Travel to Jasper, Alberta – Episode 535

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Travel to Jasper, Alberta - Amateur Traveler Episode 535

Hear about travel to Jasper as the Amateur Traveler talks to Laurisa Orich about her hometown where 5 generations of her family have lived in the Canadian Rockies.


We have done a longer two-part episode on the Canadian Rockies that included Jasper but that show was 10 years ago and Laurissa tells me “why we should have stopped and stayed in Jasper a little longer”.

“If you are a nature lover or even if you are a nature liker, you should come and visit Jasper. Jasper [National Park] is the largest park in the Canadian Rockies and covers about 7,000 square miles. Jasper is very wild but it also has the tourism infrastructure that makes it really accessible regardless of your age, your level of fitness or your level of adventurousness. The Canadian Rockies are absolutely magnificent. I think that Jasper is the most magnificent place in the Rockies”.

Laurisa starts us on a tour with a drive up the Icefields Parkway from Banff which is also not too shabby. She recommends some obvious places to stop like the Athabasca Glacier which is part of the Columbian Icefields. You can get out on the glacier in large snow buses. She also recommends some lesser-known stops like Fish Buck Lake and Marmot Basin.

As we settle into Jasper, the town, she tells us about places to stay, galleries, museums and walks in town as well as special times of the year to come like the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. But the main reason to come to Jasper is to enjoy time out in nature. She gives us a selection of hikes and trails from wheelchair friendly paved paths to climbing up a frozen waterfall. She tells us what to ask the locals to get directions to their favorite (but unmarked) vista spot.

Learn about hiking, rafting, wildlife spotting and learn about what weird elk behavior keeps the swings on local playgrounds locked up part of the year. I cast my vote for the most beautiful spot in Jasper, but after you go, please tell us yours.

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Show Notes

Edmonton & Jasper Alberta, Canada – Episode 67
Banff & Calgary, Alberta, Canada – Episode 68
Jasper National Park
Jasper, Alberta
Columbia Icefield
Fish Buck Lake
Glacier Skywalk
Marmot Basin
Whistlers Inn, Jasper
Jasper Museum
Jasper Gallery
Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club
Tonquin Valley
Cavell Meadows
Old Fort Point
Sulfur Skyline Trail
Whistler Mountain
Valley of Five Lakes
Jasper Dark Sky Festival
Maligne Lake
Edge of the World
Jasper in January


on Hike the Lycian Way in Turkey – Episode 420:


Haven’t talked with you in a while, but continue to love the podcast.

Our trip to Turkey was a smashing success, and as usual, your podcast (on hiking the Lycian Way) was a real help.

We visited Patara, the birthplace of St. Nicholas, as well as Demre, where he ministered. We also spent a week in Antalya, which has the finest museum I’ve personally visited. What a treasure-trove for those interested in Lycian, Roman, or New Testament- and ante-Nicene Fathers history!


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Travel to Jasper, Alberta - Amateur Traveler Episode 535


Chris: Amateur Traveler, episode 535. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about waterfalls and majestic mountains, frozen waterfalls and glaciers, and very strange habits of elk as we go to Jasper Alberta. Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. Without further ado, let’s talk about Jasper. I’d like to welcome to the show Laurissa Orich, who is coming to us from Jasper in Alberta and coming to talk to us about Jasper in Alberta. Laurissa, welcome to the show.

Laurissa: It’s great to be here, Chris.

Chris: And we have already done a show on Jasper, but when I checked, we have done it 10 years ago. And I think we did it about a trip that I took the year after 911 when we wanted to stay someplace in North America. So it’s been a little while since we’ve talked about Jasper, and it’s been longer since I’ve been there.

Laurissa: I think if I recall the episode, you were just on a road trip through all of the mountain parks here. I’d like to tell you why you should have stopped and stayed in Jasper a little longer.

Chris: So we’re not going to talk about the larger trip that we did, but if you’re interested in that, let me suggest an alternate itinerary…and this is a two-part episode way back in the archives where we started in Calgary, did Calgary, Edmonton, Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise, back to Calgary and then up to Drumheller, to the Badlands and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. So that is in the other episode, but we’re going to focus a little more on Jasper this time. First of all, why should somebody come to Jasper if they don’t know what they’re missing?

