Jasper may be the most under-rated travel destination in North America. Nestled in the middle of Jasper National Park and just a few hours from international airports in Edmonton or Calgary (both with daily nonstop flights from Houston), you really can have it all.
One of the brilliant ways that the town has encouraged visitors to come during off-peak travel periods is the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. Set in October, it may be the perfect time to visit if you are interested in exploring the outdoors but also interested in peering up at the stars.
- Jasper Dark Sky Festival combines stargazing with idyllic landscape in heart of Canadian Rockies -
It’s much easier to see the stars in Jasper because it’s in a dark-sky preserve, which mandates that artificial light pollution is restricted and making the night sky as dark as possible. It helps to be surrounded by some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the world which have no development.
The 2019 Dark Sky Festival (jasperdarksky.travel) is set from Oct. 18-27 and features a variety of events every day. The signature events are based around the second weekend of the event Oct. 25-27, which include SPACEtalks, a two-hour, in-depth panel discussion with scientists about the race to Mars. The featured keynote speaker will be Jad Abumrad, a radio host with WNYC Studios, who will talk about the difficulty of creating an emotional story while translating technical information.
One of the can’t-miss activities is learning how to shoot astrophotography with Jeff Bartlett. With more than 100,000 followers on Instagram (@photojbartlett), Bartlett has blossomed to become an expert on adventure photography and time lapses.
There really are a multitude of available experiences from guided astronomy lessons to mountaintop dining and a traveling inflatable planetarium, so check the website for detailed information and pricing.
Even without the Dark Sky Festival, Jasper is one of the premier outdoor destinations. Patricia and Pyramid lakes are minutes from downtown. Medicine Lake is less than an hour. The Jasper SkyTram can take you to the top of a mountain in minutes. Even though the town is condensed, I would recommend renting your own car so you can explore the extreme beauty of the nearby nature at your leisure. Shuttle services are available from both Edmonton and Calgary, so it is possible to skip a car if you prefer.
The weather in Jasper in October is also quite perfect. The elevation of Jasper is only 3,480 feet, so you can expect mild temperatures in the low 60s during the day with nightly lows in the mid 30s.
The town of Jasper has the feeling of a mountain resort town in Colorado, but with much less pretentiousness. Being a tourism-focused town, restaurant choices are everywhere so you won’t have any trouble finding something you like. Standouts for me were Coco’s Cafe (cocoscafe.ca), which served up a wonderful “Groomer’s Breakfast” of a skillet full of eggs, veggies, brisket, bacon and hash browns with cheese on top. Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (famoso.ca) provide authentic Naples-style pies that were as good as what you find in Italy. Jasper Brewing Company (jasperbrewingco.ca) provides locally produced brews and scrumptious food, which included an elk meatloaf that was out of this world.
Like a variety? We also participated in one of my favorite activities to do while traveling: a food tour. Jasper Food Tours (facebook.com/jasperfoodtours) run regular three-hour food tours that touch on the wide variety of food options available in town. If you’re worried about a three-hour walking tour, don’t be, because the walk between restaurants is mostly short and you’ll spend most of your time sampling food.
Now that you know how to get there, what to do and what to eat, the only thing left is to decide where you should rest your head. I had the privilege of getting to stay at the nicest property in town, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (fairmont.com/jasper). It is across the river from the town, but provides 446 rooms and five restaurants. Opening originally in the 1920s, it’s grown to offer a golf course, private cabins, a $6 million spa and just about anything else you could expect of a top-tier resort. Elk have a propensity to wander the property, and while you are recommended to stay far away from them, they do still offer some incredible picture opportunities. It’s certainly a magical experience, and room rates can be half as much in October as they are in the peak summer season. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited Jasper in 2005 and this is where she chose to stay along with other celebrities in the past such as Marilyn Monroe.
In town proper, there are many other wonderful hotels that are a bit easier on the pocketbook. The Jasper Dark Sky Festival has organized some specific hotel deals that are available on their website (jasperdarksky.travel/hotel-deals) and they are very affordable with excellent properties starting as little as $128 CAD/night.
Speaking of the Canadian dollar, this is one of the best things about Americans visiting Canada. For the past year, the U.S. dollar has been worth roughly $1.33 Canadian dollars. With your dollar going 33% further, it really brings the cost down for a vacation. Everything is 33% off!
My other pro tip, which especially applies to Houstonians, is to fly into Calgary to make the drive up to Jasper. It is slightly further, but there are several more daily flights and you can make the drive up one of the most scenic highways in the world. Canada 1 and 93 take you through Banff, nearby to Lake Louise and provide several nearly unceasing hours of stunning mountains, lakes, wildlife and rivers.
Jasper is a treasure and is easily worth a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. It’s surprisingly affordable in the fall shoulder season and one of the most beautiful places on Earth.