Just north of Banff about a 3½-hour drive along one of this planet's most scenic roadways known as the Icefields Parkway lies Canada's largest national park - Jasper.
A showcase of pearly blue lakes, long ridge-top hikes, canyons, bike trails and a world-class golf resort, the town of Jasper is considered a throwback to a gentler time. It's a casual reminder of the splendid grace of steamer trunks and luxurious long distance rail travel, of swarthy explorers, of intrepid Swiss mountain guides and tough talkin' miners. Still a sleepy sanctuary for families, Jasper is also known as a refuge for bighorn sheep, elk, deer and moose - all of which have been spotted wandering its streets.
If you have children in tow, be sure to pop into The Den Wildlife Museum - an impressive exercise in taxidermy with scores of indigenous and exotic stuffed animals displayed in their "natural" settings. Also worthy of a visit is the new Jasper-Yellowhead Museum, which catalogues the human history of the park and has a superb archival collection.
Poke around this collection and you'll discover that just a few kilometres away, was where the mighty explorer David Thompson hacked a route across a formidable icefield in 1811, en route to the Pacific Ocean. The scrape of ice on what is now known as Athabasca Pass, the whomp of the snow pack under an explorer's ice axe; they are all here, told in elegant longhand, tucked in journals, government records, letters and even grocery lists.
Then lace up those boots and pick a hike - after all, you have more than a 1,000 kms of developed trail in this park. Routes such as the North and South Boundary trails offer solitary rambles of over 160 kms each, while shorter treks up the Watchtower, to Mt. Edith Cavell or along the Opal Hills loop, are also rewarding and differ dramatically.
Besides the usual cachet that oozes from a small alpine town, don't miss a quick diversion to nearby Maligne Canyon. In the winter this spot is transformed into a magical frozen gorge of icy spires and chimneys but in the summer it's equally beautiful - framed by cool, wet walls of rock zippered together by bridges far above the frothing torrent below.
ATTRACTIONS IN JASPER
Jasper National Park
The Skyline Trail
The Columbia Icefield
ACCOMMODATIONS IN JASPER
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge