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Skating on frozen lakes, climbing walls of ice, exploring icy canyons, or gazing at snowy peaks from a hot tub – Canada’s Jasper National Park is abundant in life-changing experiences in winter.
Growing up in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, I’ve been lucky enough to visit Jasper in winter nearly every year since I was a kid, including countless day trips to Marmot Basin ski resort and longer road trips through the park. This is my happy place and the reason why, unlike almost everyone I know, I absolutely love winter in Alberta.
Now that I have kids of my own, we continue to explore and uncover more incredible things to do in winter in Jasper, and there are many more Jasper winter activities we have yet to try. Most of the photos below come from our most recent three trips to Jasper in winter.
Below I’ve compiled a list of incredible winter experiences to be had in Jasper National Park, the second largest of Alberta’s five national parks, with extra details and personal tips for getting the most out of them.
To combine this with a trip to neighboring Banff National Park, see my guides to Canmore and Kananaskis (an area beside Banff that is famous for its winter activities) and the best things to do in Banff in winter.
Top Winter Activities in Jasper
Here are our favorite things to do in Jasper National Park in winter, starting with some of the best, but otherwise in no particular order!
1. Ice Skate on a Frozen Lake
Skating on a frozen lake with a dramatic backdrop of snow-covered mountain giants is surely one of the most quintessential Alberta experiences. And what’s even better – it’s totally free!
Where can you go ice skating in Jasper National Park? The best maintained rinks are at Pyramid Lake, Mildred Lake, and Beauvert Lake.
In our opinion, Pyramid Lake’s skating rink is the pick of the bunch, with its epic backdrop of Pyramid Mountain. The rink is maintained by Pyramid Lake Resort (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), with a small parking lot and restrooms only a few steps from the rink.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), also maintains two skating rinks: a large oval skating run on Lake Mildred (with an additional space cleared in the middle for ice hockey), and a rectangular rink on adjacent Beauvert Lake, which is lit up at night. In winter, Jasper Park Lodge sometimes sets up a hot chocolate shack at the rink-side.
It is sometimes also possible to skate on Annette Lake, Edith, Horseshoe Lake, Medicine Lake, Maligne Lake, and Snaring River, but this are not maintained so they can be bumpy or unsafe.
You need to take extreme caution and make sure the ice is thick enough before skating. The best time for these non-maintained spots is usually around December, before they get covered in snow for the season.
2. Maligne Canyon’s Icewalk
If there’s only one thing you do in Jasper in winter, make it the Maligne Canyon Icewalk.
In winter, the narrow canyon carved by Maligne River turns into a winter wonderland of frozen waterfalls, hanging icicles, and slippery paths. These are some of the closest waterfalls you can find from Edmonton!
Walking trails along the canyon, the ones visitors usually walk along in summer, allow them to peer down into the icy world. But for the most memorable experience, you can walk right on a portion of the frozen river, called the Maligne Canyon Icewalk.
You can access the ice walk from a few gates between the Fourth and Fifth Bridges, then walk upstream on the frozen stream (Maligne Canyon has a total of six bridges, with the highest one, Bridge 1, by the main parking lot).
There are two parking options for reaching the Icewalk. The easier one, which I recommend for visitors with young kids, is to park at the Fifth Bridge parking lot and walk up (it’s a gentle uphill stroll). Skip the first gate providing access to the river, though – you can walk on the river there, but you’ll soon reach a dead end at a frozen waterfall like we did and have to climb back out.
Instead, continue on to the second gate, from where you’ll see the icy scene in the photo below.
A second option is to park at the main parking lot for Maligne Canyon, which is located near the First and Second Bridge. This is actually the most dramatic portion of the Canyon. The downside is that you’ll be walking downhill to get to the Icewalk entrance, which means that eventually, after you do the Icewalk, it will be a steep (and slippery) walk back up to your car.
Using ice cleats like these are absolutely essential for the Maligne Canyon Icewalk. You can even find simple slip-on ones for kids; we found ours at Mountain Equipment Co-Op in Edmonton.
It’s usually possible to do the Icewalk from mid-December to early April. However, this depends largely on the weather, and it can be extremely unsafe to do it when the ice isn’t thick enough. Keep in mind that there is a rapid river flowing below.
