Jasper National Park feels much closer to wilderness than Banff. Neither as famous nor as convenient to reach, it receives far fewer visitors and has 10,878 sq km over which to spread them, an area bigger than Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks combined. Vast tracts of this land are extremely remote and practically inaccessible, the overall emphasis being less on instant gratification, more on the long backcountry hikes that account for much of Jasper’s 1000 km of trails.
The northern hemisphere’s most extensive glacial area south of the Arctic Circle, the Columbia Icefield provides a dramatic introduction to Jasper National Park. As well as feeding three giant watersheds, its meltwaters are the source of some of the continent’s mightiest rivers, including the Columbia, Saskatchewan and Athabasca and drain into three oceans, the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic. The only other icefield of equal scope and importance in the world is in Siberia. Most of the icefield’s staggering 325 sq km terrain is high in the mountains out of view, but three of the six major glaciers are clearly visible from the road, including the huge Athabasca Glacier (6 km long, 1 km wide and 100 m thick), which you can walk or even be driven on. The ultimate way to see this spectacle is from the Wilcox Pass Trail, one hike that everybody should do. Short and easy, it quickly whisks you to views that many longer hikes fail to equal.