Laurissa: If you are a nature lover or even if you’re just a nature liker, you should come and visit Jasper. Jasper is the largest park in the Canadian Rockies that covers about 7000 square miles, maybe a little more. Jasper is very wild, but it also has the tourism infrastructure that makes it really accessible regardless of your age, your level of fitness, or your level of adventurousness.

Chris: Now, see, I feel like you’ve undersold Jasper. I would have started with the Canadian Rockies or one of the most beautiful places in the world. It was my considered opinion then, and I’ve been to a lot of places since, but we’re still talking about just a magnificent place.

Laurissa: The Canadian Rockies are absolutely magnificent. There’s no words that I can use on a podcast or even any picture that you can look at that will replicate what it is like to be in the Rockies. Now, I’m a little biased because I have five generations of roots here…

Chris: Good grief!

Laurissa: …but I think Jasper is the most magnificent place in the Rockies.

Chris: What did your family come to Jasper for four generations ago?

Laurissa: The tourism, really. The elk, the camp forest, maybe for the bears.

Chris: Really? Okay, with the Canadian railroad?

Laurissa: No, I have no railroaders in my family. My grandmother was a housekeeper at one of the hotels here. And then when I say “I have five generations of roots,” my great grandmother came after my grandmother came here, so she is not from here. But yeah, this is what we call home. So maybe I’m a little biased, but I do think that this is the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies.

Chris: Well, and for people who don’t know the history, the reason I suggested the railroad is that a lot of the tourism to the Canadian Rockies, especially to further south, more like Banff and Lake Louise, came when the Canadian Railroad basically not only put the railroad through. But also then put in magnificent hotels all along the way, and so they really created tourism to the Canadian Rockies.

Laurissa: And that’s true, and Jasper is no exception to that. It’s definitely the railroad that brought the tourism here, and then it just stayed especially in the 1930s. In the Great Depression, there was quite a bit of infrastructure development sort of as a government make-work project.

Chris: Sure, right. So what kind of itinerary would you recommend for somebody coming to Jasper?

Laurissa: If you’re going to come to Jasper, you are coming to connect with nature. If you’re coming for, say, a good one-week holiday, I think that would be a good amount of time to spend here, maybe combining that with an exploration of the rest of the Rockies so that you can try to prove me wrong that this is the greatest place in the Rockies. But we can’t separate that getting here is half the fun. There’s a magnificent drive up the Icefields Parkway. If you fly into Calgary, it’s only about 150 miles. So, theoretically, you could just get here from Calgary in three hours. You’re not going to want to do that. You are going to want to take all day and really explore it. Honestly, Chris, you could do an entire podcast just on this drive. So many top 10 lists call it one of the most magnificent drives in the world. It’s featured in National Geographic magazine as it’s one of the most “stunning drives or spectacular drives,” I think it’s what they called it.

Chris: Where would you suggest we stop? Because I can think of some places that I have in mind, but…

Laurissa: Well, I’m only going to speak to the side of the highway when you actually enter Jasper. There’s plenty of beautiful stops in the Banff side as well. But right when you get into Jasper, the first thing that you see – and I think this is a place that you stopped, Chris – is the Columbia Icefields. Now, this is a nice pit stop, it’s about halfway down the drive. You’ll see a great big building, a big parking lot, and that is sort of the headquarters for a tourist office to visit throughout the Icefields. You can get on a snow coach, which is this giant bus with these big wheels that takes you down this steep hill and through this beautiful mountain area and brings you right onto the toe of the glacier. You can get out and explore the glacier.

Chris: And we say “the glacier,” we’re talking about the Athabasca Glacier.

Laurissa: The Athabasca Glacier, that is “the” glacier. There’s several glaciers in the park, and you can get to many of them through hiking. But this is a way to get to one just in a nice, air-conditioned snow coach…or heated if you’re coming when it’s a little bit cooler. It’s definitely something spectacular to see if you’ve never actually been on a glacier. It is something that I highly recommend trying and you wouldn’t want to try that without a guide.

Chris: And when you say on a glacier I recall when we were there on my third attempt. We talked about this in the last podcast. The first two times I went there…one, I was there as a kid and my dad decided the wait was too long, which I will forgive him for one of these days. And the second time, it was closed. So this is not open in the winter time, it closes in early October, I want to say, or the end of September.

Laurissa: Usually October around Thanksgiving in Canada.

Chris: And I think it closed earlier the year that I was there. They may have changed that, but that was a long time ago. And then did get on it the last time, but when you’re standing on the glacier, you’re standing on – I believe it’s – 1100 feet of ice below you.

Laurissa: It is, yeah.

Chris: Probably less now, the glacier is definitely receding. They have signs of how big it was, and I remember seeing the one of how big it was the first time I was there and it’s receded quite a ways up the valley since then.

Laurissa: It is and it’s still receding., so it’s something to see while it’s still there. I think the estimate is a couple of generations from now that it won’t be there anymore. Something really neat about that area is you see all these tiny little trees, and you think to yourself, “Well, those just must be new trees, they must be saplings,” but they’re actually hundreds of years old. It’s just that the growing season in the Icefields is so short that they can only grow a tiny little bit each year. So they are these tiny trees, but they’re as old as the California Redwoods.

Chris: Where else would you stop on the Icefield Parkway?

Laurissa: Another stop that I often take that you won’t find in most guidebooks is called Buck Lake. You’ll see a little sign that has a little hiker man on it pointing, and it’ll say “Buck Lake this way.” If you look on the internet, if you look in guidebooks, you won’t see anything about this. I got really curious about this a couple of years ago. I started Googling and looking around to find what is Buck Lake. So one day I decided I’m going to find out. I’m a big backpacker, so my partner and I, we got ready to go for a whole day. We loaded up, we were ready to be there from sunrise to sundown. It turned out to be a 100-meter walk to this beautiful, quiet, little lake. It’s not the breathtaking views that you look at at so many stops along the Parkway, but it’s this quiet peaceful little place, great place to stop. And had a sandwich, take some pictures. And it is named Buck Lake because you are very likely to see some big buck elk with their great, big horns there.

The next place that I would stop is the Athabasca falls. These are the most powerful falls in the Canadian Rockies, and they’re about 15 miles outside of the town of Jasper, so it would probably be your last stop before you get to town. They’re very accessible, it is a paved pathway, so even if you’re wheelchair bound or mobility is a little bit more difficult for you, this is an area that you can enjoy. If you’re a little bit more physically fit or ambitious, you can wander down into what’s called the potholes. You can kind of wander down into this canyon. It’s also paved and very safe and accessible and down to the mouth of the river. It’s a beautiful, beautiful spot regardless of what time of year you go, because it’s so powerful. It never freezes, so even in the wintertime you do have to spray-up. You’ll almost always see a big rainbow there, too, because the spray-up’s so powerful. But after that, you are going to get into town, and I would hope that if you’ve done the Icefields Parkway, that that was a very long day for you.

Chris: You skipped one other thing that I haven’t been to, which is relatively new, which is the vista point where you walk out over on the glass walkway. Isn’t that between…didn’t we just go past there?

Laurissa: We did. Now, that is included if you take the Icefields tour. It’s included with your ticket price. They used to sell it separately.

Chris: Oh, so that’s the Athabasca Glacier?

Laurissa: That is. They bus you out from the Athabasca Glacier from the tourist center there, they bus you out to that walkway. It’s very similar to the one that you see at the Grand Canyon.

Chris: Yeah, at the Grand Canyon at the Havasupai Reservation.

Laurissa: One of the reasons I didn’t mention that, Chris, is that you often ask what the guidebooks recommend that you would say isn’t really worth it, and for me personally, that is one of those areas. Now, maybe if you’re really into engineering or just want to see how it’s built, it might be interesting for you. But in terms of the actual view that you get there, honestly, any of the 50 roadside plants, you’re going to get a similar view of the view. It’s not that the view is bad. There’s no such thing as a bad view on the Icefields Parkway, but it’s definitely something that I wouldn’t recommend unless you’re really into engineering or if you just have a lot of time and want to. It is included with your ticket price if you decide to go out on the Athabasca Glacier.

Chris: Good to know. So now we’re in town.

Laurissa: The town itself is very small. We only have about 4000 permanent residents, but we do see a lot of seasonal staff coming and going. In your hotel, you’ll probably not meet any Jasper locals. You’ll meet university students from all over the world. Most of the restaurants as well, that’s who’ll serve you. We do have some great restaurants and great places to stay. So you don’t have to be the bear gorilla survivor man type to really enjoy coming to Jasper, but what you’ll find with the town is that it’s kind of just your anchor, and then you’re going to go out and you’re going to explore the park that surrounds us.

