Tucked into a valley in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Northern Alberta, Jasper is a small townsite in Jasper National Park and possibly the most popular stop on VIA Rail’s Canadian Line. After a couple days of prairie province views, the moment passengers see the Rocky Mountains in the distance, the whole train comes alive. The dome and panoramic cars are filled to capacity, cameras are busy snapping photos, and passengers sit with an expression of awe. It’s like watching a three year old get excited over their favourite things. Utterly fantastic.
As I sat on the train heading into Jasper, my focus wasn’t on the jaw-dropping(ly)-gorgeous scenery outside my window, but on my fellow passengers. I’ve seen this part of Canada a few times. I was born in a small mining town an hour north of Jasper. The Rocky Mountains are my home. And while the sight of their majesty and beauty may reduce travellers to tears, these mountains fill me with wonderment, love, and a sense of being home. And no amount of time in the mountains is ever enough time for me.
While most of the my previous VIA Rail Stopover posts have been strictly guide-like, this one is different. I’m not writing about another city along the route of the Canadian, I’m writing about a place that feels as home to me, as my Mother’s house. So with that in mind, I’d like to share my favourite parts of Jasper. The places, and activities I think everyone should do. It’s totally bias of me, and I’m okay with that.
Hanging out in Jasper
Every passenger on the Canadian should make a stopover in Jasper. The one or two hour stop before the train moves on to Vancouver will never be enough time. Take it from a girl who knows.
While the townsite is awash with hotel choices close to the train station (which is not hard considering the small size of the townsite), my preference lies with Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, and not because its a Fairmont property!
A secluded hotel Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (JPL) may be frustrating in terms of layout, but those frustrations are more than made up for in terms of service, and location. While travellers fall over each other in town, I was at JPL busy being gobsmacked by the view outside my cabin. A lake surrounded by mountains, this is a scene I will never tire of, and despite being worn out from a month of train travel I was up early each morning, sitting on the grass, and gazing at the landscape in front of me.
At night, after a day of activity around Jasper National Park, I’d return to JPL, sit on a small dock on the lake, and watch the sun slowly slip behind the mountains, and the stars wake up and reach full sparkle power. It’s a magical experience that can only be experienced by staying at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, or by hiking into the back country and camping for the night.
Not everyone can stay at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, there is simply not enough room for everyone. But no worries! There are so many ways to experience Jasper National Park and fall in love with one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
The first thing you need to do is a Maligne Valley Tour and Boat Tour. I struggle with finding the right words to describe the magnificence of the Maligne valley. The canyon. Medicine Lake. Maligne Lake. The wildlife. It’s a cornucopia of colour and texture, sounds and smells. If the raw beauty of the landscapes around you does not make you vibrate with excitement, I don’t think we can be friends.
While taking a traditional tour in Jasper National Park is something everyone should do, I also recommend spicing things up a bit and doing something unique. Like putting on full motorcycle leathers, climbing into a sidecar or onto the back of a Harley Davidson, and experiencing the park that way. It is truly a unique experience, and one that taught me that wearing jeans and leather chaps on a hot summer day is a great way to remind yourself of how out of shape you really are. But, OMG, that was a freaking fun afternoon!
The only bad experiences in Jasper are the ones you create yourself. Waking up in a bad mood and taking that mood with you. Entertaining the stresses of your daily life. Forgetting that wildlife is in fact wild and getting too close just so you can take a photo. Each of those things are within your control. Log off. Step away. Look outside. Jasper is raw nature that could shock the life into the most miserable person on the planet, if they allowed it.
In an age of digital connection, condominiums, cocktail bars, and instant shopping gratification, it is important to go back to our roots. It’s important to leave the city behind and venture out into nature. To open our eyes and allow ourselves to be filled with wonderment and love for the gorgeous countryside that surrounds us. You don’t have to be an outdoor enthusiast to enjoy places like Jasper. You just have to be human, open your eyes, take a couple deep breaths of fresh mountain air, and relax. Leave your cell phone at the hotel, and be in the moment.
Be. In. The. Moment.
As much as I adore a cosmopolitan lifestyle, I am a mountain girl at heart. There is nothing ugly about mountains. They are majestic and strong, and gorgeous no matter what the season. Mountains will always make my body vibrate with excitement, fill me with a sense of wonderment, and pull me out of my digits lifestyle and remind me to log off and enjoy nature in its raw and authentic state.