Jasper National Park is your destination if you are looking to do a bit of bear spotting. It was by far the best spot to see bears – and we are comparing it with Banff National Park, Yellowstone, Yosemite and many more.
The scenery in Jasper is stunning, its surrounded by the peaks of the Rocky Mountains and at almost every turn there are vistas of blue lakes or rushing rivers, and not to mention the meandering wildlife. Of all the places we visited on this trip, Jasper National Park was my favourite. It is a pity so many visitors go north as far as Banff, or Lake Louise, and miss out on Jasper, and the Icefields Parkway.
Jasper and the Icefield Parkway absolutely blew me away. If you want to talk about a place where your soul feels at ease, where you feel at home, and at peace, Jasper is your destination. The Icefields Parkway is your journey.
I’ve included our favourites from Jasper in this blog, and will follow it with a blog about the Icefields Parkway.
Via Rail Train
We spent most of the day on the Via Rail train to Jasper today. It was a great chance to relax, and to unplug from the cities and the online world, and to connect with our children. No WIFI, no screens. Just old-fashioned books, glass-domed cars, service, good food, and us.
We caught up on our diaries and played card games with the children. The girls made a chess game out of their Silly Putty. We spent a lot of time just chilling out in the glass dome car spotting waterfalls and wildlife.
The Via Rail train is slower than the Rocky Mountaineer, as it shares a track with freight trains. As the Via Rail train needs to give way, we woke up in the night pulled off the main track and just sitting there, stationery, a few times. We were warned in reviews that we would arrive late, however, we were only half an hour past scheduled arrival time in Jasper. It was still worth it – with a family of four, the cost savings were significant with Via Rail, in fact in the thousands. And the Via Rail train took us as far north as Jasper, whereas the Rocky Mountaineer heads to Banff. Overall I’d recommend the Via Rail train, just have realistic expectations.
As we got off the train an elderly lady came up to me to comment on how well behaved my children were. My girls can be reasonably stroppy, and they love to fight. It takes something like this to show you how wonderful your children actually are. I was so proud of them, they can behave when they need to. I made sure I passed the compliment on to Miss T and Miss M, and let them know how proud I was of them.
In Jasper we picked up our first rental car. The most expensive rental for our entire trip, but I was just happy to find a rental car company that would allow a one way rental from Jasper.
Our Accommodation – Becker’s Chalets
After doing the obligatory grocery shopping and picking up a Canadian National Parks Pass we checked into Beckers Chalets, to our charming two bedroom chalet on the river’s edge. We all still had motion sickness from 24 hours on a train, and although the quaint cabin’s sloping floor didn’t help, we could forgive it for its charm.
The best remedy for motion sickness is fresh air. So we got outside and pulled up a row of cape cod chairs to take in the view with a glass of wine and watched the sun go down.
The plan is to spend this morning at Miette Hot Springs in the Canadian Rockies. And we’ve booked a boat tour on Maligne Lake for the afternoon. Where our plan fell down was the two-hour drive between them, that the Hot Springs did not open until 10.30am, and the requirement to check in for our boat tour half an hour before our booking. Overall – I would not recommend trying to do both these activities in the same day. They are both awesome and amazing activities and are well deserving of their own day!
But we squeezed them both in. This is definitely a downfall of having a full on itinerary, the lack of scope to make changes. But in the benefits bucket, we did get to see so many amazing things in our holiday that we wouldn’t have been able to do without planning ahead!
Meitte Hot Springs
The drive up to Meitte Hot Springs via Highway 16 was amazing. Although we were spotting scat all the way up to Meitte, we didn’t manage to spot a bear. They had seen a number the day before, and it appears they spotted one just after we left. We did see elk and mountain goats. And the Hot Springs themselves were beautiful.
The locals gave us their ‘insider tip’ – they recommended soaking in the hot pool, followed by a quick dip in the cold plunge pool, then back into the hot pool. This was recommended as a fantastic way of getting the circulation going. I wasn’t brave enough, I was just enjoying soaking in the hot water!
Our afternoon at Maligne Lake was incredible. Again the drive out there was stunning, the Maligne Lake Drive is a long winding road through a glacier valley, running between the Maligne and Elizabeth mountain ranges. The scenery included the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains, turquoise coloured glacier lakes, the rushing Maligne River and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife.
