One of the world’s most attractive areas, Jasper National Park is a sprawling wilderness that is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies.
Located in the Province of Alberta Jasper National Park covers an area 10,878 square kilometres (4,200 square miles) and is saturated with mountains, waterfalls, massive ice fields, glaciers, wild rivers, serene lakes, and an abundance of native fauna which roam free within the park.
Jasper also caters well for visitors, particularly those who love to get out to enjoy a true wilderness experience. Within the park are over 1,000 kilometres of hiking trails and hundreds of places in which to set up camp. Apart from the hiking visitors are able to enjoy backcountry skiing, ice climbing, horse riding, dog sledding, mountain biking, rafting and much more.
One of the truly remarkable regions within the park is the Columbia Icefield, a frozen realm which covers an area of about 325 square kilometres with ice that can be up to 365 metres (1,197ft) thick. This icefield sits astride the North American Continental Divide and with an average snowfall of up to seven metres per year, feeds eight impressive glaciers.
Perhaps the most accessible of these glaciers is the Athabasca Glacier which ends close to the Icefields Parkway. Moving at a rate of several centimetres each day, global warming has meant that the Athabasca is actually receding and now contains about half the volume of ice that it did a century ago. Nonetheless, it is still an impressive sight and visitors can browse the Interpretive Centre and hitch a ride on a snow coach to actually ride on the glacier.
The Icefield is surrounded by a number of impressive mountains, the highest of which is Mount Columbia which soars to a height of 3,747 metres (12,293ft), also making it the highest point in Alberta.
Jasper National Park is divided into three life zones – montane, subalpine and alpine. The montane life zone is warm, dry and found only on the very bottoms of the Athabasca and Miette Valleys in Jasper. Warm chinook winds sweep through the valleys in winter, melting snow and making forage in the extensive grasslands easy for elk, moose, deer, sheep, bears, wolves and cougars.
The subalpine is a great sweeping forest that curls around mountainsides. In the winter, lynx, moose and caribou frequent this zone, using their large paws and hooves to manoeuvre through the deep snow.
The alpine life zone is the most fragile in Jasper. While difficult to reach, some alpine areas in the park are relatively accessible. The Whistlers tramway and certain trails, especially in the Columbia Icefield and Maligne Lake areas, allow visitors to discover the alpine with only a minimal amount of effort.