The Jasper-Banff region of Alberta is one of the most well-known and iconic areas in Canada. It’s full of endless untouched beauty which will make you say “wow” every corner you turn. You could easily spend days or even weeks exploring Jasper and still not have scratched the surface.
Coming from Banff, drive up along the Icefields Parkway to arrive at Jasper. This incredibly scenic drive will take you right through the Canadian Rockies. Drive through winding valleys, and past sky-high mountains, observing the stunning fall colors and more snow to sink a ship! You’ll also have the opportunity to experience unforgettable hikes, adventurous outdoor activities, and have a high chance of spotting some wildlife.
So how do you make the most out of this place with only a limited amount of time? Keep reading to discover the highlights of Jasper and bucket list items you should not miss.
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Take a Stroll Along the Foreshore at Bow Lake
About a 30-minute drive north of Moraine Lake you’ll find yourself at Bow Lake. This lake is easy to spot off the Icefields Parkway as it has the magnificent Bow Summit towering over it. It's one of the largest lakes in Banff National park and sits at 1,920m high.
On a calm day, capture the stunning reflections on the water melted from the Bow Glacier in the Wapta Icefield. This makes a lovely place to enjoy a short walk and a hot cup of coffee.
Admire the Incredible Colours of Peyto Lake
Slightly further up the road, you’ll see signs for Peyto Lake. I was skeptical as to whether the water is really that vibrant. I can tell you firsthand, that it is! This popular viewpoint rivals the nearby Lake Moraine with its stunning turquoise blue color and mountainous backdrop.
Take the short 5-minute walk until you reach the viewing platform and be ready for your jaw to drop. The viewpoint stands quite high up which really intensifies the magnitude of the scene. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, walk just a little further to the second, lesser-known, and much quieter viewpoint.
To get there simply walk along the paved path you were originally on and continue uphill towards the Upper Peyto Lake Viewpoint. About 150 meters in you will see a sign signaling where the track becomes a circuit. Walk counter-clockwise along the circuit until you see a dirt trail on your right. After the paved path turns left, there will be a sign directing you right towards the Upper Viewpoint. About 250 meters later you’ll arrive and are hopefully alone!
Walk on a 10,000-Year-Old Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier is impossible to miss! It's one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world and you know when you've arrived! You'll be compelled to stop and take in the incredible sights of this ancient glacier.
Or you can go one step better with the opportunity to actually walk on it.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one that should be appreciated as the glacier is melting at an incredible rate.
Jump on an organized tour at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. Book ahead as the tours can fill up quickly.
If you have your own car, check out this Smartphone Audio Driving Tour.
Otherwise, you can book the Columbia Icefield Parkway Tour from Banff.
The impressive Ice Explorer will take you out onto the glacier. Once you've reached it, you then have half an hour to explore. Half an hour is the perfect amount of time to spend on the glacier, you don’t feel rushed but it's short enough to quickly warm up when you get back into the Ice Explorer.
This is the ideal way to walk on a glacier as they can be extremely dangerous; full of crevasses and snow bridges that no one wants to unexpectedly stumble across.
If you visit just after a snowfall the glacier looks like a pristine, untouched wonderland. The white snow looks so magnificent contrasting against the jagged rocky landscape. You can’t help but feel humbled after standing in the shadow of the glacier sitting on top of the mountain.
This is one of the best experiences you could have in Jasper and is one not to be missed. It is an activity that will leave you with lifelong memories and a new respect for Mother Nature.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side at the Glacier Skywalk
If you're short on time you can walk along the Glacier Skywalk. Conveniently, the bus leaves from the glacier straight to the Skywalk. You then stay as long as you like before catching any bus you wish back. The buses come every 15 minutes.
Enjoy the 1-kilometer interpretive walkway before reaching the glass-bottomed platform. Sitting 918 feet above the Sunwapta Valley, it's hard to comprehend just how high up you are. Walking on the glass bottom is an experience in itself.
Observe the waterfalls in the distance, watch for the family of mountain goats roaming nearby, and admire birds soaring across the sky as you take in the beauty of the glacier-topped peaks in the distance.
Just make sure you don’t hold your phone over the edge because you're not getting it back if it falls!
Admire the Power of Maligne Canyon
This stunning walk will take you through the forest and over 6 bridges crossing multiple times over the Maligne Canyon. All of the bridges have a unique viewpoint but pay particular attention to the first and second as these are the most impressive.
The cascading glacial water is mesmerizing to watch along this peaceful trail.
The hike to the fourth bridge is reasonably easy and can be completed within an hour. If you’re short on time or fitness isn’t your strong point, the 5th and 6th bridge viewpoints can be accessed via the road. You’ll see signs when driving along Maligne Road.
Let someone else take care of the work and book a Wildlife & Waterfalls Tour with Maligne Lake Cruise.
Knock Off Five Lakes with One Stone
One of the most impressive hikes in Jasper is the Valley of the Five Lakes. It’s relatively short and easy to achieve therefore making it popular with the locals and tourists alike.
Each of the 5 lakes has its own particular shade of blue, all connected by a 4.5km loop. Go early in the morning when the air is still and the mountains reflect off the translucent water.
Make sure you visit all five lakes as each of them has something unique to offer.
Journey to the Mysterious Spirit Island
If you’ve ever googled imaged “Jasper Alberta” this was most likely at the top. The landscape is impossible to photograph badly, it's just so full of beauty.
If you want to get close to Spirit Island which is located near the center of Maligne Lake, you have a few options.
The first is by canoe or kayak. This will take around 7 hours. If that sounds like a little too much effort then jump on the Maligne Lake Cruise. In 90 minutes you will drift past the island whilst taking in the splendor of the snow-dusted mountains in the distance.
This is one of the most beautiful scenes you'll see in Canada. When the boat docks there is plenty of time to get all the photos you could possibly want. Book your cruise in the afternoon as this is when you'll get the best light for your photos.
Go Shooting for Shooting Stars
The dark skies, snow-capped mountains, and still lakes of Jasper make for perfect astrophotography sessions. Venture out on a night when the moon is hiding and the stars are shining brightly. The opportunities for locations are endless. To help you plan your shot I recommend getting the PhotoPills app.
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I was provided with the Glacier Adventure experience in return for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are my own and not influenced by the company.
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10 Replies to “Jasper to Banff Road Trip: Rockies Itinerary”
Your photos are AMAZING! I can’t wait to get to BANFF! Thanks so much for sharing your tips!
I haven’t been to Canada yet, but the Jasper-Banff region is at the top of my bucket list! Your tips are super helpful for planning a trip. And your photos look amazing!
Wait, I’m totally saving your site!! We’re hoping to go to Banff next fall and this is SO helpful. Gosh, what a gorgeous place!!
Wow! Talk about creating a case for Wanderlust. This is just gorgeous and so helpful. I want to visit!
that nightime photo oh my gosh … I want to be there right now how incredible
It’s such a stunning place to visit!
I hope you can make it there one day!
I’m glad you find my blog helpful! Please let me know if there is anything in particular you want me to write about 🙂
I’m happy you found the article useful! Let me know when you get out there!