Chris: Now, you talked about the seasonal workers. What is the season? We mentioned that, yes, the Athabasca Glacier shuts down sometime in the October time frame. When would you recommend we come, first of all? And then what is the tourist season?

Laurissa: The major tourist season is the summer, though we also see almost as many in the winter time, usually more tourists from abroad come in the summertime, and more tourists from just around the country come in the winter. The shoulder seasons are what we call the fall and spring. If I was to recommend the best time of year to come, for me personally, I would say to come in September. We have a holiday weekend the first week of September, and after that the kids are back in school, the days are still warm and dry, it’s a little bit quieter in town. Most of the main tourist attractions are still open, and you can really enjoy the fall colors just starting with the nice, sunny days that allow you to explore the entire park.

There’s not really a bad time of year to visit Jasper though. There’s really something here year-round. In the springtime, if you really want to see animals, that is the best time to come. They are all over the place in the spring time. And it is calving season, you might see little baby animals as well which is always fun. In the winter time, if you don’t ski, there is quite a bit to do here. In the autumn, we also have the Dark Sky Festival, which maybe I’ll talk about a little bit later. Yeah, and of course, the summer is…well it’s the major tourist season in most places, for obvious reasons.

Chris: In the winter, so there is skiing. I know there’s skiing further south, but I couldn’t remember whether there, at Jasper, you have one or more ski areas in the area.

Laurissa: Now, in Jasper we have just one ski hill. It’s called Marmot Basin and it is a fantastic Hill. There’s also a new ski area being built just outside the park about an hour from here in Valemount that’s going to be a year-round ski resort on a glacier. That’s something in the works.

Chris: Interesting. So we’ve got our base in Jasper. Where would you recommend we stay? I’m assuming you’re not volunteering to put everybody up.

Laurissa: You have all sorts of options here. If you want to stay in a hotel, there’s hotels. If you want to stay at a bed and breakfast..most residents who own their homes here also have a bed and breakfast property, just because it is a very expensive place to live. You can find listings on the internet, or if you visit the information center, they will have the listings of all the vacancies for that evening.

Chris: If you had a friend coming, do you have some place that you would recommend?

Laurissa: If I was to recommend one specific place, I suppose I would recommend the Whistlers in downtown Jasper. They have these really nice rooftop hot tubs, especially if you come in the wintertime. Those are fantastic and beautiful views of the mountains from up there. It is right downtown. Some people do find it’s a little bit noisy and the parking is challenging there. But that would be my favorite hotel. It’s the mid range price point, and beautiful rooms there as well.

Chris: Excellent.

Laurissa: Camping is very popular. You can stay all over the park in designated camping areas. They’re sprinkled all throughout the park, and there are a few like the Whistler’s campground and the Wapiti campground that are right close to town that you can even walk to town from. That’s pretty popular as well if you’re doing this as a road trip, or you can rent camping gear as well at a few businesses in town.

Chris: Well, and just a clarification: we’ve mentioned the park here a couple of times. Jasper, Alberta is in the middle of Jasper National Park.

Laurissa: Like I said, if you’re coming to Jasper, you’re going to find town is sort of the anchor for your adventures. So in town…I’m not going to say there’s not a lot to do. There’s a little bit to do here. There’s a little bit of shopping, but you’re not going to come here for the shopping. If you’re interested in history, there’s quite a few interpretive programs at the tourist information center, which is right in the center of town. For instance, they do a history walk in the summertime every night at 7:00 p.m. That’s free of charge. They’ll take donations afterwards. You can walk around with a guide and they’ll tell you all about the history of the park and all about the history of the town with colorful stories, like where Jasper’s first and one of only a couple of murders ever took place. It was over a $5 gambling bet at an illegal dance hall in the place that’s now the movie theater. A lot of fun colorful history there. And different interpretive programs for wildlife, things like that are available in town as well.

Chris: And on the history walk, how many references are there to your relatives?

Laurissa: On the history walk, there are no reference to my relatives. Thank goodness, since notorious criminals are much more likely to show up in these wonderful stories. There’s a little museum, and it’s definitely worth a look-see, but it’s not like the leaves in Paris. You’re not going to spend all day there. Good for a rainy afternoon to spend an hour. There is an art gallery as well with a local artist, and things are available there at a price point that if buying art is a souvenir that inspires you, you’ll probably find something at our local art galleries.

