Alaska - Western Canada Journey

Day 21 (In Progress)

Jasper National Park


Until we reached Jasper National Park, the drive was somewhat uninteresting from Fort St. John through Dawson Creek, Grand Prairie and so on. We traveled through mostly flat land. We arrived in Jasper by late afternoon, in time to hunt for a place to stay and hustle in some sightseeing. Jasper National Park lived up to its reputation with endless views of majestic mountains, picturesque rivers and lakes, and glaciers.

Day Journal

Fort St. John - Dawson Creek - Grand Prairie

We drove right through Dawson Creek with just a stop for gas and a stop at Dawson Creek Visitor Center "again" to get information about Jasper/Banff. Since we had traveled this section of the Alaska Highway just over a week earlier, there were not much we wanted to see this time. Besides, we wanted to reach Jasper National Park as early as possible, given we had not visited the place before and its reputation of being crowded during the summer months. The road beyond Dawson Creek was new to us, but for a long stretch to Grand Prairie, the land was generally flat and uninteresting. The 4-lane freeway leading to Grand Prairie provided a great panoramic view of Grand Prairie from a hill top. This city was quite large and might have interesting attractions. However, with the desire to reach our destination, and without anything obvious that attracted our attention along our route, we kept going. Beyond Grand Prairie, the landscape became more mountainous with nice views. There was a section of highway 40 in need of repair when we drove through. It was rather bumpy and full of pot holes. After we got on highway 16 to Jasper, the road was in great shape. As we approached Jasper National Park, the scenery became quite majestic with mountains jutting abruptly from the valley floor.

Jasper National Park

We drove to Jasper National Park with little more than a regional map showing where it was. Just with scant knowledge of Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise from prior research, we made around a thousand-mile detour to get a first hand sense of the place for a potential longer visit in the future. Since we did not anticipate taking this route, we brought no tour books covering these areas. We had nothing specific in mind to see except for the Columbia Icefield, and we had no idea of the types of accommodation available at the park.

We entered the park from Highway 16 (north entrance.) There were plenty of pullouts leading into the park, and we made full use of them to learn about the park and to take in the scenery. From an artistic perspective, there is a nice balance of meadows, streams and jagged peak mountains, thus allowing a variety of compositions. Even though we had thought we were saturated with mountains and glaciers, we were still awed by the scenery at Jasper NP.

Highway 16 inside Jasper NP
Typical scenery
Athabasca River
Nature Walk

Eventually, we arrived at Jasper Township and immediately got a sense of being overwhelmed since it was much more crowded than we had anticipated. Unlike US national parks with mostly wilderness and minimal development to serve visitors, this town in the middle of the park is practically a city with all tourist amenities in addition to local businesses/industries. With no preconceived notion of what to do, we circled through a busy downtown in search of a visitor center. And we found the visitor center soon enough, but parking was another matter entirely. It took several loops before we found a parking spot a few blocks away. By the time we reached the front of the line at the visitor center, we found the agent quite helpful and spent enough time to orient us. However, regardless of how helpful she was, we could not find a room. Even the campgrounds were full, with the only one potentially open was an overflow campground back where we came in. We got valuable advices on what to see, except most of them require a longer stay than we could afford. Armed with enough suggestions to last us a week when we have about a day, we thanked our host and went looking for a place to eat and also to discuss our options. The long wait for a hot sandwich gave us the opportunity to consider what option would work best for us. Finally, we settled on visiting Mount Edith Cavell, and Athabascan Falls, and to play by ear overnight accommodation, and likely not backtracking to find the overflow campground.

Jasper Welcome Sign
Shopping Mall in Jasper
Jasper Lutheran Church
Whistler Inn

After a late lunch/early dinner, we left town and drove south on the Icefield Parkway toward our first visit - Mount Edith Cavell. The road was picturesque with Athabasca River running alongside, and endless mountains in all directions. Eventually, we found the 93A turnoff toward Mount Edith Cavell. This road is winding, narrow and steep in places. The actual switchback road to Mount Edith Cavell was even smaller and more winding. Then we understood why there was restriction on vehicles longer than 7 meters. After a rather long drive on this road, we reached a busy parking lot even though it was late in the evening. We took a loop trail toward the glaciers. The trail was well maintained with beautiful views along the way, offering both a higher elevation view of the mountain, the glaciers and the glacial lake as well as a close up view of the lake and Edith Glacier. We had a clear view of the scenery, but the best sunset light revealed itself after we reached the parking lot!

Mount Edith Cavell
Cavell Glacier & Mount Edith Cavell
Leech Lake
Athabascan Falls

After the hike to the glacier, it was getting dark. Without a known place to stay overnight, we got down the mountain as soon as we could and continue south, in hope of finding Athabasca Falls before trying out luck with a campground further south. The sun was setting by the time we reached Leech Lake, and out came the tripod and camera for a nice sunset picture of Leach Lake with almost perfect reflection of Pyramid Mountain in the background. As the sky became darker, we squeezed in a visit to Athabasca Falls, and took the suggested hiking trail. It was a beautiful waterfalls, and would be even more beautiful had we arrived 15 minutes earlier.

By the time we get back to our car, it was getting dark and we would not be able to reach the campground we understood might have vacancies. So we discussed whether to pull to the side of the road and camp, but decided against camping on a side road in the middle of nowhere (to us at the time). So, we drove on to reach the main highway and soon found a parking area on the side of the highway. That was where we pulled over and set up our tent in the dark. It was a good thing that there was another vehicle in the vicinity, probabbly with the same predicament! There we spent the night with no disturbance other than the noise from occasional vehicles passing by.

Road and Weather

This day was perfect from a weather perspective. We encountered no rain through the day! For the first time in several days, we actually got sustained sunset lights.

The road was mostly good, with the exception of a bumpy stretch of Highway 40 near the 16 turn-off.


Jasper Township - It was somewhat surprising to find a large town inside a national park. While the town largely caters to tourists, there is a robust population of a quarter not dependent on tourism, with Canadian National employing hundreds of workers here. There area plenty of tourist facilities but not enough to meet the need of casual overnighters. Advanced reservation is necessary to ensure decent lodging.

Jasper National Park - one of the oldest and largest Canadian national parks, it is the largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world!

Mount Edith Cavell - The mountain was named in memory of Edith Cavell, an English nurse who cared for both German and Allied soldiers, but later executed by the Germans during World War I for having helped allied soldiers escape from occupied Belgium to the Netherlands.

Athabasca Falls - Not too high at 23 meters, this is one of the most powerful mountain waterfalls in Canada. It drains water from the Columbia Icefield and forms the Athabasca River, the largest river system in Jasper.