There are no four-lane highways leading to the Rocky Mountain town of Jasper. This doesn’t mean that tour buses can’t get there, just that it is a little harder for them to do so. Being four hours west of Edmonton, Jasper sees markedly less traffic from weekenders and souvenir shoppers than that more famous national park town a few hours to the south. But it does resemble Banff in some ways. The houses are all on leased land and Parks Canada is the major employer. Yet in Jasper the hippies feel a little more at home spending the summer hanging out on the lawn of the park information centre. Thumbtacks are at a premium in the community-oriented town, where public billboards are crowded with flyers announcing local fundraising benefits and volunteer initiatives. Even the Athabasca River rolling through town seems to know that, in Jasper, things are just a little more relaxed.


Outdoor lowdown

Hiking: The options are nearly endless, but if we had to single out just one hike, it would be the Skyline Trail, which cruises above treeline for half of its 44 kilometres and offers unbeatable views.

Mountain biking: The fat-tire crowd here is under less scrutiny than in Banff, so locals have plenty of singletrack to choose from, including the Valley of the Five Lakes trail and Overlander.

Kayaking: Five minutes from town, the class-IV Maligne Canyon is the closest of eight different class-II to -V runs within a half-hour drive of town. An hour west, the Fraser River draws top paddlers from around the world.

Skiing: South on the Icefields Parkway, Parker’s Ridge abounds in day-touring possibilities. For longer trips, you can reserve one of the huts at Valemont from the Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association. And for a greater vertical-foot-per-minute rate, Jasper’s Marmot Basin resort has begun making snow on its lower reaches to lengthen the lift-serviced season and reaffirm its reputation as one of the most underrated resorts in Canada.


About town

Think of Jasper as Banff unplugged—the same great Rocky Mountain experience without the noise of too many tourists. Jasper has a full range of eateries—from the superb European cuisine at Andy’s Bistro to the all-day breakfasts of the retro Black Sheep Café and Grill. And although the town is more low-key than Banff, it does have some nightlife—such as the Atha B Lounge in the Athabasca Hotel. Jasper also has a burgeoning arts community, including the Jasper Performing and Visual Arts Society, and the Jasper Artists Guild. One important thing to remember: Like Banff, Jasper has a “need to reside” policy: to live here, you must have a job here. So now is the time to realize your dream of becoming a warden…or maybe a waiter.


Other factoids » Won an award in 1992 for being a model community of energy efficiency » is the home ski-town of Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Heil » named after Jasper Hawes, who operated a trading post in the region for the North West Company
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