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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.Read more
The town of Jasper is a far more relaxed base than Banff, having managed to hold on to its small-town charm despite a turnover of some three million visitors per year. There are numerous satisfying day hikes from town, or you can take the Jasper Tramway, which climbs to an elevation of 2277 m. Near Jasper, Maligne Canyon is a spectacular gorge, 55 m deep and almost narrow enough to jump across. The canyon is at its best in winter, when the water freezes to form 30-m icefalls and incredible ice caves. Beyond is beautiful Maligne Lake, which at 22 km long is the largest lake in the Rockies and the second-largest glacier-fed lake in the world. Surrounded by white-peaked mountains, it is a sight to behold. The best views open up from the middle of the lake, accessible on cruises and boat tours. Lots of hikes begin here, including the excellent Skyline Trail.