the most scenic route on earth, we stopped numerous times to take pictures of wild animals by the roadside or on the mountainsides. There are 69 species of wildlife in the Park, including: grizzly, black bear, grey wolf, elk, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat.

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

We stopped awhile at Sunwapta Falls watching with other travellers the Sunwapta River tumbling into a limestone gorge. Moving forward to have a good look at the Falls I heard a woman tell her daughter, “See how wondrous is nature! The plummeting waters! The white tipped mountains and the tree-covered mountainsides. Isn’t it enchanting!”

Continuing on our picturesque drive, we turned a short distance off the main road to admire the Athabasca Falls, a spot where the Athabasca River is funneled into a narrow canyon. One of the most impressive waterfalls in the Rockies, it is surrounded by rugged rock formations and plunges 23m (75.5 ft) below.

Baby Sheep Climbing Rocks

Baby Sheep Climbing Rocks

Some 38 km (23 mi) further on travellers reach the town of Jasper, 1,067 m (3,510 ft)high and the main urban center and commercial heart of the Jasper Park. An overgrown village of some 4,500 in winter and 10,000 in summer, it nestled in the bosom of the Rockies amidst an unspoiled part of nature. The well-kept buildings, cuddled by towering mountains, have make it an idyllic vacation mecca.

Its first-class tourist facilities, make it easy for visitors to be comfortable and at the same time enjoy the many natural attributes of the Park. Restaurants and a varied selection of shops cater to the thousands of tourists who crowd the town, especially in summer. Here, also, whatever the season, travellers can partake in mountain adventure and make contacts with the animals of the wild.

The next day, from this neat and cozy resort, in less than 20 minutes we were in the serene Maligne Lake and Canyon, regarded as one of most breath-taking sites near the town of Jasper.

At Spirit Island

At Spirit Island

Our first stop was at a gorge formed by the Maligne River swirling and churning waters roaring from the lake, which have worn the limestone rocks in places 55 m (165 ft) deep. Located 11.7 km (7 mi) from the town of Jasper, it is one of the most spectacular gorges in the Canadian Rockies, incorporating an extensive above and underground river system.

Standing on one of the Canyon’s six bridges, while being soaked with the spray of the thundering Maligne River, I stood awed by the deep gorges made by the rushing waters.

Past the 7 km (4 mi) long Medicine Lake, which has no surface outlet, and disappears in autumn and winter through underground channels, we came to Maligne Lake – 44 km (27 mi) from the town of Jasper.

Stretching for 22 km (14 mi) with a depth of 198 m (318 ft), it is the second largest glacier-fed lake in the world. Set in the imposing Maligne Valley, the lake, the largest in Jasper National Park, is surrounded by glacier-studded mountain peaks. The lake boasts sparkling deep-blue waters and for beauty, has no equal in the region. Like the 40,000 annual tourists who visit the lake, atop its waters we joined in a 90-minute scenic boat ride, before returning to Jasper for the night.

Comfortable in our 4-star Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in the town of Jasper, I reminisced about our two-day exploration of Jasper National Park with its icefields. It had been a fulfilling experience. The sky-reaching mountains, colorful and icy rivers, thundering waterfalls, endless forests and, above all its prehistoric icefields made it a once in a lifetime journey.

If You Go:

Getting There:
Jasper is situated about the same distance from Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta’s capital – about a five-hour drive. Both have excellent air, road and rail connections. Also, there are good rail and bus connections with Jasper. However, the ideal way to travel to the resort is to rent an auto and explore the park. The roads inside the park are excellent and the viewpoint sites are endless. In addition, there are excursions offered from both Calgary and Edmonton.

Important Sites (not mentioned) to See in and Around Jasper:
Jasper Tramway, the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada. It transports one to Jasper National Park’s alpine tundra where there are unprecedented views, six mountain ranges, glacial fed lakes, the Athabasca River and the scenic town of Jasper.

Tramway and Jasper

Tramway and Jasper

Miette Hot Springs, about 60 km (37 mi) east of Jasper. At 53º C, they are the hottest mineral springs in the Rockies. However, their waters are cooled to 40º and chlorinated for bathers.

Pyramid and Pyramid Lakes, just 8 km (5 mi) from the heart of town, it is well worth the trip just to view the beauty of the two lakes in the shadow of the towering Pyramid Mountain.

Top Place to Stay In Jasper:
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge – the hotel, spreading along the curve of Lac Beauvert, a short distance from town, incorporates a golf course and combines the ultimate in luxury with tranquillity and natural beauty. A village unto itself, it consists of lavish log cabins and cedar chalets. 1 Old Lodge Road, Jasper, Alberta, Canada T0E 1E0. Tel: Toll Free: 1(866) 540-4454 or (780) 852-3301. Fax: (780) 852-5107. E-mail: jasperparklodge@fairmont.com

Some Interesting Tours to Take From Jasper:
Jasper Adventure Centre offers these tours:

– Maligne Valley, Canyon and Lake Tour – cost with boat ride $109.

– Miette Hot Springs and Watchable Wildlife Tour – cost $74.

– The Columbia Icefields Ttour from Jasper – cost $129. Toll Free: 1-800-565-7547.

Maligne Tours Ltd., specialize in tours to the Maligne Valley, Canyon and Lake – cost with boat ride $103.95.

For Further Information:
Tourism Jasper, P.O. Box 568, Jasper, Alberta, Canada TOE 1EO. Tel: (780) 852-6236

Photo Credits: Jasper Tourism

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