Last May found us wanting a little mini holiday to the place that began our love affair with the mountains: Jasper National Park. We’d been spending a lot of time in the Canmore/Banff area and, let’s face it, Jasper was my first love and I missed her! Nestled in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, JNP is on the western border of the province of Alberta, due west from its capital city, Edmonton.
En route, we decided to revisit an old hike that we did with the kids years ago, called the Sulphur Skyline. It starts at the Miette Hot Springs, just inside the park boundary, but still an hour away from the Jasper townsite. It gets its name from the sulphur fumes from the hot springs, which are the hottest in the Rockies, at over 50C. (You don’t smell them at all on the hike.)
As far as peak-hikes go, this is one of the easiest in the Rockies to attain, so put it on your life bucket list if climbing to the top of a mountain is a goal for you! (TrailPeak calls it “short, steep, but very rewarding” and that it is!) The trail is clear and well-marked, the peak is large (so not dangerous), there are no scrambles to do… and the views from up top are spectacular!
A good day hike, it’s 10km return, which took us about 4 hours with a nice generous lunch break up top. The trail starts up the mountain gradually, slowly gaining elevation until you emerge above the treeline on its bald peak.
The elevation gain is 700m, so you do attain a good height pretty quickly. In the summer it can get crowded, but on this day there were only a few handfuls of hikers, most of which only went to the shoulder and not the snowy, windswept peak.
The shoulder of the peak has outstanding views of the surrounding valley where you can see the huge reef formations, thrust up by the massive power of the earth’s tectonic forces, looking like great grey walls, spreading off into the distance. These up-thrusts form the mountain ranges that you can see from up there. It is an awesome feeling, being up so high amongst their peaks with 360 degree views of them all around.
There was a bit of snow on the trail up to the top of the mountain (see the photo with Bill in it above). This is where we lost the other hikers. And there was a brown haze over the landscape, caused by the massive wildfires (including the one that engulfed the city of Fort McMurray) happening up north, that made seeing the detail of distant mountains less visible, but it was spectacular, nevertheless.
The summit itself is really neat. There’s exposed rock, a very gentle scree slope dotted with those amazingly hardy alpine flowering plants, and little snow drifts still left from the snows the day before sitting there side by side. The day was a good 17C… there’s something really neat about hiking in a t-shirt or a light jacket, on a mountain top and on its snow!
I love the rocky, exposed spine of the mountain top… these spines, when visible, are made of vertically up-thrust walls of harder rock. The softer rock breaks off and erodes, leaving thin walls, these were about 4 feet high, all angled in the same direction, forming the Mohawk haircut of the mountain’s head/top. When we were up there, it was really cool and windy, so we took shelter in its spine.
It was amazing as we looked down on the ravens playing in the thermals below us, felt the cold wind in our faces (felt the feeling leaving our fingertips), munching our salad rolls, snacking on our nuts & chocolate, and drinking down gulps of wonderfully hot chai tea. I LOVE being on top of a peak! (Note to self: don’t pack salad rolls on a hike… really, who’s kidding who? Only sandwiches’ll do!)
Once we were back down at the trailhead, we continued driving into Jasper National Park. Our destination, a SUPER special treat, was a stay at the Jasper Park Lodge, located just outside the townsite, about an hour’s journey from the park gates. It’s a quaint & sweet, 1920’s-style lodge with cabins in the mountains, across the river from the Jasper townsite. I LOVE it there. It has such rustic charm… and THIS was the view from our cabin’s window! The best room we’ve ever had there.
From the JPL we headed into town for dinner, walking along the trail that goes for part of the time along the Athabasca River. The “Atha-B” as we call it here. The trail is a beautiful one… relatively flat, it goes, for a time, along the shores of Lac Beauvert (Lake Good Green is the direct translation, owing to its beautiful colour). Then you cross an old iron bridge and walk along the shores of the wide river.
We had dinner at the fantastic Raven Bistro… I loved the black bean & goat cheese pupusa, I had there, a Mexican inspired corn tortilla with roasted red pepper coulis (with a bit of bite), pickled coleslaw & braised kale. It was the perfect melding of hot & cold. Bills’ dinner: pork medallions with mushrooms on spinach spetzle pasta. Serious yumminess after a day of hiking. If you ever find yourself in Jasper, I highly recommend eating here!
On our way back to the lodge, we were deep in conversation, and then realized we were right beside a deer! That’s the thing about being inside the national parks here… the wildlife is so protected that it is very, very tame.
We finished the night, sharing a berry crème brulée on the JPL patio overlooking Lac Beau Vert. Such a great start to our mini holiday. If you ever find yourself in the area, you can go and have a snack or a drink or a dessert on the patio and walk around the lake without staying there. DO it! It’s a lovely treat.