If you love snowshoeing, then Jasper National Park is a terrific place to visit in winter. Enjoy kilometres of untracked trails, sublime mountain views, snowy meadows, quiet lakes, and a pretty good chance of seeing an elk. Winter is long in Jasper – and so is the season for snowshoeing, especially at higher elevation locations. On the days when the snowpack is thin, hike the trails instead, with a pair of icers tucked in your pack should you need them.
There’s lots of snowshoeing in Jasper close to town – but there are numerous options in you’re prepared to drive 15 minutes to 90 minutes. And if you’re new to Jasper National Park and would prefer a guided experience, I can personally recommend Canadian Skyline Adventures. Compared to Banff National Park, I found the trails quieter – probably because it’s just that much more difficult to get to Jasper in the winter.
Described are five snowshoe trails in Jasper National Park – along with a few suggestions of others I would do on my next winter visit.
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Beaver Lake snowshoeing
To access Beaver Lake drive to the Jacques Lake trailhead at the southeast end of Medicine Lake, about 35 minutes away from downtown Jasper. It’s an easy snowshoe through the forest and across a bridge – with running water below – even after a week of -30°C temperatures.
The trail is wide, the grade is gentle as it’s on an old fire road – so it’s a perfect snowshoe for those who want a taste of the outdoors but don’t want to do it for more than an hour or two. It’s 4 km return to Beaver Lake, but there is the option to continue to Summit Lakes, a 10 km return outing. It’s still a gentle trail, gaining just 77 m.
Medicine Lake – Watchtower Canyon snowshoe
Head to Medicine Lake via Maligne Canyon Road. The area around the road sees more snow than Jasper as it’s 325 m higher, enough that it makes a difference.
Starting from the Medicine Lake North Viewpoint, you can snowshoe along the lakeshore, while enjoying some truly lovely mountain views. While it’s a delightful outing, you can kick it up several notches by snowshoeing into and up Watchtower Canyon.
Snowshoe for about a kilometre along the southwest shore of Medicine Lake keeping your eyes peeled for a narrow opening in the trees, with a stream (probably frozen) running out of it. You may be able to hear running water. Snowshoe up Watchtower Canyon, probing with your pole for the stream, as you don’t want to break through the ice and get a soaker. Follow the canyon up for roughly a kilometre to reach a large and very pretty frozen waterfall.
Retrace your steps to return to the lake. The total snowshoeing time is only 60 – 90 minutes but I recommend extra time by the waterfall. It’s a good place for a cup of hot chocolate and a snack.
Pyramid Bench Trails
Drive 10 minutes up to Pyramid Lake and park near the Pyramid Lake Resort. You can pick up a trail map at the resort and then head off on a whole network of looping trails.
I spent a day snowshoeing approximately 20 km from the resort to Pyramid Island, up the trail towards the Pyramid Overlook, then onto 2i, 2h, 2b, 2j, 12 and 2 all the way back into the town of Jasper itself. I had great snow and quiet trails – some with massive trees that were totally unexpected. I loved the section along 2b and 2j with views over to the Athabasca River. My lunch spot offered a view of where the elk had spent the night.
There’s so much variety near Pyramid and Patricia Lake, that I had fun just exploring. I would say though that 2b is the must do trail, as it offers a beautiful overlook. And it’s interesting to see Pyramid Island in the winter.
Over a full day of snowshoeing during the week, I ran into one fellow and his dog on a bike. Maybe weekends are busier.
Valley of the Five Lakes
The Valley of the Five Lakes snowshoe or winter hike is a gorgeous outing that will take you about 90 minutes. The 4.6 km loop trail takes you past five lakes, as the name would suggest, on a trail that has just a couple of steep sections.
Start by snowshoeing through a forest of lodgepole pine to reach a boardwalk over Wabasso Creek in a pretty setting. Head up a slope to a four-way intersection where there are some benches to take in the view. There are some dandy big trees around here, including one of the largest Douglas firs in Alberta.
Stay on trail 9a/9b. We went left on trail 9b, and saw the largest lake first, but you can go around the lakes in either direction. After a red chair moment, there is more delightful hiking on an undulating trail to return to the intersection. From there its a short 10 – 15 minutes to reach the car.
You’ll find the signed trailhead on the Icefield Parkway, 2 km south of the toll booth on the parkway. It’s a 10-minute drive from Jasper’s downtown area.
Snowshoeing in Jasper on the Lac Beauvert Loop
Start at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and enjoy the easy 3.5 km loop around Lac Beauvert. Snowshoes can be rented at the Fairmont if you make a last-minute decision to do the loop. You can knock it off in an hour.
Looking for a longer outing? Continue on the trail to Old Fort Point and loop back on a trail on the north side of the Athabasca River. There are lots of trail maps around so you can figure out your route on the fly.
After a fresh dump of snow, you could in theory snowshoe the upper trails around Maligne Canyon, though I think a walk with icers is the better way to go. Don’t miss the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk experience in winter.
More suggestions for snowshoeing in Jasper National Park
Mary Schäffer Loop
This trail is named for the writer, photographer and naturalist who explored the Canadian Rockies in the early 20th century. In fact, there’s a great book out describing her adventures called No Ordinary Woman: The Story of Mary Schäffer Warren.
The 3.2 km snowshoe loop takes you past the Maligne Lake Boat House on a trail to a scenic viewpoint where you can enjoy views down Maligne Lake.
Take the trail from the Sunwapta Falls parking lot down to the second set of falls – that isn’t much visited. It’s only 2.6 km return so you can do it in under an hour.
Moose Lake Loop
One reader suggested I do the Moose Lake loop – one of her favourite snowshoeing trails in Jasper. It seems there are two choices – a 2.6 km easy loop through forest, over an old landslide to Moose Lake. But you can lengthen the outing and do a 6 km loop that includes Upper Moose Loop and the viewpoint over Maligne Lake. Drive to the parking lot on the west shore of Maligne Lake, just past the Maligne Lake outlet. It’s the same trailhead used for the Bald Hills hike.
Athabasca River Loop
Park at Athabasca Falls. Look for the snowshoe trail sign. Follow the trail clockwise, first for 2.5 km along the edge of the Athabasca River and then on a wide trail beside a meandering creek in the forest. Cross meadows with some pretty mountain views and finish on the Fryatt Trail and Geraldine Lake Road. It’s 7.9 km in total but with little to no elevation gain so it’s rated as easy.
A few things that you’ll find useful for snowshoeing in Jasper
If you don’t have snowshoes you can certainly rent them in Jasper at Pure Outdoors or Jasper Source for Sports. Otherwise consider buying a pair of snowshoes as you’ll use them for a decade or more. It’s not like they wear out very quickly.
I’d also suggest taking a pair of icers or microspikes because some of the snowshoe trails don’t always have a lot of snow cover at the beginning when you’re at lower elevation.
Take a buff or neck warmer that you can pull up over your face if it gets cold. An inflatable seat cushion comes in handy at lunch time, especially on wet or snowy ground. Don’t forget a thermos of something hot to drink along with some extra energy bars.
Travel tips for a snowshoeing trip to Jasper
Before you leave for Jasper check out the Tourism Jasper website for additional ideas of things to do when you’re visiting. I also recommend visiting the Parks Canada website for Jasper National Park so you can get a read on trail conditions. They’ll also let you know about trail closures.
Before you begin any snowshoeing trip check the local weather forecast.
Where to stay in Jasper
My favourite hotel in Jasper is hands down the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Located about 7 minutes outside of town, it offers loads of amenities and lots of activities either on their grounds or close by.
More reading about winter activities in Alberta
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