As we paddle to the centre of Lac Beauvert, at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, the Canadian national anthem is playing on repeat in my head. Cheesy? Perhaps. But there’s an intense beauty here. It’s raw and rugged, and a little overwhelming. Clear emerald water beneath us. Soaring snow-capped peaks above. On the sprawling grassy shore, just in front of the stone and timber lodge, the Canadian flag dances in the breeze. It’s a postcard perfect, Instagram worthy scene that is destined to inspire wanderlust.
Even our ever-chatty five-year old daughter sits in silence, utterly content and mesmerized watching a pair of resident loons swoop and dive below the lake’s surface in search of lunch. Although there are a few other paddlers out on the water, it feels as if we have the place all to ourselves. There’s a vast openness in Jasper National Park and the scenery is staggering. After the snowmelt, the park’s colours are intensely vibrant. It’s a photographer’s dream. Groves of birch trees burst with leaves that shimmer in sunlight, and the surrounding charcoal mountain ranges forever catch your eye. I’m told that the wildflowers begin to bloom in mid-July, which I can only imagine will add to the magic.
Mountain towns in the Canadian Rockies are renowned for offering the ultimate in outdoor adventure. If you’re into the extreme, you’ll find everything from Heli-hiking and rock-climbing, to whitewater rafting, double-black diamond mountain biking and backcountry camping. However, if a more moderate pace is preferred, there’s a myriad of options as well. Our little family merely dabbles in the great outdoors and we definitely prefer creature comforts. For us, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge was the perfect choice.
With its sprinkling of cabins that wrap around lake, it has the relaxed feel of a summer camp, yet all the amenities of a full-service resort. And kids love this place. My daughter has had an absolute blast roasting marshmallows in our in-suite fireplace, swimming for hours in the lakefront pool, playing in the playground and indoor kids zone, chasing her dad and some newfound friends around the grass lawn, and being gifted not one – but two – toys from the humongous treasure chest located in the lodge lobby.
Venturing outside the 700-acre resort allowed us to explore the pristine wilderness that is Jasper National Park. We began our sightseeing with a ride on the Jasper Skytram, which brought us up Whistlers Mountain, to an elevation of 2,277 m. The view from here is a jaw-dropping visual feast of turquoise and sapphire glacier fed lakes and rivers, six mountain ranges and the town of Jasper in the distance below. As my daughter isn’t quite ready for alpine hiking we hung out on the observation deck and grabbed a quick bite at the Summit Restaurant. With older kids, you could definitely tackle the trails and take advantage of the many panoramic viewpoints along the way. Another must-see landmark, just outside of town, is Pyramid Lake, at the base of Pyramid Mountain. We grabbed a few – totally delicious – sandwiches from the Patricia St. Deli in Jasper and picnicked on the beach. The water was freezing, but not cold enough to keep the kids from wading in the shallows and building sandcastles on the shore.
Another bucket list adventure, which sadly we had to cancel due to a stubborn layer of ice that hadn’t yet melted, is the Maligne Lake Boat Tour. This 90-minute cruise explores the largest glacier fed lake in the Canadian Rockies. The trip highlight is a visit to Spirit Island, which is considered to be one of the most photographed spots in the world. I’ve promised my photographer-crazed husband a rain check when we return to Jasper. Wildlife viewing is also a huge draw for the park. Knowing this, we searched in earnest and kept our eyes glued to the dense brush bordering the roadside. The best times of day for sighting wildlife are dawn and dusk, when the animals come out to forage and feed. On our four-day trip we spotted mountain goats, big horn sheep, elk, deer, a coyote and a brown bear – all from the safety of our car. Go it yourself, as we did with recommendations on the best locations from hotel staff and our Skytram guide, or book an evening wildlife tour. It’s usually a three-hour affair, and children are welcome.
If it fits with your plans, travel to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway – a stunningly scenic highway that connects the national park with Lake Louise in Banff National Park. Along the route, we stopped a dozen times to take photos and marvel at the view. Highpoints of our journey include watching the resident mountain goats and big horn sheep that graze at the side of the road, walking to the base of the immense Athabasca glacier, and stepping out onto the glass-floor of the Glacier Skywalk, suspended high above the Sunwapta Valley. Be prepared for a slow go, as traffic jams caused by wildlife sightings can create quite the back up.
IF YOU GO
You’ll find peak season – June through September – much pricier and busier in Jasper National Park. If you can, travel in May or October, when there’s less of a crowd but still the chance for great weather. In fact, you can even spend less at the Fairmont in shoulder season than you would at a budget hotel in August. We hit the jackpot on the May long weekend this year, with temperatures in the mid-twenties, and a town and attractions that felt almost empty. Of course, sunny weather is never a guarantee, but don’t let that stop you. I’ve visited the Fairmont in November and had a magical time. Simply bundle up and enjoy the scenery. If you’re looking for a mid-range cabin-style resort, the Patricia Lake Bungalows are located a mere five-minutes from Pyramid Lake, and are a great option for families.