For the best and safest Maligne Canyon Icewalk experience, join an Icewalk tour.
3. Ski or Snowboard at Marmot Basin
I’ve been going to Marmot Basin, Jasper’s own ski resort, since I was a kid, and I can never get enough of it.
Built on the slopes of Marmot Mountain (2612m), Marmot Basin has a higher base elevation (1698m) than any other ski resort in Canada. On the longest run, you can ski or snowboard non-stop for 5.6 kilometers!
Marmot features 7 lifts, nearly 100 runs, gorgeous powdered snow, and two cozy lodges. The ski season usually runs for a full six months, from mid-November to early May, but the hill closes in extreme cold conditions, usually around -30°C or colder.
Try to arrive at the hill early, as you can’t get in when the parking lot is full. Try to come mid-week, or visit at the end of the season for great deals, when people forget that it is still winter in the mountains. They also offer a free lift ticket if you visit on your birthday!
To learn about Alberta’s lesser-known Rocky Mountain national park, read my guide to Waterton Lakes National Park.
4. Go for a Snowy Hike
Winter shouldn’t stop you from hiking in Jasper National Park, but you just need to do some research first and find out which trails are safe and accessible. Avalanches are a serious threat, especially in spring when things start melting.
I personally loved hiking Old Fort Point Trail in winter, which is just a few minutes out of town. Normally an easy hike that can be done with kids, in winter, it was just steep and snowy enough to be a little challenging and exciting for a novice hiker like me.
Starting with a nice view of Athabasca River and Old Fort Point Road Bridge, the loop trail ascends to some fine lookout points from where you can take in the entire town of Jasper and surrounding valley. There are also two Parks Canada Red Chairs up there (see #6 below).
Another relatively easy Jasper hike in winter is the Edge of the World Trail, which is just below the parking lot for Marmot Basin. You can park at the side of the road by Marmot Basin entrance sign (before reaching the main parking lot) and walk down a few minutes to the trailhead.
5. Walk Around a Frozen Lake
While you won’t be able to witness the surreal turquoise color of lakes in Jasper in winter, visiting or walking around them is still a surreal experience.
Close to Jasper Town, the trails around Beauvert Lake or Annette Lake are good options that are well trodden. For Beauvert, you can either access it from Jasper Park Lodge on the north side if you want to access the Lodge’s facilities, or park at the small parking lot on the southern side of the lake, accessed via Old Fort Point Road if you prefer to avoid people and getting lost on the huge Jasper Park Lodge grounds.
A longer but highly recommended option is the Valley of the Five Lakes Trail a few kilometers down the Icefields Parkway. In summer, this is a good one with the kids, but in winter ice cleats are recommended as it can get quite slippery.
Another option is to drive to Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake (see #10 below). While neither one has a trail all the way around the lake, there are some paths by the shore, and both lakes are serene in winter.
6. Seek out Parks Canada Red Chairs
Who doesn’t love happening upon a set of Red Chairs placed in photogenic spots by Parks Canada?
Some of the easier ones to find include Lower Maligne Day Use Area (on the drive between Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake), Maligne Lake Picnic Area, Old Fort Point trail (see #4 above), and Pyramid Overlook Trail by Pyramid Lake.
See here for all the Red Chair locations in Jasper National Park.
7. See Frozen Athabasca & Sunwapta Falls
Two of Alberta’s most famous waterfalls, Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls, are both unmissable sights when they become frozen in winter.
Both waterfalls are located on the Icefields Parks (Highway 93), going south from Jasper Town toward Banff National Park.
The first is Athabasca Falls, just 32 km (25 min) from Jasper townsite. From the parking lot you’ll only need to walk 250 meters to take in the incredible sight of a wall of ice where the Athabasca River plunges into a deep crevice. There are multiple viewing points from both sides and a walking bridge over the river.
Another 25 km (20 min) to the south, Sunwapta Falls is equally impressive in winter. It’s only a few steps from the parking lot, or you can hike (2.8 km return) to the Lower Sunwapta Falls.
