|OH, CANADA: The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is the perfect place to stay (below left). Athabasca Falls is an hour away (above); the glacial waters of Maligne Lake only 30 minutes (at bottom). Bighorn sheep are a common sight (below right). Photography by R.P. Washburne|
Jasper, a friendly, picturesque town of 4,500, lies in the heart of Jasper National Park, the largest and most northerly of Canada’s Rocky Mountain national parks. And while Dallas swelters in summer heat, you can explore the unspoiled wilderness that surrounds Jasper in a climate where three days of 72-degree weather is considered a heat wave. Jasper isn’t as touristy as neighboring Banff, and the charm of western Canadian hospitality is around every corner. NATURE’S PLAYGROUND: Take your pick from a long list of outdoor activities. Within a 60-mile radius of Jasper, you’ll find white-water rafting, hiking, rock climbing, wilderness camping, fishing, mountain biking, spelunking, and canoeing glacial lakes. ANIMALS ARE PEOPLE, TOO: Traffic jams are common in Jasper, but that’s not always a bad thing. The area is heavily populated with wild animals that stop in the middle of the road while their young ones cross safely. Elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bears, and deer are often seen along the roads. But if you want to improve your chances of spotting a grizzly bear the old-fashioned way, opt for a hiking tour or explore the surrounding wilderness on horseback.
FALLS BACK: On your way back to Jasper, stop off at Athabasca Falls, where the surging Athabasca River thunders through a narrow gorge with walls smoothed from the force of rushing water. Attention photographers: the best views are from the opposite side, where you can capture the falls with Mount Kerkeslin towering in the background. ALPINE LUXURY: Rest your tired bones in the cushy confines of the The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. The property offers rustic yet elegant rooms with fireplaces, as well as luxury log cabins ranging from one to eight bedrooms. The Point Cabin, built in 1928, features a huge veranda that faces Lac Beauvert. Attention film buffs: Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum stayed here during the filming of River of No Return. WATCH THE BIRDIES: The Fairmont Jasper Park golf course, adjacent to the hotel, has been named the No. 1 golf resort in Canada by Score Golf. It’s almost impossible to concentrate on your ball at the 14th tee, because the sparkling waters of Lac Beauvert set against the snowcapped peaks of the Canadian Rockies are a breathtaking distraction. When putting for a birdie, you’re likely to find a family of Canadian geese waddling across your lie. Golf junkies will delight in the fact that days in July bring 18 hours of sunlight. Eighteen, 36, or 54 holes? The choice is yours.
Just 30 minutes southeast of Jasper is Maligne Lake (www.malignelake.com), a pristine, azure glacial lake that yearns to be explored. Board a glass-enclosed guided tour boat for a 90-minute interpretive cruise staffed by Heritage Tourism guides. It’s the easiest way to take in the local history, geology, and glaciology of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The boat stops to allow a short walk to the viewpoint overlooking Spirit Island. If you prefer to tread the turquoise waters on your own, head down to the Curly Philips Boathouse, a registered historic building, where you can rent canoes and sea kayaks to get you across the lake and to the backcountry hiking trails that splinter from the lake in all directions. Have to fish? Rods and reels are available for rent, and the lake is stocked only with rainbow and eastern brook trout. Despite its popularity, Maligne Lake never feels crowded. It’s possible to spend a day exploring the shores near and far and not bump into another soul. That is, unless you choose to peruse the gift shop, where swarms of souvenir shoppers hunt their prey.