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Beyond Banff: The Drive to Jasper Is Half the Fun

In planning your Canadian Rockies adventure, don’t miss out on all that awaits just north.

If there’s a conversation about snow-capped mountains, soaring pine-draped Canadian bliss, odds are it’s focused on Banff National Park. Canada’s oldest national park dating back to 1885 and—fun fact—its most visited, Alberta’s calling card is on the wish list of many South Floridians wanting to escape the summer and autumn heat for a destination with daily highs hovering in the 70s.

Often what’s left out of a Banff itinerary—you begin by flying into Calgary International Airport, 90 minutes away—is a journey to its national park neighbor to the northwest, Jasper. From Banff and via what is considered one of Canada’s most scenic drives and well beyond, Jasper National Park is a vista-filled a three-hour drive—approximately 180 miles—away. So, yes, getting there is half the fun.

Along the Icefields Parkway north from Banff, you’re greeted with the occasional perusing black bear on the side of the road; endless jagged Rockies vistas; agile goats climbing sheer mountainsides, seemingly defying the laws of gravity; eerily blue glacier-made lakes; and every shade of verdant green in between. Getting to Jasper and enjoying the journey is made easy via several luxe shuttle operators that offer round-trip options—among them, the Brewster Express is a top choice. Of course, driving offers far more independence.

En route to Jasper from Banff, must-stops include the Columbia Icefield, which is the largest in North America and visibly looks like a white frozen river streaming toward the Icefields Parkway. Pursuit Collection operates the Glacier Discovery Center, tucked just off the parkway, with interpretive displays and regular trips out to the glacier. For the non-faint of heart, the Columbia Icefield Skywalk is one-kilometer, glass-bottomed walkway soaring more than 900 feet over the cliffs of the Sunwapta Valley. You’ll want to see how many goats and critters you can see sauntering by below.

Continuing toward the town of Jasper, and now within Jasper National Park’s 4,300-plus square mile confines, Maligne Lake is the worthiest of quick detours. Hop on a Maligne Lake Cruise—a 90-minute journey on the lake’s azure-colored waters that guides you past three glaciers and to one of the region’s most iconic destinations, Spirit Island. The small island that rests in Maligne Lake, adorned with a handful of towering pines and spruces, has a magical energy all its own.

Once you’ve made the most of the Maligne Lake detour, it’s time to hit the town of Jasper. Yes, this is a town within the national park and, as of 2022, is home to more than 4,000 residents.

As for a home base, Pyramid Lake Lodge—tucked on a glacier-made lake with panoramic vistas of the looming 9,000-foot Pyramid Mountain—serves well. The 68-room luxurious alpine lodge has kayak and canoe rentals, a lakeside firepit for cozy s’more evenings and e-bike rentals to get to the town of Jasper’s epicenter, just minutes south.

Among Pyramid Lake Lodge’s most dazzling features are the newest hotel rooms in all of Jasper National Park. In July, Pursuit (operator of a number lodging and culinary destinations throughout the Canadian Rockies and beyond) completed 12 new cabin-style Founders Rooms. Each has an expansive balcony overlooking Pyramid Lake with a firepit, wall of windows and in-room gas fireplace. 

On-property at Lake Pyramid Lodge, the brand-new Aalto restaurant opened at the end of June. Its seafood-centric menu was inspired by the broader region’s fare, including a memorable gindara sable fish topped with preserved plum and ginger cream as well as Kennebec dumplings stuffed with forest mushrooms and topped with a dill mustard cream. Magical lake views greet you with each bite.

In the town of Jasper, Aalto’s sister restaurant, Terra, is a happy hour destination. Nosh on its homemade sourdough with a maple miso butter and order up a mountain-inspired cocktail (or three), like the Alberta’s Apiary with 3 Peak’s Gin, Alberta honey syrup and a citrus smoke finish.

Other hotspots to keep in mind include Sunhouse Café downtown, a specialty coffee mainstay with an all-glass ceiling. Its hand-cranked espresso shots, latte art aplenty and key lime French toast amaze, particularly for such a small-town operation. And, yes, you can totally turn up in Jasper, too, with Jasper Brewing Co. being the craft beer destination with seasonal delights like an ultra-tangy Babe Blueberry Vanilla Ale.

When your Jasper adventure ends, it’s a 4-hour drive to Edmonton’s airport, or you can venture back south through Banff to Calgary, reliving that thrilling drive in reverse.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky

Editor-in-Chief

BIOGRAPHY

Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.