There is no doubt that Canada is home to some of the most beautiful natural sights anywhere in the world. Wintertime is an especially beautiful time in Canada and Jasper National Park exemplifies this better than anywhere else. Located on the Albertan side of the Canadian Rockies, Jasper is a short road trip away from Edmonton's International Airport. Below are our 8 top reasons why you simply must visit Jasper in winter.
1. Hiking on frozen rapids
One of the highlights of the winter experience in Jasper has to be hiking atop its famous white water rapids at Maligne Canyon. There is something so surreal knowing only a sheet of ice separates you and rushing freezing cold water below your feet. Maligne's ice walk spoils it's visitors with stunning ice formations every step of the way. Nothing quite compares to watching the brilliant winter sun glimmering on the canyons tall ice walls, topped by cold white cedars.
Be sure to take one of the many guided walks through the canyon and do not attempt the walk on your own. Not only does this make sure you stay safe, but also ensures you see the most beautiful parts of the canyon.
3. Skiing and snowboarding
What winter break would be complete without strapping on your skis or snowboard and racing down a gorgeous snowy piste? Jasper is only a 25 minute drive from the beautiful Marmot Basin, which boasts 91 runs over 4 mountain faces and 7 lifts (and a magic carpet too!). Perhaps my favourite part about skiing at Marmot Basin was how quiet it was in comparison to other ski resorts in western Canada (Whistler...).
If you do decide to go skiing or snowboarding around Jasper in winter, try to have your trip coincide with 'National Ski and Snowboard Day', also known as Never Ever Day. Which is a one-day event across Canada where participating ski resorts offer a lesson, lift pass and equipment rental for only $25 which is a phenomenal saving! You might be thinking to yourself 'But, I know how to ski, this isn't applicable to me'. Let's just say it wouldn't hurt to take a few minutes of the lesson to 'brush up' before finding the courage to enjoy the slopes on your own, with your extremely discounted lift pass and rental equipment...
5. Skating on frozen lakes
Jasper is home to some of the most beautiful lakes and rivers in the world and during the wintertime they are often* transformed into perfect natural ice rinks. Pick up a pair of skates from the rental shop in the town or bring your own and skate outside in some utterly breathtaking scenery. Below you can see Caitlin skating on Pyramid Lake (10 mins away from the town of Jasper) with the gorgeous rocky mountains in the distance.
Another gorgeous place to go skating in Jasper is on Lake Mildred, located next to Fairmont Park Lodge. Although we didn't stay there, we took our rented skates, and a few flasks of hot chocolate, to the lodge and skated their huge figure of 8 lake rink under moonlight.
* Always check with the local tourist information center what lakes are safe to skate on when you visit. Although sometimes a body of water seems iced adequately to skate on, its never worth the risk.
6. Athabasca Falls is still gorgeous
People from all over the world travel to Jasper National Park to see the stunning Athabasca Falls! In Winter the outer layer of the waterfall freezes solid creating an ice cocoon, giving the impression the waterfall is frozen solid. The narrow gorge around the falls is coated with gorgeous ice formations and really amplifies the sound of the powerful gushing currents under the ice.
Be sure when you visit to wear shoes with good treads if not crampons, as the staircases around the falls can be slippery thanks to compacted snow and ice.
8. It's not Banff
Banff is extremely busy, even in the winter, we have been several times and it is always too crowded for us. If you are looking for some true wilderness and not just a quick photo op, Jasper is the place to be. It's also worth mentioning the turquoise water that Banff is so famous for will be covered by ice and snow in the later winter months (see below). While of course Banff is still a beautiful national park to visit we feel strongly that what you can do in Banff, you can do in Jasper also, but with less people and without the expense.
Vancouver is what I consider, as a non-Canadian, to be one of the 'Big Three' of Canadian cities, along with Toronto and Montreal. Having visited Toronto many times, as well as crossing Montreal off back in 2017, 'Van City' as its affectionately called, was the last of the cities I had a chance to visit.