8. Drive the Icefields Parkway
On extremely cold days, when you can’t stay outside for too long (this is exactly what happened during our visit), why not go for a scenic drive?
Nothing is more scenic that the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93), the road connecting Jasper and Banff National Parks. With majestic, towering giants of Alberta and enormous glaciers on either side, this drive is truly jaw-dropping.
Continuing south from Sunwapta Falls, make your way to the Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint. Just past it, Tangle Creek Falls is popular among ice climbers (see #15) and visible from a pullover on the highway.
Athabasca Glacier (see next entry) is the final stop before entering Banff National Park.
Drive carefully on the Icefields Parkway in winter, and be warned that the road becomes unsafe for driving after heavy snow.
If you are continuing on to Banff National Park, consult my recommended Banff itinerary for planning your onward travels.
9. Visit the Toe of Athabasca Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier, a branch of the immense Columbia Icefield, is the most visited glacier in North America.
In winter, it’s not easy to reach, but if you’re willing to strap on a pair of snoeshoes or cross-country skis, that will help! Just note that it is not safe to go on the glacier itself, even the toe of it, as people have died there before.
The glacier is located at the southern end of Jasper National Park before Icefields Parkway crosses into Banff National Park.
10. Drive to Medicine & Maligne Lake
Another highly scenic drive you can do in winter is the 43-kilometer drive (one way) along Maligne Lake Road, accessible from Moberly Bridge over the Athabasca River, just north of Jasper town.
Stop to admire the views at Edith Lake and Maligne Lookout, with the option to stop at Maligne Canyon (see #2). Next, don’t miss the little pullover on the left side, called Lower Maligne Day Use Area, where you can walk along Maligne River to find two beautifully located Parks Canada Red Chairs (see #6).
Park at the tip of Medicine Lake, from where a wooden staircase goes down to the lakeside (see photo above). There’s no trail around the lake, but you can walk out onto the lake when the ice is thick enough.
Finally, the road ends at Maligne Lake, where there are a few short trails and viewpoints of the lake.
Watch out for wildlife on this drive!
11. Go snowshoeing or Cross Country Skiing
Another rewarding way to enjoy Jasper National Park in winter is on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skies.
Some of the best spots for snowshoeing include Pyramid Lake, Medicine Lake, Maligne Lake, and Lower Sunwapta Falls. Here’s a complete list of the best easy and moderate snowshoeing trails in Jasper.
For cross-country skiing, try Moab Lake trail, Leach Lake Trail near Athabasca Falls, or the difficult trail at Pyramid Fire Road. See more details about these cross-country skiing trails here and here.
You can rent showshoes or cross country skis at Totem Ski Shop in Jasper Town.
12. Snuggle up by a Fireplace
After a day of skiing or other outdoor winter activities in Jasper, nothing beats sipping a hot chocolate (or hot toddy) beside a roaring fire indoors.
One of the best fireplaces in town is in the Jasper Park Lodge lounge. It’s a tall stone fireplace, with windows looking out at Beauvert Lake.
Other hotel restaurants with a real fireplace include the teepee-shaped one at Sawridge Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), which is partly owned by Cree First Nations and where we usually stay in Jasper, and Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen at the Maligne Canyon main parking lot.
If you’d like your own private fireplace in a hotel room, there are many options in Jasper. Try Pyramid Lake Resort (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), Pocahontas Cabins (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), Bear Hill Lodge (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), or Jasper Inn & Suites (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor).
13. Dine out in Jasper Town
Don’t let cold weather stop you from enjoying a great meal in town!
We also really enjoyed Alba, a traditional Italian spot in the center of town. Oka Sushi in Jasper Park Lodge is famous for its sushi chef, who makes the sushi right in front of guests. Finally, for a sweet treat, you can’t miss Beaver Tails, a Canadian specialty.
If you are feeling lazy, Jasper Pizza Place does excellent wood fired thin or regular crust pizzas, and they’ll deliver to your hotel for free if you order direct from them.
If you’re driving in from Edmonton, Folding Mountain Brewery is a gorgeous new brewery right before the entrance to Jasper National Park on Highway 16. This is quite possibly my favorite brewery in all of Alberta; we stop there every time we pass through.
14. Soak in a Hot Tub with a View
Unfortunately Jasper’s Miette Hot Spring is closed in winter, but don’t let that stop you from finding your own private hot tub to soak in after a long day.
Jasper Inn & Suites (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), Sawridge (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), and Chateau Jasper (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) have indoor hot tubs (limited or no view).
15. Climb a Frozen Waterfall
Hardcore winter adventurers will get a thrill out of climbing a frozen wall of ice in Jasper National Park in winter.
Some of the best places to climb a frozen waterfall in Jasper include Maligne Canyon, Edge of the World, and Tangle Creek Falls on the Icefields Parkway.
For ice climbing, going with a qualified guide such as this one is highly recommended. No experience is required!
16. Go Tobogganing
Every child’s favorite winter activity is also possible in Jasper National Park.
The best hills for tobogganing in Jasper are on the grounds of Jasper Park Lodge and the small hill in Centennial Park in the center of town.
There used to be a few more tobogganing hills in Jasper town, but they were closed off for safety reasons.
17. Gaze at Stars and Northern Lights
Jasper National Park is an official Dark Sky Preserve, and that means it’s ideal for stargazing or seeing aurora borealis (Northern Lights). In fact, it’s the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world, after Wood Buffalo National Park (also in Alberta!), but far more accessible.
In October, around the start of winter, Jasper hosts the Dark Sky Festival.
Of course, you’ll want to get away from all the lights of Jasper townsite fully take advantage of this. Pyramid Lake is a popular spot for stargazing in winter. See here for more of the best spots to go stargazing in Jasper National Park.
18. Tour Jasper Shops & Art Galleries
For a break from the cold, step into one of Jasper’s many excellent shops.
Whether you’re looking for tacky Canadiana souvenirs (moose-shaped coffee mug anyone?), jewellery with fine gems, handmade soap, high quality winter sports equipment, winter clothing, or toys for the kids, Jasper will have it. Here are some of the best shops in Jasper.
19. Visit Jasper Museum
The small Jasper Museum (also known as Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives) is at the back side of town. It features exhibits covering the history of the fur trade, railway, and early explorations of the area.
History lovers will love this one, but visitor’s with young kids may want to give it a miss.
The more kid-friendly wildlife museum that used to be in the basement of Whistler’s Hotel, called The Den, is no longer there.
20. Spend Christmas in Jasper
While Jasper doesn’t have any over-the-top Christmas lights displays or festivals, you can nevertheless expect to see some lights, Christmas trees, and decorations on local homes and hotels in town.
It is the charm of Jasper town itself and the breathtaking mountains around it that make Jasper an incredible place to be anytime in the Christmas seasons.
Several hotels also offer Christmas buffet specials, but beware that Christmas holidays can be a pricey time to visit Jasper, and you’ll need to reserve well in advance to get a room.
21. Get Deals during the Jasper in January Event
The antidote to peak Christmas season in Jasper is Jasper in January, an event aimed at attractions tourists when the crowds taper off and the weather tends to get especially cold.
But don’t let that scare you away! It’s the perfect time for winter activities, and the town hosts several special events and offers great deals on hotels & activities.
22. Ride the Jasper Sky Tram in Early Spring
You might think winter’s over in spring, but not up in the mountains! When the Jasper Sky Tram first opens for the season (usually in late March), there is still plenty of snow up on Whistlers Mountain. The above photos is taken closer to summer, but as you can see there’s still snow up there.
If visiting in spring, there will be much more snow than in this photo. Bring your snowshoes, or you can even rent them there!
Bonus Experience: Ice Bubbles at Abraham Lake
While it’s not in Jasper National park, consider making a side trip to Abraham Lake in the Nordegg region of Central Alberta to see the famous methane ice bubbles on the lake.
To get there, turn off the Icefields Parkway at Saskatchewan River Crossing onto the David Thompson Highway. The lake is an hour’s drive from Athabasca Glacier (see #9 above).
Find all the details in my guide to how to see the ice bubbles at Abraham Lake.
Well, that brings us to the end of my list of the best things to do in Jasper in winter. I hope you’ve found more than enough ideas for planning a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime visit!