Just outside of town, we have Canada’s number one rated golf course that’s considered one of the top 100 in the world. It’s only open in the summertime, of course, and it might be the only golf course in the world where people are frequently checking their rule books to find out what happens when there is a bear on the green. To really enjoy your time in Jasper, you are going to want to have a car. You can enjoy Jasper on guided tours, but having your own vehicle is going to make it a lot more accessible to you.

Hiking is obviously a really big draw here and there really is something for everybody. You can take a 10-night backpacking trip through the Tonquin Valley which is some protected caribou habitat, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Now, if you’re looking for something a lot easier, there is a paved trail around Lake Annette that’s even wheelchair-accessible. A couple of my favorite hikes are up at the Cavell Meadows. This is going to take you probably about four maybe five hours to do a little bit of elevation gain. So you want to be in pretty good shape to do that, but for the most part if you can walk, you’ll be able to do this hike. If you don’t do that hike, even coming up to the Cavell Glacier, which is accessible just from a probably about a 15-mile drive and a short walk. You’ll be able to see the Cavell Glacier and the Angel Glacier. Just a really beautiful spot and a beautiful drive to get there as well.

Another really nice hike that’s close to town that you can walk to the trail head from town is called Old Fort Point. Sounds like it should have a lot of a really rich history attached to it, but unfortunately, no one’s really sure why it’s called that. It’s theorized that maybe it was an early homestead for the Henry House. But regardless, it’s called the Old Fort Point, and this is fairly steep but not a difficult hike. It’s short, but steep. If you take the time to go up there, after about 15 minutes of climbing, you are going to have one of the most beautiful views of the Athabasca River Valley.

Another great hike if you are in reasonably good shape is up to Sulphur Skyline. To access this, you drive to the hot springs in Jasper. These are open throughout the summertime and up until mid October. There’s natural hot springs that you can walk to, though I wouldn’t recommend getting into them. They’re the hottest hot springs in the Rockies. I’m not exactly sure how hot, but they are piped into a developed pool, cooled down a little bit, treated just a little bit with some chlorine. Those are outdoors and absolutely beautiful because it’s at the higher elevation, it frequently snows up there especially in September or October and wildlife comes around there a lot. In the parking lot I will virtually guarantee that you will see mountain goats. They may come to lick your car. They really like the salt of the car. We try to discourage that in the Park of course, but this is just one area that the goats are just really habituated to it. So you’ll definitely see a mountain goat up there.

But that’s the start of a hike called Sulphur Skyline. This is a little more difficult of a hike. It’s very steep. You’ll need to be in fairly good shape to do this and make sure that you bring plenty of water. But once you get to the summit, there’s a little scramble up to the very top. The trail ends, there’s a scramble. That means that there’s loose rock, it’s not dangerous. You don’t need a…

Chris: A scurry?

Laurissa: A scurry, yes. You don’t need a helmet or anything, but you do need to be in fairly good shape. You get up to the summit of this mountain and you have this beautiful 360 degree view of the Fiddle Valley. It is the most stunning view I have ever seen in my life. This is a hike that I personally do once a year. The great thing about it is, when you can come down, you can go and soak your sore muscles in the hot springs and have some ice cream. That can’t be beat.

Chris: Now, the Fiddle Valley sounds very familiar to me. Is that the same thing that I would have seen if I had gone up the gondola from Jasper?

Laurissa: No, that would give you a view probably of the Robson’s Valley, is what you’re thinking. That’s named for Mt. Robson that is just outside the Jasper borders. That was definitely worth a day trip from Jasper to see. That’s the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. The tram way is up the side of Whistler’s Mountain. It runs from early spring until late fall. I would definitely save that for a clear day. If you go up there on a cloudy day, there’s nothing much to see on the top of the mountain other than rocks when you’re just looking down. But you do get a beautiful view of the Robson Valley and the Athabasca Valley as well. There’s a little restaurant up there as well, pretty good food. There’s about an hour long hike that you can do from up there if you want to, but you certainly don’t have to you to enjoy some really beautiful views. It’s definitely the easiest way to get to the top of the mountain especially if you have mobility challenges. It’s the place that I take my grandma up every year for sure.