In January of this year, Caitlin and I decided to embark on the 4 hour drive from B.C's interior to the pearl of the Pacific. Only a weekend away, as so often it is for us when we travel, we crammed as much into the two days as we could.
Gastown and East Hastings Street
I think to begin with it would be a good idea to talk about the elephant in the room, so to speak, which was the area we decided to stay in. East Hastings Street. Against the advice of just about everyone we spoke to about our plans in Vancouver, we decided to stay on the notorious street, mostly due to the fact that we were attending a retro 'Electo-swing' event at a hotel located here. Having traveled and stayed in some fairly difficult places before, we thought little of the strange looks and shocked reactions when we mentioned we were staying on East Hastings. Surely its not that bad? They can't be right?
They were right.
Although our hotel was a good kilometer away from the notorious blocks of the street, we decided to walk to our first destination on our Vancouver list, Gastown, through East Hastings. The experience was eye opening. Never before on our travels have either of us seen such a concentration of homelessness and overt drug use. As we walked through the most dense few blocks of the street, we saw a half naked couple fighting in the road. We were repeatedly offered the chance to buy cigarettes and more. While at no point were either of us threatened or confronted in any way, the area didn't feel safe, and this was in broad daylight. It was painstakingly obvious why this area of Vancouver is frequently the overdose capital of the province and often Canada as a whole.
After hastily walking through the drug capital of Canada, we reached Gastown, which was only a block over. There was no transition from the abject poverty of Hastings and the gentrified 'upmarket' feeling of Gastown. The cobblestone streets, hipster independent cafes and a quaint steam clock simply could not be further, economically, from the street over.
Gastown itself was an interesting experience. We spent a while reading about Gassy Jack, the patron saint (almost) of the area, next to his statue, in Maple Tree Square. Across the street is the famous flatiron building built in the early 1900s. We decided afterwards to grab a drink in one of the hipster cafes and process the rapid cultural change we just experienced. Gastown didn't have a great deal of things do keep a tourist busy but it has beautiful Victorian buildings and is known for to have fantastic, albeit expensive, restaurants. Caitlin's brother lived in Vancouver for several years and recommended Meat and Bread. It's cheaper than most of the places in Gastown and has amazing sandwiches. The gastown steam work clock was entertaining if you happen to be wandering past every quarter of an hour that it 'rings'. There is also CRAB park, which offered beautiful panoramic views of the high rises, the water front as well as north Vancouver and the mountains in the distance (below).
C.R.A.B Park for Sunset
After the lookout we decided to head over to CRAB park to enjoy the sunset over the city and harbour. The pictures you can take from the small pier in CRAB park are gorgeous (see below). The park offers amazing views of the harbour, docks and skyline. We choose to walk through Gastown from the Vancouver Lookout which took about 15 minutes. We passed by a movie set, which are common place in downtown Vancouver, but didn't see anyone famous. Caitlin's brother works in the film industry and has told us that are many big names working on films here at any given time, so if you visit, look out for George Clooney!
Back to the Hotel to recuperate
After spending some time at the pier in CRAB park, we decided to head back to our hotel, 'Hotel at the Waldorf' on East Hastings (yikes!), have some dinner and go to bed. We decided to have dinner at the attached restaurant to our hotel which was called 'Nonnas table pizzeria' which offered fantastic Italian menu, the Pizzas were out of this world. The journey back from the city center to our hotel was an easy one, opting to take the bus rather than walk through the tent city that is much of East Hastings street. The public transportation system in Vancouver is modern and relatively well maintained and not overly expensive considering the expensive reputation Vancouver generally has.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park
We decided to start the next day in Vancouver nice and early and headed down to the Science World at the harbour. On our way, we visited Vancouver's extensive Chinatown. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park is free to enter but the neighbouring Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese garden charges an admission fee. It was so relaxing to wonder through the garden and have a peaceful start to the morning. When we return to Vancouver, we will definitely go back to Chinatown to try some of the fantastic restaurants!
