Tourism By Trail: Jasper, Alberta, Canada

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A Bubble of Pristine Wilderness

Pristine forests and awe-inspiring mountain vistas are standard in Jasper National Park.
Photo By Dan Ballard / Aurora Photos

A Bubble of Pristine Wilderness
Jasper, Alberta, Canada

Imagine standing in downtown Jasper, a 4000-person tourist town inside of Alberta’s Jasper National Park, on a summer morning cold enough that you can see your breath. “Start your day in a bakery,” advises 43-three-year-old Leslie Gerein, who lives and works in nearby Banff National Park and spends some of her playtime in Jasper. At Gerein’s continued advice, stuff your running pack with pastries, too.

Around you, mountains surge into the sky like 3000-foot-tall, gray daggers. Forge off from town, clawing up singletrack. Meet lakes choked with rock flour (microscopic pieces of rock ground up by glaciers and suspended in the water), which spikes the water turquoise. All day you move, grabbing glimpses of caribou, maybe a grizzly bear, perhaps a curious coyote. Spy massive, gnarled glaciers clinging to mountainsides. Above treeline, look down into long, verdant, u-shaped valleys.

Gerein explains, “Jasper is a bubble of pristine wilderness. It’s a national park, so we don’t have things like clear cuts, ATV trails and mine scars. It’s magic.” Dave MacDowell, 51, is a co-owner of the Jasper outdoor store, Wild Mountain. “I started trail running in the early ‘80s to explore Jasper National Park’s 900-plus miles of trails. A small group of us, including my partner and renowned ultrarunner Tracy Garneau, still plan our weekends around the next adventure. We’ve had some epic marches over the years, through snowstorms and past grizzlies.” This is Jasper trail running.

By the Numbers

> For us metrically challenged Americans, there are approximately 1.6 kilometers to every 1 mile.
> The Canadian Rockies host approximately 1300 plant species, 20,000 insect species, 40 fish species, 16 amphibian and reptile species, 277 bird species and 69 mammal species.
> The area surrounding Jasper garnered federal protection starting in 1907.


Get There. Fly into Calgary, and either rent a car or take the bus for the 5.5-hour drive. The drive along the Icefields Parkway between Calgary and Jasper has some of the world’s best in-car views.

Play Tourist. If you didn’t drive the Icefields Parkway en route to Jasper, this is at the top of your play-tourist list. See glaciers curling down from the Columbia Icefield and the rest of the route’s glacier-carved scenery. Stop into the Icefields Centre, a national-park visitor center, to learn more about Jasper National Park. Forty miles northeast of Jasper is the Miette Hotsprings, which provides a stunner post-run soak. Ride the Jasper Tramway up 3000 vertical feet to the top of Whistler Mountain.

Learn More. The definitive, cut-to-the-chase regional hiking guidebook is Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies: The Opinionated Hiking Guide, by Kathy and Craig Copeland. Start drooling with this YouTube video from the Skyline Trail. Check out the Jasper National Park website for planning your Jasper trail-running adventures.

Take Note. Grizzly bears roam all over. They are higher on the food chain than you, so trail run in groups, carry bear spray and make noise when traveling through overgrown brush or obscured terrain to avoid dangerous encounters.

Top Trails

Parker Ridge Trail out-and-back.
The trailhead is located about 42 miles southeast of Jasper on the Icefields Parkway on the border of Jasper and Banff National Parks. Notes Gerein, “Start above treeline and just climb higher. You will die when you see behemoth Saskatchewan Glacier right in front of your face.” It’s just 1.6 miles and a 1000-foot ascent to the glacier’s viewpoint, and you’ll run through glowing wildflowers.

Old Fort Point to the Valley of Five Lakes lollipop.
Park at the trailhead for Old Fort Point and use Trails 9c, 9 and 9a to make an 11-mile, counterclockwise lollipop south from Jasper. “The trail rolls perfectly for a fast pace,” explains MacDowell, “and you’ll pass five aquamarine lakes.” Add on a
little distance to check out Old Fort Point, a rounded knob of rock above the trees.

Skyline Trail point-to-point.
Run south-to-north from the trailhead on the north end of Maligne Lake. Spend half of this route’s approximately 26 miles above treeline and with dramatic Canadian Rockies views. “This route is high and wild,” says Gerein. “I saw a young grizzly bear in a meadow last year. On the same day, we got a blizzard on a high alpine ridge, then a rainbow in the storm’s aftermath.” Adds MacDowell, “You cannot miss this Jasper classic.

Top Races

Spring Run Off.
The 29th edition takes place next May and features a flat, fast 10K distance along a combination of roads and gentle trails.

Mount Robson Marathon, Half Marathon, 12K Kinney Lake Run and Kids Run.
The starting line of these September races is a 90-minute drive west of Jasper in Mount Robson Provincial Park. The marathon is an out-and-back with 2700 feet of climb on the way out along a well-traveled, hardpack trail to Berg Lake. Turquoise Berg Lake sits under broad-topped Mount Robson and clingy Berg Glacier.

RootRomp 10K Trail Run.
This October trail race takes place on the wind-y, root-y, forest-ed trails just above the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park and includes roughly 1000 feet of climb.

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