During this difficult time, travel is not an option for us. I know this. But it doesn’t stop me imagining where I would go, if I could. I’m sure you feel the same, if you’re here. This post is simply a reflection of travels gone by, and aims to be inspiration for the travels to come.
A small and unassuming town in the stunning Canadian province of Alberta, Jasper has always been on our bucket list, but we’d never managed to get there. So, on our last trip to Canada, we made sure we could fit Jasper into our schedule, and I’m so glad we did!
During the winter months, Jasper is a pretty cold and sleepy town. When we visited, there weren’t many other people about, and it often felt like we had the place to ourselves, which was totally fine by us! Although, that could have had more to do with us being there during the festive season, than anything else.
We had spent Christmas in Banff, and decided to pop over to Lake Louise for a few hours before catching the bus to Jasper. I mean, when in Rome, right? You simply cannot visit Alberta and not check out Lake Louise while you’re there. It’s gorgeous any time of the year, trust me.
A trip along the Icefields Pathway
We booked our bus through SunDog Tours, which connects Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, and Calgary during the winter months. It only takes around three hours to drive between Lake Louise and Jasper, the trip taking you through the Icefields Pathway. Our bus was really comfortable, the driver was a hoot, and the views were amazing.
The Icefields Pathway is known for being one of the most scenic routes in Canada. With glaciers, frozen waterfalls and lakes, and jagged mountains on either side, it really was incredible.
On our way, we stopped at a lookout along the Saskatoon River for a break and photo opportunity. It was definitely worth braving the elements for. Next time, I’d love to make the trip on our own, so we can stop at all the many lookouts and points of interest along the way, although apparently you need to give yourself at least 7 hours to see everything. Yikes!
We arrived in Jasper around 6.30pm, the sun having set an hour or two earlier. Luckily, the bus dropped us off at our hotel, so we didn’t have to worry about a thing. We chose to stay at the The Crimson Hotel, which was really nice and cosy, and fairly close to everything in the town.
What to do in Jasper
As I mentioned, the place was a little sleepy during our short stay in Jasper. It didn’t feel like there was much to do. Sure, we could have booked a tour to the Maligne Canyon, taken part in ice climbing, dog sledding, or the myriad of other winter activities available. But, we were on a tight budget, and still had months of travel ahead of us, so we decided to forgo all that and explore on our own.
I should also point out that, unfortunately, the Columbia Icefield Skywalk is closed during the winter months, but I would love to go back and check it out, as it looks amazing!
So, what can you do in Jasper, if you’re on a budget?
Jasper Wildlife Museum
Quietly tucked in the lower level of the Whistler’s Inn hotel, you’ll find The Den – Jasper’s wildlife museum. There is a small entrance fee to get in, and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much.
But, this museum is actually pretty great. There are over one hundred native animals on display, having been set up as if they were in the wild. It was quite fun to try and spot them all, and you could tell that all the animals had been treated with care. They really looked frozen in time.
It’s a small space, so doesn’t take too long to get around, but once you’re in, you can spend as much time as you like.
These boots were made for walking
We did a LOT of walking in Jasper. I’m pretty sure we walked everywhere you possibly could! But, it is such a walkable town. Nearly everything is accessible, and there are lots of relatively easy inclines and lookouts to discover.
Just down the road from our hotel we found such an incline, which led us to an unofficial lookout, of sorts. We hiked up here a couple of times during our stay, and never got tired of the views that greeted us at the top.
You do have to be careful, though. Some of the inclines are steeper than they look. Add fresh snow and ice to the mix, and it can be a little treacherous. But, well worth the effort. Also, it’s a great way to keep warm!
Feeling adventurous, we decided to explore some of the official walking tracks in Jasper, a couple of times during our stay. We headed towards Twin Lakes, where there were quite a few walking tracks available.
Wandering through the dense bush, with snow falling, birds chirping, and dry leaves and snow crunching underfoot – it was pretty magical. The walking tracks are well maintained and numbered, so there’s no fear of getting lost, and there are signposts dotted here and there so you can easily figure out where you are.
We took the Red Squirrel Run, which is a looped trail that passes one of the Twin Lakes and takes you to the Athabasca River. We crossed the Athabasca Bridge before turning back and continuing the loop, through the Tekarra Lodge (which had the cutest cottages!) and past the second of the Twin Lakes.
All up, I think this walk took us a good couple of hours, but we were really taking our time, stopping for tonnes of photos, and just marvelling at how beautiful Jasper is in the winter time.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
We pretty much always take an opportunity to check out a Fairmont Hotel when we see one. We’ve had the pleasure of staying at the Calgary Palliser, Chateau Lake Louise, and Quebec City Le Château Frontenac hotels during our travels. And, we’ve also had a nosy at the Banff Springs, Edmonton Hotel MacDonald, Victoria Fairmont Empress, and Chateau Whistler premises, too.
So, we thought it would be rude not to take a gander at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge while we were there.