Medicine Lake was one of our highlights along the drive. The lake was named by the early natives who believed it had magical powers. The Lake vanishes and re-appears regularly, historically confusing the locals. It is now known that Medicine Lake is one of a number of lakes in the valley that continuously drain through a network of underground caves.
Although Medicine Lake is famous for spotting bears (even swimming bears!), we didn’t see any today. We did, however, manage to spot an Eagle in its nest.
Our destination – the glacier-fed Lake Maligne, is often promoted as one of the most beautiful lakes in the Jasper National Park. It is famed for its baby blue water and is surrounded by the rocky, photogenic peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
Lake Maligne was one of our favourite stops. I would absolutely recommend it has a “must do” in Jasper.
I think the photos speak for themselves.
Spirit Island, in Lake Maligne is the second most photographed spot in Canada. But you will need to book a boat tour to get there, unless you fancy 14km each way in a kayak.
On the way back to Jasper we stopped at the Maligne Canyon. The Canyon is dramatic, with walls up to 50m deep. It’s a great place to stop and explore. Unfortunately, the weather turned on us, by now we were freezing and it was starting to rain. At the end of a long day, we headed back to our cosy cabin at Becker’s Chalets.
I am desperate to see a bear. In Jasper, your best bets for spotting wildlife are driving along Highway 93A (‘the old highway’), Highway 16 (to Meitte Road), or the Maligne Lake Road. The best time for spotting wildlife is early in the morning or late in the evening. We have travelled both Highway 16 (and Meitte Road, to the Hot Springs) and Maligne Lake Road today. As stunning as they were, we still haven’t spotted any bears.
In the morning – we’re going on a bear hunt!
Bear Spotting – Highway 93A
Before we left Jasper we checked in with the staff at Beckers to get the local recommendations as to where to find the elusive bears. On their recommendation, we took a detour up to Marmot Basin, the ski fields. It was slow going, a steep and windy road, somewhat complicated further by wildlife. Although we didn’t find bears, we did see mule deer, up close and personal in the middle of the road!
We decided to take the old Highway 93A out of Jasper to try to spot the elusive bears. We were taking it slow, with the girls and I looking out for signs of bears. The real giveaway was the Parks of Canada truck parked on the side of the road with its hazards on. It drove off as we arrived, but they had already given it away. They’d spotted a mummy bear with her two cubs grazing in the forest just off the side of the road. It was breath-taking. We stayed in the car, took our photos, and moved on before we disturbed her. But we were absolutely in love.
Further on, the old Highway 93A deteriorated more and more, to the point where Hubby was driving in the middle of the road to avoid potholes. We were the only ones on the road, and this was the last place we wanted a puncture. And then we saw it. A huge male black bear walking straight up the middle of the road towards us. We stopped. The bear just kept on lolling towards us. Looking straight at us. And then he turned off and disappeared into the forest. It was one of those absolute freakout amazing moments that you won’t ever forget.
And then we were back on the Icefields Parkway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right. And worthy of its own blog post (up next!).
Tips for travelling with children in Jasper NP
- Be prepared with food. Because of our slight logistical blunder trying to fit in Meitte Hotsprings and Lake Maligne on the same day we ended up having our picnic in the car on the way to Lake Maligne. Luckily our standard picnic is pretty straight-forward and easy to eat, we have a container of cheese cubes, salami, cherry tomatoes and crackers. And we have a container of grapes and strawberries. Finger food on the run for kids and grown-ups alike.
- If you are not used to being around wildlife (we are not), get educated. We did a lot of reading beforehand and went to the Jasper information centre which had a lot of information about bears and other wildlife.
My thoughts from Jasper:
- I am completely in love. I want to buy land and build chalets and move to Jasper every summer (our winter) to run them. I’m dreaming – land in Jasper is expensive and you need a permit to move here.
Coming up next:
This blog is part of the Amazing Journey Series.
Five years ago we re-evaluated our lives and our goals after the sudden loss of my mother in law. We vowed to slow down and to enjoy life with our small children. We got outside and explored. And we travelled. This Amazing Journey series documents our journey through Canada and the US, provides an insight on travelling with children, local destination tips and tricks, and, of course, gives an Accountant’s perspective on making the most of your holiday dollar. Earlier entries are here: