by Dr. Robert Berdan
July 27, 2016
Google Map showing Jasper National Park - zoom in to see the town site, roads, nearby lakes and places mentioned in this article. Jasper is located in Alberta north of Banff National Park.
After visiting Banff National Park many folks drive 290 km north of Lake Louse along highway 93 (Icefields parkway) to Jasper. This route is one of the most scenic drives in Canada. Not only will you pass several waterfalls (Tangle Falls, Mistaya Canyon, Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca falls) the Columbia icefields, but also Bow Lake and Peyto Lakes. Each are spectacular sites for photography. You also have a good chance of seeing Grizzly and black bears, elk, deer, mountain sheep and mountain goats and occasionally wolves along the route.
Jasper is a small town of about 4.000 that can swell to over 20,000 in summer. There are most amenities and several campgrounds nearby.
If you plan to visit during the summer months I recommend making hotel or cabin reservations ahead of time. Nearby Jasper you can take the skyTram up Whistler mountain to see the valley below. You can also hike up higher to get the feeling of being on top of a mountain. See links to the Sky tram web site (below).
If you take the Pyramid Lake road from Jasper about 2 km out of town and you will come to Patricia Lake and then a little further you will come to Pyramid Lake. There are accommodations at both lakes, kayak and canoe rentals. The lakes are small but surrounded by mountains. Elk, moose and grizzly bears are sometimes seen along the road or nearby the lakes. Along this road visit Jasper Stables if you would like to go horseback riding.
Patricia lake looking north in the morning - Pyramid mountain is in the back covered by clouds - on the lower right is my father with his cowboy hat.
Patricia lake looking west after the sun set behind the mountains.
Photographer (Kamal Varma) at Pyramid lake in the early morning. The lake is located just north of Jasper.
Pyramid lake in the morning
While setting up my camera at Pyramid lake one morning around sunrise, I could hear wolves calling from across the lake, an owl and loons were also calling. I photographed the loon below along with it's chick at Pyramid lake.
Common Loon (Gavia immer) and chick at Pyramid Lake
If you are travelling from Jasper heading east along the Yellowhead Hwy about a km up the road you will come to the Maligne Lake Road. Several kilometers up the road you will come to Maligne Canyon which offers a short hike through the canyon.
Maligne canyon with moss covered rocks. In winter you can walk on the river to view spectacular ice formations. The Maligne lake road is scenic and you may see Grizzly, foxes, wolves, elk, bighorn sheep and other wildlife along this route. The first lake you come to will be Medicine lake - it is shallow and sometimes in the summer may not have much water in the lake. Wolves have been spotted around the lake. Your best chance to see wolves is to visit very early in the morning and it also takes some luck.
Mountains along the Maligne Lake Road, Jasper National Park, AB
View of Medicine lake from the north side looking south. There are several parking lots you can pull over to take pictures from.
Some big horn sheep feeding along the Maligne lake road with Medicine lake in the background. Bighorn sheep are common along this road so keep a careful look for them.
Maligne Lake boat house where you can rent canoes and kayaks. It is about a 6 hour paddle one way to Spirit Island.
Driving further on toward Maligne lake you will cross Maligne Lake river which connects to Medicine lake. At Maligne lake you will find various amenities including a restaurant, Spirit Island boat cruises which operates from about 10 am to 4 pm. It is worth taking this trip which is about 2 hours and stops briefly so you can photograph Spirit Island - one of Canada's most photographed vistas. I have taken several trips with the boats and each time it was either foggy or raining (see below). I managed to get a few nice shots, but what I really wanted to do was to be there at sunrise and sunset. To achieve this I kayaked with fellow wildlife photographer, Peter Dettling and we camped nearby for several days. We paddled over the island at sunrise and sunset and also travelled down to the end of the lake. We saw a wolf follow us part the way, presumably just curious as to what we were doing.
Above is one of the photos I took when I visited Spirit Island via one of the boat tours.
My kayak and spirit Island before sunrise - moody light.
Spirit Island with light late in the day in July. This was the kind of light I was looking for.
Spirit island - view from my kayak - photographed on Velvia film.
According to some accounts of First Nations mythology, Spirit Island gets its name from two young lovers from feuding tribes who used to meet secretly on the island. However, when the young woman eventually confessed her forbidden affair to her father, one of the tribes’ chiefs, he banned her from ever returning to the island. Heartbroken, her lover continued to return to Spirit Island throughout his life, hoping to see his lover again. But she never came and he eventually died on the island, where his spirit still resides according to legend.
You can see more pictures of Spirit Island here in an earlier article I wrote.
Other places to visit and take photographs nearby Jasper include: Taking 93A and then turning onto a small steep road to Hi-Mount Edith Cavell Wilderness Hostel. There is a parking lot near the bottom where you can unhitch and leave your trailer as you can't take it up the steep winding road. You will pass Cavell Lake and then reach a parking lot where you can hike to Angel Glacier. The scenic hike ends in a small glacier fed lake which has floating ice.
Cavell lake with Mount Edith Cavell in the background.
Hiking down to Angel Glacier in the background
Small lake from melting Angel Glacier.
There are numerous ice sculptures in the lake you can photograph.
While there is a lot to see and explore in Jasper National Park, my favourite location in Jasper National Park is the Tonquin Valley, but most people will never see this location because it's a 26 km hike. You can visit by horseback and stay a few days at one of the two lodges on each end of the lake. If you are interested in visiting this location see my article about the Tonquin Valley lodge.
Amethyst lake and the Ramparts in the evening. I set up the tent and asked my father to stand beside it with a kerosene lantern.
First snowfall in the Tonquin Valley - September.
Jasper is beautiful all year long and recently was designated a dark sky preserve. In winter you only have to attend with skiers from Edmonton on weekends but will be much less crowded. In winter it is important to check the road conditions when ever you are travelling, have snow tires or tire chains.
One Spring I travelled to Jasper to photograph for an article on winter fly-fishing. Above my friend Frank Wood. We found fresh wolf tracks along the river.
Frank Wood doing a little winter fly-fishing in the Athabasca River.
Highway 93 near Bow lake in summer
If visiting Alberta Banff National park and Jasper National Park are two favourite locations. The drive from Calgary to Jasper takes about a day and will afford you many photograph opportunities so make sure your camera battery is charged and you have lots of storage space for your pictures. You chances of seeing wildlife is better early morning, late in the day and in spring and fall when there tends to be fewer tourists. Even in September traffic along highway 93 can be very busy. In winter you need to check the weather forecast before you drive this route and sometimes the roads are closed always take emergency gear with you in winter just in case. As for camera gear you need a wide angle lens for scenic pictures and a telephoto lens for wildlife. RB
Links and Resources
Jasper National Park by Alberta Tourism
Jasper Travel web site
Jasper Travel Alberta web site
Jasper National Park
Jasper Stables - Horse back riding
Maligne Canyon Hikes
Maligne Canyon ice walk tour
Robert Berdan is a professional nature photographer living in Calgary, AB specializing in nature, wildlife and science photography. Robert offers photo guiding and private instruction in all aspects of nature photography and Adobe Photoshop training.
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