A thing of beauty

Jasper National Park, the largest park in the Canadian Rockies, has many amazing things to offer, including icefields, glaciers, waterfalls, broad valleys, rugged mountains, forests, alpine meadows and wild rivers, writes Peeyush Agnihotri

The Maligne Lake is the second-largest glacier-fed lake in the world.
The Maligne Lake is the second-largest glacier-fed lake in the world. Thinkstockphotos/ GettyImages
The Columbia Icefield feeds six major glaciers, including the great Athabasca Glacier
The Columbia Icefield feeds six major glaciers, including the great Athabasca Glacier

It is a hypnotic mix of glaciers, lakes, wildlife and waterfalls.  A place painted in lovely hues by God himself. Pearly snowfields, turquoise creeks, azure lakes, green meadows, it has everything. An attempt to capture this lovely wonder on camera appears just a feeble attempt to reproduce Mother Nature’s marvel.

Everything about Jasper National Park, Alberta, nestling in the unexplored Canadian Rockies is superlative. It is the largest and the most northerly of the four Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks that comprise the Unesco World Heritage Site. It houses the highest mountain in Alberta (Mt Columbia, 3,747 m) and the most accessible glacier, the Athabasca, in North America.

The park comprises the longest underground drainage system known in Canada (the Maligne Valley karst) and is the home to the second-largest glacier-fed lake, the Maligne Lake. The gondola at the Whistlers is the longest and the highest-guided tramway in Canada.

Located at a distance of nearly 400 km, north west of Calgary, Alberta, the park is a treat to the eyes and the mind. Every topographical feature seems so pristine that it is a cinematographer’s delight. Hollywood classic, River of No Return, starring Marilyn Monroe, was shot here.

Established in 1907 on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, Jasper National Park is Canada’s largest Rocky Mountain Park covering an area of 10,878 sq km. One of the major stopovers is the Columbia Icefield. The Icefield feeds six major glaciers, including the great Athabasca Glacier, and is open from May to October. To visit the glacier, tourists have to purchase tickets and a regular bus takes them to the glacier base. Especially designed bus, called snocoach, takes them further in to the heart of the glacier. The part of the Icefield open to visitors, is a tongue of ice, six km long and one kilometre wide. The visit is awe-inspiring. Drivers are expert guides. They reel off well-memorised geological data and show around melting snow crevasses, some of them as deep as 400 m.

Peyto Lake, where parts of the Hrithik Roshan-starrer, Koi Mil Gaya, were shot, is located at a short distance from this Icefield, though strictly speaking, it is not a part of this park.

The next stop is the Athabasca Falls, almost 45 km from the Icefields. Athabasca Falls is known more for its force than its 25-m height. The falls cut through the quartzite and limestone rocks, carving out a short gorge and a number of potholes lending a gorgeous view of the topography.

The national park is full of beautiful lakes, almost 20 of them, the most notable among them being the Maligne Lake and the Medicine Lake. While Maligne Lake is one of the most picturesque spots, the Medicine Lake is a geological marvel.

Maligne Lake offers unlimited photographic potential. The lake was created from the landslide of the surrounding hills and a natural dam caused the water to back up. It is a fisherman’s paradise. The word Maligne is French for ‘wicked’, and was used by one of the explorers to describe the treacherous river that flows from the lake. This lake is the second-largest glacier-fed lake in the world.

The Medicine Lake gains its name from the ‘curious’ vanishing act that it does every fall. Medicine Lake is an effective example of a natural underground drainage system. Much of the glacial water from the surrounding mountains leaves the valley through a hidden drainage network of underground caves. During summers, the melting snow offers enough water that surpasses the lake’s drainage. Before long, the lakebed begins to fill, and by the autumn the lake rapidly drains due to a drop in runoff.

The cave drainage system beneath Medicine Lake resurfaces more than 17 km downstream. This qualifies it as the longest underground drainage system in the country.

Apart from natural wonders, the man-made wonders here are equally astonishing. The park houses the longest and the highest-guided aerial tramway in Canada. It provides visitors with a view of mountain ranges, lakes, Athabasca River and the town of Jasper. The cable car goes up the Whistler’s Mountain that is so distinct that it can be seen from the neighbouring province of British Columbia.

The park is full of wildlife and is notorious for bears, especially the grizzly ones. There is also a potential of coming across elk, moose, white-tail deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat. The park is open from April till October and snow takes over after that.

Fact file

By air: The closest international airports are Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver

By road: The Trans-Canada Highway no.16, also known as the Yellowhead Highway, is the main road running through the park. It can be reached from Jasper via the Icefields Parkway. The towns of Jasper and Banff house several car rental agencies

By bus: Jasper can by reached by Greyhound, which offers bus services to and from Vancouver and Edmonton. Canadian Rockies Sightseeing Tours offers scenic bus tours along Jasper’s Icefields Parkway

Best time to visit: Summer season, though it is short. July is the warmest month

Things to do: The park many activities and a selection of sights that can’t be missed, including The`A0Athabasca Falls, Medicine Lake, Maligne Lake, Maligne Canyon, Lac Beauvert, Miette Hotsprings, Whistler’s Mountain, Columbia Icefield, Sunwapta Falls, Mt Edith Cavell, The Goat Lookout

Fees: All visitors are required to purchase a park pass at arrival. The fees (subjected to revision) range from adult $ 9.80, senior $ 8.30, youth $ 4.90, family/group $ 19.60, commercial group, per person $ 8.30, school groups, per student $ 3.90

Rules and regulations: Since the park is protected and preserved area, rules are strictly implemented. It is unlawful to collect or remove any natural objects or historical artefacts. and to feed, entice or harass wildlife