Surrounded by the northern Canadian Rockies, Jasper, Alta. (pop. 4,051), might be a small town but it sees its share of traffic. Almost two million tourists visit Jasper National Park each year. And while attractions like Maligne Lake’s Spirit Island Cruise and the Columbia Icefields grab most of the attention, Jasper has plenty of activities for runners. Even the town’s mayor, Richard Ireland, is known to train locally for events such as the the Canadian Ironman championships and the Death Race. He’s also won his age group of the annual Jasper Root Run 10K. Parks Canada’s Day Hiking Guide also serves runners well as they look to hit the trails. There are countless options and each trail is clearly marked with numbered signs, but here are three good places to start:
Short – Valley of the Five (4.5K) (Trail 9A and 9B)
The Valley of the Five trailhead, located 9K south of Jasper on Highway 93, is well marked by Parks Canada road signs. The trail is best described in two parts: an uneventful 1K out and back connected to a stunning 3.5K loop that flows past five lakes. The trail alternates between forested double track and narrow single track. Either direction offers views of Mount Kerkeslin and Mount Tekarra; however, it’s surprising how much the panoramas differ depending on your approach. There are a number of intersections, which can make for either a longer run or a confused runner, so be sure to follow the Trail 9a and 9b markers.
Medium – Jasper Discovery Plus (10K)
The Jasper Discovery Trail is an 8K-circle tour of the town. The best place to start is directly across from the Bear’s Paw Bakery, where the trail runs parallel to Connaught Drive. Run along the short paved section before hitting the gravel. From there, it’s as easy as following the well-placed trail markers (with the grizzly bear logo) on a tour of town. The route not only takes in some of the best panoramic views of town, but it’s also loaded with signs that describe Jasper’s history as both a fur trading center and rail town.
Runners looking to stick to the 10K route should use the mapped version and add a steep climb along Trail 2a immediately after the trail crosses Connaught Drive. Trail 2 then rejoins the Discovery Trail behind the Activity Centre.
Long – Saturday Night Lake Loop (24.25 km) (Trail 3)
Although the name suggests an overnight weekend trip, the Saturday Night Lake Loop is quickly gaining a reputation for being the definitive Jasper trail run. Its long climb is rewarded by an equally long descent. Its muddy bogs feature a stunning waterfall. Wildlife sightings are common, too, including black and grizzly bears, so most locals opt to carry bear spray. To reduce the risk of a surprise encounter, carry a bear bell or call out in a loud voice periodically.
No matter which direction you choose to run from the trailhead, located at the far west end of Jasper at the corner of Patricia and Cabin Creek Streets, the Trail 3 markers lead the way to a long 12K climb. Once you pass the halfway mark, there is no escape or short route home. Most prefer to run clockwise, against the flow of mountain bike traffic. The descent is also smoother in this direction, lessening the impact on exhausted knees. Be prepared to burn more energy than expected. The trail climbs more than 600m, topping out at 1636m and it’s also notorious for poor weather near the upper lakes.
Runners interested in an ultradistance test should check out the Skyline Trail that covers 44K, including 25K in the alpine, between Maligne Lake and Jasper. Information is available at the Parks office.
Jasper has three big races: the annual 10K Spring Run Off around Lake Annette and Lake Edith in May; in June, the 45-team, 15-stage Banff Jasper Relay covers the entire Icefields Parkway before finishing in Jasper; and the 10K Root Romp trail run ends the season. It’s considered one of North America’s hardest 10K events.
Totem Ski Shop (408 Connaught Dr.) and Jasper Source for Sports (406 Patricia St.) sponsor the annual 10K Spring Run Off and their staff members often compete for the title, too. Each store stocks a collection of trail running gear alongside a larger variety of hiking, cycling, and ski equipment.
Both the Bear’s Paw Bakery (4 Cedar Ave.) and The Other Paw Café (610 Connaught Dr.) dish up deathly portions of fresh-baked carbohydrates along with typical espressos and coffee. Despite its hole-in-the-wall appearance, the Patricia Street Deli’s (606 Patricia St) gourmet sandwiches helped make it Tripadvisor’s No. 1-rated local restaurant.
Jeff Bartlett is an adventure photographer and writer based in Jasper National Park. You can also find him at www.photojbartlett.com.