Unless you have your own car (or are willing to shell out for a cab), the only way to get there is by the free shuttle bus. For hotel guests only. I’m not usually one to rebel, but I figured it was worth finding out if we could get a free ride. So, we lined up with the ‘other’ Fairmont guests, and jumped on board, no questions asked. The ride back into town a few hours later was just as simple.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you should be as dishonest as we were, but, it was quiet and we weren’t taking the place of any actual guests. And besides, the driver had to make the trip regardless, so why not add some freeloaders into the mix?
Jasper Park Lodge
Look, we did feel a little guilty for taking the guest shuttle bus, so the first thing we did on arrival at the Jasper Park Lodge, was settle in for an overpriced coffee in the dining lounge. It was actually pretty good, though. If you’re ever after a delicious coffee with all the trimmings (I’m talking tall fancy glassware with biscotti on the side), then Fairmont won’t disappoint.
The grounds of the Jasper Park Lodge are pretty wonderful. It is home to Beauvert Lake, which we took our time walking all the way around. We met some friendly Elk along the way (who were safely behind a fence), and just enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the grounds in the snow.
On our walk to Twin Lakes, just on the outskirts of town, we came across a bunch of Elk. I was so excited. Elk are one of my favourite animals. They were so magnificent, so we stopped and took photos. Then, the police came by and told us to move along. They said that because there were baby Elk in the gang (the official term for a group of Elk, believe it or not!), we shouldn’t get too close or the adult Elk would charge at us. That freaked me right out, so we moved swiftly along.
On our way back into town, we noticed that some of the Elk had moved on, and they were now spread out over both sides of the road, leaving us precariously in-between the gang. Although, if you’re going to be part of a gang, I think it would be pretty cool to join a gang of Elk, don’t you?
Needless to say, I was terrified. Yes, I love them and think they’re glorious and magnificent beasts, blah blah blah, but these animals are HUGE. You definitely wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of a fully grown Elk. We had no choice but to walk past them, and I was shaking like a leaf the entire time. Luckily, the police must have been manning the area – or, they suspected we’d be back – and they beep-booped their sirens to distract the Elk while we walked quickly past. The officers were super friendly, too, so we were very grateful that they happened past at that time.
Where to eat in Jasper
There are so many great dining options in Jasper! Being on a budget, we often preferred to buy ready-made or easily whacked together food from the local supermarket for breakfasts and lunches. But, we did enjoy dinner out once or twice, at the more affordable spots. Here are the places I’d recommend if you’re on a budget.
Situated in The Crimson Hotel, Authentic Burger was the perfect place for dinner on our first night in Jasper. We didn’t even have to go outdoors to get there! The burgers were delicious, the beers cold, and the service was wonderful.
De’d Dog Bar & Grill
A pretty unassuming place, the De’d Dog has a chill atmosphere, serving burgers and pub fare. They have pool tables, sports on tv, and lots of high tables, which I always love to sit at.
We had walked by the L&W Restaurant a few times before agreeing that we had to dine there. Serving a Greek menu, our meals were huge and so delicious. The restaurant was decked out with fairy lights, and had tree branches everywhere. It was almost like being back in Santorini!
The Inn Grill
Attached to the Jasper Inn & Suites, The Inn Grill is great for burgers and pizza. It definitely has a grill vibe, with a combination of booths, high tables, and regular dining options.
There are two supermarkets/grocers that we visited in Jasper. They’re both quite small, and relatively expensive, but that’s to be expected for such a small town. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do a full grocery shop at either of them, but there were enough options for us to have breakfasts and snacks taken care of during our stay. Robinsons was just down the road from our hotel: a little pricier, but more convenient. And the TGP Grocer was right in the centre of town: a little cheaper, but further to walk. We bought things like bagels, iced coffees/energy drinks, yoghurt and fruit for breakfasts, and noodles and salads for dinners; along with snacks (like chips and chocolate), so we didn’t have to dine out whenever we were hungry.
Papa George’s Restaurant
If you’re after a hearty breakfast, I can highly recommend Papa George‘s. They also offer lunch and dinner, but I can only speak to the breakfast options. I honestly can’t remember what I ordered (I’m thinking it was the skillet, though), but I do know that it was delicious! And our waitress was so lovely.
I’m so glad we stumbled upon Wicked Cup during one of our walks around town. I love my coffee, and I thoroughly enjoy finding real coffee houses during our travels. On our first visit, we were lucky enough to have a professional latte artist make our coffees (I was wondering what was taking him so long!). They were almost too beautiful to drink, and were the best coffees we’d had since leaving Melbourne a month prior.
For whatever reason, Tim Hortons is a Canadian institution. Now, if you’re a coffee snob (like me), I wouldn’t recommend their coffee. It’s always too hot, and they don’t really seem to know how to make a decent latte. But, their breakfast sandwiches are amazing. I especially love the sausage, egg and cheese on a homestyle biscuit. Yum! They’re known for their donuts and timbits, but I actually prefer their cookies. And everything is so cheap, you could easily have breakfast sorted on a budget.
Jasper on a budget
And there you have it! Whether you’re visiting Jasper for a couple of nights or a whole week, whether your pockets are full or you’re on a budget, Jasper has something for everyone. A lovely wee town surrounded by towering mountains and the call of the wild just outside your doorstep, Jasper is a place we’d love to come back to.