Touching a bit more on hiking, what I’ve discussed so far, you need to be in reasonably good shape. But there are a couple hikes that even if you’re traveling with small children or if you’re not very confident in your own fitness level, it is Valley of the Five Lakes. This is about two maybe three hours, and it’s a loop around a valley of five lakes. They don’t have names. It’s just lake 1, lake 2, lake 3. It’s a very popular spot, you’ll see a lot of cars there. You’ll probably have to park on the highway to get there. But despite how many cars you see in the parking lot, it’s a very peaceful place and you’re not going to run into too many people, it won’t feel crowded, if you’re not looking for something that really challenges your fitness level.

The last trail that I mention is around town. It’s called the Town Trail. It is literally a trail that just loops around the mountains that surround the town. Not much elevation gain, a little bit of ups and downs. You couldn’t do it with a wheelchair, but you certainly could do it if you can walk. You can do the Town Trail. There’s a lot of interpretive signs around this trail that explain the history of the area and tell you a little bit about the local wildlife.

Chris: One of the other things you mentioned earlier that we haven’t talked about is the Dark Sky Festival.

Laurissa: Yes, and Jasper is the world’s largest dark sky preserve. What this means is that there’s a lot of legislation in place here that limits light pollution that extends as far as our streetlights. And they’re specially designed so that they don’t emit very much light pollution. Because it’s the world’s largest dark sky preserve, a few years ago, we started a Dark Sky Festival. This has grown into something that is absolutely extraordinary for a small town. This year’s headliners, just a few weeks ago t the time that we were recording this, were Bill Nye the Science Guy and Star Trek’s George Takei. The year before that, we had a Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, as well as the cast of the Mythbusters television program. They headlined the events and they do talks, sign autographs all that fun stuff.

But apart from the headliner, if there are events all over the town in the surrounding areas that celebrate our dark sky, be they interpretive talks from astronomers to just telescopes set up with people talking about the things you can see. It’s amazing what you can see even with the naked eye. You can see the Andromeda Galaxy on a dark night in Jasper. Northern Lights are very frequent here as well. I would say that we probably see them once every six weeks or so. So if you’re lucky when you come visit, you’ll get to see those as well.

Chris: Now, the Dark Sky Festival, early October, it sounds like.

Laurissa: It is, yes.

Chris: And then Northern Lights all year-round, or only during the winter time?

Laurissa: All year-round. It’s really impossible to predict when you will see them. Northern Lights are famous for being seen in the winter because the nights are longer, so you’re much more likely to look up at 6:00 in the evening than you are at 2:00 in the morning. But you can see them all year-round. There’s really no way to predict exactly when they’ll be most active.

Chris: Well, and you say hard to predict. That reminds me that the very first time I was in the park down at the Athabascan Glacier, it snowed, but it was August. So the weather could be a little unpredictable there as well.

Laurissa: The weather is unpredictable. Bring warm clothes. It does snow here year-round. That being said, we do have some very hot days as well.

Chris: Other side trips you would do from Jasper, going a little further afield?

Laurissa: A day trip that I would take would be up to Maligne Lake.

Chris: And now you have named my favorite place.

Laurissa: Wonderful! Maligne Lake is about 15 miles from town. Again, you would think it would be very quick to get here. But even just getting there, you’ll want to take your time and take some stops along the way. One of the first places to stop is the Maligne Canyon. There’s a little tea house there. There’s a walk that you can do as far as you want. It’s six bridges in total, but the first couple bridges, you’ll see the canyon itself and the waterfall that runs through it.

In the wintertime the Maligne Canyon freezes completely. And you can take a tour where you strap on clamp-ons, these special shoes with spikes, and you go right into the canyon. If you’re a little bit more adventurous, you can also take ice climbing lessons where you scale up the frozen waterfall. If you’re there in the summer, that will blow your mind that you are able to do that.

The next stop’s about halfway between Maligne Canyon and the Maligne Lake. It’s called Medicine Lake. This is a great big lake in midsummer. Come autumn, it drains completely. It was called Medicine Lake because early aboriginal travelers believed that it had a great spiritual significance. They would go one month, they would see a big lake. They would come back the next month and there would be no lakes. We also know now that there is an underwater drainage system in the limestone that just clears this lake out completely. The entire drive is absolutely stunning lots of places where you can stop and take photos, or just have a picnic and enjoy yourself. But then you get up to Maligne Lake, and again, it is breathtaking. Like you said, Chris, it’s your favorite place. So that says a lot.

