Jasper and Banff are really popular in Summer. However winters also bring a lot of unique experiences to this park. Walking on frozen lakes to views of glaciers, all of that only a short drive from Calgary and Edmonton.
I was supposed to buy a day pass to enter the park. The drive to Jasper is so beautiful that when I stopped my car to buy the pass, I impulsively asked for the discovery pass (an annual pass), even though I do not live in Canada. I fell in love with the place so much that I knew I would visit again and again.
Renting a vehicle
A lot of roads within the park are snow covered, so getting a four wheel drive with winter tires is highly recommended. We rented a car from downtown Calgary as the prices were orders of magnitude cheaper than the airport and got an almost brand new BMW (the National in Downtown Calgary did not sell supplemental liability insurance when we rented, so call them in advance if that’s a concern)
Stocking up food
The drive from Edmonton to Jasper, or from Jasper to Banff does not have a lot of restaurants on the way, there are a few Tim Hortons and drive throughs, so make sure you have enough food with you.
PS: Dairy Queen has vegetarian Poutine, so if you are vegetarian but want to try poutine, this is one good option along the way.
If you are in Jasper in winters, and there is one thing you want to see, it has to be Maligne Canyon. This is the deepest Canyon in the Canadian Rockies.
The Canyon walk is a trial with bridges with breathtaking views. At certain places, you can enter the canyon floor and walk through frozen waterfalls and ice caves.
There are organized tours that take you on an icewalk through the frozen waterfalls in the Canyon. Parks Canada recommends visitors to take the guided tours, however going on your own is allowed.
If going on your own, ice cleats and helmets are highly recommended if planning to enter the canyon floor.
Other hikes in the park
Valley of the Five Lakes (popular in both summers and winters) and Overlook Trail are couple of other really popular hikes.
Make sure to visit the Visitor Center before venturing on the trails to know about the snow conditions etc. The day we went, we were advised to start heading to Banff and stop at a few places on the way instead of hiking further due to the weather
Drive from Jasper to Banff
The drive from Jasper to Banff is beautiful. Note that there are no restaurants or gas stations along the way, so make sure to fill up in Jasper town before heading south. We got pizzas to go from Jasper Pizza Place and they were delicious.
Even though the entire drive from Jasper to Banff is scenic, these were my 3 favorite spots to stop along the route
- Athabasca Falls
- Sunwapta Falls
- Athabasca Glacier Viewpoint
The falls are frozen but the lake looks beautiful. The falls are a very short walk from the parking lot.
Not a lot to see here in winters, but definitely worth a quick stop along the route.
Athabasca Glacier Viewpoint
Absolutely stunning icefields extend as far as one can see here. Trees, roads, fields – everything is covered with ice.
Jasper and Banff National Parks are very different in both seasons. If I had to choose between visiting Jasper in only season, it would definitely be winters. Jasper National Park looks out of the world and should be on everyone’s bucket list.