Aqua Bus to Granville Island
Although we didn't go into the Science World itself, the views of the city from there were great. The next destination on the agenda was to visit Granville Island, famous for its bustling artisan markets, and what better way to get there than take the quirky little Aqua Bus. The ticket was only $5.50 per person for a one-way journey, although there were good deals available for day passes or even week/month passes ($16.00 for an adult day pass). The boat itself was a totally unique experience, with the driver sitting raised in the center and the passengers sat in a circle around him, with 360 degree views of the harbour and city. The driver was very talkative and friendly and gave us a lot of advice on things to do in the city, which was super appreciated.
Granville Island was exactly what we expected it to be. As soon as we disembarked from our Aqua Bus (and conveniently paid by tap) we could just about hear the constant drum of vendors advertising their goods. We had already eaten at our hotel before we left so we wouldn't be tempted by the foods we could find at Granville Market, we were tempted however and ended up buying a bag of mini donuts. If we lived in Vancouver or were spending more than a few days, I think we would have come back to buy dinner there to take home and cook.
Granville is also home to lots of quirky little cafes and shops, although as souvenirs aren't exactly an interest of ours, we decided to skip them and continue on with our Van city exploration. Our next stop being UBC's campus.
Museums and sight seeing at UBC
We had already picked up a day transit pass from the convenience store for $10.25 (adult fare) by our hotel to get downtown and it came in handy to get from Granville Island to UBC. Probably not on most peoples agendas when visiting Vancouver, as animal dorks, we couldn't resist the opportunity to explore the extensive collection at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. While certainly not everyone's cup of tea, the musuem was extremely informative and the taxidermy there is easily some of the best I've ever seen. They have everything from dinosaurs and whales to bears and even domestic cats. as neither of us are from British Columbia, it was interesting to learn a little more about the wildlife in the province, both now and in the past. We managed to spend a few hours browsing their collection, which is laid out more like a library than a typical museum. Staff were very friendly and we learned a lot.
The UBC campus also provided a beautiful scenic lookout, kitted out with benches too, which we enjoyed a tea from the Tim Hortons on campus while sitting at. The lookout is located at the very north western end of 'Main Mall' next to a small roundabout, it can't be missed and is a great place to enjoy a few minutes of downtime. The rose garden attached looks absolutely beautiful in Summer and well worth devoting another quarter/half an hour to.
Stanley Park was the next place on our itinerary, which actually highlights our occasional shoddy planning! The park is a long bus ride from the UBC campus and although it was nice to rest on the bus for a while, it would have been better to spend more time wandering around the gargantuan park. Another error we made was getting off of the bus on the stop before the park as opposed to the stop inside of the park, which resulted in another 20 minute walk entering Stanley Park.
The Park is hugely popular with both locals and tourists alike and one could easily spend hours wandering the lush green grounds. The weather when we visited was beautiful, walking the promenade with a fresh sea breeze was so relaxing. Had we decided to spend more of the day in the park, and had the sun been any stronger we would love to have rented some bicycles and ridden through the parks entirety.
We made a point of stopping at the iconic totem poles in the center of the park (as did most other people it seemed!). I wish we had brought some food with us in our backpack to sit on one of the many benches facing the water and enjoy a sandwich and tea as the sun made its way to meet its doppelganger on the water. Fortunately the bus stop is in a fairly central position in the park and we didn't have to wait too long for it to arrive and take us back into the city proper.
Final ThoughtsRSS Feed
Unfortunately for us, we had to head home early the next morning to get back to our day jobs. We were so tired after exploring all day, we used Skip the Dishes to order some Chinese food to the hotel. Chinese cuisine was considered a must by everyone we spoke to about Vancouver and when we return, we will definitely try some of the restaurants out! We both really enjoyed Vancouver (but we'll probably stay on a different street next time) and look forward to trying out some summer activities like whale watching, night markets, beaches and hikes later this year.