Chris: And I think it’s possibly the signature shot of Jasper National Park is the picture of the lake with Spirit Island. It seems like it’s the picture that Alberta uses when they want to talk about Jasper. They use that picture more than anything else.

Laurissa: This is true. Spirit Island is a very iconic place and is one of the most photographed places in the Rockies, I would say. To get there, you’ll get on a boat tour that will take you out there. It’s the only motorized boat in Jasper National Park. And once you get out there, you can… You’re not allowed to go right on Spirit Island, but you’re allowed to walk around and get some beautiful photographs there.

Chris: And when we talk about Spirit Island, getting on Spirit Island, wouldn’t be room for everybody on the boat. It’s like an island with, what, 12 trees. It’s pretty tiny.

Laurissa: It is a very tiny island, yes, so they don’t want you to go… Well, it’s more of a peninsula than an island, if we’re going to be technical here. But theoretically, you could walk on to it.

Chris: I think it was an island when I was there the first time, so it may have changed.

Laurissa: Spirit Island became famous when color photography was invented. A photographer from the Kodak Company took this tour, and I guess it wasn’t a tour back then, but took a ride and took a picture of this island in color photography, and that’s how this particular spot became very famous.

Chris: Well, and one of the reasons for that which we haven’t mentioned for people who aren’t familiar with being places where there are a lot of glaciers like Jasper, like most of the lakes and Jasper, especially this one which is fed by glaciers, you get glacial flower, very fine rock, and so you get a very different color for the water. So you get these amazing mountains and beautiful blue skies and an island full of trees, but you also get a very interesting, very opaque-colored water. You can’t really see through the water in a lot of these lakes because of this glacial flower that’s in the lakes, but it’s a beautiful blue. I don’t know what color to describe it as, but that I think is one of the reasons why it’s so photogenic.

Laurissa: It is an absolutely beautiful place, overall. Another day trip that I would take would be to go river rafting. Regardless of your level of adventurousness, there is a river rafting trip for you. You’ll get to really experience the mountains from a different angle than being on land. We do have some wild class-4 rapids that, if you are an adventure seeker and a thrill seeker, you’ll have a lot of fun and also get to enjoy the beautiful drive out there, for one, followed by the beautiful views of River Valley that you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

But there’s even a raft trip that, when I taught preschool, I took my little preschool students on constantly. And we take 85 year olds out on this as well. And that’s just a quiet float trip down the Athabasca River where you might get to see some wildlife and you’ll definitely get to hear your guides talking about the area and just get some beautiful, relaxing views. There’s also trips in between, if you’re not quite wanting something just very slow and you’re not wanting a wild thrill. There are some trips in between as well. I definitely recommend trying that if you’re here in the summertime.

Chris: You mentioned the wildlife. Any particular spots that you would recommend that you haven’t already named where we should go to see some of the wildlife?

Laurissa: Now, you can take a wildlife tour. And if you really like the wildlife, I would recommend saving this for your last day of your trip, because you are very likely if you’re going to different spots to see the wildlife on your own. I can virtually guarantee that you will see elk. If you go up to the hot springs, I can virtually guarantee that you will see mountain goats. You’ll be very lucky even on a wildlife tour to see a moose, a cougar, or a rogue wolf. If you see those, you’re definitely lucky. Taking a wildlife tour I don’t think increases your chances of seeing those more rare animals. But if you haven’t seen what you want see, taking a wildlife tour in the last day of your trip is also a good way to take advantage of some local knowledge as to where animals might be hiding out. Now, I’ve heard you talk on this before Chris. Go ahead.

Chris: And I would recommend… I was going to say I would recommend you don’t do probably the stupidest tourist trick I’ve seen someone, or at least in the top three, was the French tourist who was trying to get his picture taken with an elk. And he kept backing up to get close to the elk, and the elk was clearly not very comfortable and was backing away from him. And they’re big animals. I wouldn’t do that.

Laurissa: Definitely not. You want to give them their space. Every year it does happen that visitors are injured by the wildlife.

Chris: Yeah, and this was a 6 to 10-point buck. I mean, it was a big, big animal. So yeah, don’t do that. And if you’re on the golf course and the bear is on the golf course, let the bear play through.

Laurissa: That’s right.

Chris: Excellent. Before we start to wind this up, anything else we really need to know before we go to Jasper?

Laurissa: If you do one hike, you’ve probably experienced something that a lot of tourists miss. A lot of people who visit Jasper come in on organized tours and they’re only here for one day. They walk around the town site they see the mountains and they leave and they really miss out on what Jasper is really all about. So in many ways, regardless of what you do to experience the park, you will have experienced something that tourists miss. I’m going to tell you about a place, and I’ll probably get in trouble from my local friends if they hear me.

Chris: It’s just between us.

Laurissa: I’m going to tell you about a place, it’s called the Edge of the World. I’m not going to describe how to get there on this podcast, but it’s a three-minute walk to probably the second most beautiful place in Jasper. Fifteen-minute drive, three-minute walk. Ask around to the Edge of the World if you come visit us.

Chris: Okay, well, you have me intrigued here. You mentioned the Dark Sky Festival. Any other festivals or days of the year that you really ought to be in Jasper?

Laurissa: Another really big festival here is Canada Day. The town really goes wild, we have a big fireworks show.

Chris: And oddly enough, not everybody knows when Canada is.

Laurissa: Canada Day is July 1, every year. Another big festival is Jasper in January. You’ll see a lot of discounted prices if you want to come for the skiing or the winter tourism here. In addition, we have a nice little street festival. There’s fireworks again, ice sculptures, just a lot of fun all around town.

Chris: Excellent. What’s going to surprise people when they come to Jasper?

Laurissa: The thing that I think will surprise most people is how many stars you can really see on a clear night away from the light pollution. It is mind-boggling how many you can really see with your naked eye.

Chris: Okay, and I’m going to give people a hint that the Edge of the World is near the Marmot Basin, but you’ll just have to google it.

Laurissa: It’s difficult to find because it’s not marked. There’s just kind of a certain spot, and every local that you ask will have a slightly different way of describing how they find that spot. It’s a tricky one.

Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say only in Jasper?

Laurissa: Only in Jasper do you go to the children’s playground in the autumn and find the swings have been removed or they have literally been padlocked up. The reason for this is because the elk rut season…that’s when the big buck elk lock heads and try to impress the ladies. During the rut season, for whatever reason, buck Elk often take the swings in the wind as a challenge. And before they started locking it up, elk would get caught in the swings. So now in the autumn, in the park some aren’t fenced off from the elk, the swings are removed or padlocked up.

Chris: Finish this thought, “You really know you’re in Jasper when…,” what?

Laurissa: You really know you’re in Jasper when you have only walked five minutes and you stop to listen, and you have silence, and then you have the sounds of chirping birds. There’s very few places in the world where you go from the hustle and bustle of a downtown to complete, peaceful silence.

Chris: And if you had to summarize Jasper in just three words, what three words would you use?

Laurissa: Jaspers’ new tagline is “adventure beyond.” But if I was to summarize Jasper in just three words, I would take the tourism board’s last tagline, which is “wonderful by nature.”

Chris: Excellent, and just as a bonus, I wonder if you would tell the story that you were telling me about being pregnant and listening to Amateur Traveler that we were mentioning before we started recording.

Laurissa: So I have a son who’s nine months old now, and when I was pregnant with him, I couldn’t sleep very well. So I turned on my favorite podcast to hear Chris’s voice soothe me to sleep. Now, the first time I listened to this podcast after my son was born, he just turned his head with that sense of recognition, and I’m pretty sure he thought, “Is that my other daddy?”

Chris: Excellent. Just for the record, Laurissa did say that my voice puts her to sleep, but you already knew that. Laurissa, thanks so much for coming on Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your well-founded love for Jasper.

Laurissa: Thank you so much for having me, Chris.

Chris: In news of the community, I got an e-mail a little while back from Bear, who said, “I haven’t talked to you in a while but continue to love the podcast. Our trip to Turkey was a smashing success, and as usual, your podcast on hiking the Lycian Way was a real help. We visited Patara, the birthplace of St. Nicholas, as well as Demre, where he ministered. We also spent a week in Antalya, which had the finest museum I’ve personally visited. What a treasure trove for those interested in Lycian, Roman, or New Testament and Ante-Nicene fathers history.”

Thanks for writing, and it’s good to know that the show was of use. It’s always helpful for me when I know that you’ve used the show to plan your trip. That’s actually something that I tell sponsors to let people know that people are actually making use of the content of the show. With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, send an e-mail to host at, or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at You can find me on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram as @chris2x. And as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

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